Photographing Still Life 9th November 2017

Tom    November 19, 2017

PHOTOGRAPHING STILL LIFE, Photos and Tutorial – Andy Hyde, Notes – Tony James 

Andy emphasised that photographing still life is not predominantly about having expensive equipment and demonstrated that the combination of lights, camera, lens and projector could be acquired relatively cheaply. In fact, the studio light and modifier could be replaced by daylight in a home setting, particularly if there was an opportunity to use a window that was not in direct sunlight (eg north-facing).

WHAT IS A STUDIO LIGHT? It comprises three parts: an adjustable stand, a source of light, which is often changeable in terms of power. This has two elements, a ‘modelling light’ (a normal tungsten bulb, which gives an indication where the more powerful light will shine) and a high-intensity flash light. Often studio lights are used in association with light modifiers to give a more diffuse light, such as a soft box or an umbrella; the latter can either be placed between the light and the subject, or used to bounce the light back towards the subject.

WHAT CAMERA SETTINGS ARE APPROPRIATE? As the light conditions and distance to the subject are controlled, it is best to look to the settings that allow the highest quality and reasonable depth of field. The camera was manually set to 1/125 at f8, ISO 100. Most lenses have a ‘sweet spot’ of around f8.

The direction of the light source can have a dramatically different effect on the impact of the final image.

1. The 5 foot shot
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Light from directly behind the camera set a eye level produces a flat, uninteresting image

2. Frontal lighting but a better perspective
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However, moving the camera to a lower height instantly produces a better shot

3. Light from the side
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However, moving the light source to the side (either by moving the studio light or moving the camera to 900 to the window light) will improve the photograph by producing a highlight and shadow on the subject

4. Three-quarter lighting
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The angle of the light source can be adjusted to alter the shadow effect to suit the photographer’s needs

5. Lighting from Behind
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Moving the light source to a position behind the subject will allow a silhouette to be produced

6. Harder light Stronger shadow
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Increasing or decreasing the distance between the subject and the light will strengthen or weaken the shadow/highlight, however remember to adjust the exposure.

7. Softer light weaker shadow
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Using a larger light source allows the light to wrap around the subject and gives a smoother transition.

8. Side lighting and a reflector
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A simple white board can reflect light back into the shadows. By using a reflector your fill-in will never overpower the key light.

9. Side lighting and a closer reflector
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Increasing/decreasing the distance between the subject and reflector will allow you to adjust the balance.

10. A Stronger Reflection
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Something shiny, like crumpled tin foil will make the reflector more powerful.

11. Reflecting Black darkens shadows
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Using a black reflector makes the shadows darker, or you could of course use a coloured reflector…

Adding a background to you image can conceal an unsightly working area and completely change the look of your shot.

12. Almost black background
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Black card or fabric, can make an effective black background. However your light source can make it seem grey.

13. A black background
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The same black background moved into the shadows, away from the light, becomes much darker.

14. An almost white background
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Even the brightest white card will never look white when lit by the same light as the subject.

15. Using a photo as a background
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Backgrounds don’t have to be plain!

16. The wrong way to use a fabric background
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Fabric can be used as a background, but can look dull if it’s flat.

17. The Right way to use a fabric background
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Gentle ripples and folds will catch the light and make light interesting.

18. Black and white conversion with a filter
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Converting to black and white and increasing the contrast in-camera can make a simple subject look interesting.

The combination of lighting, foreground and background elements, and choosing the right props to set your shot off can make a huge difference to your image and how the viewer perceives your subject.

19. Side lighting for a new subject
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A great place to start.

20. Lighting the background to get white
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Using a second light on the background (back wall) can make any colour so light it becomes white.

21. Gelling the background
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A coloured gel over the background light makes a stunning background. Moving the light closer to the wall can make an interesting pattern.

22. Building the concept
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Add a second element to support the main subject and balance the image.

23. Adding a Reflector
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Adding a reflector will let you balance the light across multiple or wide subjects.

24. Styling the image #1
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Add details to your image to build the scene. One or more cloths make an attractive foreground.

25. Styling the image #2
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Add extra details (coffee beans) to make the scene look real.

26. Styling the image #3
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Add extra details (biscuits) to make it look as if you’ve just discovered the scene.

27. Fine-tuning
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Review all elements of the lighting, background and foreground to get the best scene and remove problems. Here a little extra reflection helped.

28. Final Image – out of the camera – cropped
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Crop the image to remove distracting details and perfect the framing.

Simple changes that are applied to the whole image, can really make your shot pop, or you can go full out to make everything seem perfect.

29. Final Image – Levels and Curves (Recommended)
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Make some adjustments to ensure you have black blacks, white whites and that the exposure is perfect.

30. Final Image – Full Photoshop edit (Optional)
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