Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Photography tips: still life photography, a primer

Still life photography is a genre by itself. Derived from the old masters and their paintings, photographers collect stuff to photograph it. The still life has no fixed rules of right and wrong and gives an incredible freedom in lighting and composition. Some things should however be kept in mind when trying to make a still life that stands out.

A theme
A still life should be more than just a collection of thingies. The vast majority of great still lifes has a theme. It could be anything: a profession, a season, any activity. a song title, a color, the list is endless. The main point is, that the items in the still life should be presented in a theme, and be consistent within the theme. Cornucopia still lifes for instance implement abundance, so they require a lot of items. ICT still lifes would become inconsistent if done against a very natural or classical background.

Table shots
Most good still lifes are table shots. That is, the camera is at the same height as the scene is, or just a little higher. This camera standpoint provides a natural looking perspective, altough in real life, we would not look at most of these things horizontally. I do know of a couple of successful exceptions to this rule, so it's no fixed rule. Like always, deviating from the rules provides an extra handycap, but it can work out great.

Composition, background and lighting
The freedom in composing a still life is endless. One can use any composition rule, combine a couple of them or ignore them all together. Combinations of the rule of thirds with other rules are often used, but again, feel free to break the rules as you go.

Background and lighting are free too, but they should not attract too much attention and be consistent with the theme. Neutral backgrounds are okay, but if the still life has a nautical theme, why not use a nautical map as a background? If it is too distracting, use a shallow depth of field to tune down it's presence. White backgrounds are fine too.

Still lifes often use light tents are a single light source that suggests natural light through a window (often using fill lights or reflectors as well). But if you feel backlight works better, why not give it a try? As long as all the relevant details are revealed properly and the lighting does not distract from the the, it's fine.

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