Still life

What is a still life? Almost anything that doesn't move, or at least, doesn't move too fast (have you ever tried photographing a ripe French cheese?)

Why would you photograph it? Because you can make a beautiful picture. If you need a better reason than this, maybe you had better give up photography.

What sort of equipment do you need? Whatever you like, and can afford.

Is this going to be a very short module?

No. Read on...

 

Broken treasures II

 

One of our readers was apparently moved to tears by this picture. The idea was Frances's: things that are old, or broken, or worn-out but still have too much sentimental or indeed intrinsic value to throw away. The volume of Euripides is Roger's and dates from 1602; the jet beads were Frances's grandmother's; the little clay pony was something she loved as a child; we bought the 1920s glass just after we were married; and so forth.

The lighting is a desk lamp, above and slightly behind the subject (look at the shadows, and we shot the picture both on 4x5 inch (because we could) and 6x7cm; this is scanned from the latter. The backdrop is black velvet. There's a white bounce (a polystyrene ceiling tile) on the right, beside the camera, just out of shot, to reflect some light back into the picture and help pick up highlights on the glass. Film, as far as we recall, was Fujichrome RDP 2 ISO 100. It would work OK with 35mm or digital, but the extra quality of a roll-film image is often welcome.

 

 

One of the great advantages of studio still lifes is that you can use the best equipment you have, along with slow, fine-grained film, and shoot at the optimum aperture for your lens (unless you need to stop down still further for depth of field). At this point you do need a tripod, it's true, but these are hardly expensive (especially if you buy second-hand) and they last half-way to forever. Better still, a studio stand like our old IFF makes it quicker and easier to move the camera up and down, over a wider range, but this is a luxury, not a necessity.

 

 

 

Studio and 'found' still lifes

Although most people think of still lifes as something to set up in the studio, you can see them all over the place if you train yourself to look. If you already have a camera with you, use that. If you have to go and fetch one, use the one that you think will work best.

Take care to avoid 'hardening of the categories': sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between a still life, a landscape and a record shot.

 

Jug, Xaghra Mill, Gozo

 

A 'found' still life, shot by available light. The windmill at Xaghra (pronounced, more or less, Sha-Rah) was still working when Roger first saw it in the 1950s; now it is a museum. Frances shot this with a Contax outfit we had on loan from the importers for a 'road test'; from memory she used the 100/2.8 Makro-Planar on the AX.

Film was Ilford Delta 3200, which most people would have been happy enough to hand-hold, but as Frances had a small, lightweight (1 kg, 2.2 lb) tripod with her and as she is always nervous about her 'benign essential tremor' (shaky hands) she used it. This also allowed her to stop down for more depth of field. The print is on Ilford Multigrade Warmtone.

Equipment I: Cameras

If you do consider buying equipment, we'd seriously recommend roll-film -- and the cheapest, best and most versatile way to get into roll-film for still lifes is with a 4x5 inch camera and a roll-film back. With the virtual collapse of 4x5 inch use among professionals, monorails (the optimum, because they have the most movements) can be found absurdly cheaply. Alternatively, look for a 'technical' camera such as a Linhof Technika or MPP Micro-Technical, though these tend to be more sought after because they are easier to use in the field as well as in the studio.

Check www.mppusers.freeuk.com, the web-site of the MPP Users' Club, for information and (sometimes) cameras for sale. We do not recommend press-type 4x5 inch cameras (such as MPP Micropresses or Graflex Graphics) because they don't really have enough movements.

 

MPP Mk VII

All right, an all-red collectors' outfit like this, complete with three lenses, would be worth several times as much as a plain black camera and roll-film holder with a single lens. Even so, you have to admit that it is very pretty indeed, and that this is a more entertaining illustration than on of an everyday version of the same camera.

 

 

First-class lenses of 127mm (5 inch) and 135mm focal lengths are often very cheap because they don't allow much (if any) movement on 4x5 inch, but with roll-film in the studio they should allow all the movement you ever need for still lifes. The 'standard' lens on 6x9cm is 101mm, so 127mm is equivalent to 55mm on 35mm and 135mm is equivalent to 57mm. We normally use either 150mm (64mm equivalent) or 210mm (90mm equivalent) simply because we have them already.

Roll-film holders may be the most expensive part of the outfit. Most cameras have removable ground-glasses and can accept any RF back, but a few have a fixed ground glass and can only be used with those holders that slip under the ground glass: Cambo's are probably the best known of the latter.

 

 

Coffee is a drug

The longer you look at this picture, the stranger it gets. The props are fairly obvious: coffee beans and pans, an old Turkish coffee grinder bought in Istanbul, a tiny coffee cup from a local junk shop in Birchington. The background is easy too: black flock (black velvet would have done as well, but needs to be steamed to flatten it). The trick is a piece of flexible plastic mirror, the edge of which appears as the white curved streak -- which is part of the composition. We tried removing it once, in Photoshop, which weakened the picture. We used 6x7cm Fuji Velvia in Linhof film holder on our Linhof Technikardan with (probably) our 210/5.6 Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-N. Lighting was a soft box overhead (look at the reflections). The only real flaw is that the top of the grinder is 'blown' in the highlights.

The bottom line is that it is often possible to find a 4x5 inch monorail complete with one roll-film holder and a lens for under £200/$375/€300. You might find an MPP for the same sort of money.

If you want to stick with 35mm, look for a sharp prime lens. Even something as basic as a 50/2 Nikkor, obtainable for next to nothing, is superb at f/5.6 (and pretty good at f/2). Better still, for a handier working distance, look for a macro lens such as the 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1, available in a number of fittings.

With digital, we do not see much point in anything less than 10 megapixels if you want a classically sharp still life. If you are after something more impressionistic, however, digital is perfect. We often team our Nikon D70 with a soft focus Dreamagon lens for dreamy pictures: there is a gallery of some of these pictures. The Leica M8 with a Visoflex and 65/3.5 Elmar (equivalent to 87mm on full frame) is our preferred digital route for sharp images.

 

 

 

Memories

Perhaps more than any other form of photography, a successful still life has to reach into the heart and mind of the person who looks at the picture, and create an echo there. Sure, all kinds of photography have to do this to some extent, but a still life has to be more than usually a blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar: it must be familiar enough to evoke recognition, but unfamiliar enough to provoke a start, a surprise, a tiny shock, that says, "Yes, that is what it is really like."

 

Cross and elephant grass

We happened upon this in deepest France. Is it a landscape, a detail, or a still life? Does it matter? It has the same appeal as any still life: a mixture of the shapes, tones and textures it contains, and the memories it evokes.

Roger photographed it, as far as he recalls, with our Voigtlander Bessa-R2 and 50/1.5 Nokton. He is certain that there was a weak (2x) yellow filter on the lens and that the film was Ilford HP5 Plus. Exposure was generous: this reduces sharpness slightly, and increases grain size slightly, but makes for a much more pleasing tonality.

One editor made a comment about this photograph that we have been trying to work out ever since. "Of course," she said, "We couldn't possibly use that picture since September 11th."

Equipment II: Lights

We never cease to be amazed at the willingness with which so many amateurs buy new cameras and lenses (which often offer no advantage whatsoever over their existing equipment) but refuse to spend anything at all on lights.

This is not to say that you need an expensive, all-singing, all-dancing set of lights. Most of our best still lifes have been shot with the simplest equipment: an Anglepoise desk lamp. Real Anglepoises cost a fortune (and are worth it if you can afford them) but cheap imitations that clamp onto the side of a table can be found for under 10 pounds, euros or even dollars.

 

Anglepoise

Half a dozen of the still lifes in this module were taken with this very lamp, which Roger bought second-hand at auction, with another lamp, for a few pounds, because he had always wanted a real Anglepoise. It is now his standard desk lamp.

Purpose-made photographic lights are a lot cheaper than they used to be, too, whether you choose tungsten, fluorescent or flash. After a plain desk light, we'd recommend a soft box of some kind: a big, flat light source. Or you can improvise one by bouncing a light off a sheet of white expanded polystyrene: a ceiling tile, a piece of insulation (most builders' merchants sell the stuff in 4 x 8 feet/120 x 180cm blocks -- go for for 2 to 4 inch/5 to 10cm thickness) or even recycled packaging material from a new 'fridge.

After that, use additional 'bounces' to reflect light back into the subject and small shaving mirrors for more directional lighting; these act more like small lights in their own right, rather than as reflectors.

 

 

Flags or french flags or donkeys are opaque sheets of material used to shade part of the subject. Cookies are flags with holes in. Make them of cardboard or black aluminium foil.

See also the Glossary for definitions of terms such as bounce, scrim, key, spill-kill, flag, bowl and spoon and other lighting terminology.

Experimenting

Another of the advantages of still lifes, especially in the studio, is that you can experiment with different arrangements, different lighting, different components. Sometimes you will find that one picture is a lot more successful than another; at other times, you will create a series of related but different pictures, linked by a common theme or even by a common technique such as lighting or the use of a particular camera or lens.

If you are shooting colour, the counsel of perfection here is a medium- or large-format camera, and a Polaroid back: somehow, there is an immediacy or reality to a Polaroid print that is lacking in the image on the ground-glass or on the LCD screen.

 

 

 

On the other hand, a digital camera can allow you to experiment far more widely, and indeed can function (to some extent) as a 'Polaroid'. Nowadays, we sometimes keep a 'real' camera (usually loaded with 6x7cm slide film) alongside the digicam to record our most successful digital shots.

In black and white, all you normally need to worry about is exposing generously.

 

Broken Treasures I

The technical information for this shot is identical to the first one in the module. We think it is a less successful picture in almost every way: composition, content, exposure and focus. When we shot it (in the 1990s) high-quality digital cameras were completely unaffordable.

You can see the lighting -- a large-reflector tungsten light -- reflected in the glass; colour was balanced to daylight via filtration, as far as we recall, though we did try shooting this one on both daylight-balance and tungsten-balance film. A bounce (sheet of expanded polystyrene) to camera right would have made the background lighter, more visible and more attractive. As it is, you can barely read it (it is a piece of brocaded curtain material).

Broken Treasures III

 

Some of the ingredients in the Broken Treasures series are constant: the vase, the jet beads, the broken lorgnette. Each contains a book, too, and a broken glass -- though they are three different broken glasses, and the books are a 1602 edition of Euripides, a 1624 Aristophanes, and the Gentleman's Magazine for 1739.

Frances shot this on 4x5 inch Ilford film (from memory, FP4 Plus exposed in a Linhof Technikardan with 210/5.6 Schneider Symmar) then printed it on hand-coated watercolour paper. It is a rather 'deeper' composition than the others (front to back, not in any profound moral or intellectual sense) and she had to use front tilt to hold everything in focus. A 'straight' print is reproduced below for comparison. Lighting was a soft box with shading for a graded ground.

 

 

 

Equipment III: Accessories

You can bodge, improvise or simply live without most of the stuff listed below, but based on 30+ years of studio photography (in Roger's case) we can guarantee that everything listed below will save you time and grief. Some of it is sufficiently expensive that it are not worth considering unless (or until) you get serious about still lifes or (in some cases) about studio photography in general, but often, the expensive stuff lasts forever or at least until you lose them (Magic Arms, Climpex, Wobble Edges) or in the case of consumables for a very long time (black aluminium foil, tracing paper).

 

 

When we say below you can buy things at professional photo dealers we are talking about a relatively tiny number of dealers in major cities who cater to professional photographers. Although they sell cameras, this is likely to be a relatively small part of their business; many will also run hire departments, which can be a good way of locating them in the Yellow Pages. Unfortunately, some of them simply cannot be asked to help anyone, especially amateurs, so you have to know exactly what you want, and who makes it, before you attempt to order anything from them. Or go to the Hollywood pro stores (mostly around Sunset) in person: they'll have what you want in stock, and will know what it is.

 

Soft Box

This is without doubt one of the most useful lighting accessories, though in the list below we are more concerned with the sort of stuff that you either don't find in the catalogues, or have to hunt through the manufacturers' websites and catalogues to find. Two especially useful sources are Lastolite (lighting accessories -- www.lastolite.com) and Condor (studio 'tricks' like fake ice cubes -- www.condor-foto.it).

Accessories and tools

A general purpose tool kit, preferably including a Swiss Army knife, Leatherman tool, and other multi-use tools.

Tape of various kinds (Gaffer tape, insulating tape, masking tape, Sellotape...)

Modeling material, preferably sticky (wax, Plasticine, modeling clay, Blu-Tac/silicone putty, with the latter usually the most useful)

Thin bamboos (garden canes are ideal)

Tracing paper (for diffusing). Acetate draughtsman's paper is expensive but a roll lasts a very long time: we've only ever bought two.

Black velvet or (better still) black flock background material, available in (expensive) rolls from professional photo dealers.

String and thread (preferably black)

Shaving mirrors (see above)

Hot-melt glue gun. Other glues are useful but hot-melt is magic as long as you don't run into problems with long filaments when you pull the gun away.

 

 

Shaker and glass

The 1950s gold anodized cocktail shaker came from an antiques market in Selma, Alabama; the glass is one of a set Frances found somewhere in Maryland; and the background is a builders' drop-cloth. Light is a tungsten focusing spot, and the camera was a Nikon D70 with Dreamagon 90/4 lens at f/11 (minimum aperture) for a sharp-yet-soft image; ISO was set to 1600, high-res TIFF. Roger shot this in our studio in France.

 

 

Wire (anything from florists' wire to really heavy-gauge stuff)

Wedges (rubber or wooden window wedges are OK but Wobble Wedges are made for the purpose and can be bought from professional dealers if you push them hard enough: www.wobblewedge.com.

Climpex mini-scaffolding (illustrated right, with a shaving mirror for scale). A Climpex kit looks extremely expensive until you buy one. When you find out how much you can do with it, instead of using wire, glue, modeling clay, bamboos, etc., you realize it is a bargain.

 

 

Magic Arms (below) are excellent but for most purposes in studio still life (or any other kind of studio photography), Climpex is even better. We're not sure if anyone brings it into the USA but check www.smurray.co.uk.

Magic Arms. These are articulated arms made by Manfrotto, with interchangeable clamps at either end. They live up to their name when you have to position a bounce, flag or scrim without an assistant -- and even if you have an assistant, they stop his/her arms getting tired. These show up fast on a Google search.

Heavy gauge black aluminium foil. Again this is available from serious professional dealers. A roll is horribly expensive -- it's thick enough to be self-supporting in small sheets -- but it should last a very long time indeed. We've had ours for years; it came from Lee Filters (www.leefilters.com).

 

Frayed rope

But of course you don't always need a studio: here's another 'found' still life, this time at Chatham Dockyard. Roger shot this hand-held with a Contax G2 and (as far as he recalls) 85mm or 90mm lens. The tonality (on Ilford HP5 Plus) is gorgeous but depth of field is not really adequate, so there is a slight loss of sharpness on the frayed end. An ultra-light tripod would have allowed more depth of field as well as removing any suspicion of camera shake. Moral: except in very good light, a tripod is very much your friend for found still lifes.

Narrative and graphic still lifes

There is a whole (paid) module on narrative, graphic and record pictures, but this is a distinction that we see particularly strongly in our still lifes. The frayed rope above is primarily a graphic shot: although one can construct all kinds of stories around it, it is really a matter of shapes, tones and textures. The 'Broken Treasures' series is considerably more narrative, telling of time passing, loss, nostalgia and even sorrow -- but ultimately we find them on balance to be positive, as reminders of happy times past, rather than negative, as reminders of loss.

We do however make, from time to time, deliberately narrative pictures, where the intention is to tell a story. We think of them almost as book covers, the sort where you don't really need to open the book because you already have a pretty good idea of what it will be about, just from looking at the cover.

 

 

 

Freelance Dreams 1936

 

The Leica IIIa in the middle of the picture dates from 1936, and when we found a copy of the 1936 Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, the idea for the picture came together. The idea, obviously, is a keen amateur photographer with ambitions to shoot for National Geographic or something similar, but a bit diffuse and uncertain on how to go about it.

Some of the props are strictly anachronistic -- the Graflex is a Super D postwar model, for example, and we're not sure when Kodak first used the green-and-yellow screw-top metal film canisters -- but you'd need to be both knowledgeable and nit-picking to worry about that. The map (of the Tibetan border) dates from the 1920s and we used a single desk-lamp, set low, to re-create the effect of the setting sun. If you do the same, put it as far away as possible so that the fall-off is not too rapid.

Again, we shot this on both 6x7cm and 4x5 inch -- this one is from 4x5 inch -- and we believe that the extra sharpness of the larger formats (as compared with 35mm) is both more vintage in style and less distracting. A 35mm shot with slow, ultra-fine-grain film and the sharpest available lenses should, however, be equally acceptable.

 

 

Stirrer, keys, blank

Roger (who assembled and shot this still life) has mixed feelings about it. The old Lucite chemical stirrer from Kodak didn't look like enough on its own, so he added some keys (from a job lot bought in a charity shop) and, for no apparent reason except that it was lying around, a 0.32 blank cartridge. The graphic shapes seem to work OK but the elements aren't related enough and the front key needs to be in sharper focus. Film was Ilford XP2; camera, Nikon F; lens, 90-180/4.5 Vivitar Series 1.

 

 

Keys

An altogether more successful use of the keys mentioned above, simply laid out on black velvet and back-lit with a soft box. Even so, Roger (who shot it using the same equipment as above) wants to re-shoot it on medium format, for better textural rendition; with the right-hand key straightened up; and with camera movements, for better front-to-back sharpness.

 

 

Shop window

 

Back to the found still lifes again, and also to a much more graphic style. Of course there is a narrative component as well, the more so once you have read the caption or title to the picture, but there's not a lot to think about: the shapes and colours catch your eye, and that's pretty much it. It's interesting to speculate on why something like this should be attractive, but that's a rather different question from trying to impute meaning to the picture.

Initially, Roger (who took the picture) was unhappy about the pipe or cable to the right of the picture, but if you cover it up with your hand you find that it is a completely different photograph and rather less successful. Noticing things like this can provide useful feedback for your more formal, studio still lifes as well as for other compositions.

Unless you can achieve perfect symmetry (which is rarely possible), some form of clear asymmetry is often preferable. There's also an old (and not unfounded) belief that it is easier to compose a picture with an odd number of elements, though in this picture as in many others, a great deal depends on how you count or define 'elements'.

 

The camera was a Leica MP, the lens, a 90/2 Summicron, and the film, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100 EBX.

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar program

And now, another crossover between narrative and graphic...

 

There are always technical problems to overcome in still lifes, and this one has its fair share. The first lay in finding a dead black for the background. Well, that's not too hard: either black velvet (without unduly obvious creases) or black flock background 'paper' available from professional photographic suppliers.

Next, the award program is quite shiny, so 'killing' reflections on that required careful positioning of the light (a big softbox), camera and subject. Then, it was all too easy for the Oscar figurine to read as solid black, so yet more careful fiddling was required.

The only real flaw, then, is the way that the case of the opera glass is all but 'lost' against the black backdrop. There are at least two ways around this: putting something light behind it, or bouncing a little light off it. The problem was that to the eye, it was perfectly well differentiated; it was only when Frances (who took the picture) came to select the best of the three bracketed exposures (free module) that it turned out to have been 'lost'.

If she had been using a more familiar film, this would not have happened, but we were using some film we had been sent for test... The camera was a Linhof Technikardan, the format 6x7cm, and the lens a 210/5.6 Schneider Symmar.

Equipment IV: Backgrounds and Studios

Backgrounds are surprisingly difficult. Background paper looks sterile; Formica and similar fake woods look fake and often reflect an astonishing amount of ultra-violet light, making for a really nasty bluish glow; and even when you find a good background, you can tire of it after a while. On the other hand, a surprising number of the pictures in this module were shot on the same rickety table. We bought it for a few pounds; knocked the legs off (because it was so rickety); and used the table-top on top of another table, or on trestles. We really wish we had not abandoned it when we left the UK.

Since then we've collected various replacements. Look for scrap doors and shutters as well as tables; for fabric (which often looks better wrinkled than with neat folds in it); for black velvet or flocked black paper; or that old stand-by of brown wrapping paper scrunched up and then smoothed out.

 

Fleurs du Mal

Something that's hard to do in a small studio is to keep the background far enough behind the subject to avoid shadows or (as in this case) to go black: anything dark will read as dead black if it receives little or no light...

There's a strange story behind these flowers. In 2000, Frances had breast cancer. While she was in hospital, Roger bought her these: a bouquet of tiny rose-buds. They never flowered, just dried out slowly, so she brought them back with her. We photographed them on slide film (probably Kodak Elite Chrome 100 EBX) with a Nikon F and our 90/4 Dreamagon soft focus lens. When we sold the house in 2003 we burned them...

 

As for studios, we'll be honest: we've had a full-time studio since late 1992, initially in the front parlour of our (very big) Victorian house in Kent and now in a (huge) workshop in the back garden of our house in France. Before that, from 1987 to 1992, we used to set up a temporary studio in the garage where we lived in California, and it's only before 1987 that we really did use a corner of one small room as our 'studio'.

 

 

On the other hand, a garage is plenty big enough to run a very satisfactory studio, even if you have to set it up and take it down: the only problem is extremes of weather, and that applies in our current studio. The biggest single problem with using a corner of a small room is that you only have room for the lights on one side. Ideally, of course, you want to be able to put lights on either side, behind or in front. Yes, there should be room for this around the average dining room table but you have to be sure that one-one else has plans for the dining room...

 

atelier mantlepiece

 

Atelier du Buissonier

Then again, as we have already said, you don't necessarily need a studio at all: just keep an eye open for found still lifes, though you might find it handy to keep a lightweight tripod in the car. Roger shot this with a Leica M8 and 65/3.5 Elmar on a Visoflex.

Evolution of a still life

Studio still lifes have to begin with an idea -- but the ideas can come from anywhere. The one below came about because Frances has a couple of old sewing machines, a 1920s Singer and a Frister and Rossmann from before the Great War. Whenever she finds cheap sewing machine parts and accessories at a vide-grenier (literally an 'attic emptying', a sort of village-wide garage sale or boot fair), she buys them. She sorted this batch onto a tray; looked at it; realized she had the makings of a still life; and did nothing for several weeks. Luckily we have more than one tray.

On the last day of 2006 she finally got around to shooting it, and the picture below was the result: she shot it on the end of the table in our sejour (living/dining room) using natural light and a Leica M8. The great advantage of a digital camera is that you can shoot step-by-steps, quickly and easily, at no extra cost: in the good old days, we could easily have used half a box of Polaroid to get to this stage. Part of the challenge was to use no photographic accessories other than a tripod (i.e. no purpose-made flags, scrims, Magic Arms, etc.) and to shoot only by available light.

 

sewing tray

 

Sewing tray

This final version was very slightly desaturated for a faded, nostalgic look, and the image was 'burned in' along the back of the tray (behind the needles) and on the upper left, on the end of the box nearest the camera. All manipulations were carried out in Adobe Photoshop.

Working towards the picture

 

sewing tray 1

1 -- This was the very first test shot, with the exposure guessed: you lose the through-lens metering on a Leica when you install a Visoflex. The biggest single problem was the large glaring area at the top right. So she moved the needles (and took the white plastic protector off them)...

 

sewing tray 2

3 -- The brightness range in this version was still a little more than she wanted so she decided to use a white linen table runner (out of shot to camera right) as a 'bounce' to fill the shadows.

 

 

2 ... as well as moving the oil can which was out of shot in the original picture. There are also other detail changes such as the transposition of the large and small bobbins, lower centre. Next, the left hand side of the picture was 'flagged' with a couple of pieces of cardboard resting on chocolate boxes.

 

4 -- Here you can see the actual set-up for the final picture. The light is coming from the window on the left; the 'flags' to shade the left side are clear; and Roger is holding up the white runner.

 
Creating a series

Most artists, in any medium, find that an idea has a natural life-span -- or perhaps, a level, a percentage of their work, over a longer period: there's a difference between coming back to an idea, and beating it to death. For example, Weston's peppers are famous, but they are not all he did. The same is true of Brandt's wide-angle nudes.

It is a good idea to explore an theme for as long as you are comfortable with it, but equally, you do not want to be trapped into repeating the same thing again and again, long after it has become stale and lost its appeal for you. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the art establishment wants you to do -- or at least, what it says it wants you to do, though they will drop you like a shot if your work becomes so dull and repetitive that even they can see you're only doing it for the money.

 

 

 

 

 

Above is part of one series that Roger explored (and still explores, from time to time): click on the thumbnails for enlarged pictures, using the 'Back' key to come back to this module. All are contact prints, three (the yellowish platinum-toned ones) from 4x5 inch and one (the reddish-purple one, which was gold toned) from 5x7 inch instead of 4x5 inch; we didn't have a 5x7 inch camera when Roger started the series.

 

The Bottom Line

To begin with, still lifes require no extra equipment at all: you can use whatever you have, wherever you can find the space. If you become more interested, you'll inevitably learn more tricks and you'll come to appreciate the usefulness of some or all of the tools outlined above. The great thing about still lifes, though, is that within reason you can do them whenever you like. You don't need to rely on models; you don't need to leave the house; you don't need to worry about the weather (unless, like ours, your studio gets too hot in summer and too cold in winter); and you are limited, really, by nothing except your imagination and your skill, both of which should be well exercised by shooting still lifes.

Candlestick

Even technical exercises can sometimes turn out as successful pictures. Roger shot this as an experiment to see how long a tonal range he could capture for printing on POP (printing-out paper). The candlestick was surprisingly hard to find but otherwise there's not a lot to it: the camera was either a Gandolfi Variant 5x7 inch or a Linhof Technika 5x7 inch, and the lens was almost certainly our 210/5.6 Rodenstock Apo Sironar. Film was Ilford, either FP4 Plus or (more likely) Ortho Plus. Light (apart from the candle) was a soft box to the left and a big expanded polystyrene bounce to the right: look at the reflections and the shadows to see how it was done.

 

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