Still Life Photography

Still Life: Art History Theme
You will research and produce a still life that is inspired by someone or something in the
history of art. It could be an artist, image, sculpture, film or performance. The work can
have a fine art or commercial approach. 

 A still life (plural still lives) is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, flowers, plants, rocks, or shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, and so on). With origins in the Middle Ages and Ancient Greek/Roman art, still life paintings give the artist more leeway in the arrangement of design elements within a composition than do paintings of other types of subjects such as landscape or portraiture. Still life paintings, particularly before 1700, often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted. Some modern still life breaks the two-dimensional barrier and employs three-dimensional mixed media, and uses found objects, photography, computer graphics, as well as video and sound. 

Through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, still life in Western art remained primarily an adjunct to Christian religious subjects, and convened religious and allegorical meaning. This was particularly true in the work of Northern European artists, whose fascination with highly detailed optical realism and symbolism led them to lavish great attention on their paintings' overall message. Painters like Jan van Eyck often used still life elements as part of an iconographic program.

Here I posted some of most famous still-life paintings by various different artists and time periods.

"Still Life with Cheeses" (1615) is a painting by Floris Claesz van Dijck.

Still Life with Apples, Pears, Lemons and Grapes (1887) is a painting by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh.

Still Life with Apples and Grapes, Claude Monet

"Still Life with Asparagus" (c. 1697) is a painting by Adriaen Coorte.

"Mound of Butter" is a painting by French artist Antoine Vollon.

"Fruit Bowl, Glass, and Apples" (1879-1882) is a painting by French artist Paul C├ęzanne.

"Festoon with Flowers and Fruit" (c. 1660-1670) is a painting by Jan Davidszoon de Heem.

Italian gallery

Link to more examples of great still life paintings
 More Still-Life masterpiece paintings

Here are my first Still Life photographs, inspired by various painters above.

This is the very first attempt, with a fabric background. I did apply vignette effect to draw attention on the main subject.  Tomatoes are my favorite "vegetables" therefore it is the key element of mu composition, especially accompanied with garlic cloves. I did get my inspiration from paintings and also from my childhood memories. Straws symbolizes the wildness, valleys, organic and healthy environment, such as country side, where I spent most of my summer holidays. This still photograph could be read and interpreted as an recipe for some dish or simply symbolize freshness and quality. Also the hat is the kicker element of this wildness and boys nature. In some way this photograph represents a little bit of me.     

All of these photographs were created in the studio environment by using cool lights. I really like the smooth and even lighting and the contrast. Light source is approximately close to a Rembrandt lighting style. In these first two examples I did use a single cool light source, conversely all below with two cool lights. By using a single light source I was able to achieve greater contrast level and deeper shadows. The weakest point in this particular photograph is the light background which does not blend in too well.

Here is the lighting diagram of first two shots

One Cool light. Camera on the tripod.

Here is the next lighting diagram for the rest of the photographs.

Here I did introduce a second cool light, however I prefer only a single. It allows me to emphasize on the contrast level.

Here I introduce the second light. It works as a fill light and eliminates the shadows to a certain level without sacrificing too much of overall contrast. Also the backdrop in now excluded, focusing more on the subject, however it does not give the best aesthetically results.

Very similar scenario, but the left light source is now moved slightly lower and closer to the camera, the change is quite noticeable, shadows around tomatoes are eliminated even more. It is not the effect I want to achieve. I like the contrast and depth of tones, especially the shadows. Shadows gives the direction and depth so it is important for me to try to maintain them as good as I can without sacrificing other elements, such as highlights. 

The left light source now is back at the Rembrandt setting, which makes the overall photograph more contrasty. I did apply some water on tomatoes to enhance the meaning of the freshness. However it also works very well without this little enhancement. I did inspire from some food photography, where photographers are using various techniques to make the food look better. The water droplets are one of techniques. 

In this scenario the light source is directly above the scene, and the right fill in light is further away from the subject which makes is a little bit less intense. This lighting setup is very even but also quite flat, most of shadows are eliminated. The purpose of all these different lighting angles is to explore the light's characteristics and effects it can do by simply repositioning light sources. In some cases this lighting setup could do a good job, but not in this scenario. 

Focusing on details, Thought it could make a simple and warm photograph. Again, just playing around and trying to achieve different results.

A single light source directly from aside. Again the goal was to achieve greater contrast and shadows. The output of the cool light is slightly too powerful, as it can bee seen on the tomato - light patch which is overexposed. 

In conclusion, the most successful photograph is the very first one. It has the best lighting setup - contrasty and at the same time even to a certain point. Also the backdrop and the vignette gives more depth to it.

Online resource - Painting of Tomatoes

Online resource - Gazpacho - My childhood influence of the Tomato,garlic and farm theme. 

My series of still life photographs directly associates with quality food based on tomatoes. Like the soup "Gazpacho"

Example of water droplets on tomatoes. Just a slight enhancement in order to make them look fresher. 

Here are some artists that I find very inspiring. 
Rose and Driftwood 1932

Pepper, 1930. Edward Weston


 Shell, 1927
Edward Weston negative, Cole Weston print

Cabbage Leaf Edward Weston-1931

Here is a very good site - tips for Still Life photography 

Here are some Still Life photographs by Steve Chong



His Work is very inspiring and professional. I really like the way in how he is using the lighting to achieve these results. He is emphasizing on the shape, lines, texture and the light which all comes together and creates special mood and quality. My initial idea was to use the same rough linen sack as my background, but I found something similar and the idea of using straws was stronger therefore I did improvise. 

His work opened my mind and let more ideas flow to my own work.

I was not very happy with the first results in the studio, therefore I did try to achieve better results with next attempt. 
Below are the result of the second session in the studio. 

This is my best shot of the second attempt. However I did not notice a major drawback of the result. Tomato bunch does not look good, the part where it has been chopped off is too noticeable and spoil the overall composition. It draws all of the attention on that specific bit which makes this photograph to fail. Therefore I did not have any other choice but to fix it next time. Also I played around with the background. as it can bee seen it is blurred due to the extended distance from the main subject. I like its creamy and neutral texture making the subject stand out.

Here is my last session in the studio and the results are much better than all above.

This is the original RAW file. It is very good lit, however lacks the contrast, blacks, saturation and white balance adjustment.

 Below is comparison between white balance and vignette.

I also did use the vignette effect to draw all of the attention to the main subject matter.

 Slightly cooler colour temperature makes the overall scene to pop brighter, however it is not as good as warmer ones.

Final Version. It is slightly warmer than previous, but not too much. I was trying to prevent the whites and the correct colours.

Overall this project was my second favourite. I really love still life photography. The reason why I chose to shoot vegetables in this farmer’s style was simply my personal thoughts on quality and freshness. I have always been fascinated and amazed by the nature and anything pure from it. Therefore I wanted to create a still life photograph which would reflect on the natural and pure forms. Like tomatoes, garlic and the straws. From the beginning I was inspired by still life painting whose subject matter most often was the natural things such vegetables fruits combined with manmade objects like plates, bowls etc. And that is the linking reference between history of art and my final produced photograph. Initially I had couple of thoughts to approach this project from commercial side with advertising style, however during the first studio session my thoughts did change and I decided to keep it simple and more pure, closer to those paintings of still life.

From technical aspect I did not have any problems regards the lighting setup. It was quite straight forward, a