The Art of Still Life Photography

Recently I was asked to share my thoughts on why I thought Still Life was important and my process for creating it.  It was an interesting process to go through so I thought I would share what I came up with:

Still Life is typically described as the depiction of inanimate subject matter, usually a grouping of objects artistically arranged.  This type of art has been around since the 16th century and has been practiced by all of the famous and not so famous artists.  As a still life photographer, this type of art is a huge influence in my work.  The light of the Dutch Master paintings, so ethereal; the simplicity of the cubist movement; the interpretation of the impressionists.  All of these play a role in one way or another in my images.

Mastering the light is the single most important skill I need as a photographer.  After all, the term Photography means ‘painting with light’.  Still life photography is the best way to learn this skill.  The same is true for composition techniques.  Creativity and inspiration play a big part in this type of photographic art.  Photographic art is work that has had thought, technical and artistic abilities applied it.  I take my time to get the correct lighting.  Hours, sometimes days are spent creating the perfect composition.  Form, light and shadow; composition and harmony; texture, balance and color all come together to create my still life photographs.

My pieces will usually begin with an inspiration whether from a painting I may have seen or an interesting piece that I pick up in an antique store.  It can take weeks for the idea to come together.  What is the story I want to tell?  What type of setting do I want to use?  What kind of background?  What will be the ‘star’ of the image and what other items do I need to support it?  How about the light:  Natural, studio or even light painting?  Do I need reflectors or detractors?  All of these questions and more are answered through the process of creating an image.  I like to tell stories of interesting objects from the past.  An old wooden cutting board becomes a base, perhaps that old metal strainer is added with some fruit or vegetables, what about that scale that looks like it has seen better days?  Everything has a history and each history has a story.  I try to bring that story to light with my photography.

Setting up the composition, finding the right light and taking the photograph is just the beginning of my process.  Once the image has been taken, it is then onto the post processing.  In the age of digital photography, that means I now take the image into my computer - the digital darkroom, if you will.  Here I will fine tune my exposure, I may crop the image, clean up anything that is distracting such as dust particles, etc.  Then I may add a texture.  This is simply another image that is added on top of the original photograph and made transparent so that certain parts of it will add character to the original.  I may add a grungy vignette to draw the eye more to the center.  Then I will add a painting filter to the photograph.  I do not have a heavy hand here, just a slight suggestion to help give the image a little more interest.  I like to print my images on cold press paper as it has a nice texture to it that I feel works nicely with my type of photographs.   Lastly, I will hunt out just the right frame.  I will search antique centers, flea markets and thrift shops for interesting frames.  Sometimes the frames are just perfect the way they are, sometimes they need a little help, a coat of paint or some gilding.  The final product is what I consider to be my photographic art.  Yes, it can be a lot of work, but anything worthwhile usually is.      

So there you have it - art gives us something beautiful to look at, it can take us places we may never have gone before.  The true challenge for any artist is to make your art your own, and this is how I make mine.

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