So we are finally here. My submissions for the projects. This post will be in three parts, classical still life, classical portrait and Cruel and Tender. If you’ve read my last post on the still life project you will know that I found this aspect the most challenging of the three project tasks.
The project brief was: Build and photograph a still life set-up that will be inspired by a classical painting. The immediate question you may ask yourself when you see the final picture is which classical painting inspired my photograph. From the research, I had done in my earlier post it will not be immediately apparent that I have been necessarily inspired by any of those artists or pictures mentioned in that post. This is in clear contrast to the other still life pictures I had taken during the project. The first set of pictures were deemed too tight and I was playing about too much with the depth of field. I liked them, but not enough not to want to reshoot. The second set of pictures, in my view were just a disaster…. I was too focused on spacing and the colour wheel to actually see how the various elements related or did not relate to each – hence the post title “Realisation dawns… less is more?”
If this was a starting point (in terms of inspiration) …
which initially resulted in this….
So how on earth did I end up settling on something like this????
The answer in lies in a comment made by Bissy (to my “realisation dawns” post) and reference to another BTEC Level 3 course blog, where I found some inspiration on how I could approach this shoot – so I do owe thanks to both Bissy and Daiva Babraviciute, for the inspiration discovered on that blog.
Coming back to the project brief, it’s important to remember what is says: Build and photograph a still life set-up that will be inspired by a classical painting [my emphasis]. This clearly provides the latitude to take elements and develop them in whatever direction you wish. So the elements of a classical still life that I have taken, are: (1) colour; (2) the use cut and whole fruit/vegetables; and (3) lighting.
Even though I have only concentrated on 4/5 main colours (excluding the slate tiles), they do stand out and colour is a strong element of the still life pictures that I like and have been inspired by – see in particular the painting of the flowers by Jan Davidsz de Heem above, which are so vibrant. Unlike with the rejected photos, I did not consciously focus on how the colours would interact a là the colour wheel, but clearly, my subconscious was focusing on colours, which are important to the overall composition.
The same is true of the fruit or vegetables being whole and cut. Many still life pictures will have this combination and this is shown in paintings above by Willems Kalf and Jan Davidsz de Heem. The lighting is chiaroscuro through and through…. dark background, directed light sources to create light and shadow. This is shown to best effect on with the cinnamon bark and okra.
Now as with all the pictures in this project, I put it to the public vote (i.e. my class colleagues) however with this one the choice was somewhat limited as I had only actually presented the group photo and I brought the individual ones to show how they were as stand alone items. The class preferred the stand alone pictures and were less keen on the papaya one. So after a discussion, I suggested putting all the pictures into a collage, which Zig did not argue against (I was somewhat surprised :)). However, when I got home, I decided to push the boundaries of a collage that little bit further and layered the pictures of the okra, sweet potato and hot pepper sauce and the cinnamon bark.
However, a following a further online discussion where it was pointed out that Zig was not looking for abstract images in this project piece, I re-edited the picture into a more of a standard collage. So I present my final project picture – for a picture inspired by a still life painting…….
In terms of technique, I moved from shooting straight on, in the rejected pictures to shooting overhead for the final shots. I flipped between my 100mm macro lens for single item shots to the 50mm lens for the group shot. I set up two flashes one on each side, one with a home made soft-box (my proper one was not to hand) and the other one had the standard flash diffuser cap. Ignore the other clutter in this picture, but this was the setup – yes the cushions came in very handy – and as much as I detest my mother’s nest of tables, the were essential in this shot. Once everything was focused and how I wanted it, the main lights went off and I used the EOS camera app as a remote to take the picture in near darkness. In post production, I edited individual pictures in Camera Raw and then brought them together in Photoshop. After much trial and error and wracking my brains to remember how to place and embed pictures, I played with opacity, smart objects and some of the brushes to fade things in and out. If I had the patience and skills I would have taken time to make sure they were perfectly aligned, but I am well aware of what I am capable of.. so that level of perfection is for another day.
Health & safety:
This was less of an obvious issue as two of my three studio shoots were at home in the late evening, when the other residents were not around. The only real issue for me was not cutting myself with the knife when cutting the food and cracking the coconut on the concrete floor outside the house. I have been known for slicing off the tip of my thumb!!!!
I surprisingly found this the hardest of the three projects to produce a satisfactory image. However, I am quite happy with the final picture. It has the colour expected of a still life and while there is not a wide selection of colours, they are sufficiently vibrant to fulfil that part of the brief. The lighting does what it needs to, in particular providing a sheen on the okra and also giving shadow as required. All three items in the pictures have texture, different textures which I think come through in the collage. The cinnamon bark has a dry, brittle feel (which is exactly how it feels), while the okra is glossy and smooth. The sweet potato is somewhat coarse which is balanced by the viscous nature of the hot pepper sauce.
One of the things that we covered in class this term was semiotics. This will come through much more in my cruel and tender final pictures, but the theme which is less apparent in this picture in comparison to the earlier rejected ones is that of my cultural heritage. These foods and the others in my rejected pictures remind me of Saint Lucia, being a second generation immigrant of Caribbean heritage and my first visit to Saint Lucia at the age of 11. As much as I wanted to include a bottle of Chairman’s Reserve rum in the final pictures, it just would have looked stupid. And for that reason too I did not use the Saint Lucia t-shirt or the history book. To some extent, it may make people think a little more, with the removal of the explicit Saint Lucia references.
Assignment criteria: 1-4