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A Studio Guide to

Still Life Photography

Kate Caswell Fashion communication

Throughout this book, I hope to cover the basics for still life photography. I will cover how to use the studio, from the light controls to basic health and safety. How to use the camera and camera settings, to ensure we have the tools to enable us to take excellent photographs. Examples of types of light sources and the effect each one will have. Basic editing skills, to help touch up any little blemish or problems with the photographs once we’re out of the studio. I aim to inspire and educated

As with any creative format, its important to look at the professionals in the field and learn from things they’ve done. Whether things which have worked well or things which you can learn from, observing other people’s work is one of the most time worthy things you can do. This of course doesn’t mean copying the photographer, but taking inspiration maybe from the way they place their objects, their editing technique or even the atmosphere that their work creates. All the photographers shown use day to day garments but uses very different techniques in their work.

From Left to Right; Scott Newett Jenny Van Sommers Kate Jackling Lonneke Van der Palen

It is important to see the way still life can be used in a business or compaigny to represent collections. Here I have put two examples of designers who have used still life in their campaigns. Taking full advantage of the characteristics of clothing and its ease of manipulation. COS X HAY have used this to cover geometric shapes to cut of garments at certain places. The light and shad created from these three-dimensional shapes help draw attention to certain details on the garments and create a playful aspect of fashion ad campaigns. The shapes to me appear to be tapping into not the clients inner designer but also their inner child

Lacoste used a very geometric style with their Lacoste LIVE 2014 collection. By doing this they have created a very clean cut and tidy looking ad campaign. I particularly like the attention to detail when it comes to the accessories and the spacing between all the garments. I feel its important to not only keep looking at photographers but also the way these photographs are used in industry. Whether photographing for personal pleasure or or for professional reasons, its always important to aspire to get the best quality photographs possible.

Studio Health and safety

Health and safety is key when using the studio. Firstly, the lights get very hot and can therefore be dangerous causing burns. It is important to turn them off when they’re not needed, to avoid an injury to either yourself or someone else that is in the studio either with you or without you. Similarly if the lights are left on overnight then the chances are the bulbs could blow, not only risking injury or damage to the surroundings but also costing money for them to be replaced. Next comes the cables, it’s important to be cautious when laying out cables, to ensure that there is no accidents of people falling over them which could also cause damage to studio equipment. It is also important to be careful with the paper backgrounds (if they are used), as they are expensive to replace and if it is a shared studio then it will only make things difficult for anyone else who wants to use the studio after you. It really comes down to being respectful about the studio and about others who may be using it.

Studio Set-up

The first key part to being successful with still life photography is to be familiar with the studio. Only then will you have the basic knowledge, which will allow you to creatively experiment with technique, and styling of the objects/ models you use. In these photographs you will be able to see the basic studio layout, allowing for different lighting choices, and also movement of the camera. First importance is have a background set up, in most instances either a white or black background which will make editing a lot easier. Although still life can be taken in any location and doesn’t have to be in a studio situation, it is often the most popular as it can give a clean look often desired in fashion still life. A studio can be in any location, with a plain background; it then just comes down to lighting.

Natural light


Gives a softer light

More control over lights , able to control brightness and angle of light

A more natural look on Objects and in photogarphs Less control over lights, timing on light and brightness More further on

Able to adjust brightness Possibility of more creative options More further on

Continous Light

Flash Extras

More control than natural light, able to control birghtness and angle of light

Just as much control as flash

More contrast than natural light Easier than flash to see where the light will fall More further on

Creates softer and harsher light than flash Possiblity for more creativity More further on

Natural Light

Natural lighting is a great place to start, it’s the easiest light to find and can be really effective for a soft lighting effect. The first reason it is so useful is of course that it’s free, it’s around us all the time in our day-to-day lives, making it perfect for make shift studios and outdoor photography. It can be used to capture a number of different shots, creating a very life like photograph. Of course natural light has it’s downfalls, as you cant control the sun and this means the lighting can be quite unpredictable and change very quickly. This obviously makes shoots very difficult to plan and may cause a lot of alterations and editing to need to be done. That being said, it is a good place to start for photographers new to still life. As far as camera settings go, when using natural light you’re better having the camera on the AV setting, allowing you to choose a specific aperture value, while the camera will select a shitter speed to match and therefore ensuring proper exposure. The main purpose of this being to control the depth of field and by using this dial setting you is allowing yourself a better quality of image in a much easier way then manually taking a natural light photograph.

It is important to be selective with the objects you use in natural light, this is due to the fact you cannot manipulate natural light much. You can block bits out or move so the light is on other parts of the objects. However this can make very little difference. The key with natural light is to work quickly and expect to have to adjust what you may have already planned; this however does not mean you should not plan ahead. It is important to consider time of day when using natural light and I think it is particularly important to decide what kind of shots you wish to capture. I personally like to keep my natural photos quite simple, I find the natural light quite tranquil and I try to emphasise this through my placing of items. Even the shadows created are quite soft; so if you are looking for a harsh shadow it may be more effective to use a studio light. I chose for these shots to use 1’oclock daylight on a fairly bright day, as it is midday light making it quite bright.

The next step for natural light is to change the environment that the photographs are taken. The obvious place for sourcing natural light being outside, which may also create a contrast between the fashion objects and the texture of the background. In these examples I have used a man-made brick background and also a more organic and green background. I did this to look at the contrast in how the backgrounds can change the whole feel of the photographs. The first location of a concrete and the side of a building made the items I used seem harsher than when they were in the studio. This movement of location can also be nice as it leaves more room for creativity. It is vital that you are able to explore locations for still life, as only then can you really grasp a better understanding of the items you are photographing and the effect location can

have on them. You can go for the obvious, for example walking boots or wellingtons in an outdoor and organic environment, or you could put them somewhere they would never be found. Creating a different look on the boots, possibly drawing attention to them. I feel that the items I have chosen demonstrate how some items may work in both environments, in this case due to the colours. Both the outdoor environment and the greys and brown of the brickwork therefore compliment them. The organic environment giving a more use based view on these objects However the possibility of locations for natural light is endless; whether this is very little light or very bright light. There are many different effects that can be grasped and endless photography opportunities.

Studio Flash

The next studio light source we come to is flash. Flash is great for having a large amount of control over the power and direction of the light, therefore giving crisp and exact shots. However with this increased ability to change the lighting so much, also means there is a lot more to know and a lot more that can go wrong. First comes to studio set up, and more importantly set up of the flash itself. The flash has two dials on the side of the light, one for power and one for lamp. Power controls the brightness of the light and therefore is key for learning to shooting, as the light being too bright will cause parts of the images to burn out in the photographs. I suggest that the power is set to a strength of 2, at least whilst getting started. The controls work by doubling with every digit increasing; meaning that power 3 is double to strength of power 2. Next is connecting the flash to the camera, in order for the flash to go off when we are taking a photograph. There should be either a wire, which will connect from the back of the flash, to a connector that will sit on top of the flash part of the camera.

The next part is to prepare the camera, firstly by changing the dial on top of the camera from AV to M. This then means the camera is on manual setting and allows us to make more subtle changes, having a greater control over the photos we will capture. The settings to begin with should be as shown above, 100 ISO, F5.6 and 1/100 of a second. This gives us a good starting point and adjustments can be made when readings have been made, once the objects are arranged how we wish to capture them.

Once the objects that you wish to photograph are set up and the light is placed where you want it to be. Next is to take a meter reading, this is to assess the brightness of the light that hits the object. To do a meter reading, firstly plug the reader into the studio flash where the camera is usually plugged in. Then hold the meter where the object is closest to the light, press the side button on the reader, which will generate the flash. Then look at the reader to gain the information needed to change the camera settings, change the settings accordingly. It is important to take a meter reading every time the object or light moves, as this will affect the reading you will gain. It is also important the cover the clear circle on the reader using the bubble of plastic, as otherwise the reader will measure the camera distance not the brightness of light.

In this sequence of photos I aim to demonstrate how important meter reading is when using the studio flash. In these photographs I have changed the F setting by one point, to show how even the smallest change can affect the outcome of the photographs. Whilst some of these seem to have a slightly interesting or artistic feel, most aren’t very technically correct. On the opposite page I have listed the F. settings in order from top left of the page to the bottom right of the opposite page. The rul to changing F. is very simple; if the photograph is too dark then lower the number and if the photograph is too bright then make the number bigger. Of course this isn’t the only solution, as you can change the brightness of the flash or even move the flash itself.

• 7.1

• 11

• 18

• 5

• 8

• 13

• 20

• 5.6

• 9

• 14

• 6.3

• 10

• 16


You can create many different styles of lighting using the studio flash; I have demonstrated a few of them here. The first being a simple angle placement, the flash is positioned slightly to one side of the object. Creating a long shadow, with one side being illuminated. Giving the object a very natural look, as this is the way natural light would quite often fall on objects and therefore the object does not look at all awkward as this is a light we are familiar with. The only downside of this lighting direction is that it can sometimes cause high contrast between the shaded side and lit side. This can result in burnt out sections and areas that may be clocked in darkness, however this can be avoided with use of the meter reader and camera adjustments.

The next choice of lighting angle is form above, creating a very evenly lit object, with a very small and faint shadow. The only negative aspect of this being the object is very bright and not very natural looking, however this would of course be a desired look and can be good for seeing the complete object clearly. This choice of lighting angle is putting the light being the object. By doing this, the shadow moves forward and creates very dramatic light. Although this may not be best lighting for all still, as a lot of the object itself isn’t lit. I however think it is an interest idea to play with putting the light behind and experimenting with the shadows created. The final lighting idea is just the simple straight on approach, creating an all round even lighting in which the object is well illuminated.

Continuous light creates more contrast than natural light but unlike flash is constant. It creates a more yellow hue to it, which can be taken positively as it can make photographs seem warm. However it can distort colour and backgrounds, which can cause photographs to come out differently to how they are planned. Of course another aspect of using the studio is adapting on shoot and luckily the controlled studio environment makes this easier to do. I find that continuous light can work with specific items, for example feel it works quite well with my chosen items because it works with the already warm browns and oranges. The camera is best on AV and adjusting white balance, which will help with background colour. It is also possible to fix yellow backgrounds in photo editing, We will go more into basic photo editing towards the end of this book.

Continuous Light

Two lights can create an interesting technique, and use them to help balance lighting. However there is one definite thing to be careful about, the surroundings. Lights can be reflected, in the surfaces of objects and this can cause too much light to be seen in the photographs. The lights both be put at the same setting to begin with, giving room for adjustments to be given when photos have been taken. There are also some slight bits to watch, although it may be natural to want to make the light completely even and remove shadows. There is then a risk the objects and photo may start to look flat. Playing with the positioning of the objects can create different effects, as larger or even sur-

face area facing both lights can create a balanced photograph. As well as this, the second light can be used to create a background as a gradient of grey. There are also a number of other things which can be experimented with, such as; the direction of the light, angle of the lights, changing light type, changing the power or changing the brightness. The only real way to see how an object will react to the lighting is to experiment and go out there and do it. The best thing you can do is keep on pushing your initial thoughts and making adjustments. Only then can you really get the best photograph.

Snoot Attachment

The snoot is a fitting that goes on the studio flash, they cause the light to be more direct and concentrate. Whilst allowing you to direct the light in a precise manner. It creates a harsh light, which casts sharp shadows. This can be used to capture quite a dramatic shot.

Beauty Dish Attachment

A beauty dish flash head is used to reflect light and illuminate objects from all angles due to its shape. Whilst also reducing the hotspot of the light, making a more even spread of light. When used close up, a beauty dish can create a very focused light source without the dreaded middle hotspot. Delivering instead a semi-hard light, which is softer than an on-camera flash but harder than a soft box. A drawback to the beauty dish is that it can be very unforgiving and when photographing models, it can bring up skin flaws. However as we are capturing still life photography this is not a problem for us to address right now. The beauty dish can be used to pick up detail on objects, especially if moved to be high up. You can also use a soft box cover for the beauty dish to even out light output and create a softer light.

One way of instantly being able to see your photographs up on a computer screen is to tether them and have them open up in Lightroom. All this requires is a connecting cable, which then gets plugged from camera to computer. Then open the Lightroom programme, open tethered catcher and set up the new roll. Then simply take your photographs and they should come up on the screen, this then allows easy adjustments to be made to lighting, camera setting etc. In this example, I have used tethered capturing to make alterations to the white balance. This has allowed me to make changes to this before the editing and making the photographs easier to edit later on.

Here I demonstrate how you can take inspiration from photographer and create your own work. I have taken inspiration form Jenny Van Sommer’s work, using mirrors and reflection to manipulate the shape of shoes. You can take inspiration from even very simple things, for example; colour, location, object or lighting.

Often dark shadows can take away from objects and cause a distraction. There are a few ways to reduce or get rid of them. Firstly adding lights into the situation, this will work to balance the photograph but it may end up with two much light in the photograph. It could also cause areas to burn out as again there will be too much light. Anther option for reducing shadows is to use a reflector. Reflectors are available in white or silver and will reflect some of the light back. The white will reflect less light back and it will be a lot softer. The silver reflecting more, which will possibly balance the light more. However, as mentioned earlier, it is important to be careful when removing shadows. If too much is removed then the image is risked at looking flat.

Here I will go through very basic editing skills to help make final touches to your photographs. It has to be remembered that no amount of Photoshop skills will fix a bad photo; they can only take it so far. The first Photoshop skill is straightening and cropping photographs, a very simple but almost essential skill to avoid having to reshoot photos. First take the ruler tool (found if you hold down the eyedrop tool) and draw a line where the section isn’t straight. In my experience this is usually the surface the object is sat on or the back. Then simply click the straighten layer tool, which will move the image to make that lie straight. It is then simply a task of cropping the photo so that none of the Photoshop pixel background is showing. Simply select the cropping tool, move the image to size and press select.

The next bit to edit is the lighting and colour of the in the photographs. Selecting the Brightness/contrast key on the right side of the screen can firstly do this. Once this has been selected, two selection dial systems. Beginning with the brightness section, this is obviously to adjust the lighting in the photographs. It is then down to adjusting each images image as an individual. The contrast is the difference between the bright sections and the image. This should be used cautious, to ensure the image doesn’t look flat and over edited (unless this is the aim).

The next layer to adjust is the exposure layer; in this you can adjust exposure, offset and Gamma Correction. In this instance I have shown the effects of firstly adjusting the exposure and then the Offset. As mentioned before the best way of editing with adjustment layers is to just experiment and see what works best for that particular photo, and of course because you’ve edited a whole layer it’s a lot easier to just delete the layer if you want to reverse editing.

One of the most frustrating things to see when you come to edit the photographs you’ve spent hours taking, is little blemishes either on the model or objects you are photographing. Obviously all situations vary and some may require reshooting, however it is always worth trying to edit first, to see if the photograph is fixable. The easiest way to touch up blemishes is the Heal Tool, located on the left hand side of the page. Once you have selected this too, you need to ensure the brush is the right size in order to not change parts you don’t wish to. Then simply click on and around the blemishes. This should then reduce or get rid of the blemishes areas. Obviously it is important to do this carefully y and be selective, to ensure that the areas match up smoothly and do not look like they’ve been painted over. Always remember if you’ve zoomed in on the image, to zoom out periodically to see the image as a whole and any changes you have made.

Natural light

Beauty Dish (Flash)

Continious light

Snoot (flash)

Basic Photography Terms Glossary Ambient light The available light completely surrounding a subject. Light already existing in an indoor or outdoor setting that is not caused by any illumination supplied by the photographer.

of a scene. Color films are made to be exposed by light of a certain color quality such as daylight or tungsten. Color balance also refers to the reproduction of colors in color prints, which can be altered during the printing process.

Aperture Lens opening. The opening in a camera lens through which light passes to expose the film. The size of aperture is either fixed or adjustable. Aperture size is usually calibrated in f-numbers—the larger the number, the smaller the lens opening.

Composition The pleasing arrangement of the elements within a scene— the main subject, the foreground and background, and supporting subjects.

Autofocus The camera focuses automatically on the subject in the center of the viewfinder when you press the shutter release. Background The part of the scene the appears behind the principal subject of the picture. Backlighting Light coming from behind the subject, toward the camera lens, so that the subject stands out vividly against the background. Sometimes produces a silhouette effect. Balance Placement of colors, light and dark masses, or large and small objects in a picture to create harmony and equilibrium. Blowup An enlargement; a print that is made larger than the negative or slide. Bounce lighting Flash or tungsten light bounced off a reflector (such as the ceiling or walls) to give the effect of natural or available light. Close-up A picture taken with the subject close to the camera— usually less than two or three feet away, but it can be as close as a few inches. Color balance How a color film reproduces the colors

Contrast The range of difference in the light to dark areas of a negative, print, or slide (also called density); the brightness range of a subject or the scene lighting Cropping Printing only part of the image that is in the negative or slide, usually for a more pleasing composition. May also refer to the framing of the scene in the viewfinder. Depth of field The amount of distance between the nearest and farthest objects that appear in acceptably sharp focus in a photo- graph. Depth of field depends on the lens opening, the focal length of the lens, and the distance from the lens to the sub- ject. Exposure The quantity of light allowed to act on a photographic material; product of the intensity (controlled by the lens opening) and the duration (controlled by the shutter speed or enlarging time) of light striking the film or paper. Exposure meter An instrument with a light-sensitive cell that measures the light reflected from or falling on a subject, used as an aid for selecting the exposure setting. The same as a light meter. Exposure setting The lens opening plus shutter speed selected to expose the film.

Fill-in light Additional light from a lamp, flash, or reflector; used to soften or fill in the shadows or dark picture areas caused by the brighter main light. Called fill-in flash when electronic flash is used. Finder A viewing device on a camera to show the subject area that will be recorded on the film. Also known as viewfinder and projected frame. Fixed-focus lens A lens that has been focused in a fixed position by the manufacturer. The user does not have to adjust the focus of this lens. Flat Too low in contrast. The range in density in a negative or print is too short. Flat Lighting Lighting that produces very little contrast or modeling on the subject plus a minimum of shadows. f-number A number that indicates the size of the lens opening on an adjustable camera. The common f-numbers are f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4,f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22. The larger the f-number, the smaller the lens opening. In this series, f/1.4 is the largest lens opening and f/22 is the smallest. Also called f-stops, they work in conjunction with shutter speeds to indicate exposure settings. Focal length The distance between the film and the optical center of the lens when the lens is focused on infinity. The focal length of the lens on most adjustable cameras is marked in millimetres on the lens mount. Focus Adjustment of the distance setting on a lens to define the subject sharply. ISO speed The emulsion speed (sensitivity) of the

film as determined by the standards of the International Standards Organization. In these standards, both arithmetic (ASA) and logarithmic (DIN) speed values are expressed in a single ISO term. For example, a film with a speed of ISO 100/21째 would have a speed of ASA 100 or 21 DIN. Reflector Any device used to reflect light onto a subject. Saturation An attribute of perceived color, or the percentage of hue in a color. Saturated colors are called vivid, strong, or deep. Desaturated colors are called dull, weak, or washed out. Selective focus Choosing a lens opening that produces a shallow depth of field. Usually this is used to isolate a subject by causing most other elements in the scene to be blurred. Soft focus Produced by use of a special lens that creates soft outlines. Soft lighting Lighting that is low or moderate in contrast, such as on an overcast day. Through-the-lens focusing Viewing a scene to be photographed through the same lens that admits light to the film. Through-the-lens viewing, as in a single-lens-reflex (SLR) camera, while focusing and composing a picture eliminates parallax. Through-the-lens metering A meter built into the camera determines exposure for the scene by reading light that passes through the lens during picture-taking. Tripod A three-legged supporting stand used to hold the camera steady. Especially useful when using slow shutter speeds and/or telephoto lenses.

A beginner’s guide to the working of a studio environment From Camera settings to studio lighting, this book will give the basic skills for a novice and refresh any forgotten skills of a master

Many Thanks to Pat Rafferty

Still life book  
Still life book