Isthmus Instruments - Handpans

Jenny Robinson of Isthmus Instruments had me photograph the steps involved in making handpan drums. These beautiful instruments are made from low-carbon heat-treated steel that she presses, pounds, polishes and tunes in her eastside Madison workshop.

She makes them by hand using traditional tools as well as some that she's designed specifically for the task. Because some of the techniques are proprietary I haven't included shots of every step. For me, it was a really exciting job - a blend of product and portrait photography. I'm really glad that I had recently taken a class on product photography which helped me understanding of how to light the metal drums correctly. Metal is always a fun challenge to photograph.

She plans to use the photos in marketing on social media and on her website, (,) as well as for a book about hardpan drums that she is writing.

The instruments themselves are really beautiful both in form, color and, when played, in tone. She makes them in different tunings so they really vary a lot in terms of what harmonics are present. Her customers specify the specific tuning that they want and then she makes them to order.

Here's a video that demonstrates the sound with a montage of photos (some of them mine!):