Photographing Flutes

Wooden flutes are not easy to photograph.  They are long and thin, taking up no useful amount of space in the image, and making high demands on system resolution.  A mixture of jet black and shining silver presents serious contrast problems, especially when we want to see details on the black bits.  A black hole in black wood is not easy to capture.  I certainly don't claim to be an expert in photography, but here's a few tips we've worked out along the way.


We've found a fine darkish background to be best.  Because we want to see detail on the flute, we need to overexpose, and under these conditions, a light background will be too bright.  I carry a rolled up strip of medium dark-grey fabric to museums and other flute photographing opportunities.


It's sometimes hard to convince a flute to lie at just the angle you want and not roll over.  To help this I have a board with batting on it, with the dark-grey cloth stapled over.  You can press the flute into it at the desired angle and it mostly stays.  Alternatives involve Blue-tack (not good for the cloth!) or little pieces of wood to conceal under keys.


Because of the black and silver contrast, diffuse white light is essential.  We've found by far the best to be outside on a bright cloudy day - the whole sky becomes your diffuser.  You know when it's perfect - you don't cast a shadow.

Failing that, you can set up lighting outside a "tent" of white cotton fabric - but you will need a lot of light and it needs to be white.  The "compact fluorescent" bulbs used to replace ordinary incandescent bulbs are available in a daylight version.

The long thin stick

While it's good to get a picture of the flute assembled, unless it's a big picture it tends to look like a long thin stick.  To get around this, I usually take one of the flute assembled, a second one disassembled and then detail shots of anything unusual.  If the flute has unusual key-work on the side or back, shots from those directions are useful too.

Detail shots

These will obviously depend on the flute in question, but some things to consider:

  • Unusually decorative caps, rings or keys

  • Unusual and modified keys

  • Embouchure hole treatment

  • Maker's marks and serial numbers on various parts of the body

  • Groupings of keys, showing interlinkages

  • Wear marks, engraved owner's names, other signs of human interaction

  • Cracks and other defects

  • Tone hole seats, striker plates, buffer dots, etc (usually requires removing keys)

  • Markings under keys (ditto)

Macro mode

Most cameras have some kind of close-up capability, often involving macro mode.  This is very useful for close-ups of keys, embouchure holes etc.  Check your camera's instructions for the details.

Freezing focus

An auto-focus camera tends to have a panic attack if asked to photograph a hole.  You can often get around that by focusing with the edge of the hole in the middle of the screen, pressing the shutter button halfway to freeze the focus, centering the hole in the viewfinder and then completing the shot.


If you can get an ideal bright cloudy day, you should have plenty of light for your shots.  But if you have to manufacture your own light, you may find exposure times too long to hold steadily.  At that point the tripod and the remote shutter release or self timing shutter become very important friends.

Image size and resolution

I usually go for an image size and resolution a lot higher than my final application calls for.  This is easily reduced in post processing and keeps your options open until the last minute.  A good high resolution image can yield useful close-up detail shots later.  I keep the original image at full size, saving cropped and reduced resolution shots to new file names.

When reducing resolution it's good to keep in mind that the typical monitor screen is 800 or 1024 pixels wide and so an image that wide will fill the screen.  (Do your cropping first!)  Keep the vertical and horizontal resolution linked to avoid stretching the image out of shape.

Sending copies via email

Always good to consider the bandwidth available to you at the sending end and to the person receiving.  A few MBy of attached image of your cherished flute may be fine at your end with an optical fibre connection to the server, but not so good to Aunt Mabel who has to sit and fume for 15 minutes at the far end of a long telephone line.  And don't send images to email groups unless the group permits such things.  Put the image on a web page and direct interested parties to it.


I hope those thoughts help you to take better images of flutes.  I'm always interested in seeing interesting images, so feel free to send me a copy.  I'm on an optical fibre connection, so bandwidth isn't a major consideration at this end.

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