Traditional still life presents a small-scale space to explore the composition and meaning of objects. But still life doesn’t have to be bowls of fruit and vases of flowers. You can place any object or combination of objects in any setting. And both can be constructed. It may be useful to think of still life as having two key elements – object(s) and setting – and go wherever your imagination takes you with them
Setting/background Choose a space that you can work with over time. You don’t need the traditional wall and table yet, just a cleared space. What does your space present you with? A wall? A floor? A corner? Put your camera on a tripod and aim it at this empty space. Now add to this space one large flat object. It could be a sheet, a painting turned back to front, an up-turned table or a large piece of paper stuck to the wall. Don’t place anything in the middle of space to act as an ‘object’ but rather compose your setting with surfaces, colors, and textures. Have a look in the viewfinder. Note every element in the frame: • the way surfaces create angles, lines, shapes and planes • the way planes create a dimensional ‘space’ • the effect of different lighting on this setting. Take a photo. This should be an entirely artificial, constructed image even with no proper sense of gravity. Objects • Now choose a simple object and carefully place it into this composition. Avoid clichéd objects. Take a photo, then remove the object. • Replace it with another object, something very different. Place this object in such a way that it’s not emphasized. (Did your first photo emphasize the object?) Take a photo. • Now fill the space with a lot of different things (mattresses, furniture, crockery, books, plants, anything handy) and try to create an entirely constructed ‘environment’. Think about how objects coincide as planes, lines, and points in your frame. It may be very messy, but it should depict a ‘place’ with an identity that only exists inside the frame of your camera. • Look at these pictures and you will see that gradually you have removed any trace of the original space. It could be anywhere. Just like a painter, you have taken control over every part of the picture.
Clear the setting. Keep the space free for your use as a ‘studio’ for a few days and experiment with different backgrounds, objects, and lighting. Try to create different self- contained, unique environments. Experiment with creating a new sense of space.
Process: For this exercise, I chose a wooden shelf sticking out of the wall, raised from the floor about 3′ in height. In this empty space, I introduced a picture frame and tried positioning it in various ways and observed how at some positions it created stronger shadows and depth than others.
I then placed an object and replaced it with others. My observation here was that flat objects barely did anything to the space whereas the 3D object, like the dream catcher used here, immediately enhances or brings to eye the addition of the object, even though it is intentionally placed so as to NOT emphasize the object. I guess because the 3d object has a more defined shadow it attracts more attention to itself.
The introduction to different lightings in the coursework earlier came in extremely handy in this exercise. Changing the lights totally changed the mood – the look and feel – of this space. It changed from warm and welcoming to cold and antiseptic to downright scary even. It was a good exercise to relive the effects of what different lighting conditions can do to a place/frame.
It was interesting to see the space being filled up by objects to create a scene which perhaps does not make any sense outside the view finder.
The difference between the empty space and the now filled up space is huge. I quite enjoyed doing this.
I then tried a few different lights on this area. The original set up (above), despite the clutter, looks kind of clean with the normal light that is illuminating all the objects clearly, while retaining their original colors. I tried different lights below and the entire scene changes. The colors of individual objects change and adapt to various lights differently.
I then remembered one suggestion that was made during my Painting with Light assignment to try changing lights in Photoshop itself. So I have tried doing that below. Somehow to me, the light changing in Photoshop creates a frame that is more flat or even. Colors of objects change here also – the original colors do react differently with different lights but the depth which is there when you do a light set up is totally different than what one can produce in Photoshop. Some of them absorb colors to give a dull appearance while another light tends to brighten up the scene.