Still Life Day

Discussion in 'Abstract, Still Life, Specialist and Macro' started by Rob MacKillop, Jan 24, 2020.

  1. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    I want to learn more about still life shooting, lighting, etc, and there is a one-day course at STILLS, Edinburgh's most excellent photography centre: They call it Product Photography: but the essentials are the same.

    It's this Sunday, 11am to 5pm. So, to get in the mood I set up my low-tech studio!


    There was only a little light coming in from the large front window, it being a REALLY dull day, so I supplemented the light with a regular floor-stand lamp. I switched off the overhead light. There was also some light coming in from the hallway. Not exactly a pro studio!

    I quickly arranged some stuff on a chair, but it wasn't high enough to shoot without me crouching down, and the old knees don't like that anymore, so I placed another chair underneath that one.

    I took a few shots with the Monochrom. The tripod shots were boring, but the hand-held a little more interesting. I also shot both dng raw and jpg. After trying various exposures and f-stops, this one turned out best. I present first a jpg version of the raw file, then the in-camera simultaneous jpg. At this size there is not much difference, but I can certainly see a difference in clarity when zoomed in. Both are cropped to 7 by 6 format, which I really like from my days with a Mamiya RB67.

    Anyway, not the best still lifes (lives?) ever, but the experience has whet my appetite for Sunday's class.

    I'd much prefer good natural light, but that was in short supply.

    I'll be trying focus stacking with Helicon Focus, but I'm not sure if that is for me.

    Still Life Test Shot 1k.jpg

    Still Life Test Shot jayp.jpg
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2020
  2. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    It should be an interesting course and, as you say, product photography is essentially the same concept as still-life, but the aim is just a bit different. Learning how to control and balance lighting to reveal / emphasise details of a product will be useful even though you might end up doing the reverse at times. A tripod would certainly help although you'll need to spend quite some time getting the composition right and it is more tedious than doing so hand-held. However, it's really the only way to get control over the depth of field (whether through a small aperture, controlling image plane or even focus stacking). I use Helicon Focus (and Zerene Stacker) for technical shots although you do need to watch out for artefacts, especially specular ones.
  3. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Ah, I remember your shell and skull, Pete, and from my comments I can see that I was justly impressed. I've downloaded Helicon Focus, but haven't had time to play with it yet. I'll let you know how the course goes.
  4. Dave Farnes

    Dave Farnes Well-Known Member

    That does sound interesting, I am sure you will enjoy it.
  5. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Well, it was an interesting day, with 7 students and one teacher. The morning was spent looking at historical images from ancient Greece, through Dutch painting, into Fox Talbot as the first photographer with images of leaves, into Weston with his sexy peppers, to Abelardo Morell and his overrunning pot and paper bag through to Product Photography, Apple, Ikea, and the teacher himself

    Paul then explained a simple setup of one light and a reflector, effectively giving two lights, before we split for lunch.

    After lunch we had a look at more light setups and "Hacks", such as using cheap deodorant spray for the edges of wine bottles that are prone to over-expose.

    Then we all got a go at setting up and shooting the object we were asked to bring in. A few people had flowers in jars, there was a teddy bear, and one woman brought two very small shells for macro work. I had the most boring, but apparently the most difficult (which was my intention) a simple small glass bottle.

    Everyone seemed to have super-dooper cameras with deep volumes of menu tabs, and switches all over the back, whereas I had the very minimalist Monochrom. And of course, they were all shooting in colour. Most people were there for product photography rather than Still Life.

    I went first, unfortunately, and felt rushed for time - I only managed three exposures, none of which I like at all.

    Bottle 2.jpg

    Bottle 3.jpg

    Bottle 1.jpg

    I also learned that it is hard to focus on glass! I knew that already, of course, but forgot. The shoulders are still overexposed - I should have bought some cheap deodorant on the way to the class! I had one light shining from the left side, angled somewhat behind the bottle, and a white reflector to the right of the camera. I tried two backgrounds, one just black, the other (No.3 above) crinkled cine paper (a new product to me). Each shot was tied to flash from the one bulb - the first time I had ever used flash. And I tried slightly different settings for each shot. I used a 75mm (7Artisans) lens, and cropped in post.

    As I said, I don't really like any of the shots, but I still got a lot out of the day, and it has given me much to think about. I'm useless in class situations anyway, and much prefer to experiment alone.

    I didn't like any of the modern product shots, which all seemed too bright and lacking in environmental settings - think Apple adverts with their bright white backgrounds. Not for me. But I did enjoy discussing historical practises, and watching the other students trying their luck. There were some very good successes. Everyone seemed to get something out of the day.

    I will continue to use natural light only, but will invest in some reflectors (and deodorant!) to get more out of the available natural light. I might use different backgrounds, something I had already begun experimenting with, but often prefer environmental portraits, even if the background is hardly discernible.

    Here's something I did a couple of months ago in the kitchen, in early evening light, with an old Leitz 50mm f/4 lens on the Monochrom, which I am much happier with, including the reflections - which do not smell of deodorant! :)

    Portrait Ella.jpg
  6. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    PS One thing I did discover is that many pros backlight the subjects, rather than shining a light on the front or even front sides.
  7. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    Interesting. I think avoiding reflections is less important for still life than in product photography as one can include them in the composition as you did the shot above, especially if they 'reveal' the source of the light was 'real' and not a softbox or similar. Reflectors and bits of black and white card are really most of what you need and a single source of light is fine. Some clamps / bendy things to hold them would be useful.
  8. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

  9. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Thanks. Both purchases look good, so I'll go ahead with them. He also had one person use a mirror as the floor, while she was doing macro shots of a small shell. The results looked great, as you could see a little of what was inside the shell, thanks to the reflection.
    Pete Askew likes this.
  10. Dave Farnes

    Dave Farnes Well-Known Member

    That does sound interesting. The crinkled paper does add something to the shot, I can see that. I do like the flowers picture, a classic still life.
  11. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Cheers, Dave. It was certainly an interesting day.
  12. Rhonda Smith

    Rhonda Smith Active Member

    Rob MacKillop likes this.
  13. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    Thanks, RJ. I'm committing myself to natural-light shots. I will just have to be patient...
  14. Rhonda Smith

    Rhonda Smith Active Member

    That is my downfall, lack of patience. I also am working on that. Planning a trip in a few weeks to the conservatory. Lots of tropical/exotic plants and fountains. I promise to practice patience
    Rob MacKillop likes this.

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