Crafting Visual Harmonies: Photographer Matt Roppolo’s Gold-Standard

Dive into the visual jam session orchestrated by Matt Roppolo, the rockstar shutterbug who struck gold in the Graphis Photography Awards 2023 for his gig with Heritage Auctions. Skilfully straddling between directorial cues and his personal creative groove, Roppolo crafts a power-chord composition that doesn’t just showcase the guitars but also amplifies their legendary pasts. His images hit all the right notes, morphing rare guitars into the lead performers of their own visual concert. From setting the stage ablaze with a Flicker Flame Stratocaster’s fiery body to capturing the signature grace of a custom Mosrite bass guitar, Roppolo’s photographs are a thrilling setlist that plays out between light, shadow, and structure. Just like a true guitar hero, Roppolo masterfully riffs with the elements of light, building up a visual gig that culminated in the headline performance of the “7271 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature Auction Cover Photos.” Ready to get lost in the captivating rhythm of Roppolo’s award-winning photography? Crank the volume up, and let’s dive into the backstage of this visual rock opera.

By: Matt Roppolo

“Shooting for Heritage Auctions, we occasionally get a chance to be creative. This happens more than most of the catalog and online studio shoots. For special projects and cover images, directors of each department always select the lots they’d like us to focus on and often give us some idea of what they’d like. From there, we chose how to work within their requested parameters. 

“For the front cover of the 7271 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature Auction, department director Aaron Piscopo chose a rare Fender Custom Shop Flicker Flame Stratocaster. In his request, he said he wanted me to focus on the guitar body and to make the flames pop. Upon seeing the guitar, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to angle the guitar’s body, white-rimm it with a couple of six-by-one foot strip banks, hit it with hard light from above, and then bounce the hard light back up at the body to bring out the flame effect further on the lower part of the guitar. I also wanted to add a little something to the background to make it appear as if it were on a stage and not a tiny shooting table draped with black velvet. I decided to use a couple of gelled Profoto A1 flashes in the background as mock stage lights. After a few minor tweaks, I had an image that Aaron was happy with.

“Aaron selected a custom five-string Mosrite bass guitar for the inside front cover image for Benjamin Orr of The Cars. For this image, Aaron wanted an overall front-facing photograph of the guitar and a close-up of the back of the headstock, focusing on Benjamin Orr’s signature. To make the background more interesting, I cut additional pieces of the roll of blue seamless I chose and roll in cylinders behind the guitar. The cylinders were inspired by Ka Yeung’s use of geometric shapes in the background of various jewelry images I saw him execute for Neiman Marcus over a decade ago when I interned at his studio. To support this one-of-a-kind instrument upright, I had several strands of heavy-weight fishing line coming down from a crossbar between two c-stands on the sides of the set. A brick was also covered in gaffer’s tape directly behind the guitar to keep it from shifting.

“It probably goes without saying that even with all these safety measures, I was still a little nervous and refused to leave the guitar unattended for this part of the shoot. Lighting for this image was primarily from the same two six-by-one-foot strip banks I use in most of my guitar shots due to their ability to light such long objects and, when skimmed from the sides and slightly behind the guitars, do a great job of showcasing the curves of their bodies. The second image of the neck and headstock of the guitar was far easier to stage. Since the body did not show in this image, I could attach it to a padded apple box with plastic pallet wrap. After several back-and-forth messages with Aaron, where I emailed him crude mock-ups of the two images, we were both happy with the outcome.

“Aaron decided to showcase a 1988 Gibson Flying V for the back cover image, formerly owned by Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Exodus. For this image, Aaron wanted the body of the guitar, the neck and headstock, and Hammett’s signature all composited into one image. Since the image would require three shots already, I figured having an additional fourth shot for the background wouldn’t hurt. This allowed me to make use of an old sheet of weathered steel metal that we have, which otherwise would have been far too small to serve as a background. I did several images of the steel sheet slightly out of focus and then went on to image the guitar in front of black velvet to be knocked out in post and assembled. Since this guitar was black, I chose to white-rim the body with the same one-by-six strip banks and lit the guitar primarily from above. Since I did not have to shoot an overall guitar image, I could support it for the following three images off-camera. After adjusting various white foam core fill cards and a few sloppy mock-ups emailed to Aaron, we were both very happy with the image. 

“After the catalogs were laid out, printed, mailed off, and the final gavel dropped in Heritage’s 2022 Guitars and Musical Instruments Signature Auction #7271, it proved to be the highest-grossing auction of the year in the Rare Guitars and Musical Instruments Category. I’d like to think that I had something to do with it, but these were also some of the most interesting guitars I have had the privilege of photographing while shooting for Heritage Auctions.”

Check out more from Matt Roppolo here.

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Author: Graphis