Spotlight Interview … Photographer Charles Webster

JRP: Charles Webster is a photographer who has a passion for photographing stringed instruments. We are pleased to have Charles sharing his time and thoughts with JRP Blog.

Where is home for you Charles?

Charles Webster: Fremont, California, just on the edge of Silicon Valley. I was born in San Francisco and have always lived the Bay Area.

JRP: How did you get started in photography, and do you have any formal training in your background?

Charles Webster: I became “a photographer” when I inherited my late father’s camera upon graduation from high school. Though I studied photography and film making at the San Francisco Art Institute in the early 70s, I’m largely self-taught. I read books and took pictures and looked at other photographer’s work and tried to learn from them.

My interest in stringed instruments dates from the late 70s and early 80s when I ran a recording studio. I was always fascinated by the rich woods and ornate workmanship that went into acoustic guitars. When I built my first photography studio a few years ago, a friend loaned me a mandolin to use as a subject to learn studio lighting, and I was in love.

JRP: What is it about still life photography that motivates you?

Charles Webster: I enjoy the high degree of control I can have over my images in the studio. The subjects don’t move, unless I move them. I can precisely control the lighting, and I can spend as much time working on an image as I want. It’s much different from my other interest, landscape photography, where I’m dependent on the weather and have to be at exactly the right place at exactly the right time to get exactly the right light.

JRP: Equipment wise what would I find in your camera bag / studio for a typical shoot? What lighting equipment do you favor?

Charles Webster: I shoot with a Canon 50D tethered to a laptop. I use Alien Bee strobes with their wired remote control, so I can control the lighting and camera from my laptop stand. The 50D’s Live View feature is really useful in my situation because I can focus the camera remotely, while zoomed in on the image. I especially like the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens for my studio work. It is extraordinarily sharp and the focal length is just right for the visual perspective I like to achieve. For my landscape photography, I often use the Canon 17-40 f/4L lens. I like the range and it’s almost wide enough on a crop body like the 50D.

I’m a believer that “the equipment doesn’t count.” That a good photographer can make good images with almost anything. I’m not gear oriented, I’m results oriented.

JRP: Please describe your digital workflow and the software you use.

Charles Webster: I shoot tethered to a laptop using Breeze Systems DSLR Capture Pro. Then I move the RAW files to my main computer and import them into Lightroom. I use Lightroom for 90% of my processing, including white balance, exposure, curves, and sharpening. I use Photoshop only for bit-level editing (removing instrument supports, hanging lines, etc.) and masking (which I do very seldom). I export TIFF and JPEG files from Lightroom for delivery to clients. Clients view proofs posted to private galleries on my web site to make their final choices.

JRP: Do you print any of your images and if so what do you use and why?

Charles Webster: I make framed prints for clients for display, and every client receives a book of the final images from the shoot. I print from Lightroom to an Epson 2200 on Innova Smooth Cotton (for framing) or Epson Ultra Premium Presentation paper (for books). I use the 2200 because I needed to bring my printing in-house when I had an exhibition and found a used one at a good price. The 2200 getting a bit long in the tooth, and I plan to upgrade it soon.

JRP: Could you break down one of your images and explain the lighting or any special concerns you might have had during the shoot or capture of the image?

Charles Webster: In the silhouette of the National El Trovador guitar I wanted to capture the sensual curve of the body and the gentle interplay of light on strings, without the guitar getting in the way. So, the lighting was very simple; one strobe with a 10° honeycomb grid on a boom above and behind the instrument. The challenge was keeping the front of the instrument completely dark. I didn’t want to see any of the “messy” detail of the guitar front (resonator, sound holes, etc.), so I had to keep the light controlled and ensure there was no “splash” from anything like the studio floor, that would light the front. In a small studio like mine, controlling splash is always a major concern, so I often use gobos and flags to make sure the light isn’t going where I don’t want it. In this case, the guitar was posed on a piece of black velvet to help soak up the spill.

JRP: What has been some of the best advice given to you by another photographer?

Charles Webster: “Pay attention to the background!” after I got the film back from a beauty pageant shoot and there was a power line running through the winner’s head. I was shooting with a twin-lens reflex at the time (they didn’t have depth-of-field preview), and I hadn’t seen the wire in the viewfinder.

JRP: What advice would you like to share?

Charles Webster: For the studio photographers: “Pay attention to the reflections,” and for everyone else: “Pay attention to the background.”

JRP: Thank you Charles for sharing your time and thoughts with us. It has been a pleasure talking with you and we wish you continued success.

Charles Webster: Thanks, it’s been a pleasure.

JRP: To view more of Charles Webster’s photography please follow theses links:


3 thoughts on “Spotlight Interview … Photographer Charles Webster

  1. Fantastic to see Charlie’s work highlighted, I’ve enjoyed his work for years but have never had the opportunity to discuss his approach to photography.

    Thank you for a great interview and insight to a great photographer.

  2. Wonderful opportunity to showcase Charlie’s work with strings instruments. He’s a very detail oriented photographer for whom the end product is a function of a myriad of “final touches”. This is the mark of a true craftsman/artist.

  3. Charlie’s photos rock. He’s diligent, consistent, and artistic. I could eat one of those luscious guitars…

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