Here are a few 8x10 still life images. For me the hardest part of still life photography is finding inspirational subject matter. I get so tired of photographing pretty pictures of flowers or fruit. Photography should be personally meaningful and not forced to be so.
I often make still life photos as an intellectual exercise (e.g. to test something, or to experiment with an idea), and these tend to be quite soulless photographs. More rarely I find that a still life demands to be made: these tend to be the more meaningful and satisfying ones for me.
Originally Posted by dpurdy
There's a book that I found a few years ago which I'd recommend: "Home Photography" by Andrew Sanderson (Argentum). It's got some fabulous still life work in it (amongst other things), and his writing is also very illuminating (it's more about vision than technique).
By the way, what is the plural of still life: still lifes or still lives? Netither feels right to me...
Great question and very interesting responses. There might be some ideas for you in a course I am taking this term. The course is called Illustration/Advertising Photography at the University of Akron. The primary objective is to teach strobe lighting in still life work. There is also an intro course where hot lights are used for still life. Two exceptions are off site architectural shot and an executive portrait.
We have access to 1000 watt second White Lightnings on tripods with umbrellas and 2400 ws Speedotrons with umbrellas or 3 foot and 6 foot soft boxes on booms. The school has two large studios and the equipment may be signed out as long as it is back for the two courses where they are used.
Half the subjects must be shot with 4x5s using Polaroid and then color transparencies. Half the subjects are shot with digital (Forgive me). The school has Calumets and Canon Rebel xti to use or bring your own. You can imagine that the half and half requirement presents very interesting challenges in perspective and depth of field control. I could have used my 8x10, but the cost for essentially practice work seemed prohibitive. If interested I think you could replicate the challenges by using 8x10 and 35mm. I am using Velvia 100 and Polaroid 54.
We work in two person teams or as a group for critique and idea sessions. I have been able to help some with view camera movements. I do not have the Photoshop prerequisite so most of the class has helped me there. As a 67 year retiree I am having a ball with my 22 year old, blond team mate, who teaches cheerleading and dance on the side. God is Good.
Subjects and my choices:
Architectural Exterior – a new high price off campus condo
Jewelry – An 1870s Dandy’s gold pocket watch with hunter case and sweep stop watch functions.
Luminescent Products. There must be a working light within the subject. – a lighted magnifier set up on the product literature.
Tools of the Trade- a stainless dial caliper on white textured paper ala Walker Evans “The common Tools”
Raw Materials- A multi part 1/43d model kit, the finished model, glue, paint, instructions in French and tools. Many of the young ladies shot food preparation with the raw materials and finished meal. Clean up was quite tasty.
Long stem flower or macro blossom- Our local florist made some wonderful suggestions and had super fresh flowers for me the day of the shoot. I did two shoots here, one film, one digital.
Executive office environmental- This is a difficult request for a college kid to make the arrangements. For me it was hard because most of my old customers are also retired and have thrown away their suits. A local Deardoff V8 shooting friend helped me out. I did a head shot and we plan an environmental portrait.
Retail Fashion- I needed a new pair of hiking boots anyway.
Glass Containers- Three different glass Bugatti car models. They weren’t containers, but the Professor is a car nut and let me use them.
Two additional subjects drawn from the above with different set ups.- as mentioned above
For a final we have to make a Power Point presentation of our work. All film has to be scanned to be incorporated in what becomes a portfolio. Diane, I hope there are some ideas for you here.
I don't find it especially easy to say to myself "I want to shoot still-life, now what shall I use as a subject?" For me the best results are mostly from seeing something and being inspired by it, or sometimes seeing a particular light effect and thinking of something that would look good in that light. Sometimes I will shoot one subject and then feel inspired to do a series on a theme, but often it will be a case of just one subject and then nothing till inspiration strikes again, maybe later the same day, maybe not till the next month.
Originally Posted by colrehogan
I use a lot of hot lights and nearly 20,000Ws of flash, but many more than half of my 'artistic' still-life shots are lit by natural light. Sometimes the light at a particular time of day gives me an idea and I set something up and wait for the same light to return the next day - sometimes the weather keeps me waiting for days. The smaller the subject, the more likely I am to use artificial light.
The actual subject might be anything, but small tools and household objects, flowers and vegetables have particular appeal to me. I'm also very fond of the effects of decay - I love a flower arrangement when the petals have started to fall.
How the subject is 'set-up' varies enormously, depending on what the subject is, how I want to arrange it (crucially), the angle I want to shoot from, and what the light is and what direction it comes from. Some things can be shot on a copy stand or with my 4x5 Polaroid copy camera, some are done on a translucent sweep. Others are stood on boxes or small tables with a fabric or paper backdrop behind them, or are on a 30" high dining table with a roll of (usually dove grey) seamless swept out onto it. Some subjects are backlit by putting them on, or above, a lightbox. Some must be done in a particular room of the house because only there do I get whatever light it is that I want. (A couple of laboratory jacks are very useful.)
All this limitless choice is part of the challenge, and so also part of the pleasure.
In some ways LF cameras make things easier. The complexity in a still-life tends to revolve around the lighting, arranging and supporting the subject, and the background. The movements I get with a view camera, the ability to control the plane of focus, and the continuously variable scale of reproduction can make the logistics easier than using a smaller format camera with a more fixed relationship between lens and film-plane. Shallower DoF is of course relevant, but then choice of how much DoF one wants is a key driver in choosing which format to use anyway.
For you LF'ers who do still life setups, are the logistics of shooting still lifes difficult?
What a view camera does do is tend to increase the amount of space you need - for the camera and possibly to work round it. With 10x8 you may end up with a lot of bellows draw, and that makes the camera very 'big' and may mean you have to move bodily back and forth between the lens and the back. As long as you have the space though, this just adds a bit of time to the process, it doesn't really make it any more difficult. (Other factors do that for you!)
In a way, yes. I shoot the largest proportion of my still-life on 6x9. (A rollfilm holder on a Horseman rotary back on an Arca 4x5 Monolith is my favourite way of working, a smaller and much lighter Arca 6x9 is what I use most often away from home or on my all-too-lightweight copy stand.) With 6x9 I will not often shoot as still-life anything smaller than about lifesize (more enlargement than that and somehow I am not shooting still-life anymore, the aesthetic seems to change.) With 4x5 I won't often (for DoF reasons as well) go beyond about half lifesize, and the same rough rule of thumb applies to 10x8. In the other direction, no subject is 'too big' for any format. So in a sense the larger format is making me choose larger subjects, but it is really more determind by magnification, DoF, and the size of the subject on the final print than by any feeling that certain formats require certain size subjects.
Do you shoot larger still lifes because of the larger format?
Less confusing than my answers probably were!
Sorry if this is a confusing question.
Anyway, still-life can be immensely satisfying: enjoy it.
Thanks to everyone for their replies and comments. I hope to be shooting in my living room/kitchen, which doesn't leave a lot of space for moving the camera around. The camera I was intending to use was my Century studio 8x10 where possible. I have some old studio lights that the guy who sold me this camera sold me as well as some more modern lights which might be used outside of a tabletop box for photographing jewelery and the like.
Wow Jim! What a collection you have there!
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Hello Per. Like your work.
Originally Posted by per volquartz
Don't forget that for those of us who use natural night sometimes are forced to position the camera in relation to a window, with little possibility to maneuver around very much. In effect, this is a "main light" which has been placed by circumstance. By the way, the concrete floor is especially good advice in this case!
As you well pointed out, everyone has their own way of doing things. In my case —when using studio lighting, which is obviously positionable— I arrange my still life (subjects) before doing the lighting. To me, that is one of the main advantages of using studio lighting in the first place.
The Sinar P2 is certainly a fine camera. Whether or not it is the "only camera made for table top still life offering complete control, without fumbling and leaving things to chance", I don't know. I've never used one, but I'll take your word for it! Sinar has been around since 1947. I wonder if Edward Weston ever even saw one?
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Thanks for the link to your site. Those are some nicely done still lifes.
Originally Posted by dpurdy
Per is right, it's all about light. The subject matter itself doesn't matter if you know how to light, and compose, a good still life. Even the humblest of items can be made interesting, as an example styrofoam coffee cups and a plastic spoon, shot with a Sinar P2 of course:
Even view camera can make trickery with DOF I would not put away 35 mm. Those 35 mm cameras can make really nice stills emhasing very nice properties of photography, grain and blur, and extreme accutance at the same moment. "Sharpess" all over is more painting-like picture and I do not like 'em in photography.
I am not an arranger, but I do have a slowly-growing series of unstill lifes showing the agglomerations and juxtapositions that spontaneously arise in a house with three small children. Sometimes it's the piles of stuff they make themselves, like the heap of gleanings built up during the last month's worth of autumn family walks. Sometimes it's the rubble of minor tat that just seems to accumulate of it's own accord on any less-frequently used horizonal surface. Sometimes it's forensic clues to the unspoken nature of family life - like the tangled lamp flex bodged into the ceiling fitting, still unshortened after a year of good intentions on my part.
I like to photograph them in the light where I find them, and use LF whenever I have the luxury of time, 6x6 if not. They are not still lives in the classic sense, although in purely visual terms they belong to that genre.