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Hand motion capture. Photo © James King-Holmes.

Musical MoCap - James King-Holmes, 2011

1 September 2013

Why showcase an image that doesn’t look like a photograph?

Well, this image, from a set titled Musical MoCap, is a photograph and to get it I had to use the tools we all use every day – a good photographic technique, being able to deal with and direct people and the imagination to try to make a memorable image from an unpromising situation.

My business is now entirely stock shooting, concentrating on the science, technology and healthcare sectors. I check press releases looking for interesting ideas for picture-led features or as a chance to shoot something with sales potential.

One such release from the University of Southampton was an invitation to a photocall to introduce a ‘unique kinematic measurement technique’ which combines motion-capture and music (Musical MoCap).

By showing in measurable detail the hand movements musicians use when playing, it is hoped insights will be given into how these influence the sounds and interpretations they get from their instruments. The medical and health implications of the technology are also promising, with implications for the diagnosis and treatment of repetitive strain injury.

At the photocall, in a motion capture laboratory at the University, the pianist, writer and broadcaster David Owen Norris who is the Professor of Music there, was seated at an upright piano with a number of small globular reflectors – ‘retroflectors’ – taped to his fingers as part of the Vicon recording technology setup.

As Professor Norris played a simplified pair of hands danced across a video monitor screen. It looked very pretty for the TV news crews and I could see that was the most visually interesting part of the story.

When it came to my stills life was less easy. Like the other photographers there I shot a number of ‘straight’ images of the technical set-up and the pianist’s hands, with the lighting complicated by trying to get the retroflective markers to sparkle (thank goodness for the instant playback of digital photography!). Whilst doing these shots I was still trying to work out how to simulate movement as one pair of hands on the screen did not capture the effect of the real-time dancing fingers I had seen earlier.

The solution was to make a multi-exposure image of the hands in different positions and for this sharp screen images were needed.

Although the same effect could have been achieved by trawling through the lab’s recordings to pick out suitable single images it seemed easier and quicker to direct the pianist to give me some static chords and intermediate hand positions for a set of images shot directly from the screen. This also dealt with the problem of the long exposures needed to capture the screen images sharply.

To put the picture elements together I imagined a final crescendo of chords in, say, a Beethoven piano concerto, which gave me the idea to incrementally increase the luminosity and size of the hands in the image layers to provide a visual metaphor for the chord changes and increase in volume levels over a short time period.

Shortly after submitting the set to them, Science Photo Library, who handle a lot of my work, made this shot the prestigious ‘Image of the Week’ in their weekly email to all their worldwide clients.

James King-Holmes studied at Ealing School of Photography and was working from central London when he received an Ilford prize followed by a cover story in the BJP. This exposure led to an approach and encouragement from Science Photo Library. Since that time most of his output has involved documenting research and themes in science, technology and healthcare, for stock and for editorial clients around the world.

Photographer since 1971. EPUK member since 2002.

See more work by James King-Holmes

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