Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Music in the Night

Calendar cover image - cello

To see this picture bigger click here

This year to prepare for our annual calendar shoot Martin Finesilver and I started out with a trip to the always inspiring Prop Room in Toronto, which is like a candy store for photographers and prop stylists. We had been particularly excited about the vintage toys and instruments during previous visits, and this time it was the instruments that really spoke to us. Some were not in great shape, having reached the twilight of their existences, so I set about imagining where it would make sense for them to be...and envisioned them in sort of an equally abandoned kind of environment. As it happened, I knew the perfect place -- a backyard nearby, that to my great delight as an artist had been allowed to fall into disrepair. I am hardly alone finding beauty in old abandoned spaces. Thus was born this year's theme of "reprising yesterday's beauty -- composing with instruments no longer played in gardens no longer tended".

To achieve the depth and drama with a bit of mystery that we wanted I elected once again to use my signature lighting style which required that we shoot at night. In this case we really needed darkness, so, once the sun went down, there was no real limit to how long we could take to shoot, other than our desire to get the necessary exposures made in one night. We arrived well ahead of sundown to position each of the six instruments while we could still see easily. Then we waited for sunset.

Pre-shoot position-only test shot

As the last hint of daylight disappeared, we realized to our surprise, this late in the season, that we should have brought bug spray, at least for Martin, as the mosquitoes were out in full force. I had on long sleeves so as not to reflect light into the scenes, and I tend not to use chemicals like that around camera gear, anyway, so it wouldn't really have helped me. However, I was the one overheating in the unexpectedly warm evening air.

Soon after sunset we realized to our distress that every time we moved near the motion controlled outdoor lighting we triggered the sensors and flooded the scenes closest to the house with light. But that's what duct tape and black fabric are for! And if that hadn't worked I'm sure we could have cut the wires (kidding...we could have unscrewed the lightbulbs).

We shot tethered to a computer to facilitate collaboration and to ensure we really covered all our bases image-wise. During the whole process I couldn't help thinking back to the 'old days' when we often used very small apertures to get the most depth of field possible in still life and product shots. We had to shoot in the dark to do that, too, so we could pop the strobes multiple times, while the shutter was open, to get enough light onto the film. (I had, in fact, started using my 'organic' lighting technique even back then, but it was a much scarier technique to employ in those days, as you really didn't know what you had until you got the film back from the lab, and you had to get everything you needed in one exposure.) Anyway, once we figured we had all the exposures needed to go into the final composited images we carefully packed up all the delicate old instruments using our trusty flashlights to help us see what we were doing and cleared out well before midnight.

The next day I took one more set of shots back in the studio, thinking we may incorporate into the calendar some images of a beautiful old music book we'd also rented. In order to get the desired effect I knelt down beside the book and used canned air to turn the pages while holding a cable release to trip the shutter. I got some cool shots, but in the end we didn't use any of them as they just didn't fit with the design.

We didn't end up using any of the book shots.

Once the printing was completed thanks again to Stewart at The Ideal Printing Company, all that was left to do was assemble each set of pages, put them into their holders and insert those into pretty little organza pouches, then start delivering them. As usual I am already thinking ahead to next year's calendar while giving out the current one! But I think I can say that Martin and Mark and I all agree this is our favourite to date. So a huge thank-you to them, again, for their creativity and design!

Assembling calendars before putting them in organza pouches.


  1. Beautiful....Congratulations to a very talented gal!

  2. It's a really beautiful image Kathryn! And I love the motion on the book page too. Oh how I wish it was mosquito season again... ;)

  3. Thanks, Mel, and me too! What a cute sideways profile picture you have. :)