Photographing Still Life Part II

About three months ago I wrote an article about my work with still life objects. I’ve been continuing photographing still life since then and experimenting with different ways of post processing the images. In this post I will show some of my more recent works. Click on the images to view larger version.

In this image I went with simplicity in shapes but added more interest using texture.
Still Life with bottle and wine glass

Here, on the contrary, I wanted to create a more complex image with additional elements. My main problem was to choose these elements so that they would fit harmoniously into my composition. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether I succeeded or not. 
Still Life with bottles, mandarins, and leafs

I especially like this image, mostly because it wasn’t easy to come up with the idea for it. I started it by trying various compositions of glasses and the bottle, and various liquid levels. After I achieved something that looked good to me, I still felt that something was missing from the image. So I looked around for an item to add, and decided to add the two marbles. But I needed an aesthetic way to place them, and after a while I solved this puzzle with a spoon. I made a couple of shots and still wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. Suddenly it hit me that these marbles on the spoon look like musical notes! To make this idea more visible I added musical sheet to the background and the photo frame, and finally I felt the image was complete.
Still Life with bottle and glasses


This is my best still life image to date. It has an interesting idea and a nice execution. In addition this image was accepted to !!! It was my dream to have my image featured there, and I finally achieved it. You can see it on here.
Still Life with bottles





Our Incredible Obsession With Gear

What do I mean by “gear obsession” ? It is the thought that using better photography gear will get you to take better pictures. I was so guilty of it in the past, and still sometimes get the irresistible urge to buy that new something that just came out.

Let’s do a little test. Does the following thought process sound familiar to you?

– The camera that I have is pretty old, and just yesterday they put out this new model with far better focusing, noise reduction, continuous shooting, _____________ (fill the blank).
– Once I get it, my photos will be crisper, sharper, clearer, and definitely MUCH better.
– Ok, I got this camera, but my huge collection of lenses (more than three I consider to be huge) doesn’t have the new 50mm f1.4 lens, which is MUCH better than its predecessor, and is not that expensive!
– Once I get this lens, I’ll really start using a 50mm lens and get wonderful photos with it! (Doesn’t matter that I already have a ‘worse’ 50mm lens and at least two of my zooms cover 50mm mark).
– Ok, I have a 50mm f1.4 lens now… But hey what about this new tripod from Manfrotto!? Yeah, I do have a pretty good tripod, but this one must be that much lighter and more stable! Having it will FOR SURE make me get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to shoot sunrises.

This constant feeling that something is missing from your photo bag, and getting it will finally allow you to take better images can go on forever.

If it does sound familiar, then you have the same problem that I had for quite a while. The real problem here is that getting all this stuff Absolutely Will Not help you take better photographs. And since the flow of new and better cameras and all other photography related stuff never ends, you are facing the danger of constantly chasing that next new thing coming out next week, month, year.

You might say that I am not totally right, and better equipment does produce better images. Well, yes and no. If by ‘better’ you mean better technical quality then, maybe yes. This is even not a certain yes. In many cases, the quality of light is one of the most important contributors to the technical quality of your work. Let’s say you want to shoot portraits in natural light, but it is high noon, and your subjects are standing in an open area without a hint of a shadow. It doesn’t matter that you have the best camera out there – you will still get unpleasant lighting on your subject and very harsh shadows. But if you wait for the sunset (for example), and move your subject into a slightly shadowed area where you’ll get beautifully diffused light, even a point and shoot camera will get you great results.

However, technical quality constitutes only about 1% of how good your image will be, and this is something that I’ve come to learn the hard way. Photographic forums are filled with thousands of bleak, uninteresting, and simply ugly images taken with the best cameras out there (Canon EOS 1Dx, Nikon D800, you name it). On the other hand I also found many beautiful photographs taken with point-and-shoots.

So what makes a photograph to be good, or even great? Well, it is a pretty tough question and here is my take on it. Good photograph is one that makes the viewer feel something, that evokes emotions within the viewer. Good photograph creates a mood or tells a story. And the more intense the emotions it evokes in the viewer, the stronger the mood – the better image it is.

How can all this be achieved within a single image? Well, most certainly not by technical quality of photographer’s equipment. It can be achieved through lots and lots of practice, through looking at work of masters and trying to understand what is it in the image that makes you feel the way that you feel. It is way past the basics such as rule of thirds, contrasts, lines, patterns, etc. Of course, you have to be familiar with all of the above, but to use it effectively, and break the rules where necessary is a whole another level of photography. In short, only developing your vision will allow you to create good photographs, and you can do it with almost any camera out there.

I find it liberating taking pictures with my mobile phone because I don’t have to worry about changing lenses, and being afraid of missing the shot because I don’t have the correct lens on my camera. With the phone I simply don’t have that choice, and instead I start to look around more, think about what I am looking at and create various compositions in my mind, The camera is there only to capture what I saw in my mind. It is really just a tool that helps the photographer express himself.

What do you think makes a good photograph? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Photographing Still Life

For the last several months I’ve been focusing on photographing still life images. I don’t know exactly why but I am drawn to still life photography. I like to create various compositions putting emphasis on shapes, light, and color. In this article I’ll share some of my creations and talk you through my thought process. The images that you will see here where created by me during the course of the last five months.

I started experimenting with simple shapes and gradually added more components using bottles and other items I had at home. My first images consisted of two objects and were shot in black and white. This way I was able to concentrate purely on shape and light. Here is one such example, which I liked. There is a contrast between one dark, “solid” object on the foreground and one light, almost transparent object in the background. I tried intuitively to place them in a way that would look interesting and pleasing to me.

Still life with bottle and vase in black and white by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

Next I added one more object, some color, and changed the lighting. The reason I changed the lighting is for the color to bee seen, but I still wanted to have shadow in the image. This way I aimed to bring a certain mood into the image. Looking at it on my computer screen I felt that something was missing, tried to add texture, and liked the result. This image is still very simplistic, a building block in my studies of still life photography.

Still life with bottle and vase in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

I kept on trying various compositions, and here’s my attempt to add some humor. There’s not much sense to it, but I like this drunk zebra 🙂

Still life with bottles and toy horse in black and white by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

The image below was inspired by images of Victoria Ivanova . She has some very cool conceptual still life images with pears (and other items). I call this image “Examination”. Will let you figure this one out for yourself 🙂

Still life with bottles and pears in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

Concept imagery is pretty difficult to come up with, and I didn’t have much luck with it just yet. In the meantime I continued to focus on form, light and color. In my next composition I wanted to emphasize a single color, so it would become the whole theme of the image. It doesn’t mean that there is only one color but that it is the vividly dominant one, so there’s no mistake as to which one is it.

Still life with bottle vase apple and glass in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

I also tried to change backgrounds and match them to my subjects. One of the things I learned from the photo below is that I don’t like empty things. I didn’t notice this at first, but when I looked at the final image I kept thinking that something was missing, and finally I realized that all the items were empty!

Still life with bottles and glasses in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

I didn’t repeat that mistake in my next image. In this image I made an emphasis on color. Seeing the final image I saw that vivid colors add a lot of interest to it. Ideally, of course, it should also be the shape, the light, and the meaning of the image together to form a good one.

Still life with bottles glass and fruits in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

The image below is the most recent one I created. When working on its’ composition I felt that only glass objects with (or without) liquid created a lacking picture. I tried to add various objects but nothing worked. Then I went out to the garden and looked around, saw this sprout and tried to add it to my composition. Finally I got what I needed, and the image was complete. There is an interesting “cross-balance” (term I thought of just now 🙂 ) in this photograph: A diagonal line of three filled objects from top left to bottom right, and another diagonal line of two empty objects from top right to bottom left.

Still life with bottles glass and flora in color by greg brave
click on the photo to enlarge

A few technical notes regarding my lighting setup: I generally had two lights. One is located below the table on which I created my compositions. That light was lighting the background and adding the glow to the bottles from behind. Another one is located to the left of the camera and just a bit above the bottles. On it I placed polarizing gel and also used a polarizing filter on the lens. I turned the polarizer on the lens so that the reflections of the light source in the bottles would not be visible. In some cases I created two exposures of the same composition – one with reflections and another without. Later in Photoshop I loaded the two exposures as layers, completely masked out the exposure with reflections, and only revealed the reflections that I wanted to be seen.

Your comments, questions, and thoughts are highly appreciated!