Photography: Still Life progress report

So it is only half way through the month and I have accumulated a few images for my self-imposed challenge.

It has been a learning experience for me doing this. I have learned that I really like looking at things close up. I like the detail to be found in objects, not necessarily an entire object in itself. Oh dear. I don’t think my Powershot is going to be able to take that kind of penchant. Notch one up to the *buy the digital SLR and you can have any lens you like*.

To begin the challenge I did a quick bit of research into what “Still Life” actually entails. defines it as,

the category of subject matter in which inanimate objects are represented, as in painting or photography.

While Wikipedia defined it as,

A still life is a work of art depicting inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, plants and natural substances like rocks) or man-made (drinking glasses, cigarettes, pipes, hotdogs and so on) in an artificial setting.

That pretty much means I can take photographs of absolutely anything as long as it doesn’t breathe. Great. Finding subject matter should be a breeze.

With a baby in the house it was a no-brainer that somewhere along the way I would be tempted by the toys and general paraphernalia that accompanies children.
This means you’ll be seeing bugs and sailors and sheep.

Then there is the wonderful hand-painted soup tureen, bowls and spoons that we received as a wedding present. Or the vodka set. They are magnificent and I have loved them dearly. Now I just need to do them justice. That may be a little bit harder.

There is one thing I would like to ask for advice on and that is background. Personally I have a thing about clutter. I don’t like it. I would like to produce crisp eye-catching still life images. What do you suggest I do about placement and background? Here is an example of what I have tried to do about eliminating the potential background clutter. Does it work? Do I need to get over the idea that stuff in the background is bad? Your opinions are appreciated.

5 thoughts on “Photography: Still Life progress report

  1. You took this on macro mode? Placement – what’s behind the object – is certainly important, but depth-of-field can be fun to play with too, as this can let you overcome difficult compositions (to some extent). As an amateur myself I have to say I find DOF challenging i.e. hard to get right. Can I suggest an experiment?

    Your camera probably has an aperture priority mode. Choose an object (I used a koru, but a fluffy toy would do nicely too!) and fix your camera position – preferably using a tripod – or a stack of books!. Take the same picture in the same light multiple times, changing only the aperture, so you end up with a series (f5.6, f8, f16, f22 etc.) Go look at the results and see what effect changing the aperture has on the DOF. Ideally you want your object largely in focus and the background blurred – if your aim is to disguise the latter. Sometimes you want (or can’t avoid) blurring of your object – get creative. IMHO sharp objects set against sharp backgrounds rarely work, unless they’re landscapes.

    As for the dSLR, your probably already have a decent enough camera for close-ups/ macros unless you want to spend a lot of money buying a macro lens for a dSLR. While I use a dSLR for landscapes/ general purposes, if I wanted to take a picture like this, I’d borrow Simone’s point-and-click.

    Perhaps Dave will jump in here? He’s got some stunning macros on Flickr e.g. this one.


  2. Actually Bruce, I can’t remember what setting this one was taken on. There’s another basic lesson: Take note of what you are doing while you are doing it.

    The DOF lesson is a great idea. I understand the concept of DOF, but have never really bedded in the practicality of it. i.e. which aperture produces which result.

    I will give your idea a try today and see what happens.

    I also get the feeling that once you get started there are ways and means to use programs like Photoshop to assist with removing/reducing unwanted backgrounds. Personally I just want to get the basics right before I start fiddling with the original images.

    Yes I love Dave’s fly. It’s slightly scary as a large photograph on black.
    He does have some extraordinary photographs. I also like attack of the mutant dragon flys…


  3. Just went away and did your f stop idea. Looks like my mighty Powershot will only go from 2.0 to 8.0 on the AV setting. On Macro and with the image “zoomed in” to make it central it went from 2.5 to 8.0. Then I repeated it with the subjects closer to the lens and I got 2.2 to 8.0. I would be interested in finding out why the size of the fridge magnets in the background have changed between the corresponding trials. I know it is to do with the zoom feature, but I’d like to know the technical reason for it. Once Flickr sorts itself out I will upload the two f8.0 images for you to see this. Hopefully it will be visible.

    Thanks for the help. 🙂


  4. quick note on background… Not that i’m any great example but watch out for things emerging from your subject as eg the corner of the room directly behind the sailor
    Me i usually end up with trees coming out of someones head 🙂


  5. @ Marc

    Yes, that is a very valid point.
    I guess that’s where having a single sheet of colour behind your subject comes in handy rather than the random background of the house.

    I’m not so much a tree out of head photographer, but Mr Oh has recently complained about me cutting his head off (well, the top of it) while trying to get a reasonable photograph of him with his daughter. 😛


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