The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Photographing The Luthier and Episode 86 of Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres

When I asked Narelle what was involved in being a luthier, she replied that if there was an instrument that was basically made of wood and strings, then she could repair it or make one from scratch.

Narelle's plan was to write a book about creating instruments. Not a step-by-step maker's guide as such, but about the processes. More of a coffee table book than a manual.

While Narelle had studied photography herself, she hated having her own photo taken, so part of my task was to create some portraits – both head shots of her looking directly into the camera, and images of her at at work.

The photos would need to match the look and feel she wanted to create for her book, so we explored Google Images, Pinterest and several books from her own collections, to get a sense of the direction she wanted to move in. It soon became clear she favoured a warm colour palette rather than desaturated blue-greys that were quite popular – less Nordic, more Italian was her comment about the style she would be pursuing.

On the day of the shoot, when I drove out to her workshop in rural Cumbria, it was a cold and dreich November day, so ideas of soft sunshine flowing through the windows, lighting up the workbench were abandoned. Fortunately she had log burner stove installed so we were able to stay warm.

The key shot we needed (the one at the top of the page) was where we started. I knew I wanted to shoot into the corner with the workbench in front and wood, books, tools and instrument parts behind her, but I struggled for a while to get the lighting I desired. I had one light to the left and another to the right, but still it was falling flat.

Eventually I realised I needed a light behind her, so balanced a third off-camera flash onto the shelf. A quick burst of a small smoke machine allowed that light to then diffuse a little and make it feel a bit more atmospheric.

A quick note about the editing – because Narelle was wearing a white top, it reflected the mostly warm brown wood colours, so the whole image looked a bit too yellow-shifted. So in post-production, I subtly moved her shirt into the blues, which had the effect of allowing the rest of the photo to have the warm tones without looking jaundiced.

The close up portraits were a simpler set up with a single light in a large softbox. The trickier bit here was overcoming her reluctance to be in front of the camera and engage with me through the lens. It's always easier to take photos of someone when the are looking elsewhere, as they don't feel so self conscious. Getting someone to look straight into the camera without appearing like a rabbit in the headlights is the real speciality of the portrait photographer, and is all about building the relationship and trust.

I was still keen on the idea of a casual photo of Narelle leaning against the bench, lit by the sun coming through the window. So I put an off-camera flash on a stand outside the window, and we angled the blinds to get the striped shadows. Another wee burst of the smoke machine allowed the beams of light to subtly show up.

Here are a few more shots from the day – wood shavings, close-up hands shot, and a photo of her grandfather's plane next to herown.

Narelle was great company throughout. From the pre-shoot meetings to the full day of photography, conversation continually flowed easily with never an awkward pause. She also made us pizza for lunch.

The book itself has been shelved (so to speak) for now. What with the onset of Covid, and the fact she is now pursuing a masters in music psychology and neuroscience, it could be a wee while until she gets back to it. However she is determined to do so once she has the time.

Meanwhile check out Narelle's website at:

and below you can enjoy Episode 86 of Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres, where I chat about the photoshoot with Narelle, and give critique on images submitted to the podcast.

If you decide to click through and watch it directly on YouTube (rather than here on the blog), then you can watch the Live Chat Replay and see the comments people are writing in real time as the podcast progresses.


2:00 - Welcome, what's coming up, greetings and comments
06:31 - Photographing The Luthier
26:29 - Moving the podcasts to Sunday at 3pm
32:53 - Introduction to the Critique Section
35:40 - Robert - horses on a frosty morning
40:50 - Jim - woodland path
46:32 - Megan - photographing the aurora
56:35 - Pat - how much editing is acceptable?
1:01:26 - Nurije - Exeter Cathedral
1:06:27 - Vandana - urban street
1:10:39 - 3 Types of Photographer - hunter, farmer, and scavenger
1:15:08 - Rose-Marie - a puppy behind bars
1:23:44 - Bennitito - Eastbourne Pier
1:27:27 - Should photos have borders?
1:34:08 - The next podcast is on Sunday at 3pm - set your reminders
1:36:01 - End

If you found this interesting/useful/entertaining, then please consider supporting these podcasts and blog posts via

Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel - – to be notified of new podcasts and behind-the-scenes videos.

And, or course, if you would like to submit a photo for feedback, or just ask a photography related question, then either email me or join my Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres Facebook group and I will put it into the following podcast:

No comments

All content copyright of Kim Ayres. Powered by Blogger.