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Still Life 1

By suejoh
I have just started with this and what a mission to set it up. Radio triggers worked then did not work then worked. AAaaargh! What to use as a table, what to use as a background, etc.

Anyway this one is with some window light (left) to light the scissors slightly, one flash off to the right side with a snoot and a honeycomb on it and I tried to light the top of the plants using a reflector and a light. The latter did not work as well as I hoped.

Critique please on what could be improved.

Tags: Flowers Still life

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rambler Plus
14 1.1k 17 England
15 Jul 2018 2:11PM
I find the composition a little disturbed, I am not sure where the centre of interest is. I would turn the scissors around to face diagonally into the shot and bring the discarded flower forward to the right a little. That done I would crop to a square format.

Hope that makes sense,

Ken Smile
mrswoolybill Plus
16 3.5k 2563 United Kingdom
15 Jul 2018 4:38PM
Artful artlessness, carefully contrived spontaneity - it's been a theme of Still Life in both painting and photography for centuries but it ain't easy. I've looked at this a lot, and discarded two previous comment drafts, because I'm not sure where to start. That's partly because I'm not sure that I know what you are trying to convey. I'd like to hear more.

The careful lighting, the formal face-on view, the work done on the background, they speak of classic still life; whereas the cluttered, unstructured assembly of items speaks of reportage, 'Here's a grab shot of the artist's work bench taken while she was having a coffee...'

I suspect that this is intended to convey a 'work in progress' story, but to tell a story effectively you need to structure it so that it can be read. Just as examples of how this is difficult to read, I cannot actually work out how many cut flowers there are lying on the table, I can see three stems all pointing in towards the same bloom. Some of the debris on the table is so small that it is not even identifiable. The scissors seem disproportionately large and are awkwardly clipped left and bottom.


Remember first that for a composition to work there needs to be a relationship established between the items included, and a route for the viewer's eye to travel.

Just use one cut flower lying below the pot, arranged with a smaller pair of scissors, and bring the scissors closer to the cut stem so that they relate. Clean the table top, then just allow a few recognizable whole leaves to drop onto it. Drape your background and allow the drapes to show - here you have just one vertical fold showing, while the rest is blacked out - that looks unbalanced. And don't forget the classic still life possibility of having an item overhang the leading edge of the table.

Then think about the lighting, when you have the content.
Niknut Plus
12 3.4k 82 United Kingdom
15 Jul 2018 4:46PM
Nice set up, though the lighting is a little flat ?....try positioning a light
at about 10oclock, & behind the subject, to create some backlighting
To give the image a lift ?
I tend to use an old angle-poise lamp, or a lamp attached to a clamp
& clipped to the door frame for adjustable height !
Experiment, & delete the stuff that doesn't have that 'oomph factor !.Smile
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 1966 England
15 Jul 2018 5:31PM
A couple of thoughts...

First, it's a terribly difficult genre - you have to organise reality before shooting. Most of us find it much easier to recognise a good setup than to create it.

Moira has covered the aesthetic side well. I'll say a little about the technical side.

In terms of exposure, it is worth checking the results on the back of the camera, including the histogram after the first shot, and also after any changes in the lighting. It's not good to have to do a rescue job under fully controllable conditions!

What lights were you using? I note that you used mixed lighitng, flash and daylight, which is a slightly risky thing to do (in my book, anyway) because you cannot see what the result wil lbe like until you've taken the shot. If you use studio lights, with modelling lamps, and exclude all other light sources, you have a very close approach to WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), and that is a good thing. I know a lot of people use cameratop guns - the fact that it is now reasonably easy to set up doesn't mean it's a good solution, as they lack power, and modelling lamps, compared with even moderately cheap studio kit.

that's not to say that it can't be done with kit that runs on AA batteries - just that it is, in most ways, far harder to do it.
banehawi Plus
18 2.8k 4333 Canada
15 Jul 2018 6:51PM
I tried a mod.

Why did you use flash at all? Since you have a 2.5 second exposure, and flash firs on the first curtain, the contribution of flash here seems negligible.

A shoot better done with natural light, lower camera position, and a reflector.


mrswoolybill Plus
16 3.5k 2563 United Kingdom
15 Jul 2018 7:26PM
Could I suggest that you look at this portfolio for inspiration? She's a friend and I know her studio set-up. She always uses natural light, from a window on the left of her bench. Remember that the classic still life is always lit from the left - because psychologically it works, the light follows the natural direction of the viewer's gaze.
pamelajean Plus
16 1.8k 2275 United Kingdom
15 Jul 2018 8:16PM
Well done for trying something new, Sue, a still life image.

As found in still life paintings of the Renaissance, you are the artist, using the medium of photography. You MAKE the picture, create the story and the atmosphere, then you take it. The success of your final image is dependent upon your imagination, creativity, and skill as a lighting technician. Tripping that shutter is often the last step in a time-consuming process that may take anything from a few hours to several days.

Try to vary the angles and heights at which you are shooting, and try different lighting angles and alternative light sources such as candles and lamps. With a shiny surface, as in the vase, take care not to get harsh highlights.
Traditional or classic still life in a style similar to Renaissance Dutch and Flemish artists often used a single diffused source of light seemingly coming from a window or open door. Try setting up your camera and backdrop by a suitably light spot next to a window and get snapping.

Here you are telling a story, and you have had some good advice above as regards the positioning of your elements......vase, flowers and scissors. The surface is "bitty", so seek to have a clean finish, and one that speaks to the viewer. Don't clip a subject, like the scissors. Keep your elements close together.

There is evidence in the background of your making a selection around the flowers, probably to clean up the area behind them. I wonder what was wrong with it. Perhaps you simply wanted to darken it?

You are keeping your still life simple, and that is a good idea. Some people make them far too complicated and end up losing the plot. Ensure there are no distractions within the frame, just the subjects and the backdrop.

You might consider using a textured material over the wooden surface, as it always looks more natural, as well as being timeless in its quality. By having your backdrop fall down upon your flat surface, you avoid having a seam in the middle, and the background flows.

In the EPZ techniques section, you can search for Still Life, and will get THIS result. Enjoy the read!

suejoh Plus
18 257 United Kingdom
16 Jul 2018 10:28AM
Thank you very much. When I saw all the comments I thought Oh No It is dreadful but lovely positive comments
Niknut Plus
12 3.4k 82 United Kingdom
16 Jul 2018 4:32PM

Quote:Thank you very much. When I saw all the comments I thought Oh No It is dreadful but lovely positive comments

We're here to help & encourage others, not to run them down !....stick at it, & enjoy the results
of your labours !!!!.GrinGrin
mrswoolybill Plus
16 3.5k 2563 United Kingdom
16 Jul 2018 4:51PM
As Niknut says! You don't get the gushing comments here that you might get elsewhere on the site, but the real aim is to encourage people to think about what they are doing, experiment, push themselves.
dudler Plus
19 2.0k 1966 England
17 Jul 2018 8:09AM
And I'll support that, as well. Thank you for responding - and maybe we can help more if you come back on the questions some of us have posed: Willie asked why you used flash at all, given the long exposure time, and I asked what sort of flash you were using: Moira suggested that window light is sufficient, and suggested looking at a portfolio with excellent still life work for inspiration and technical guidance. There may be more that we can say (usefully!) about how you could light future shots.

Looking forward to seeing more images...

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