Still life photography project – How to create epic Black & White photographs.
Dying daffodils for still life photography create lots of texture.
If still life is your topic, Google will throw plenty of images at you from artists, heavily featuring the likes of a Paul Cezanne, Manet, Van Gogh etc. These are masters of their craft and anyone studying photography I recommend spending as much time looking at paintings as you do photographs. Mastering the understanding and manipulation of light will stand you in good stead regardless of your photographic discipline. Still life is the perfect place to start a project as you can start simple, isolating a single object with a single light and, as your knowledge grows, eventually light an entire scene. I would also recommend studying the works of Caravaggio and Reubens, both masters of chiaroscuro, essentially an arty way of saying extreme contrast, but its useful vocabulary and shows you have diversified your reading and taken your research beyond a simple Google image search.
You don’t need fancy equipment to take stunning photographs, all of the following images were taken with a desk lamp and a basic DSLR, a 30D with a 50mm lens, these cameras sell for just over £100 on second hand websites, so you really don’t need to break the bank. I’d be happy to wager that you could achieve awesome results on a mobile phone, an idea for another post!
For more experienced users as well as beginners this is a great opportunity to start shooting in RAW if you’re not already, later on in the post we’ll cover RAW conversions and show you how it can improve your photography. You will need Photoshop or Lightroom to handle RAW images, so if you don’t have it just stick with the large JPEG setting on your camera. For more information on RAW vs. JPEG click here.
Clamp or sellotape your chosen item to a stand and shoot in a dark room, simply drawing the curtains at home should suffice or wait until the evening to make sure there’s no ambient light. From here we need to angle the light to create interesting shapes and contrast, move the desk lamp so it is fairly close to the object, these lamps aren’t particularly bright and light obeys an inverse square law which means as the distance from the light source to the object doubles the light drops to a quarter of its original intensity. Next we need to set your exposure. Start at ISO 100, we want to keep ISO low to avoid grain or noise. The shutter speed should be no lower than 1/60, this is to avoid motion blur, your hands will shake when holding a camera so bear this in mind when choosing slow shutter speeds. I would suggest going for 1/125 just to be safe at this stage. Next your aperture, the lens used here can stop down to f1.8, choose the largest aperture (lowest number) that your lens can achieve and take a test shot. Too dark? Increase the ISO. Too bright? Increase the shutter speed. Keep tinkering until you have achieved the desired look. Keep moving the light, changing the angle of the light and the angle at which you take the picture taking special care to consider composition and make sure the background is completely black.
Who would have thought a still life photograph of a cabbage would be so cool
Dried leaves on a branch
Close up of dead leaf
Once you’re happy that you have enough images we’re next going to look at converting the images to black and white using Photoshop.
If you’re using Lightroom, click here.