The Wrong Way for the Right Composition

I have learned to play several instruments during my childhood and youth by learning from a teacher and self-taught. My hobby as an adult is photography but I still play instruments occasionally and sometimes have fun with my kids by playing pop music. That was where I got the idea last year to capture my hand with one of my kids’ hand on an instrument, telling the story Kids learning to play.

But for those of you who know just a bit about how to teach and play an instrument, you can see in my pictures below that teaching a kid how to play an instrument by forcing their fingers or hands to play is not the right way to teach. They won’t learn it because you will do the playing. This is the wrong way.

However, this is indeed the right way to show it in a picture. Allow me to explain.

I have learned through my hobby as a photographer that a great picture needs an interesting story to tell, including several compositional factors to be in place so it is presented the right way. First, my starting point was to tell the story of teaching a kid to play an instrument, so my focus was to capture the hands and the instrument in use.

Next, and also common for all the pictures, was to keep it simple by shooting in black and white with no distracting elements in the background. So I shot all the pictures with a white background and use the spot metering feature in the camera to get the right exposure on the hands and instrument.

Finally, my general philosophy as a photographer is to do as little as possible to my pictures in post-production. In these pictures, I have only adjusted a bit of the sharpness, shadows and highlights in Lightroom.

Piano – The first picture was the easiest to capture and in my point of view also the best. I couldn’t look in the viewfinder while shooting because I also had to have my hand on the keyboard, so I used a remote control. In this picture I used the length of the keyboard as a leading line to get some depth in the picture. This picture was also selected as one of the winners in a contest some time ago at with the theme holding hands.

Dad and daughter practising piano
Dad and daughter practicing piano

Trumpet – This one was the hardest to capture. I have one hand on the trumpet and one on the remote control trigger. Like the first picture I couldn’t look in to the viewfinder since I had to hold the trumpet steady together with my lively 5 year old son. Unfortunately because of the amount of light in this setup the shutter speed was slow and to get it sharp I had to shoot several times to get it just right.

Dad and daughter practising trumpet
Dad and daughter practicing trumpet

Drum – I could have used an assistant to help me capture these pictures, but with a remote control I was able to manage things with some creative effort. Here I used the 2 second button on the remote to have time to let go of the control and get the hands in the right position. To get the bright drumhead and light on the hands I placed a lamp beneath the drum. I didn’t plan the reflection of one of the drumsticks in the drumhead so that was a nice surprise when looking through my shots.

Son and dad playing the drums
Son and dad playing the drums

Guitar – In this picture I was unable to get a good shot with hands on top of each other because of the angle I had to capture the guitar neck from. I decided to compose it by placing the guitar neck diagonally in the picture and with the hands right next to each other. My daughter and I are not holding a proper guitar grip as we couldn’t get a correct grip by using two hands on the guitar neck.

Dad and daughter practising guitar
Dad and daughter practising guitar

Violin – My last picture is unfortunately without hands. It was impossible for me to figure out how to capture something decent since I had to hold the violin, hold down on the strings together with a kids’ hand, hold the bow together with a kids’ hand, rest the violin on a shoulder and press the trigger on the camera. So I decided to shoot it in the flight case with the same light setup as the other pictures. Sometimes a lack of creativity will stop you from telling a story.

Old violin in flight case
Old violin in flight case

You sometimes need to do it the wrong way for the right composition.

Kristian D. Hansen is an avid photographer from Denmark who often just edits his pictures with a bit of cropping, color correction, and sharpening if necessary. His philosophy is “What I see is what you get!” See more of his work on 500px and follow him on Twitter.

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