Still life photographers have been around since the very beginning of photography itself. Of
course the earliest attempts were black and white still life images such
as the one below by Bayard created in 1839 but contemporary still-life photographers work in colour too - the choice is yours and I suggest you try both.
Still Life Photography Tips: Learn from the Past
Click the link to see an even earlier still life called L'Atelier de l'Artiste (The Artist's Studio),
made by Louis Daguerre in 1837 or click here to see Set Table, made in 1827 by
the French inventor of photography, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, and probably the first ever photographic still life.
You might need to scroll down the page a bit to see the Daguerre photograph. Also, try to look at lots of still life paintings
by great artists such as Chardin (he's one of the best in this genre) to see how they composed their pictures, what objects
they used and so on.
Still Life with Plaster Casts, c.1839 - Photo by Hippolyte Bayard
Still Life Photography Tips: Keep it Simple
The great thing about creating still life pictures is that you have total control over every element in the photograph. All you need to create a good still life picture
is a table, a camera, a tripod and good lighting.
You can be as creative as your imagination wishes as there is plenty of time to try things out so for example, you might decide to make just black and white still
life photographs. Or you might set up a vanitas still life (more about this below) with objects you have found at car boot sales or through Ebay. The
possibilities are endless.
Fruit and Flowers, 1860 - Photo by Roger Fenton
Still Life Photography Tips: Still Life Objects
Still life objects can be very simple, For example, you might choose an arrangement of fruit that you already have
in the kitchen or flowers from your garden. Some beautiful cloth draped over the table or at one end of your picture will give your composition elegance. Cloth can also
be used to good effect as a back drop. Try to gather together a selection of different materials to use in combination but don't go overboard as you don't want to have too
cluttered a composition. Take a look at the still life photograph above by Roger Fenton to see what I mean about cluttered!
Try to think about the textures, the velvety softness of the peach contrasted with the cold metal of a knife. Colour is very
important too and a limited 'palette' of harmonious colours such as a range of warm browns, yellows and reds will be more pleasing than a riot of colours.
Still Life Photography Tips: Lighting
Perhaps one of the most crucial elements of a still life photograph is the lighting. Unless you have some wildly creative idea, generally speaking, the lighting should be
even and gentle, without too many hard shadows particularly if you are using flowers. Hard shadows detract from the gentle beauty and elegance that can be conveyed in a still
life. If your table is set up near a window use a sheet to block out direct sunlight. You can increasew your exposure accordingly if your camera is on a tripod.
Still Life with Skull, c.1850 - Photo by Louis Jules Duboscq
Still Life Photography Tips: Create a Vanitas
If you are feeling a little adventurous, you might like to create a vanitas still life, one which is composed of objects which
have a symbolic value. Often a skull is included in the composition to symbolise death and the brevity of life. A candle or hourglass may be included to represent time
and the brevity of life.
Other common symbols include rotting fruit to symbolise death, or musical instruments and books to represent the arts and literature and other
intellectual pleasures and the fleetingness of these pursuits in the face of the brevity of life.
The word vanitas comes from the Latin for 'vanity'. The symbolism is meant to remind us how brief life is and the futility of its pleasures in the face of certain death.
I have included two vanitas still life pictures for you to look at. The one above dates from 1850 and the one below is contemporary. Human skulls (not real ones!)
are available on ebay for around 10 dollars or less. I don't know what matterial they are made from but they are very realistic so if you would like to do some vanitas
pictures get yourself a nice looking skull for a few dollars and set up an interesting still life composition. It will also make a great conversation piece when
guests come to dinner!
Vanitas - Photo by Anyka
Still Life Photography Tips: Create a Miracle!
If you don't want to go out and buy a skull and candles (can't say I blame you!) then try something simpler like the still life below. Although this is a modern still life,
the title obviously refers to the miracle of the loaves and fishes described in the Bible. The photographer has used
very simple elements to good effect. The colours are harmonious and the textures interesting, it makes me want to reach out and touch everything.
I also really like the
large jug which gives a classical feel to the whole composition and raises the image out of the 'food photography' category into the more artistic 'still life' category. Notice
also the way the basket is tilted with the bread rolls spilling out in a manner reminiscent of a cornucopia also known as the horn of plenty. This is another compositional
device you can use which alludes to classical paintings and is easy to do.
Holy Multiplication - Photo by Anyka
A Bit More Art History
Still Life in Photography
surveys some of the innovative ways photographers have explored the traditional genre of
still life from photography's earliest years to the present day. The introductory essay
is followed by an illuminating sequence and juxtaposition of plates selected from the J. Paul
Getty Museums collection. Still life has served as both a conventional and an experimental
form during periods of significant aesthetic and technological change. Illustrating that
here are nineteenth-century masterpieces by practitioners such as Hippolyte Bayard and
Roger Fenton, twentieth-century examples that include the diverse styles of Baron Adolph de Meyer,
Irving Penn, and Edward Weston, and a sampling of contemporary artists, some recalling styles
from the past. The current revival of interest in the genre comes as the digital age is transforming
the medium. The author, Paul Martineau, is assistant curator in the Department of Photographs
at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Creating Your Own Still Life Photographs
Great food always elicits strong reactions-the smell of freshly baked bread, the taste
of a perfectly prepared steak. The job of a food photographer is to elicit that same
mouth-watering reaction, but without the benefit of scent or taste. A well-shot photograph
can send crowds flocking to a new restaurant or boost the sales of a culinary magazine. Capturing
the perfect image requires a trained eye, finesse, and photographic skill. Digital Food Photographygives you the ingredients to cook up your own recipe for success-with professional
lighting techniques, composition, food and prop styling, retouching, and tricks of the trade.
You'll learn how digital photography combines teamwork, creativity, and technology, and how
to make money creating delectable works of photographic art.
Every picture featured in Still Life and Special Effects Photography
is accompanied by a description of how the lighting was achieved, while clear illustrations
showing each lighting set-up help readers achieve the same effect. The first section is
dedicated to shooting conventional still-life subjects (such as food, product shots and
natural flora), and the second to the more challenging field of special-effect photography (montage,
multiexposure, mirrors and props, constructing simple room sets, etc).
Low Budget Shooting: Do It Yourself Solutions to Professional Photo Gear
The serious amateur photographer often faces the problem that even after all the dollars
spent on camera, lenses, computer gear, and software, the spending never seems to end. More gear
is needed for studio photography, tabletop photography, flash photography, and for accessories
here and there. And in many cases, the right accessories are not even available. That is
where this book comes in. Low Budget Shooting is the one-stop source where you will find
instructions and a shopping list on how to build an array of useful and inexpensive photographic tools.
Filled with full-color images and easy-to-follow text, this book shows how to build essential
lighting and studio equipment; how to make the perfect light-table for shooting small objects; and
how to build reflectors, soft-boxes, and light-tents that really work. It also tells where to
get some of the little helpers that make a photographer's life so much easier. This clever
little book is a creative and valuable resource for most any photographer.
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