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Still Life photography

K Dough , Feb 13, 2006; 09:56 a.m.

This is my first time working in the studio. I'm supposed to come up with some still life shots with a medium format camera using tungsten lights. I'm aware that I will need to use a light meter and a tripod. I need some advice on how I should set up the lighting and also what type of a background to consider. Any suggestions are welcome. Thanks


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T Feltus , Feb 13, 2006; 10:05 a.m.

hi K, your post is a tiny bit generic. so, i suggest that you start by giving us a hint (link or image) of something that you like, and might like to use as your target, either for the mood or lighting. and this can be a painting, a film still, or another photograph, but it will make it a lot easier for us all to give you any help. fundamentally you can use any light and any background, but everything will make a difference to the end resul that you will obtain.


K Dough , Feb 13, 2006; 10:22 a.m.

Yeah I agree this topic is a bit generic. This is a class assignment that is supposed to be shot on black & white film (125 iso). In the studio we have 250 and 500 watt tungsten lights. We also have a black and white pull-down sheet to use as a background. I have little to none experience with doing any studio work. I'll be back with a few example pictures that I would like to try to replicate.

K Dough , Feb 13, 2006; 10:35 a.m.

Well I haven't been able to find really anything good by searching thru Google. Mainly I would like some tips on what I should experiment with. Placement of lights? What to look for (shadows/reflections)? Anything that would be of use to me would be good to hear. Things to avoid? Sorry but if anybody have anything worth hearing, I would appreciate it. Thanks!

T Feltus , Feb 13, 2006; 11:04 a.m.

hi K, well, limiting it to B+W makes lighting a lot simpler, in some regards. so what you need to look at is tone and contrast. also, you could easily light it with a single tungsten bulb, so i would suggest that 500w is overkill.

Witkin uses B+W to create his interpretation of reniassance still life/genre paintings: (link)

and Bailey paints what often look photographic in his bizarre realsim: (link)

both of them being contemporary interpretations from the likes of this: http://www.umehon.maine.edu/images/hon211/Heem%20Still-Life%20u.1626-1683.jpg

but these are also still lives, of a different kind: http://www.susanabbott.com/images/paintings/japanese.jpg


so, what next? t+

Ellis Vener , Feb 13, 2006; 11:46 a.m.

keep the background simple. keep the lighting simple too. I am surprised that your instructor isn't giving you instruction and doing demos about how to set up a simple still life and creating different lighting effects, etc.

What school are you attending?

Scott Walton , Feb 13, 2006; 11:49 a.m.

Why don't you do something with flowers. I love doing this type stuff in my spare time. Soft light, soft focus and B/W and you have this...

Roses are...

Ellis Vener , Feb 13, 2006; 11:57 a.m.

some lighting advice:

relative to the object size you are lighting and subjectto the distance from the light to the object , a large light produces less contrasty lighitng than a small light.

Lighting from near the front of the camera creates a flatter less dimensional look than lighting from a larger angle.

Always try to light with one light first.

Use white and/or silver "fill" (AKA "bounce") cards to fill in the shadows. Move them in or away and try at different angles to the light and camera until you are geting theeffect you desire. if bounce cards aren't doing the trick only then think about using a second or a third light.

Pay attention to shadows as well as highlights.

Light (mostly) moves in a straight line.

The angle of reflection = angle of incidence.

When it looks right from the cameras point of view, stop and shoot a test. If you don't like it think about what you you need to change and repeat until you are satisfied..

K Dough , Feb 13, 2006; 12:45 p.m.

Thanks for the suggestions thus far. Like that picture of the flower posted, how did you get the background to be completely black? I know you can use a black sheet as the background, but what would you set it on? In other words, how do you get an object to "stand" the way you want it to?

Robert Zimmerman , Feb 13, 2006; 12:59 p.m.

start as simply as possible. if you can get a simple object against a simple background (white for example) to look good then you're getting somewhere. start with one light. when you have it how you want it, start thinkig about accenting other areas of the object. try out and use any and all kinds of reflective material for filling in shadows and highlighting. look at albert watson's brilliantly simplistic b&w stills (book: Cyclops) and see what can be done with nothing but a simple object against a white background.

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