Creative Still Life Photography – Bruce Pendleton.

“What are the most important factors involved in producing a good still-life photograph? Basically, they are to determine what you wish to say and to whom, to decide what mood you wish to express, and then to plan for the greatest visual impact through the use of composition, lighting, choice of lens and camera, props, background, and if necessary, photographic trickery.” (Pendleton, 1982: 17).

With any genre of photography, the photographer has control over the image. Even if they cannot control what is happening at the time, they still have the choice of elements such as framing and timing of the shot to influence the idea they want to share. However still life photography allows the photographer to have complete control over all of the different aspects of creating an image. As Pendleton states, the combination of the photographer’s choice over these factors determine the message they want to share. I was surprised to realise I hadn’t actually considered this in my own practice and has helped me identify how creative still life photography can be, and how important close consideration of all these different elements is because it can create endless possibilities of ‘what you wish to say’.  This has also made me think back to my research into representation and its relation to understanding the language of signs – something simple as the difference between a dark lighting set up and a soft, bright one can determine the difference between a mysterious, eerie image to light-hearted and gentle atmosphere.

“The potential of still-life photography is limited only by your imagination aided by your skill.”(Pendleton, 1982: 19). Pendleton has highlighted the importance to me of pre-visualising my images – I can begin by thinking of the message I want to share, leading onto the set up of my items, enhanced by the lighting set up and the aesthetic composition to create a create image. To me, this means the still life image can be made in the mind, your imagination, and created through photographic skill and knowledge. My project will help me develop both of these skills. By pre-visualising, it will improve my creativity and expand my horizons of where I can take my photographs but not only this, it will help improve my composition and lighting skills. Still life has been very limited in my practice so far and this project allows me to experiment with set ups, lighting and lenses I haven’t worked with before.

I was intrigued to see a chapter on Still Lifes Outdoors. With the nature of my project, I indicated in my proposal that I would be shooting both in the studio and outdoors. Pendleton explains “an old photographer’s rule is to shoot before 10AM or after 3:30PM or during the winter months.” (Pendleton, 1982: 93). Whilst I was aware of the harsher light which appears at midday, I wasn’t aware of the best time of day for ideal conditions for photographing. This will definitely something to take into consideration as I continue to shoot outdoors to help enhance the use of natural lighting. The examples of images used in the book made me contemplate whether outdoor still life could be more creative, with a ‘real’ sense to them. Could the images be better at creating a mood, such as natural light from a sunset can create a romantic setting and also enhance the colours of the image? This will be interesting for me to compare and judge when editing down my shoots for potential final images and also how I could improve. There are both advantages and disadvantages of studio still life photography and outdoor still life hence Pendleton’s description, “the difference between outdoor still-life photographs and studio still-life photographs is the difference between the immediacy of a watercolour painting and the reworkability of an oil painting.” (Pendleton, 1982: 93). The ‘reworkable oil painting’ represents the ability to continuously experiment with different lighting and composition in the studio whereas the ‘immediacy of a watercolour painting’ is working with the natural light available outdoors with little control or change. However, does this make it more ‘real’?

Pendleton explains that “macro photography opens up a realm of new photographic images created by magnification….it is also done more and more for sheer aesthetic appeal of exploring abstract forms and new dimensions taken on by greatly enlarged subjects.” (Pendleton, 1982: 125). Macro photography is something that has definitely taken my interest in this project. Throughout my practice, I have often noticed how I find myself composing images quite close up as I often find them more focused, concentrated and aesthetically pleasing. I have also always loved seeing textures in photographs and macro photography captures this in a magnificent way. Therefore, it was interesting to see a brief section about the use of macro lenses in still life and its popularity. I am excited to get to experiment with a macro lens for the first time in my project to get some images of beautiful, close up textures.

This book was great with explanations and examples throughout to help with the understanding of the different factors making up still life photography. It brought to my attention the different things I could use when shooting which I hadn’t considered, such as reflectors. I am aware and have been taught about the use of reflectors, but to begin with I was limiting myself just to the use of studio lighting. There are endless possibilities to the experimentation I can have whilst composing my images so it is important I remember not to limit myself and make the best use of resources available. The book has highlighted the importance of considering each of the factors in depth when creating my photographs. It also helped me to create links between these factors and the importance of representation. The way these elements are represented in the photograph affect how it is observed and appreciated by the viewer. I will need to take this into consideration when I pre-visualise and decide the message I want to share. Finally, the technical information found in this book by Pendleton is extremely helpful and I will definitely be revisiting if I raise my own questions about lighting and composition.

Pendleton, B. (1982) Creative Still Life Photography. Poole: Blandford Press.


~ by victoriasimkissphotography on January 23, 2015.

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