Exercise 4.3: Egg or Stone

24th August 2021

Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form. For this exercise, we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such as an egg or stone rather than a man-made object… this exercise is just about controlling the light to reveal form.

OCA EYV (2014: 91)

This exercise I found very challenging. The only time I have ever shot a still life before was for the OCAs Foundation in Photography course and, to be honest, the end result was far from perfect.

Shooting still life is quite an enigma for me. My usual subjects are quite gritty, the grunge side of street photography and conceptual photography, both subjects where lighting is important but which does not have to planned in great depth.

To begin this exercise, I researched further the topic of still life, focusing particularly on lighting. The notes can be found on the blog post, ‘Notes: Still Life’, which can be accessed here.

First Attempt: Trial

Although I had researched still life and still life lighting, I began with a trial shoot just to get used to the idea ‘that I had to do this exercise’. The trial was just a play around, using tripod, camera, 20mm lens and a torch, all set up on a table top. I left the settings on ISO 1600 with a f/1.7 aperture with the idea it will let more light in as I was shooting with a handheld torch. The remaining settings were played around with, not planned, I just adjusted the settings according to chance. I had forgot to adjust the white balance so the first four shots show a yellow cast on the images.

The resulting contact sheet of the trial shoot can be seen below. It contains either over exposed and blown out images, underexposed and images with contrast, and images that are just exposed in between and incorrectly. On top of the lighting inconsistencies, I had the dreaded blur.

Contact sheet 1: Trial still life with stone, experimentation

Second Attempt

Due to the fact that I am not very confident at all with the subject of still life I decided to be more creative with my approach, hoping that I could achieve something a little more correct by approaching it from an angle that I am use to.

I decided on using light through a window on a bunch of flowers but hand holding my camera using a 20mm lens and without a tripod. The reason for this is because I wanted to take close up shots in difficult positions. These positions included height and also areas a tripod could not be placed. The second reason is, when I am shooting I hardly ever use a tripod, in fact, only when I have complete a specific exercise for the college course.

Diagram to show the lighting direction, still life and camera positions

Due to the fact that I am at my dads quite a lot now, all my resources are at home. I am also running very late on all exercises and assignments due to being out of action during the monthly stays at my dads house. I therefore could not access my backdrops and decided to be creative with my focusing to make the series work for me.

For the ‘creative’ part of my exercise, I had chosen to use f/18 and f/16 to obtain different areas in and out of focus and to contrast these (to learn from) with some smaller apertures. I also decided to focus on the lightest areas of the flowers which would throw the background into darkness which would block out some of the confusion from the background.

The contact sheets from the shoot can be seen below.

Chosen Images

Below are four chosen images from the set above. I found that although the lighting and subject were quite good to work with, I really should have tried to purchase some board/material for the background. Although in the majority of shots I did manage to gain a black and uncluttered background, too many of them did not, so this is a failure and a lesson learnt.

I am hoping that I will have time to shoot a third series using a more suitable lens and a backdrop. Although I tried to be more creative the second time around, I feel that the outcome did not work as well as I had envisaged in my mind. So I am very disappointed, but atleast I have come away with more knowledge on the area of light and still life.

The chosen shots are below.

Light Direction, Focal Point and Settings

The above images have not been altered in Photoshop at all. Therefore we can see how each photograph reacted to the settings that I have used.

Conclusion

Overall, the decision to be a little more creative with my shots by throwing some of the image out of focus did work. However, the completed images needed more of the composition to be out of focus to make the viewers eye look straight at the focused part of the flowers form and then for it to work it’s way outward looking at the light, colour and patterns of the blurred part of the flowers.

I also have learnt that a backdrop is something that I really should have used for this exercise. I was very lucky to pull off a few images where through focusing on the lightest areas of the subject, I managed to achieve a black contrasting background.

At the end of the day I feel that I have come away with more knowledge of how not to approach a still life than actual success in producing good, well thought out images.

However, as I have said earlier, if I manage to have spare time I will definitely return to this exercise to see if I can approve on my planning and technique.


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