In the 1989 movie Drugstore Cowboy, the protagonist Bob (played by Matt Dillon), is a superstitious man with a bad drug habit. Bob’s perception about how lucky he is at any given time drives his decision on whether to score drugs. If Bob feels lucky, he successfully acquires more drugs. He’s happy.
But, things can change quickly. When Bob gets a bad sign, he takes a self-imposed hiatus from getting drugs. No drugs = unhappy Bob.
What constitutes a bad sign? The first omen occurred when Bob was watching TV – a number of dog food commercials appeared, all in a row. That was a sign. He informed his crew that there would be no more attempts to procure drugs for a month. Not seeing any logic behind that decision, Bob’s crew asks if there are any other bad omens they should be aware of. “Hats”, Bob replies, “if I ever see a hat on a bed in this house, you’ll never see me again.” Why a hat, they ask? “Cause that’s just the way it is.”
Well, not long after this warning from Bob – spoiler alert!! – someone places a hat on a bed and things indeed go horribly wrong.
And at this point, you may be asking yourself, why is a blog post titled “How to Photograph Guitars” going on at length about Drugstore Cowboy and hats on beds? Because, dear reader, if there is only one thing you take away from this post, it is this: NEVER PHOTOGRAPH A GUITAR ON A BED. Not even if you’re Annie Leibovitz. No good can ever come from a picture of a guitar on a bed. It’s not aesthetically pleasing. (9 times out of 10 you probably haven’t even made the bed.) It’s lazy. It will guarantee that no one will rent or purchase your instrument. Why? Cause that’s just the way it is.
Now here are some other tips for shooting decent pictures of your guitar:
An uncluttered, simple background is best. Are there any loose papers, food or clothing visible anywhere in the frame of the image? If the answer is yes, delete the photo, remove all the background “noise” and re-shoot the picture.
Type: Natural light, particularly during the “golden hours” of early morning or late afternoon, produces a warm glow that is ideal. Normally, you don’t want your instrument in direct sunlight. Using indirect, natural light during the “golden hours” makes just about anything look great.
Origination source: Regardless of the type of light being used, the origination or source of light should be coming from behind the camera, and hitting the surface of the instrument which is being photographed. So, as a general rule, don’t take a picture of your guitar when it is in front of a window.
Example (bad): Lighting from behind an instrument
Example (good): Lighting from in front of (or from the side) an instrument
Medium range to close up shots are the two best options.
A medium distance is approximately 7 to 10 feet from the guitar. This shot will provide a full view of the guitar from the top of the head stock to the bottom of the instrument. It sets the context of everything.
A close up distance can be anywhere from 2 feet to 2 inches from the guitar. These shots are designed to zero in on specific parts of the guitar – the body, the head stock, the grain of the fretboard, etc. Close ups can serve many purposes. They can highlight details that are unique and aesthetically pleasing. They can also show known issues with the finish or hardware. It is always best to capture these imperfections and include them very prominently in your listing because you don’t want to mislead a potential renter or buyer. You will get a negative reviews if you don’t. You will get unhappy messages. You will get requests for refunds. Just save everyone the hassle – visually capture and share all of the known blemishes up front.
Is the picture of the guitar you have just taken in focus?
- If yes, proceed to the next section.
- If no, are you Annie Leibovitz?
- If yes, then you probably have a good reason for taking the picture. Carry on.
- If no, then delete the photo and re-shoot the picture.
Parts of the instrument to photograph
At minimum, you should take the following shots:
- Front of guitar – full length, head to toe
- Back of guitar – full length, head to toe
And give serious consideration to adding these as well:
- Front of body – close up
- Back of body – close up
- Front of neck/fretboard – medium or close up
- Back of neck – medium or close up
- Front of head stock – close up
- Back of head stock – close up
Shooting straight on is the safest approach. There is room for experimentation here, but if you review your photographs and notice that all of your “experimental” shots are only pointing down (e.g. the camera is pointing at a 45 degree angle from above the instrument), or only pointing up, then you should probably mix up the approach.
Example – Straight On
Example – Down
These are just some of the most obvious suggestions for how to photograph guitars. For more detailed and expert advice on photographing guitars, here are some additional resources:
Gary’s Classic Guitars – https://www.garysguitars.com/advanced-techniques-photographing-vintage-guitars
Digital Photography Review – https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/3860366
Annie Leibovitz’s Masterclass – https://www.masterclass.com/classes/annie-leibovitz-teaches-photography