Learning Still Life Photography: Combining Multiple Elements
For this month I have challenged myself to create one still life image a week.
I really enjoy the level of meticulous control that this genre of photography offers.
I choose the exact placement of light and shadow. I have the benefit of a subject that will not blink or get up and run off without a second’s notice. I also have the ability to place each item in the frame just how I want.
This is a big change from portrait photography; it is incredibly calming in a way photographing people is not. I can spend my time adjusting small details instead of being concerned with posing, eliciting emotion, children running into traffic, and the ever-changing pattern of natural light. I recommend this challenge to every photographer.
For this session I used:
- Westcott Softbox
- StreakLight XPLOR 600
- Canon 50mm 1.4
- Sigma 50mm 2.8 Macro
I positioned my lights as I would position them for a human subject. The light is just out of the frame to camera left and the corner of the softbox was visible in some of the images.I set my light to the lowest power setting that would still enable me to retain detail in the highlights. All images were shot between f4-f9, ISO 100, 100ss.et
I began to build the scene by adding one element at a time. They may not be snowflakes or fingerprints, but I still love how each pear is unique and has its own charm. My favorite from the trio of fruit was this one, it warranted it’s own portrait.
Depending on how I placed my light source, I could change the background drastically. The wall behind the pears was actually white but by shifting the softbox slightly toward the wall or away, I could change the effect as needed.
I added in sunflowers once I felt comfortable with my light and tried various angles and arrangements. I have no design skills (as my home can attest) and it was difficult for me to arrange a compelling image. I kept moving things around and shooting from different perspectives until I was somewhat satisfied. I was shooting tethered, which enabled me to view the image almost immediately on my computer screen. This really helped me to see right away if I liked what I was creating.
Still, the composition was not working for me and the sunflowers looked like sad little sea anemones. I decided to take a note from Vincent Van Gogh and place my sunflowers in a vase. As much as I would love to have some really great vases and pitchers on hand for still lifes, it is not something I can justify purchasing for an experimental portrait of flora. So I went ahead and just used what I had. The image below ended up being the one I preferred from the batch but the shiny flower pot bothered me.
The pot was very distracting to me, so I tried to camouflage it behind the sunflowers. This was a mediocre fix to the problem.
I really enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of this shoot. Moving things slightly, be it the light, the subject or myself all gave the image a vastly different look. It was great to be able to put all these tricks into my “mental tool belt” for future sessions.
- The tiniest shift can make a big difference so keep trying.
- Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have.
- Try a variety of angles for yourself, your subject, and your light.
- Shoot tethered when you can.
I hope you give still life photography a try and go create something you are excited about.