14/07/2009

Still Life

In most cases Still Life photography is not too far removed from food photography and like food photography, it is best done indoors under natural light, either from a window or open doorway. And unlike food, your subject is not likely to go all stale and withered looking on you.
But like food, it gives as good opportunity to learn more about subject lighting and composition.
Equipment
You need a camera with a lens that will allow you to get in close to your subject, depending of course on how small your subject is.
Here you are using slower shutter speeds, which means longer exposures and a tripod is a must. Also a remote or cable shutter release would be an asset, but not absolutely essential. You can use the on-camera timer facility to restrict camera movement
There are many different coloured backgrounds you could use, but you need to be careful here as the wrong background will no doubt be in detriment to your subject, so I would advise you to start with a piece of black velvet and get enough to stand your subject on and to use as a backdrop. Black velvet is best to start with as it does not reflect light. And the last thing you want is reflections in your Still Life. It will also help to give your subjects that 3D appearance.
So, we are using natural, but not direct, sunlight from a window or open doorway. You will probably want to fashion yourself a white card or reflector of some sort to bounce light back into the shaded side of your subject, otherwise the camera could expose the shots with dark featureless shadows. This may even be a feature you can use, but at least be aware of it. Avoid using on-camera flash if you can, it is far better to use natural light as it gives better controllability. If you have an external, swivel type, flash unit, you could probably try bouncing the light from that off a whitish wall or ceiling.
Composition
This is where your artistic side comes to the fore and you are really only limited by your own imagination. Try one item only at first till you get your camera and the light and the distance right. Then you can start to add other items and mix and match and create a story with your subjects.
You might like to add some things that belonged to a deceased member of the family or a family pet that had to be laid to rest.
Think about the colour, shapes, form and surface textures of the items you are photographing. If they include glass items, another reason not to use on-camera flash, due to the reflections. The possibilities here are almost endless and as I said, you are only governed by the limits of your own imagination.
View point
It is up to you how you approach your subject, but to start with I would suggest a position just above the height of your items and at an angle of say, 90 degrees to the angle of the ambient light and position your light reflector on the shaded side of the object/s or in the manner in which it will provide you with the best secondary light.
Treat this merely as a suggestion, but once you have gained your confidence, then you can begin to get adventurous and try various angles and viewpoints and different lighting angles and strengths.
At times you will find Still Life photography very frustrating, when things won’t go right, but it can also be very stimulating so don’t give up on it too easily.