Piano Photography — A Closer Look

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Charles Brooks was once a professional musician, He was principal cellist with various established symphony orchestras. But in 2016 he switched careers and became a freelance photographer.

photo taken from between the strings and the soundboard of a
Beneath the bass strings of a Steinway grand piano

Brooks, however, retained a keen interest in music and has just published a series of stunning photographs entitled Architecture in Music. This collection of images features various musical instruments photographed from a totally new perspective… from the inside.

Using specialist lenses and complex imaging techniques, Brooks’ photographs reveal the hidden details and spaces that exist deep within an instrument.

Brooks’ goal was to take photographs that make tiny spaces appear huge. “To do this,” he explains, “you need to remove the flags that tell the brain something is small.” And keeping everything in focus creating a sense of depth is the key element in this process.

close-up of the action inside a Kawai grand piano
The action of a Kawai concert grand piano showing the repetition springs

By blending dozens of frames, Brooks is able to produce a crisp detailed image that gives these hidden spaces a sense of vastness. It’s almost as if these were huge rooms, and you were standing inside. This led inexorably to the photographic series’ title… Architecture in Music.

Brooks photographed various instruments, and his images of Fazioli, Kawai and Steinway grand pianos and of a double bass are particularly striking.

Photographic techniques

Even with the technology, getting the best images isn’t simple. Brooks worked with a piano technician to create an opening large enough for the lens. This is a special probe lens made by Laowa, and known as a periprobe.

photo showing a camera with probe lens attached
Photographing the action of a Steinway grand piano

It is dark within a piano, and this type of lens requires a lot of light for optimum performance. So powerful lighting is required. But this in turn produces excessive amounts of heat, limiting the time available for each shot.

To get everything sharp, Brooks had to take a large number of photographs moving the focus very slightly between each. And then using a software package called “Helicon Focus” a final composite image is produced. Helicon Focus was originally developed in Kharkiv (Ukraine) by Helicon Soft for photographing insects. The program finds the in-focus parts of each photo and blends them all together. This is known as focus stacking.

close-up photo showing the action of Fazioli grand piano including
Fazioli grand piano action revealing the regulating screws (upper right) and the jacks

Brooks’ striking images truly reveal the architectural interiors hidden within classical musical instruments.

More of Brooks’ extraordinary photographs can be seen on his website. And museum-quality, acrylic, and aluminium Dibond prints can be purchased from Charles Brooks’ online shop.

Also of Interest: Requiem For Pianos, a photographic artbook by Romain Thiery

all photographs ©2022 Charles Brooks


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