Set up your own still-lie, with a background that is unfussy but not entirely plain. Use between six to 10 similar-sized objects, each compact in shape. You should fix the camera firmly in one position, aimed down at the background (ideally, use a tripod). The idea is to control the composition by rearrangement, not by changing the framing with the camera.
Begin by placing one object; make a record of this by taking a photograph. Then add the second, then the third, and son on; each time, take one photograph. The aim is to produce a final grouping, which is not so obvious as to be boring (avoid regular shapes), but which hangs together visually.
… When you have finished, you will have a blow-by-blow sequence of photographs that records your decisions. For the final photograph draw a sketch, indicating the ‘lines’ that relate the objects, and any basic shape or shapes that they form.
During my tutor’s feedback on my first Assignment, he suggested that I take a look at Laura Letinsky’s work and the way she ‘creates and uncertain sense of dimensionality with the ‘planes’ of the surfaces. So I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try this out. Much harder than it looks! I tried a few different sets, even doing as she did and photographing vegetable peelings and scraps. (Samples of my discarded attempts are at the bottom of this post). I found that one needs something in the frame with a little height to provide some scale and this didn’t work with my veggies. So I resorted to coffee time items.
The only change I made when setting up this scenario was during figure 08 and 09. I had originally had the cream coloured cup with the dark interior lying on its side in front of the large coffee mug. When I decided to add coffee beans, I realised that the coffee beans would look better on a lighter background so I switched the cup around so that the dark brown one was tipped over spilling the beans onto the table cloth.
Finally I had to indicate the lines that relate the shapes and any basic shape that they form. Please excuse the resolution and quality of this final diagrammatic photograph. I do not have Photoshop and had to pull the photo into MS Word in order to put in arrows and then I did a screen grab of the shot and as a result have lost pixels.
I’d say that the main shapes happening in this final photo are diagonals. The sugar bowl and two espresso cups with saucers also form a triangle.
What this exercise has really confirmed to me is that I really don’t like doing still life. I find it extremely frustrating. I do not like arranging things. It is definitely not easy to do in a house where space is limited. Hats off to all those product photographers out there – I salute you guys! Give me people and landscapes any day.
Freeman, Michael (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and design for Better Digital Photos, The Ilex Press. Lewes, England.