10 Apr 2008

Photographing still life

Still life is definitely one of the best ways to make a start with creative photography. Even if you intend to spend all your time out photographing people or landscape, you can learn a very great deal right there at home even before you step outside your front door.
You will be able to work by yourself at your own pace, so you will be under no pressure. It can teach you so much – about light, composition, exposure, lens focal length and depth of field. And that’s just for starters. You can practise using simple backgrounds and combining different colours and textures; you will be able to hone your basic camera technique and get used to handling your camera and tripod to the point when it all becomes second nature. To top all this – it can produce some really beautiful photographs.

You do not need a studio with expensive lighting set-ups to produce interesting still life photographs. A kitchen table; spare room; a garage or even an old shed? Provided you’ve got enough room in there to put up a tripod, it will do just fine. Ideally the space will have a window that does not get direct sunlight, but even this can be softened to some degree by taping a couple of layers of net curtain or sheet of tissue paper over the window. Even an ordinary tungsten lamp can be used as your light source, but you will have to set your white balance to ‘Tungsten’ to correct any nasty orange colour casts from this low temperature light source.

In your makeshift ‘studio’ you will have total control of your subject, your composition and lighting. You will be able to choose your own backgrounds and decide on your own props. You will be able to mix and match colours and spend as much time as you feel you need to create the picture you want. The best way is to experiment and move your chosen objects around until you feel you have completely exhausted every last possibility.

The great joy of using digital is that you can review your results constantly and make adjustments as you go along. This means that your camera becomes a real learning tool and you can delete anything that is obviously not working.

Top photograph:
I’ve used a piece of wood and coil of blue rope to contrast with the elegant shape of a tall, unglazed vase. Positioning of the main object is crucial to the overall effect. It is off-centre and overlaps the rope. This helps the ‘layering’ effect of the objects and creates a sense of depth. This is also helped by the soft sidelight coming in through my shed window
Lower photograph:
This picture was spotted in a potter’s workshop. I did move a plastic bag that was in the background. I also pulled the bird on the right to hand side over the edge of the bench. This broke the otherwise straight line and created an illusion of depth. I was very careful not to disturb the layer of clay dust that covered the bench and the pot pheasants
Next – in part 2 - I’ll show you how I modified a few props to make my still life photography more effective

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