Five Things Music Can Teach Us About Lighting

In 1986 I walked into the photo department at The Gainesville (FL) Sun for the first time. I was 21, and it was like walking into heaven.

Several well-respected photogs worked there. There was pool glass available for borrowing. There were huge photos on the wall. And there was a nice stereo with a pair of high-end (to me) speakers on top of the bookshelf.

Looking back, I think they were Bose 301's. But I was impressed back then.

They said that they paid for the stereo by pooling the money they received for transmitting AP specials and enterprise art over the wire. It was the first time the connection between music and photography ever hit me.

Ever since, I have made an effort to install some sort of music into the photo departments where I worked -- stereo in the darkroom at Patuxent, amplified speakers in the studio at The Sun and now, multi-source music on demand in The Cave.

Music and photography share a lot of concepts. And even more specific, there is actually a lot of crossover between music and light.

1. Music is Part Art and Part Science

The more photographers I meet, the less it now surprises me to learn that many of them have some sort of a musical background. As for myself, I was a musician from way back. I started with piano lessons in elementary school, and played in bands (saxes, mostly) from middle school through college jazz ensembles.

Music sits at the intersection of math and art, as does photography. It calls on both sides of our brains, and we cannot function well as musicians or photographers without being able to access both right- and left-brain thinking.

Lighting is inherently grounded in physics -- ratios, fall-off, beam spread, inverse square rule, etc. Even your f/stop scale is a function of the square root of two.

Music is like a code -- a time-based, mathematical code that you have to either solve or create on the fly. Reading two clefs of music at once is like simultaneously translating two people speaking a foreign language.

And being good at the mathematics part does not make you a good musician any more than it makes you a good lighting photographer. You need to be able to access the expressive components as well, or you'll just be a "technically" good photog or musician.

Which is kinda like a blind date being described as having a good personality. That statement is defined more by the what it doesn't say that what it does.

2. Music is All About the Ensemble

If I had a dollar for everyone who asked me what f/stop I was shooting at, or power rating on a flash, or how far to place the flash away from something, I'd probably be in a different income tax bracket.

And in the end, none of that matters -- I could alter my power rating on a flash from 1/8 to 1/4, change my ISO from 200 to 100 and nothing would change. It is not about the absolute numbers. It is about the relationship between the lights, and/or between the flash and the ambient.

Music is the same. How loud is fortissimo? That depends on whether you are playing on a stage in front of 500 people or in a small room with a string quartet. What matters is what intensity it takes to blend with the other notes being produced.

Is the goal to blend into a chord? To carry the melody? To belt out a solo, backed up by the horn section? How loud you play is not an absolute -- it is relative to the loudness of the other sounds in the ensemble.

Same thing with lighting. How much salt do you add in a pot of soup? Depends. How big is the pot? How salty do you want it?

3. Music Has Color and Feel

Music has major and minor chords, and patterns such as circles of fifths. Lighting has warm and cool gels -- and visual patterns such as families of color.

Music has dissonant notes that tend to really grab your attention -- much as a warm, gridded light will make something in a dark, cool palette stand out.

Within musical passages there are things that fit and things that don't. Similarly, there is a logic to lighting. You can sell all sorts of strange things in your light -- if there is a logical reason to arrive at that light.

Sure, you can put a strobe in a toilet. But why would there be light coming out of a toilet?

McNally, on the other hand, once needed to light the interior of a torpedo tube on a sub. So he stuck an SB into the tube, and had a weapons tech point a flashlight into there. Now the lighting coming from the tube not only did the job it needed to do, but made sense.

Just as with music, you can do dissonant things with your lighting if you establish a logical framework first.

4. Music Can Alter the Way We Interact

Don't believe me? Well, then you've never seen a room full of middle-aged white people transform at a wedding reception when the DJ cranks up Love Shack, by the B-52's.

It can be a little embarrassing, actually. It's an excuse to go crazy -- and go crazy they do.

Lighting can drastically alter the way we visually interact with something. You can make someone look like an angel with the right light. And ten minutes later, you can have him looking like The Devil himself.

Further, I love actually shooting with music playing in the background. That's why we had the amplified speakers in the studio at The Sun -- just bring your iPod and you were good to go. Any time I am going to be shooting someone in my own tiny studio, I either ask them to bring their own iPod or have my iPhone set up to run Pandora through the house system.

That way, they pick an artist and Pandora creates a play list for them. Perfect. And being in their own musical environment puts people in a good place.

Sometimes I will choose music based on the feel of the photo we are trying to create. It not only alters my perception of the shoot, but the subject's as well. And it starts to get us into the same vibe, which really helps.

I am planning to photograph a cellist a few weeks from now for my long-term arts project. Still brainstorming ideas, but I think I want to have him playing in the woods. It's one thing to be shooting a cellist out in the woods, and yet another to have the sounds of, say, Bach's Cello Suite #1 wafting through the trees as we are shooting.

No iPod needed, and nice work if you can get it.

5. Music Should Be Organic

One of the ironies of music is that when it is technically perfect it is often utterly uninspiring. And I feel the same way about light. If anything, I tend to default to making things too structured and buttoned down. And I do not like that very much. So I have to work to reintroduce the imperfections that make things more interesting. More believable.

The musical equivalent of what I am trying to avoid here would be Auto-Tune. And as far as I am concerned, Auto-Tune absolutely sucks. It systematically drains the life out of music in it's effort to create singers out of people who happen to have more looks than talent.

The world is not perfect. Unless you have an overriding reason to the contrary, your lighting probably should not be totally perfect, either. Get the feel you are looking for, and then scrape up some edges. Find and create some randomness -- introduce imperfection if none is there. Think "al dente."

Your lighting, and your music, will thank you for turning off the Auto-Tune.

I am very curious as to how many of you are musicians, and whether you have thought about how it affects your photography in general and your lighting in specific.

Hit us in the comments if you have thoughts of your own.


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Blogger Alex DiFiori said...

Music is always a factor in my shooting, especially in the studio.

March 01, 2010 12:18 AM  
Blogger IRA said...

I was a musician for many years before getting serious about photography & I've been struck by the similarities many times. At their most basic level, sound waves and light waves behave in similar ways & that can be useful to remember. Hell, I even catch myself saying "I'll bump it up an octave" instead of a stop all the time when I'm working in Lightroom. (An octave is double the wavelength of the note below it so it's maybe not as goofy as it sounds)

Also, you need the same patience and persistence to get ahead in either pursuit.

March 01, 2010 12:20 AM  
Blogger Mikey said...

As a Musician and a Photographer my self I totally agree with you! Both creating music and photos take a lot of passion and emotion but also s lot of thought and technique.

March 01, 2010 12:22 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...


I play the violin/viola. (I've played since I was 8, but I wish I had more time to play now.)

I am fascinated by the combination of science and art in both music and photography and it is probably the reason that I have never become bored with either one of them. I often listen to music while I am brain storming for a project. It's funny how the swells and crescendos of a piece will often influence my lighting on a project.

Thank you for sharing this. It's a wonderful article.

Stephanie Zettl

March 01, 2010 12:38 AM  
Blogger Kristofor Jensen said...

I agree completely. I have two members of my extended family that have PhDs in physics at Harvard...just to turn around and do music. One became the dean of music at our local university and said that the physics helped him understand the music better!

March 01, 2010 12:45 AM  
Blogger Jamie said...

B.A. in music (saxophone), finishing my M.S. in photography. Who knew?

March 01, 2010 12:48 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Played the guitar in college, was a DJ in college and 8 years after, and now have moved more towards photography and lighting. I think there is definitely a link there.

March 01, 2010 12:49 AM  
Blogger Lou said...

David, this post is definitely on point, and it's how I've felt ever since picking up a camera seriously.

I'm a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and have spent some time at the engineering board as well. The similarities between photography and music are definitely numorous and, well, crazy similar. :D

All my life I've been insanely passionate about music, playing in bands, booking the next big gig, recording an epic song or album.

After my last band broke up, I started getting that same passion for photography about five years ago. The band got back together, the old passion flamed up again. And then the band broke up again. At this point, I made the decision that I couldn't rely on band members as much as I could rely on myself--if I fail, I know it's within my control (reasonably), and that it's entirely my fault--I wouldn't have my time wasted by others.

I still play on my own, still roll around recording ideas, writing riffs and songs, but it's not my crazy passion anymore--sadly, Rock Band with friends is more than enough these days hehe.

That being said, I've brought the same intensity from my music and band experience into my photography. And the same pricetags I found out hehe.

Anyways, I'll stop rambling. Thanks for the post, David. :)

March 01, 2010 1:06 AM  
Blogger Rey Bugia said...

I am a guitar player from as way back as I can remember, and was playing for a couple of bands at a time. Now, im in the corporate world but still playing during the annual Christmas party. I guess there are a lot of similarities with photography and music, the correlation was something Ihave never thought of and I may have been unconsciously using it. Thanks DH you Rock.

March 01, 2010 1:18 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

This is the best article yet on Strobist. By a mile.

I'm a professional dancer, freelance choreographer, percussionist as well as a photog. And they all intersect.

March 01, 2010 1:42 AM  
Blogger j said...

I played keys. Particularly the Hammond Organ. I switched to photography to save weight and my back.

March 01, 2010 2:09 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Been playing some kind of music for as long as I can remember. First guitar, then trumpet, then bass guitar, now piano, and I enjoy going back and forth and bouncing ideas off of the other instruments. Plus it's nice to be distracted by another instrument once in awhile, and multiple instruments keep me sharp for some reason, and keep me from becoming bored.

And music is an escape from photography and vice versa! I'm always changing mediums, hah.

March 01, 2010 2:16 AM  
Blogger j g said...

I have also noticed the intersection of photography and engineering. There are a large number of photographers who are/were also engineers. There is an aspect of creativity in engineering - using technical knowledge to create something new and compelling. I realize I may be biased, however. I pursued a graduate degree relating to satellite remote sensing, which is a very image-intensive discipline. But on the other hand, I also play guitar. :)

March 01, 2010 2:39 AM  
Blogger Rockhopper said...

I am a professional composer, playing piano, and synth. It took me fifteen years of hard work to save for my studio equipment.

now I am saving for another type of studio equipment funny how the world turns


PS Degree in music and a degree in photography.

March 01, 2010 2:50 AM  
Blogger Stephan Ahonen said...

This is actually kind of funny, I play several instruments and I'm a sound engineer by trade, and I just used a photography/visual art metaphor on a musician's forum to make a point about the perils of audio editing, making a parallel with bad photoshop work.

March 01, 2010 3:04 AM  
Blogger Photography Luna said...

Totally agree with the post, and yup, I'm a bassplayer myself besides being a photographer :-)

March 01, 2010 3:13 AM  
Blogger Tim Shirey said...

Had a music scholarship that helped with my degree in fine art (& photography). I play the tenor sax.

Music is an integral part of my daily work ... For example:
At the office, I have my iTunes play lists going while working on photography or illustrations (jazz, classical, sound tracks, etc). Every so often I may take (very) short pauses to pick up my harmonicas (sitting next to my computer) or my NAF (Native American Flute) which I build from scratch.

March 01, 2010 3:38 AM  
Blogger Simon at Q Photography said...

David - you write: "Even your f/stop scale is a function of the square root of two."
Is that correct? I always thought that the f/stop was a function of the focal length?
And I'm afraid I'm not a musician - although digital music (iTunes) has transformed my listening habits as much as digital cameras have transformed my photography - and iTunes invariably runs alongside Lightroom!

March 01, 2010 4:01 AM  
Blogger lavery said...

For quite a long time I thought I wanted to work in some way connected to music, but I've grown to realise that I actually want to do something creative.

I spent a year at music school playing guitar before going to university to study chemistry, so I completely agree/understand the joining of art and science and I love photography for precisely that reason. Luckily, my photography does allow me to still work with music - shooting bands & gigs - but it's just as rewarding when it doesn't directly involve music and that's the creativity thing.

March 01, 2010 4:10 AM  
Blogger Jon-Mark said...

I play drums and have actually have numerous discussions with my guitarist/sound engineer friend about the similarities between photography and music. I'm definitely pointing him to this post, it's an excellent roundup.

March 01, 2010 4:11 AM  
Blogger Jason Anderson said...

I posed this question in the NAPP forums because I knew a few (like myself) had a musical angle to them as well. (For me, I played piano for the better part of a decade).

Since the NAPP forums are a paid community, linking to it here wouldn't be helpful, so here's the post I made back then:
We all come to NAPP as photographers or graphics designers, web designers, or generally as a crowd of people that enjoy using Photoshop, Lightroom, or other software tools to express our creative vision.

I know that many of us have used musical references to discuss photography and art at some point though, so am kind of curious - how many of us actually play an instrument (doesn't matter how often you play, how good/bad you think you are, or what instrument you play)? For example, we all know SK plays guitar, and I think I recall a few in here that also pick a little. Erik Bernskiold also plays piano/organ quite well...(won't say how I know this out of respect)...surely there's got to be others...?

In that same vein - have you ever sought out your musical "expression" when you've otherwise been in search of a creative outlet and nothing from the graphics arena has presented itself?

Thanks in advance for all who are willing to share their other personal hobbies/interests...

Over 3 pages and 50 photographers/designers/etc threw in their musical background...I long suspected the connection was there, and both my query and your post here validate that thought!

March 01, 2010 4:46 AM  
Blogger Shane Kelly said...

Interesting post. I was not interested in music as a child - I loved technology. I did not draw, I did not play an instrument. I am now in my mid 50's and I have recently discovered photography, which has had the side effect of opening me up to music - I can often be found listening to classical one hour and sixties pop music the next. I don't know if it makes me a better photographer, but it sure makes me happier. iPhone is loaded with tracks that play while I walk, taking photographs as I go.
I guess the point is that it is never too late to try something new - you might like it, and it could lead you in interesting directions!
Thanks for the blog, love reading it.

March 01, 2010 4:46 AM  
Blogger ahbphotography said...

I play bass guitar, and studied music at college, i then shifted and completed an HND in photography. Good thing is getting to do your own photography for your own band!

March 01, 2010 4:54 AM  
Blogger Chris Barran said...

PhD Engineering,
Play Guitar and Violin.

March 01, 2010 5:01 AM  
Blogger J. Beckley said...

I agree this is the best article and blog yet! I've been a long time lover of music playing piano, trumpet, bass, and lead since I was 8. There is so many similarities and not just in the artform, but I'm sure you can also look at the similarities in the industry as well.(free downloaded images, free downloaded music)And how it affects the artist...and other things. I learned music by ear, now I'm trying to train my eyes to see better!

March 01, 2010 5:39 AM  
Blogger Jomi Garrucho said...

lol, auto-tune to music is HDR to photography, overused, abused and misused.

March 01, 2010 5:39 AM  
Blogger Erlend said...

Allthough I don't play any instrument, I'm real passionate about music - owning 500+ cd's and listening to a wide range of music styles. I noticed before that many of my flickr contacts who I considered good or excellent had some engineering or IT background, just like me. I'm sure that all this can not be a coincidence.

March 01, 2010 6:02 AM  
Blogger andrew said...

I'm a graphic designer/photographer, Ive played violin when I was younger and have played guitar for over 15 years. I was either going to study music or design.. ended up going with design as more chance of work. A lot of my friends who play guitar also do photography...


March 01, 2010 6:16 AM  
Blogger grubernd said...

not a musician, but a music-maniac. whenever the opportunity arises i ask people prior to a portraitsession about their current five favourite albums. first it gives me a reason to dig into my archive or discover new stuff, second it tells me something about their personality they could never tell me in words, and third i have a variety of music to play at the session. sometimes just with my phone and some small pocket speakers.
all of the above does not work if you ask for songs. albums rule!

March 01, 2010 6:22 AM  
Blogger lawsy1072 said...

I an glad you wrote about this. I've been a musician (drummer, alright let the jokes commence) since I was six and my day job is working with a succesful UK producer. Photography is an escape route for my own creativity as working in the commercial music sector is often a little restrictive. Photography is my outlet where I call the shots!
I'd like to add , David, don't be too down on auto-tune. You know the argument for and against HDR in photography? Auto tune allows people to express themselves how they would have liked to in the first place. Not all talented songwriters are great singers either but we want to hear those songs so it's a tool which can help. Still it's a personal preference thing, like strobes v available light.

March 01, 2010 6:25 AM  
Blogger jack said...

Both myself and Dave Souza, the other staff photographer at my paper, started as musicians, but chose to persue photography as a fulltime job. I just kid around with music, but Dave recently took up his bass guitar again and is very active in a working band.
As far as music and science mixing, I'm not so sure. My wife and I were invited to a concert, years ago, at Boston's famous Hatch Shell; an outdoor concert by a college orchestra. Well, the college was Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And, they really did play as though Beethoven had worn a pocket protector.

March 01, 2010 6:42 AM  
Blogger Keith said...

I started studying music in 3rd grade (violin) and continued formal training thru college (double bass, piano and sax among others). I still occasionally play piano and mandolin. I am also an engineer by training & profession as well as a lifelong photographer. I definitely feel photography is a unique intersection of art and science that appeals to those with strong proclivities in both domains.

March 01, 2010 6:55 AM  
Blogger Dennis Pike said...

I am not a musician, never was, wish I could play, but I'm tone deaf and have no sense of rhythm. I love love love music though. Another correlation between music and photography is how the same thing in a different hands can cause a huge difference. For instance, have a proficient guitar player play a song... then have Eric Clapton play the same song... HUGE difference. same thing with photographers. two people shooting the same thing/event one may shoot it well, but someone else may create a masterpiece.

also... I was 3 in 1986

March 01, 2010 8:03 AM  
Blogger John said...

I'm a guitarist and I can most definitely see the connection between photography, lighting and music. They are all emotive, poetic, mathematical sciences. That sorta seems like a contradiction in terms, but i feel that's exactly what they are.

Also, I've noticed when shooting portraits, if you can find a music your subject relates to, it definitely calms the situation and sometimes brings more to the palette, from the subject and the shooter.

Awesome comparison between the two arts!

March 01, 2010 8:31 AM  
Blogger scejka said...

Great article! So true too! I was a music fiend, then musician long before I started photography but they both run along the same path.

Mixed art and science. I'm more of an organic musician..and tend to shoot by feel rather than but any numbers. I learned to read music a long time ago, only to forget it, and then not even need it. I think the same goes for art/photography. You learn to try to get it perfect until you learn that perfect is boring, so you learn to leave it with all it's ragged edges.

Thanks for the great article!

March 01, 2010 8:47 AM  
OpenID hlimphotography said...

I've played the drums for 20 years now and I often think of the left-brain/right-brain relationship and how the technical/artistic values come into play in both photography and music. Good post!

March 01, 2010 9:08 AM  
OpenID aebenjam said...

I've been an amateur musician lots longer (since I was a young child) than I've discovered my love for photography (in the last 8 years.) The link between those two hadn't directly occurred to me except in as much as I'm a very technical person (computer geek) who is always exploring how to be less geeky and more artistically creative.

March 01, 2010 9:09 AM  
Blogger Daniel Sullivan Photography said...

I majored in music in college, and I still write, record and play all the time.

March 01, 2010 9:14 AM  
Blogger glenn kaupert said...

Great piece. I come from the Chicago Tribune, and many of the editorial staff shooters as well as graphics professionals and writers are also musicians or hobbyists. Lou Carlozo wrote a piece on the art of digital recording with ProTools - "Band-aid: Computer makes even journalists sound good". He assembled about eleven of us, all staffers to record a song on individual tracks, then assembled it in his basement studio, tons of fun - for us.

March 01, 2010 9:15 AM  
Blogger glenn kaupert said...

Great piece. I come from the Chicago Tribune, and many of the editorial staff shooters as well as graphics professionals and writers are also musicians or hobbyists. Lou Carlozo wrote a piece on the art of digital recording with ProTools - "Band-aid: Computer makes even journalists sound good". He assembled about eleven of us, all staffers to record a song on individual tracks, then assembled it in his basement studio, tons of fun - for us.

March 01, 2010 9:16 AM  
Blogger fpajonk said...

David, if you're interested in 'how we hear' and how that differs from 'how we see' I recommend reading Daniel Levitin's 'This is your brain on Music'. Levitin has been a producer for almost every musician with a known name and is a neuroscience professor at McGill.

March 01, 2010 9:17 AM  
Blogger michael said...

Yep, include me in. I majored in music and seemed to play all my life until I saw the "light". Recently a musician friend of mine emailed me wanting to know why the sliders on his amp had the same numbers as the f stops on his camera. A quick email to my old theory teacher explained it - as did David above (square of two).

I play music in my studio, but I often get so involved with people that I don't really hear it. When I have a product shoot, it is always playing. I too have always noticed a relationship.

It should also be mentioned that Thom Hogan has a degree in trumpet and played in a symphony before becoming a famous photographer/author on Nikon equipment.

March 01, 2010 9:19 AM  
Blogger David and Ari said...

I was really into songwriting/composing before I fell into photography. It's the same drive to create something out of nothing that I love about photography. While I am creating something "new" I know that I am drawing on the knowledge from lessons, listening, and studying, which influence whatever I create.

In photography the "ensemble" is the interaction of the technical knowledge, my own vision, the location, the subject, the light, the mood. Everything working together is what creates the picture.

March 01, 2010 9:23 AM  
Blogger SethT said...

This post really strikes a chord (ha) with me. As a photographer/musician, I find the two go hand in hand almost without exception. Sure, it's great to have music playing during a shoot. But more than that, I find that image creation is analogous to songwriting. Finding, constructing and lighting the environment in which a subject finds themselves is very much like writing lyrics that are more than just the chorus. And creating an image that implies a narrative makes working with fellow storytellers a natural fit. My experience with musicians (and actors too) is that the more seriously they take their craft, the more they don't want you to "take" their picture, but collaborate on "making" an image.

March 01, 2010 9:38 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I played cornet through high school and now dance 3 nights a week. Never made the connection between music and lighting until you pointed it out. I am now going to start using music with my models.

March 01, 2010 9:40 AM  
Blogger RobD said...

My college degrees center around music performance; I'm a former music teacher; and my current day job is with a non-profit organization that works to restore instrumental music programs in public schools around the USA. Yep - I'm a little involved in music. Thanks to DH for bringing these correlations to light! I had never thought about music and photography in this way - but now my addiction makes sense!

Music is intertwined in most everything I do, so photography naturally follows. I nearly always have music playing, so including music while I shoot is not a stretch. However, I'm often guilty of listening to a song or piece of music and being inspired by the imagery in a passage or a lyric and later trying to recreate that thought in a photograph. What I've learned through this blog has exponentially increased my ability to make that image.

Thanks for a brilliant post!

March 01, 2010 9:44 AM  
Blogger Rikk said...

Guitar and Mandolin.

Math is my music and my vision.

March 01, 2010 10:01 AM  
Blogger Gene Lowinger said...

I was originally a country fiddler, then decided to study classical violin and worked in the freelance business in NYC for years. At one point I needed to make more money so I studied systems analysis, which was a snap after having been a musician, and when I couldn't put up with a straight job anymore moved into my second creative love, photography.

As you so aptly point out the parallels and confluences are all over the place. The one most important thing I've found in common with both is that it takes work, work, work to learn the craft and get it deep in the mind and body. Then we need to forget about it, trust our instincts and let intuition take over.

It's the same with any creative endeavor I've ever been involved with.

March 01, 2010 10:17 AM  
Blogger clarki said...

Always been a musician and a photographer, never known anything else. See the light and feel the groove and inspiration follows, great article.

March 01, 2010 10:22 AM  
Blogger Suzen JueL said...

It's as if you wrote down, everything I've done, but never described...which I find odd and extremely exciting!
The first thing that struck me, is when you wrote about how most photographers are or were prob. musicians. I've always thought, most musicians are photographers, haaa!
One of the first things I'll ask someone who writes, is what instruments do you play? What kind of photography do you like to do, because almost always, they have at least an interest in these things.
Myself, I'm a musician, songwriter, artist and i am absolutely passionate about photography, but am by no means a pro!!!
Creativity runs in all directions, with a 'Creative Type'.
I also recognize that music and color run hand and hand with me, synthesasia .. a blending of two senses, so I see sound, hear color...Which...ironically seems to also be something most 'artists' have a strong sense matter what creative genre..most will have the odd things that come with creativity. Bipolar is another common thread Creative's share.
Lighting is Critical to me, not just for photography, but for ambiance to GET an audience in the right frame of mind, for what I'm about to present to them, makes as much sense as opening your mouth when you speak, it's GOT to be!!
My music is intimate and lyrically to sing in the bright lights of a cafeteria with a lot of busy people around, isn't my cup of tea...give me chocolate wood and crimson frames on the wall, hardwood floors, high ceilings, natural and ambiant light...I"m in my own personal world...which is exactly where I want to be, when I perform.
You are BRILLIANT...a friend of mine shot me over this way, to read your blog and I am completely a fan of your thinking, writing and perception.
Thanks for sharing!!!!
-Suzen JueL

March 01, 2010 10:23 AM  
Blogger J.P. said...

Another musician strobist here. I've played guitar since I was in the 7th grade, was on staff at my college radio station and now I play in an indie-rock band for kids. I've found a lot of similarities between music and photography--the main difference my wife has found is that cameras, lenses, and strobes up less space than guitars.

March 01, 2010 10:32 AM  
Blogger Nicholas said...


A long-time lurker finally decloaking here. I sing, dabble on piano and recorder, and I took clarinet for four months in my senior year of high school. (I'd like it to pick it back up, too, but I don't know when I'm going to practice. It's not like I'll ever play the Weber concertos, which were my original inspiration....)

I also direct a Gregorian Chant choir which needs a group picture for social media, and I'll be trying to work my Strobist mojo for that. Many thanks to you for all you've written.

March 01, 2010 10:48 AM  
Blogger mark said...

I'm a professional musician, have been playing music my entire life, i got into photography a few years back and thanks to you and your blog i have progressed a lot.

I think another important thing in music which is also present in photography is improvisation.

There are situations where you just need to be sensitive enough to capture or create something compelling while reacting to the situation your are in.

Looking at something and being able to appreciate the poetic beauty of whatever you are looking then trying to capture that in a photograph or a melody or even in words happens both in music and photography.

Another one is understanding acoustics and how sound travels around a room is very similar to how light travels in the same room.

Many many thanks David for this post and this blog

March 01, 2010 10:52 AM  
Blogger NtwkGestapo said...

I've been into music all my life (sang in school and church choirs, had a "garage" band back before they called them that, was a DJ back when the DJ made the decision as to what to play, etc). Photography hit about the same time! A few other posters talked about engineering as well. Well, I spent 20+ years in engineering (field, design, etc). Nowadays Information Security is where I pay the bills, but... All of these disciplines require a mix of logic AND "art". Thanks for this post, brought back many, many good memories (remember standing in Grand Central with the HS choir group doing an impromptu Acapella concert as we waited for our 2 passenger cars to be moved from Penn Central. We were headed to Expo '67 in Montreal). Wonderful post!

March 01, 2010 10:55 AM  
Blogger Phong said...

B.S. in Applied Physics, Minor in Mathematics, drummer, guitarist, and singer. And photographer, of course. Music rocks =]

@IRA: I think you mean to say doubling the frequency. Frequency and wavelength have an inverse relationship, so if you doubled the wavelength (f=1/λ) , you would halve the frequency, and lower the note by an octave!

@Simon at Q Photography: the f stop scale is based on the function f(x)=(2)^(x/2). Try plugging in any non-negative integer for x.

Hope that helps!

DH, thank you for an awesome blog.

March 01, 2010 11:03 AM  
Blogger Marc said...

Long time reader, First time poster. I couldn't agree more! Music and photography have always gone hand in hand to me. My first photo mentor ALWAYS had music playing in the studio. I do as well. I love to shoot music/musicians. It has always just felt right to me. Music has always inspired my photography. Thank you, it is great to know others feel the same.

March 01, 2010 11:24 AM  
Blogger George said...

Great post :-)

I'm yet another longtime reader and first time writer. This one really hit close to home for me, as I have a degree in music education and have spent most of my life being involved in music... most recently as a jazz trombonist on cruise ships for the past five years.

Ever since I became interested in photography two or three years ago, I've seen all the same similarities between the two art forms that you just mentioned ...especially while I was working my way through your old bootcamp posts and learning how light works. I still remember how much easier the whole lighting concept became once I realized how similar it was to working with sound. You're just dealing with waves, whether they be light or sound.

I was also surprised that (just like music) you need to practice the basic skills until they're second nature. Then, you're free to make conscious choices about what you want. You can make things beautiful and balanced and harmonius... or soft and subtle... or even full of glaring crashing dissonance. Its all art and its all up to the artist. As my old trombone professor used to say - you can play things any way you want, just try to make sure that what you end up with isn't an accident. :-)

Thanks again for all the great information and inspiration over the past few years!

March 01, 2010 11:27 AM  
Blogger TimJayFitz said...

I was a bass player in a band for 10 years. I was always into photography but got more and more so. Finally photography took over for my art's fix. I like having the creative control myself(not having to deal with the other band members opinions). Plus - I know everyone in my cities music scene from playing with them all those years - guess who they call for promo shots...

March 01, 2010 11:35 AM  
Blogger MortonPhotographic said...

Love this post! Well, I'm not a musician, but I have loose background related to music. I was heavily into car stereos. Installation, competition, tuning... And, in the 80s, the best info came from the home audio market so I dabled in that. I was so into mobile electronics that I got a job at Auto Sound & Security Magazine where I had to take pictures--that is where my photography started in the mid 90s. I took to photography because I could apply the same type of thinking I used with audio--now that you say it, I guess I was using the same parts of the brain for photography that I did with the audio stuff.

I still love both photography and music. I love to have great tunes cranked up at a shoot, and not just any music. I want to match the music to the desired shot--it helps everything fall into place for me and the subject.

March 01, 2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger Stewart said...

Good stuff but all this deaf photographers has to say is "If you could hear what I see".

March 01, 2010 11:49 AM  
Blogger Ihor Pona said...

My next shoot, tomorrow, I will enter the space as I would the stage as conductor and see not stuff but static and willing participants, ready to be orchestrated into several compositions guided by me as conductor.

Thanks for bringing out in me, again, the imaginative kid with any available object to propel me into what could be.

March 01, 2010 11:51 AM  
Blogger garrett hamilton said...

Very nice Article David. I am NO musician by a long shot but I do listen to music, rather loudly as I edit(LR, or PS) When i do studio shoots I always have music playing as well. It really helps to relax the model, and myself. I have dabbled with a set of bagpipes in the past but could never find a good instructor in my area to teach well, and i do have a 1940's Violin in my attic that was my grandparents.

March 01, 2010 11:59 AM  
Blogger Jason Herrick said...

You are spot on! I was a professional classical musician for nearly 20 years before "retiring." The one word I would add is emotion. Music evokes emotion like nothing else. As a lighting geek/photog I try to do the same thing.

Great post!

March 01, 2010 12:11 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Yup - I've been playing some instrument or another for 30+ years, mostly guitar. When I shoot, there is always something playing. And when I'm editing, brainstorming, writing... etc.
And if I don't have access to a cello player in the woods, I'll just crank up the radio in my head!
Great post!

March 01, 2010 12:17 PM  
Blogger Kathryn Lymburner said...

Started playing piano and taking lessons when I was a wee tot. Did so until later in high school where it was go pro or go home...I went home. It was too much effort and not so much fun to go pro. Played trumpet, clarinet and sang in many choirs.

I've always seen the connection between these mediums, the least of them being that when I listen to the right tunes I just feel more creative: Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Priscilla Ahn, Sia, Shostakovitch, Rachmoninov etc.

Great post Dave!

March 01, 2010 12:18 PM  
Blogger Jade Falcon said...

I loved your post. Music & photography definitely have things in common.

I'm a musician. I was classically trained on the piano for a good 16 years of my life.

Nowadays, I play the fiddle (essentially the violin) -- mostly Irish/Celtic. I also play the mandolin & can sorta play the guitar. And then there's the tin whistles & recorders, and didjerdoo (sorta)....

I have music theory books right next to my photography books. There are definite parallels to the approach between the two disciplines.

March 01, 2010 12:52 PM  
Blogger Don said...

I've dabbled in playing music in the past but listening to music is a necessity. I can't imagine doing a shoot without it as it can provide an atmosphere and a conversation starter with a nervous subject. For my personal work I've been trying to approach my lighting like Jazz improvisation.

March 01, 2010 12:59 PM  
Blogger londonblue007 said...

Excellent post. I'm a recording engineer and live music mix engineer in addition to dabbling in Guitar, Bass and Ukulele.

March 01, 2010 1:10 PM  
Blogger j. austin studios said...

9 years touring/recording percussionist, 1 year secretary to Applied Music department - WCU.
3 years trying to learn photography. The experience blends itself over and over again. Fantastic article!

March 01, 2010 1:15 PM  
Blogger Clearcon said...

What shouldn't be lost in all the wonderful things you've given us over the last few years on this blog is the quality of your writing. This was a fascinating read made more so by your word weaving. Thanks for sharing your talent with us; we're all better for it.

March 01, 2010 1:16 PM  
Blogger kevinthomas said...

He means the logarithmic scale used for f-stops is based on the square root of 2 which is 1.4 rather then using a geometric progression. So if you double 2 you get 4 the square root is 2, double again 8 the square root is 2.8 and so on.

Yes, I play the flute although musician might be stretching it. I certainly feel both music and photography allows self expression.

March 01, 2010 1:19 PM  
Blogger Simon at Q Photography said...

I think both David and I are right! I found this explanation via Google:
"F-stop is the focal length divided by the diameter of the lens. For example, a 200mm f/4 lens will be 50mm wide. Get out your ruler and measure it. 200mm/50mm = f/4. That is why f-stop is typically written as F/4, meaning "focal-length over 4" or "focal-length divided by four".
Where do those numbers come from?
Lenses are marked with a series of f-stops, each one lets in half as much light as the previous one. The light-gathering ability of a lens is determined by its area, and f-stops are determined by diameter. Area is related to diameter squared. The progression of f-stops, 1 - 1.4 - 2 - 2.8 - 4 - 5.6 - 8 - 11 - 16 - 22 - 32, are powers of the square root of 2."

March 01, 2010 1:22 PM  
Blogger Images by Ceci said...

I've been a musician since I could walk. My mother was a pianist, my father a piano tuner. I grew up playing multiple instruments, although violin was my principle endeavour. I studied at the Royal Academy of Music in England and taught for a few years.

I came to photography later in life. But I feel the rhythm and harmony of the light and my subject the same way I feel the rhythm and harmony of my music. As you said - imperfect in its emotions. I really enjoyed this article. Thank you!

March 01, 2010 1:23 PM  
Blogger Steve Immel said...

The intersection of music and photography rears it's head wherever I turn; from Ansel Adams' piano to my modest turns on drums, guitar and vocals in the deep reaches of the sixties.

March 01, 2010 1:23 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Wow, I didn't realize so many photographers were also musicians! I've been a musician way longer than I've been a photographer. I play guitar in a gigging rock band (just cover songs in local bars). I haven't really noticed a lot of similarities between the two, but I can see that it takes a certain type of personality to excel at either (lots of drive, curiosity, patience, enjoy practicing alone, etc). Also both give me a creative outlet which is essential when working 40 hours a week in a soul sucking office job.

One funny thing relating to gear - guitar players are a lot like photographers.. Always looking at the next gear purchase! :)

March 01, 2010 1:23 PM  
Blogger youtube said...

I`ve just posted some Elvis inspired fashion photography with me playing guitar over the slideshow... Nikon sb800 with a beauty dish and grid.

March 01, 2010 1:34 PM  
Blogger Nelson said...

Musician here too... Had a Punk Rock band and still like to speak my mind trough a 3-chorded fast and raw pattern. Translate that to photography and one light should be enough for most of your work. You can go for the fancy solo every once in a while, but remember to keep it short and jump back to that G minor asap.

March 01, 2010 1:38 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Spot On!!!

March 01, 2010 1:38 PM  
Blogger temps said...

I'm one of those guys who dance to Love Shack ;o)

March 01, 2010 1:50 PM  
Blogger kangster said...

Just wanted to say another musician here. Funny, I was discussing this same topic the other day with a musician friend of mine.

March 01, 2010 1:50 PM  
Blogger Lance said...

I am a professional musician. I grew up on music and it is/has been my life. Interestingly, I picked up photography in college and became hooked (back in the film days). So now I am both photographer and musician, and for those of you who know what this may mean, I am INTP on the Myers-Briggs scale which, interestingly, puts our personality types as heavily vested in both photography and music.

March 01, 2010 1:50 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

Played ethnic/world beat percussion for years in a multi-arts performance ensemble: Visual art, music and dance that was largely improvisational. As a musician the challenge was always watching the painting and dancing, listening to the other instruments and vocals and then responding to create the right fit and space for the totality of moment/context. That groove is so much like the way I am shoot weddings.

March 01, 2010 1:54 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

What a great post. I've never thought about it before. Now that I have it makes total sense. Sometime I feel like there is a balancing act between the yin and yang of photography. The science verse artistic expression that comes from both music and photography. I think a truely great photo will find a balance between the two just like great music is a great balance between the math and the art.


March 01, 2010 2:00 PM  
Blogger Don said...

Music is a huge part of my life. And the intersection of photography and music has been a near obsession. From form and texture, to counterpoint and rhythm, it is all so clearly aligned.

I hear music when I shoot. I hear music when I look at images, Music drawn upon my experience listening, or sometimes just patterns of sound.

Nice post for sure.

March 01, 2010 2:05 PM  
Blogger Diane Schafer said...

WOW... you spoke to my heart in this article! I was a music education major at the University of Miami. I taught general music in the public schools for over 25 years. My principle instrument is oboe. My husband and I own a music store and NOW I am a photographer. I find so many artistic ties between music and photography, and you have said it all so well. I would like to reference this link on my blog as you said it better than I could. WELL DONE!!! May the musical light be with us all!

March 01, 2010 2:11 PM  
Blogger benjamin harte said...

I am both a professional violinist and a professional photographer, so I totally agree with this post!
The music came first , but when I started my photography, I was keen to marry the two - I now work both as a violinist and specifically as a music photographer here in London!

Good post!

March 01, 2010 2:20 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

My photo studio doubles as a rehearsal room and recording studio. One thing I noticed tripping around the other day: tripods, light stands, music stands, mic stands. We sure do have a lot of crap that needs support! If only we could have pocket wizards instead of cables for everything.

March 01, 2010 2:22 PM  
Blogger Will Kronk said...

I started playing in the band in elementary school and played all the way up through high school. I've been in several bands after that playing either guitar or bass. I've done recordings of bands. I've DJ'ed with friends at local clubs. I ended mostly giving up on all of that because with photography, you depend mainly on yourself.

Sadly my experience with bands and such is that it's very hard finding several people that are on the same page and are willing to make a commitment to create good music. At least with photography, I depend on myself mostly and then on my subject to show up.

Is it ironic that I want to mostly shoot concert photography and band portraiture?

March 01, 2010 2:37 PM  
Blogger angelo cuissi said...

David, it's been a great pleasure to read your post. Before turning to photography, I was a professional musician and music therapist; working with music and visual arts led me to photography, making me glad to discover concepts and narratives and patterns surprisingly analogue between those creative expressions - as well as the poetry, theater and storytelling.

In fact, your ideas on different lightings and the stories they tell in a picture, on the moods colour and chords can evoke and the "humanity" of errors - well, perhaps not errors, but discrepancies - are very inspiring, and I would be very thankful to read some more on that. I have worked a little on the study of the meanings and symbols found on musical structures (drone notes, counterpoint, etc.) and their relations to the written word and visual arts, and I can tell you: it's a huge and almost non-explored world, no matter how important to us these things are. So - please! - keep us informed about your findings.

Thanks, man!

March 01, 2010 2:43 PM  
Blogger TheArtfulBurner said...

Wow a philosophical Strobist. I'm yet another musician in this long list. I also teach music and photography.

BTW the YouTube link to YoYo Ma playing Bach was excellent. But have you heard the same piece played by Yo Mama? -)

March 01, 2010 2:46 PM  
Blogger PhotoJ said...

Though not a musician I see a relationship between the two art forms. For me I spend a lot of time analyzing numbers and assembling data. Photography allows the other half of my brain out and seems to inherently draw on the numbers side as well.

March 01, 2010 2:53 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

I played violin since I was 4. Music, especially classical music, has been a part of the darkroom experience for me since I first started. Now that much of my work is done on the computer, I still listen, but not as intentionally.

March 01, 2010 3:01 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

As a percussionist who plays in a rock band, I definitely see a relationship between music and photography, and I thank you for pointing out the similarities so well. There are times, especially on location, when I'll find myself in a sort of flow, with each choice (of light placement, light modifiers, gels, choices of subject position, etc.) suggesting the next. I think if it as a sort of photo jazz. It's definitely a heightened creative state, improvisation grounded in technique.

March 01, 2010 3:56 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

personally, I find the world all to quiet when there isn't music playing, especially if I'm shooting or working on photos or something.

when I work indoors I always try to have a little background music to give the environment a little more energy. When I'm retouching, I crank the music up and and pick something with a fast hard beat to set my pace.

I at one point in my life had wanted to learn how to play, but sadly never really followed through with any specific instrument. I can play half a dozen chords on the guitar, but that's about all.

March 01, 2010 4:13 PM  
Blogger Max said...

icinodGreat post.

It almost seems like the connection is more purely to math and science. With a hundred bazillion readers on the blog, you're bound to have countless musicians of some level and tons of and music lovers.

A lot of science background and music people popping up in the comments. I have the science for sure, BS Mechanical Engineering and currently a HS Physics Teacher, but when it comes to music, nothing doing. I have no ear, no understanding, no capability on any instrument and no desire to stick to it.

I do have a cave of my own so I'm gonna work to work it in better. thanks.

March 01, 2010 4:21 PM  
Blogger Timothy Burkhalter said...

I found photography during my senior year in college finishing up a Music Education Degree. It was the exact thing I needed to keep the creative spirit alive and moving forward in my art. I've taught in elementary music education for over 10 years now and run my photography business on the side. Each keeps the other balanced and moving forward (the creative spirit of 800 kids each day does a lot also.)

March 01, 2010 4:24 PM  
Blogger Caleb said...

Playing oboe for seven years my private instructor taught me it was up to the musician to put his own emphasis if he really wanted to convey a message beyond the music. His infamous example (all caps used for vocal stress):

I don't beat my wife.
i don't BEAT my wife.
i don't beat MY wife.
i don't beat my WIFE.

More message is conveyed in the emphasis than the actual context.

March 01, 2010 4:30 PM  
Blogger musprodguy said...

It's interesting, my life is the exact reverse of yours from a musician/photographer POV.

I am a musician professionally, I work in TV and Theatre, writing, mixing or programming music and I spend nearly every day in the studio, sitting behind a mixing desk loving every minute of it! My spare time however is spent coaxing family and friends to let me sit them down in front of a slowly growing array of lights while I snap away with a big silly grin on my face!

To the point, you are dead right about the similarities between our chosen professions. We deal with the same aspects of composition; light and shade; perspective. You can translate a photograph directly into the stereo field: you have your obvious left to right positioning/panning; depth of field, signified by how loud or quiet a signal is; reverb putting the sound in a space or just giving a nice glittering 'bokeh' in the background. I'm sure our client briefs are very similar too, expecting us to transform a vague idea of what they think they want from indistinct grunts and references into something new, fantastic and impactive.

However, music, like photography is a purely creative form and it's always very easy to let technology get in the way! My recording philosophy is the same as for my photography: get it right on the day and you'll save yourself a hell of a lot of head scratching and table thumping in the edit! Protools/Photoshop are now so incredibly powerful you can correct a shed load of mistakes, fix pitching errors and make everything lovely and glossy. But nothing grooves like Miles Davis solo on a trumpet and similarly, nothing has as much raw impact on me as Annie Leibovitz behind a camera. There's no software to generate talent!

So much of what we do starts as trial and error and evolves to hopefully, less error each time. And you gotta love what you do to be any good at it.

Similarly to you and your hi-fi in the studio, I like to have lovely pictures on the desktop of my monitors to look at while I'm listening!

Thanks for a truly inspiring Blog!

March 01, 2010 4:32 PM  
Blogger bilbo said...

Me Too!
Long time amateur photog and musician - Keyboard, double bass (bass fiddle) and guitar. Physics at uni.
There seems to be a lot of us around!

March 01, 2010 4:34 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I am a flautist who also has a PhD in astrophysics and a keen passion for photography. I recognised the link between music and mathematics at a very early stage and definitely think there is a lot to it.

March 01, 2010 5:09 PM  
Blogger Morgana Creely said...

There is definitely a connection between music and photography. I have played music all my life, one instrument or another [the last two were Irish Harp and Irish Concertina] and was a professional musician [harp] for a while. Although I confess I don't play much at all these days. The call of the camera is too strong. ;)

March 01, 2010 5:13 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I have distinct lack of rhythm I can't even clap a beat. I hope this does not doom my dream to be a photographer?

March 01, 2010 5:16 PM  
Blogger Nana Kofi Acquah said...

I grew up with Music. I have never been a musician but I have sang with a couple of choirs, helped Christafari produce an album and worked as a Radio DJ for four years.

I definitely can see how photography is related to music.

March 01, 2010 5:18 PM  
Blogger Shelly said...

A post about transforming musician's gear into photographer's gear.

March 01, 2010 5:22 PM  
Blogger Chip said...

I played tuba in bands in symphonies in high school, then bass in jazz and rock bands, and also minored in classical guitar in college. My music career sort of ground to a halt once I had kids and got a 9-5 (attorney). About three years ago, I discovered photography and really got bit by the bug. Photography has really filled the void left by music, and I'm constantly struck by the similarities. I always had a more technical approach to music, and not so much with the touchy-feely, although obviously there is artistry involved. I think I take pictures like I play.

March 01, 2010 5:25 PM  
Blogger Rick Sammon said...

This is one of coolest posts I have seen in a while - and I say this asa photographer and musician.

March 01, 2010 5:41 PM  
Blogger Frozen Forever Photography said...

Very nice post. I cant play anything good but I would love to play the guitar. I can still remember my dad playing unplugged to us as kids. I can say that music has helped me get though many tough times.

Thanks to all the artists out there that have dreams to create.

March 01, 2010 5:55 PM  
Blogger Natsky said...

My husband owns a hi-fi store selling analogue based equipment ie turntable systems to play vinyl LP's. We constantly giggle at the parallels between hi-fi equipment and cameras, the amount of audiophiles who are also into photography and additionally a large number are also into motorbikes. It's almost like a holy trinity.

March 01, 2010 6:20 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Same here. I studied music in school.
I think that music also makes a person consider things simultaneously, contrapuntally, which is good for photography.

On the flip side, many of us took up guitars to be the beatles, or studied music in school.

So it may be true that music is in the background of many professions, hobbies and arts.

Now that everyone has a camera, it may be that in 20 years, everyone will say they dabbled in photography before they became a xxx.

March 01, 2010 6:39 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Yup I used to play an instrument. I played in middle school for the school orchestra. In addition to art and science being intertwined for both photography and music it's important to note that learning music at a young age has been shown to shape how our brain develops and processes information.

Those who learn music are more apt to be able to conceptualize the complex. Quite an important thinking skill to develop if you're a photographer.

March 01, 2010 6:57 PM  
Blogger Qixotic Imagery said...

"Excuse me sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"

"Practice, practice, practice."

Music, photography...similar in this as well.

March 01, 2010 7:12 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

I started shooting in an effort to help alleviate some of the backlog in the graphics department in the recording studio I was engineering in back in '98. I've been doing both professionally since then -- sometimes more of one, sometimes more of the other, but always at least some of both.

March 01, 2010 7:51 PM  
Blogger nathanoj said...

Learned classical piano around the same time I got to mess with a camera (11) and went on to play keys in weekend R&B bands. Now I'm 55 and making a modest living out of photography and music.

March 01, 2010 7:57 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

I am a pianist and have been for many years. While I was studying at the conservatory I wasn't yet a photographer and of course did not think of it in that way, but I did create a project during my studies that linked music to colour and the feel of music to different light (hard/soft/colour/bright/etc). Well it's a bit more complicated (or rather a lot more complicated) than that in theory.
Next to that is my favourite composer J.S. Bach and his music is very mathematic.
I have always considered photography similar to Music though, but that could just be because I worked through the paces in the same way (auto didact) and I have a remarkable way of doing different things in the same ways it turns out.
Further more this article couldn't be more spot on!

March 01, 2010 8:12 PM  
Blogger Jared Pyfer said...

I play Guitar and Sax. I kinda play the piano.

March 01, 2010 8:24 PM  
Blogger John Baxter said...

I've been reading "Let Truth Be the Prejudice," a book on the life & work of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. It said he divided his life into two parts: before music and after music. Smith said that before music, he considered photography "commercial and fun." After: " . . . my photographs began to change as I tried to put a deeper meaning into them, my approach became less superficial. In short a vast change came over my entire outlook on life in its every aspect -- in everything from love to intolerance and to integrity. But this inner revolution brought great emotional turmoil and periods of unsureness... 

March 01, 2010 9:41 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

This is one of the best pieces I've read on Strobist. They say that there are three legs to the triangle -- music, math and languages, and that people generally get two of the three. I got music and languages; my wife got languages and math. I wonder if photography is the "math" that I have been missing all this time? Thanks as always for what you do. Best, M.

March 01, 2010 9:41 PM  
Blogger jcemt72 said...

Wow! Great piece. I'm a musician, guitarist, pianist and vocalist. I had never made the connections but they are all crystal clear now. Thanks David.

March 01, 2010 9:42 PM  
Blogger Brian Smith said...

I'ma a Sound engineer by trade and even when I went to school I took photo classes on the side. I've toured with bands worked with CEO's and roughed it out in the club scene.

Photorgaphy has always been my escape... sometimes it goes away for a while but it always comes back. I think I'm in the midst of it's strongest come back yet... and now it almost seems time to choose between them.

March 01, 2010 10:18 PM  
Blogger kettlepot said...

i play guitar, piano, and do this photography thing. math and patterns, math and patterns. lots of good books, including ones like "godel, escher, and bach" talking about similarities between math, art, and music. math is the fabric of the universe, and whether its in photography, music, or some other art form, once you learn the language, you can apply it to what you see, and that comes through in your pictures, in your music, and in your life.

March 01, 2010 10:38 PM  
Blogger chris said...

I have played trombone, baritone, tuba, euphonium, bass, guitar, drums, piano, contra, and sing. I never went as far as to break it down like this, but have always noticed at least a slight connection between music and photography.

March 01, 2010 10:58 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Wow - never made the connection before. Started at age 9 on accordion, then trumpet and piano. Still playing, over 45 years later...

March 01, 2010 11:07 PM  
Blogger Ranger 9 said...

Obviously this post has struck a responsive chord (go ahead, groan!)

Still, I suspect that you could go through the text and search/replace "music" with "dance" or "cooking" or "architecture" or "car racing" or any number of other activities that have both a technical and a creative component, and it would resonate just as well (groan again) with devotees of those activities...

March 01, 2010 11:11 PM  
Blogger carlos benjamin - said...

Wow, David...... This one brought them outta the woodwork.

I picked up the trumpet in the 2nd grade. My mom took me to her friend's home and the son of her friend was instructed to keep me entertained (when he really wanted to go outside to play - he was a couple years older). I showed an interest in his trumpet and he showed me the fingering diagrams and said, "When you can play the first song in the book without mistakes, call me" and he left to go outside. 10 or 15 minutes later I called him back in.....

Became a vocalist at 19 and have been paid for solo concerts and weddings in a four state area. Not huge, but still.....

I still play occasionally. The index, middle and ring fingers of my right hand learned music by pressing the keys on the trumpet, so I can almost play piano with that hand.....

I've been considering lately trying to be a vocalist for one of the jazz bands in town.

The math side of both disciplines has always been difficult for me. I get more satisfaction by taking a song and making it mine either instrumentally or vocally than by playing/singing like a technician - note perfect but no soul. I find myself trying to do the same thing with photography.

March 02, 2010 12:16 AM  
Blogger carlos benjamin - said...

Oh.... and Don and I have discussed this very topic a number of times.

March 02, 2010 12:19 AM  
Blogger bobusn said...

We're musicians, recordists, & photographers. Seems like a natural combination to us!

March 02, 2010 12:35 AM  
Blogger neumero4te said...

I've played percussion from the 7th grade through five years of college, with a little guitar and trumpet mixed in. (To the fortissimo example I'd like to add "..or playing in a stadium with 75,000 screaming fans.)

On a side note, how are you pumping this Pandora through your whole house?

March 02, 2010 12:44 AM  
Blogger Steve Perks said...

I've been thinking of putting this comparison into words for some time.
David, you have summed up my thoughts perfectly.

There are soooo many comparisons to be made.

I was a gigging bass player for 25 years.

I started playing with passion, nailed the technicals, then played with even more passion.

Along the way, I played with so many musicians that could sight read at 100 yards, but played with the passion of a block of concrete.

On the other hand, take the likes of Paul McCartney, who confesses he couldn't read a note of music.

I struggle a little with one side of my brain, the side that looks after the technical stuff, and sometimes can't pull off the ideas.

It's no surprise to me that I have eventually ended up being a music photographer.

March 02, 2010 3:10 AM  
Blogger Frankie Steele said...

Put out a split 7in, played some bass and sampling, a few years back. Found that I'm better at drinking/shooting while friends are playing. My first paying assignment was riding with a band to SXSW. We are building a recording studio at my co-working space next to the photo studios. Stop by if your in Louisville, Ky.

March 02, 2010 3:26 AM  
Blogger Reconciler said...

I read somewhere that music and photography both involved the manipulation of energy as opposed to most of the other arts that focused on the manipulation of matter. Photography trough space and music through time...

Whatever - surely it's time for photographers to have their own Spinal Tap.

March 02, 2010 6:10 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Absolutely right. I'm a photographer/graphic designer/drummer. They all go together and have common elements.

March 02, 2010 6:36 AM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Another musician here! Singer, songwriter, guitarist. I've pursued the music business very seriously for about ten years and i'm tired! I only recently realized I also love photography and I recognize how similar the "zen buzz" is that comes from both, except for me, photography is more relaxing. I have no one to answer to but me. I feel blessed to have yet another form of art to cocoon myself and my life in :)

March 02, 2010 9:42 AM  
Blogger MeAgain said...

You helped me "get" something I've been struggling with more than 30 years. Seriously, thank you.

March 02, 2010 10:23 AM  
Blogger Dave Schlier said...

I am a pretty dedicated classical choral singer (bass) and played tuned percussion in high school and college (sort of anyway).
I've been fascinated with the intersection of left/right brain for a while now - I am a process design engineer (creative/rigorous)who sings (technically precise to sing the correct notes but you need to interpret what is sung in context to the lyrics and music supporting the chorus). Photography fits in nicely and allows some out-of-the-box solutions to both technical and creative challenges.

March 02, 2010 10:27 AM  
Blogger Fraccion Trash said...

I completely agree. Music and photography have changed how I see everything.

March 02, 2010 10:27 AM  
Blogger PC said...

Yep, I'm a musician as well; drummer, pianist and singer. I'm also a web developer and woodworker. I love it when science and art come together: it's called "craftsmanship".

March 02, 2010 11:15 AM  
Blogger David said...

WOW --
Thanks I am not much of a musician but rather a Instrument Maker. I make Native American Flutes, Hand Drums, and have made 3 hammer Dulcimers. Want to make a piano some day. So I thanks this really fits with my photograph. I would also love to here if any one uses smell in there photo shoots.
David G Barnes

March 02, 2010 12:17 PM  
Blogger said...

Yeah man!

I play music and do photography in Hong Kong. When I was at the University of North Texas I studied Music and Film, while taking endless photos (and 2 photo classes). I agree. In fact, I agree so much that I once sent my physics professor a message asking if he knew of any relationship between electron levels and the overtone series. That was very mathematical, but I do see both conceptual and formulaic similarities (and crossover skills) between photography and music. If anyone's interested in discussing the electromagnetic spectrum, sound or physical elements of camera settings as compared to scales just hit me up!

PS - that physics prof never got back to me

March 02, 2010 12:35 PM  
Blogger said...

PPS - Kinesthetic confusion often happens as a result of playing trumpet and using a camera - often in the same setting. Good instrumental technique (for most instruments) requires your hands to make two C's, which is part of why any instrument I hold feels basically the same and if I'm really tired I'll actually put my lips up to my viewfinder. It's nuts!

March 02, 2010 12:42 PM  
Blogger Chris Hillman said...

Another musician here. Actually I am a musician in Gainesville, FL, (play in 2 bands) and I've had (and still have) friends who shoot for the Sun. Great post, David! True words, all of them.

March 02, 2010 2:07 PM  
Blogger Albert said...

I've been a musician for most of my life. Played Alto Sax, the Cello, and Piano as a child. Joined a alt rock band during my angsty teen years, and I'm currently in another band.

It's very interesting to read your insights into this. Thinking back to my motivations for getting into photography, I see a lot of what you talk about. Melding science and art and really enjoying that interface.

I've been a long time lurker, but this post really made me want to reply. Thanks for a great read.

March 02, 2010 2:12 PM  
Blogger Ihor Pona said...

Forgot mention that I grew up with the accordion, added trumpet, then guitars (6 and 12 string) in the early 60's, then 5 string banjo, then an an alto and tenor recorder from Rothenburg, Germany, castanets from Alicante, Spain, then piano, add 2 Selmers; Tenor and Alto,a Conn C Melody, and I came full circle to a Titano accordion again. These are all here and wait their turn when I come home from a photo shoot or my photoshoot waits until I pick one them up.

Great post!

March 02, 2010 2:49 PM  
Blogger MT said...

I have been so burnt out on music. Many of my friends were shocked when I jumped with both feet into the photog world but to me it was a natural extension to the life-long practice of music It also is why as a web developer, I jump back and forth between the design/UI and the backend code. Both fascinate me but I can't whole heartedly just do one or the other.

March 02, 2010 2:52 PM  
Blogger AliFlack said...

18 years of brass instruments (tenor horn, euphonium), 15 years of piano and 10 years of guitar...yeah I'd say I can play an instrument ;)

I can see the link - both allow you to express yourself, both require you to shell out £££ and both need practice to fulfil your potential.

March 02, 2010 3:20 PM  
Blogger Juan Hernandez said...

Interesting, I'm 32 and always wanted to learn to play the guitar since high school but never got around to it. After making a new years resolution to myself to be more creative in my photography (specifically lighting...I've been shooting for a few years now) I just recently got an irresistible urge to play again. Your post is right on, I don't think this is just a coincidence. However, it's funny though how I went from photography to music, for most of the others it was the other way around!

March 02, 2010 3:23 PM  
Blogger Alex Johnston said...

Haha, didn't realise all the similarities! I'm a drummer and guitarist aswell as a photographer. I guess music and photography just go hand in hand. Nice post.

March 02, 2010 3:38 PM  
Blogger Jules said...

In "Take the Money and Run," Woody Allen's cello teacher sez of Allen's character, "He has no concept of the instrument; he BLOWS into it!"

As a non-musical student of photography, I'll be sure to try to broaden my horizons.

Thanks, David, for a compelling read.

March 02, 2010 3:55 PM  
Blogger andrew said...

Really great post! I am a musician and I have just started studying music theory and it is cool to see the resemblances.

Thanks as always for the awesome posts

March 02, 2010 5:26 PM  
Blogger XMan said...

Great post David - another musician here ! I've been playing guitar with various successful bands over the last 20 years :-) I love my camera as much as my guitar :-)

March 02, 2010 7:22 PM  
Blogger jphphotography said...

I've often thought of the parallels between music and photography as well, albeit from a slightly different angle.

When I compose music and record it the process is very similar to layers in photoshop, in music's case they are tracks. In both fields its easy to get carried away with adding effects and turn your composition into a muddy mess.

Snapshots and "jounalistic" photos are like a live concert whereas studio shoots are akin to a meticulously mixed studio session.

In the end its all about blending each of the layers/tracks together so that they compliment the main concept.

March 02, 2010 7:56 PM  
Blogger Pierre Vignau - Vimages said...

I didn't read all of the 141 comments before this, but I ahve the night in front of me.

5 years ago I had 3 hoobies: I dug out my clrinet from high school and started playing again (I had it fiexed before to save my family's ears); I also started painting with watercolor and bought a DSLR to get back to photography. And I am an industrial designer by training and profession. How's that for mixing left and right brain.

FInally photography won, but painting is very similar to that science and art thing. You can splash watercolor all you want on a canvas, but if don't know the tricks, the mixes, keep the whites, build the layers of colors, you're in the dump. I played with oil painting as well and it adds a big layer of patience (you have to wait for everything to dry for hours before going on).

In all these, get your techniques good first, then IMHO, you can start being more creative and do what you see (or hear) in your head.

March 02, 2010 8:04 PM  
Blogger Ben Weller said...

i got my start in photography working in the darkroom at my dad's small town paper. he had a stereo set up in there so i went through hundreds of his tapes and cds while going through thousands of sheets of photo paper. hendrix, the doors, joplin, zepplin, and my own stuff--rage against the machine, nirvana, public enemy. i still enjoy editing on photoshop to good music. i wish i could listen to music as i shoot, but in the field that's just dumb and dangerous most of the time. you need to be aware of your surroundings. of course, that's why some of my favorite assignments are concerts.

March 02, 2010 8:08 PM  
Blogger -SM said...

Mr. Hobby, I think I love you.

March 02, 2010 8:42 PM  
Blogger photoholic said...

It's interesting you brought this up. I am a musician myself and it has helped me a lot in my own photography. Now that I read your post, I can see the similarities between music and photography.

March 02, 2010 10:03 PM  
Blogger Ben O'Brien Smith said...

That's awesome that you put together a post on this subject particularly because I'm about to launch a blog focused specifically on sound and light (music and photography). Great points! I look forward to going further in depth with some of the things you mentioned.

Sound, Light :: ART will be launching mid-March @

March 02, 2010 10:33 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I'm a photo hobbiest. My actual work is in software development, where I'm very fortunate to be able to blend that with my musical background — I work developing music creation and education software. I have been playing trumpets for as long as I can remember (from honking on my dad's spare horns as a preschooler through now), and also played violin for several years.

I am not the least surprised by the breadth of the fields touched and impacted by music and musicians. Music has a deep, almost primal, blending of the right and left brains.

And involvement in music brings with it a discipline and focus, an appreciation of balancing many aspects to interweave melody and harmony, and lessons in teamwork and social interaction. These skills apply directly to advanced study in all the sciences, humanities, and the other arts. And while you can acquire them elsewhere, music brings these skills together in a package that appeals to the deepest levels of our shared humanity.

March 02, 2010 11:51 PM  
Blogger Shelton Muller said...

Once, during an interview with well known Australian Jazz musician, James Morrison, I asked him why musicians and photographers often share these two mutually interchangeable hobbies. He answered by saying that 'musicians hear, and photographers see'. Its true. We both hear and see components and elements of the final product that are greater than the sum of their parts...

March 03, 2010 1:44 AM  
Blogger Austin Wintory said...

This post is quite excellent. I am a professional composer and you articulated so many of my core philosophies to a degree that I found almost shocking (particularly from someone who's not also a composer). Truly inspiring!

I must say that I most resonated with your thoughts on the need for organic lighting/music. I work primarily in film/video games, and as such electronics tend to dominate our work. This, while leading to some innovations that are utterly thrilling, has also drained SO much of the life out of music, especially orchestral music. I won't go into it in depth, but just know that your comments were very well received and, to my taste, 100% accurate.

If you'll permit a slight promotion, I've actually been exploring the relationship of photos and music on my blog ( in collaboration with a very old friend (not technically a professional photographer; I'd call him a first-rate amateur).

March 03, 2010 10:58 AM  
Blogger blueflash said...

play guitar, drums, piano, bass, and trumpet. i am an both an electrical engineer (covers the math part of it) and a photographer. the blend of technical with art is great, they both compliment one another. most people don't understand how i do engineering and music/photography, but to me it makes perfect sense

March 03, 2010 12:52 PM  
Blogger Zach Gillit said...

Does this mean that photoshop is the photography equivalent of Autotune?

I was a music major in college and the connection now makes sense. When I try to explain photography to my friends, they have a difficult time understanding either the technical or artist side (or both). It strikes me that my friends who are very artistic musically (aka my sister in law) have a great eye for composition, but can't understand aperture, balancing ambient with flash, underexposing by 2 stops, etc.

March 03, 2010 2:10 PM  
Blogger Nat Carter / SydCam VIsions said...

I use music in 99% of my shoots. I use it to create an atmosphere in which the client/model can immerse themselves. In most cases I am shooting models and he or she needs to communicate emotion and passion. That tends to happen much easier when they are listening to music that they like that allows them to call on the emotions the music stirs in them.

I use it so often that the one time I can remember that I didn't use it (because I had everything packed up for a remote shoot) the model heckled me about it. She said that I was give her a "bootleg" shoot. That's when I realized that the music meant as much to the models as it does to me.

I have been a musician for over thirty years. It was my first passion. I find that the same way a minor chord can create a warm serious feel, using shadows and rich dark colors can create a very similar "feeling" in both a photographer and model. It in turn allows for an amazing capture. As I said 995 of work work is done with music playing. Take a look and let me know what you think.

P.S. The lighting techniques that I use in my work, I learned from this blog. Thanks!

March 03, 2010 2:32 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

B.Mus in theory and composition - and do a lot of music of various kinds (playing and writing). I couldn't agree more - the big difference I find (probably b/c I don't have formal training in photography) is that photography and lighting seems more chancy to me, where music composition gives me more control. Either way, both are important for me.

March 03, 2010 3:37 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

I'm lost in a deep sea of comments here but wanted to add that I used to play/record music with a friend and used Cool Edit (now Soundbooth) to do the mixing/editing.

Then when I seriously took up photography I found myself applying what I knew about digital music editing to Photoshop. There are a lot of parallels.

March 03, 2010 5:51 PM  
Blogger Erik Lemay said...

music is my second desease. it is the closest thing to materialized emotions. and by the IS light. sound might be the only similarity between matter and antimatter. In quantum mechanics, it`s a fact that the pressure wich keep you from floating randomly in space is composed of sound as well. the smallest subatomic particule emits an energetic pulse/beat wich contains sound. you just can`t get away from mother nature`s symphony. it lives through out you.

March 03, 2010 7:48 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Hi, I'm a sound engineer, and a photographer.
Consider this with autotune - I use it every day, with the very best of singers. To correct every note? No. If the singer gives the perfect take, but there is one out of tune note, do we try agian, knowing that we're not going to get the maginc moment, but at least it will be technically perfect? No, we Photoshop, oops.....Autotune it. Sound familiar?
In photography, do you keep the technically perfect shot or the beautiful one, and photoshop the bird flying past in the background?
We keep the good one, and worship Photoshop for being allowing us to be able to keep it.
Autotune IS Photoshop for music. It's only software, and it can't do anything by itself. We can abuse it. We can ruin good music with it. We can save masterpieces with it. We can use it too much or not enough, but I'd HATE for it not to be there. Same as Photoshop, really...

March 03, 2010 8:47 PM  
Blogger EddFirm said...

Wow - now you've put it like that I can really see the connection. and yes, I play Bass guitar. Theres two things in my life people tell me i am a natural at. Bass and Photography.

March 03, 2010 10:31 PM  
Blogger Will Brenner Photography said...

Although I was in the college marching band for four years, I have to admit I am a better marcher than musician (I couldn't do both at the same time).

But with my primary interest in ballet photography, I find myself photographing to the music, literally. When I know the choreography, and what dance move to expect, I snap the shutter on the beat. If the dancer has good musicality, we are in sync, and I get the image I want.

March 03, 2010 10:42 PM  
Blogger Spencer said...

That seemed like a cathartic post. Kudos.

If I didn't have a passion for chemistry and chose to go into it to make a living, I would have went into music. If chemistry ever lets me down, I'll probably go into photography. That said, I never really drew an analogy between photography and music myself. Other than having a knack for the technical, I am simply a sensory person, especially aural and visual. They both do different things for me, but now that you mention it, I might pay more attention and see if I recognize their similarities as you efficiently point out.

March 03, 2010 11:00 PM  
Blogger shawnpix said...

I often compare photography to playing an instrument, driving a manual car or learning to speak a foreign language. I've been mulling over thoughts on it for my own blog post for a while, you beat me to it!

I think each of these things (photography, music, language, and even driving - think drifting) are art forms of their own. And like learning a new language, each comes with it's own set of vocabulary you need to understand before you have real control and mastery over the art (f/stop, vibrato, double clutch).

After a lot of studying, practicing and repetition, you will begin to master your art, and have better control over the vehicle you are using, whether that be a car, a camera, a sax or a sentence, to drive your artwork forward.

You also sort of mention cooking in your post, and I'm sure photography could really be compared to any art form, as cooking really is another art.

March 03, 2010 11:42 PM  
Blogger Dariel Quiogue said...

This is a cool analogy! I used to play the recorder, and some of my students now are in a rock band. I'm requiring them to read this! :-)

March 04, 2010 2:20 AM  
Blogger robw said...

i really enjoyed this article, and, for once, it made sense... am not a musician (only have a very low level of piano playing ability) but I do enjoy having music on most of the time. Probably the one time I dont have it on is when photographing (having said that it is on at college when I am in the studio there).

To me this seems odd - I enjoy music, it is a constant in my life, but when I am trying to relax with a camera I dont have it on. My iPOD must think I dont like it...

but anyway - as I am new to lighting & strobism this article has really put me to thinking, how can I use my light naturally and logically....

thanks for putting the seeds in my brain - now just need to nurture them.....

March 04, 2010 3:21 AM  
Blogger Bitacora De Una Persona Libre said...

i'm a musician too :D and still play on my own

March 04, 2010 7:18 AM  
Blogger Bitacora De Una Persona Libre said...

i'm a musician too :D and still play on my own

March 04, 2010 7:18 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

I have been feeling particularly uninspired recently and have decided to go back to learning piano, something I started as a kid around the same time my mum gave me a camera, but stopped short. It's giving me alot of pleasure to take control and do the learning off my own back. It's also giving me more inspiration for my photography!

March 04, 2010 7:48 AM  
Blogger Michael Perini said...

David, a Wonderful and True Post
Both Music and Photography are inextricably connected to TIME
Music is defined as much by the spaces between the notes as the notes themselves.
Our Photography is similarly defined as much by what we exclude as what we include.
This is up there with Beers with Vermeer
Thank You

March 04, 2010 6:41 PM  
Blogger Sodabowski said...

That's a very interesting post David, I never thought of that music-photo relationship (funnily, I'm studying sound and light from a physical point of view these days at the university, maaathsss).

As of music, I learned some jazz piano back in the days when a teen. Ten years ago I bought myself an electric guitar, which I learned slowly to play (little practice in fact), but had reached a reasonably good level. My playing skillz seem to have evaporated in the last year... as my inspiration for photography in fact. Now I know what's going on! Thank you for pointing all this out to us.

March 04, 2010 7:56 PM  
Blogger theotherme said...

I think of it in terms of album covers...

A Circle Jerks album cover is going to be rather different than a Bette Midler album cover.

Looking at a cover of a band you've never heard before, often the style of the cover art will convey a sense of the style of music.

If you see a cover that's shot High Key using a gang of 25 foot Octoboxes, extreme soft focus, slightly desaturated, of a woman in a long flowing dress holding a dove - it's probably not a Norwegian Death Metal album.

March 04, 2010 8:05 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Classically trained percussionist here... High school marching, concert and jazz bands. Concert and chorale choir. I did 5 years in drum & bugle corps. I still play the occasional Irish session...

The relationship between music and photography can be made about several things; I'm a programmer by trade and some of those same qualities exist.

March 05, 2010 8:23 AM  
Blogger Allen and Autumn Thomsen said...

Love this post, my music producer friend and I had almost this conversation a few weeks ago! He records music and I record light. We both used to play in a band together (rock-n-roll will never die!) He now runs a music company that caters to photographers! Target Market Music is the company.
He and I talk often about how our jobs are so similar. Anyways, Thanks for this post!

March 05, 2010 1:03 PM  
Blogger mCassidy said...

Percussionist, classically trained, moved to IT, moved to Photography

March 05, 2010 9:22 PM  
Blogger LINK said...

No musical talent at all... but definitely great with a camera. It's interesting to combine efforts with musicians and band members when shooting promo photos for them as well. You get a feeling for their music, and shoot accordingly.

March 07, 2010 3:10 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I can sing – a bit – but I have no sense of rhythm whatsoever. I’d probably make a terrible musician, but I love music anyway, and I have an eclectic song list on my iPod. I first got the idea to have music playing in the studio from another photographer whom I worked with when I was an art director, and if I'm ever lucky enough to open my own studio, you can be sure that the sound system will be the first thing I install.

March 07, 2010 8:05 AM  
Blogger dearmartha said...

I have a great ear for music and in the last year i realized i have a great eye for photography. I studied cognitive psychology in college. Now i am pursuing photography as a possible profession. I def feel there is a structural relationship between all arts as well as art and science in general. I think that Instead of pointing out whats overused in both art forms it is important to discuss whats underused. In music its melody. I thinks its the heart of good music and the hardest part to perfect. I have been trying to understand what part of composition and lighting in photography correlates to melody. I def find the best photographers create the best visual melodies, catchy, simple, yet sophisticated and beautiful. I like to think of Henri Bresson as the Beatles of photography. Its a fun exercise to compare artists from different mediums. great way to improve insight into your art.

March 09, 2010 12:48 AM  
Blogger Gary Christenot said...

Anoter musician/mathematician/photographer here. The relationships are about as close to axiomatic as real life can get.

March 09, 2010 3:01 PM  
Blogger Scrivyscriv said...

I've been a musician for nine years, a photographer for five. Never really put the relationship into thought like that, but it fits very well and for some reason helps me wrap my head around lighting just a little better. Thanks!

March 09, 2010 5:09 PM  
Blogger fotografia said...

I have been playing loud electric guitar for over 20 years. I can't help but think Jimi Hendrix everytime I pick up the guitar. Strange melodies, noices, beautiful chords and amazing tone would soar through his Stratocaster through a Marshall Amplifier. What is the photography equivalent? I have only begun to use flash over the past two years and grab inspiration from other photographers that manipulate light in amazing ways. That is what gets my juices flowing.

Before I would play a gig (music) I would listen to music or crank up an amplifier to get in the mood. I do the same in photography...instead of a guitar and amplifier I am holding a camera and using flash to create light. I love to break the rules on occasion and try to go beyond what other are doing.

There is something that burns inside of me when I play music or take photographs. I don't see the passion ever going away.

Michael Thompson

March 11, 2010 10:27 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Excellent post!

I hadn't really considered this until I examined my own position in life. I've played trumpet since 4th grade and spent quite a few years in marching band through highschool and then 6 years in undergrad/grad school.

What's interesting to me is that I'm studying applied physics, specifically working with lasers (to me, the ultimate embodiment of light). The colors of the lasers are so brilliant and pure, and I think this has had a huge influence on the way I see photography and process my shots.

Photography was just another hobby, but somewhere along the way it got serious. Lately, I've been combining research and photograph since the two seem to fit together quite well.

March 12, 2010 5:52 PM  
Blogger Michael Currin said...

I am a guitarist and a photographer and I have been wondering how my aptitude for maths at school has helped me. There's the technical side of the numbers as well as have an intuition or feeling for what photost are pleasing to the eye and composing musicical tunes and rhythms pleasing to the ear.

I remember my high school maths teacher telling our class that the kids who played on those climbing frames / jungle gyms did better at geometry when they were older.
I know some students battle to see and draw 3-D maths drawings on paper. It helps to visualise 3-D objects if you've actually crawled through them a lot.


March 14, 2010 12:08 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

Not a musician but I tried to play drums in junior high. I have however always defined myself as a middle brained person. I am not phenomenal at the sciences or business or any of that crap, nor am I a master artist. but somehow I am quite good at photography where the two sides of the brain meet. I still need help w/ both the technical and creative sides of it though.

March 15, 2010 2:40 PM  
Blogger Baummer said...

I've been a musician my whole life, and I really am glad to see those ideas of music and photography written down. I think another thing that might be taken into consideration is that some of us might be prone to more individualistic activities rather than groups. Sure if you play an instrument you probably play with other people, and sure if you take photos you often work with at least one human subject if not a team of assistants. But Music and photography, (as well as my other hobbies, skiing and fishing) can all be done privately, and individually without help or interference from anyone. Might be somethign to think about.

March 16, 2010 11:46 AM  
Blogger J said...

"In some ways, photographers resemble musicians more than painters, sculptors, and other visual artists"

First sentence of the second chapter of the book "Light - Science and Magic".

March 16, 2010 12:04 PM  
Blogger nathanoj said...

Here's an interesting visual test that purports to show if you are predominantly right or left brained.

If the dancer rotates clockwise you are 'right-brained' and vice-versa.

As I watch I notice that her direction changes from time-to-time. As a musician & photographer I wonder if this reflects switching my bias between hemispheres and whether other musicians also 'flip'between left and right? Check it out.

March 21, 2010 6:38 AM  
Blogger sitxstand said...

Wow, David. This is my favorite from Strobist yet. Music and photography makes so much sense, and mentioning the Gainesville Sun is kind of a big deal now for me.

A little backstory: I've been lurking the posts of Strobist for a while now, occasionally re-creating shots and such. I actually bought my first lighting kit from MPEX, based from ideas from this blog. I think I first started external lighting when I saw the DIY light box.
Anyway, fast forward. I actually attend UF right now, just got my first story (and picture) published Friday.

In the Gainesville Sun. How fitting it is then that you, practically being my lighting and camera idol, started there.

A side note: I've actually played piano for 12 years. This story makes a whole lot of sense, but it's not something I would have thought. And I completely agree with Cello Suite #1 in G. If I were being photographed with that playing in the background, I'd probably fake a cello on the spot and start playing right there. Adds character to a picture

March 21, 2010 10:13 PM  
Blogger Matt Haines Photography said...

Music producer and recording artist for ten years or so, now a professional photographer. Thought I was the only one! :)

March 23, 2010 12:53 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Wow, I really never linked the two until I read this. I have played the drums, guitar, bass, harmonica and keys. Started when I was about 8 (40 years ago) I started photography when I was 14. This has enlightened me to the point that I must now go and soak it all up and then reflect. Thank you very much!

March 30, 2010 12:49 AM  
Blogger T.K. Burd said...

What a fantastic article! I think you clarified something that many people instinctively feel, but never were able to express. Thank you!

March 30, 2010 9:42 PM  
Blogger the manbagaholic said...

Great article. I just wanted to pass on a cool audio/photo/Mac/laptop gear tip I just found that's relevant.... I'm all excited because after many many months looking for a portable way to get good sound out of my Macbook (I travel a lot), trying out heaps of different speakers, I just found the answer. The simplicity is great too... it's a mini subwoofer that leaves the high and mid ranges handled by your Mac laptop speakers (sorry, Mac only), but fills it out really nicely. Now when I'm editting in a distant hotel room, I can have the room filled with really pleasant tunes from my laptop. As you say, the two go together so well. I've got nothing to do with the company whatsoever, just thought I'd share a cool bit of gear that just works really well. James from

April 03, 2010 5:26 AM  
Blogger wade_beard said...

I missed this post. I'm not really sure how as I read just about every one that gets posted up. Funny thing, I've never made the connection between the two, but the oddness of it is, I probably really got serious about using off camera light in my photos about the same time I decided it was beyond time to teach myself how to play the guitar. I've always been a music junkie. I've also always been a camera junkie. Well, since about 1987 with my first Pentax K1000, 50mm lens and a high school dark room.

I think this post will make me think a little differently about my next shoot. Thanks for that.

December 23, 2010 3:05 PM  
Blogger golftooter said...

From another angle, music study helps students in the areas of math and science study.

I often played music while my math students were working on homework in the classroom.

I too am an artist/photographer/musician from as far back as I can remember.

December 25, 2010 10:37 PM  
Blogger Robert Davidson said...

I think music must have contributed some of the magic to the photograph of Marilyn Monroe that served as the first centerfold in the very first Playboy magazine in December 1953. When interviewed about the photo, Miss Monroe stated that she "had nothing on but the radio." For those young people who have never seen this classic photo, just Google "Marilyn Monroe Playboy 1953" under Google Images.

December 27, 2010 9:23 AM  

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