Sometimes a picture falls perfectly into place right in front of you. Usually when images fall in place right in front of you it is less about the elements just being “right” or “perfect” and more about your ability to see through the clutter and make sense of the most important elements of the image. Ok..that sounds a bit confusing… but really when someone takes lots and lots of pictures they get good at deciphering the most important elements to a strong image. I am always amazing at street photographers who create stunning images. They don’t get a redo or get to set up the people on the street how they want. They are just experts at seeking out strong elements such as lines, light, or movement. They are looking for storytelling or composition elements that will make for a strong image. Sometimes they find all the right elements and they wait. They wait for the perfect moment where documenting life meets art. That is a patience I don’t know if I will ever have.
But what I do enjoy doing is crafting an image by moving elements, adding props, editing out props, and thinking through what makes an image most attractive to me. I recently took an image of stuff. Often times I like to use food in my images, but let’s be honest..often times I don’t have an elegantly rustic apple tart laying around. So in order to push my creative eye I use objects I have at home. I am always on the lookout for interesting things to use in images. Sometimes I see a fork or bowl that I have no idea what I will do with it, but I love the color or texture of it. So my stash is ever growing. That was the case of this bowl. I bought it because it was so beautiful to me. I love the soft colors, the time worn patina on it, and the size. It has been laying around for a bit in my studio and it was finally time to let her shine!
I start with the bowl and a little muslin hand dyed towel. I place everything on a roll of marble looking paper. Love that stuff! I had been looking for marble looking laminate and hope to get some just so it is easy to clean, but this paper works great too. I got mine at Joanne’s! The shot was ok. Maybe there will be some use for it the future, but it wasn’t that shot I had in my head. Sometimes i know exactly what I want, but more often than not, I am experiencing the shot as a move or add props.
Then I added the little scoop. I realized i didn’t love the color of the scoop. Everything in the scene was warm tones and the silver just seemed to clash. I eventually changed it out for a brass scoop which I loved. This scoop I picked up for almost nothing at a second had store in one of those forgotten bins of kitchen tools. Always dig because there are tons of items like this out there that add a beautiful feel and are authentically old.
I didn’t have any amazing food that I felt would go with this scene so I thought about some zinnia seeds I had. I though maybe I could put the seeds in the scoop and bowl. I wasn’t super concerned that the seeds didn’t make 100% sense. I was more concerned that the feel of the image was soft and pretty. The colors of the bowl dictated everything else and I knew the flowers seeds would add to that feeling and play nice. But in the end I spotted some eucalyptus and grabbed it! The color was perfect, the size and shape was ideal, and I knew it would be beautiful. But I sure had to move that little branch around a lot. I didn’t love how it was resting on top of the bowl. So I kept repositioning it until I just decided that I love the leaves…not the branch.
Here is finally took the leaves off and placed them in the scoop. I feel like the color of the green against the brass is stunning! I did have a rouge spoon hanging out there. I liked the color but it didn’t add to my image where it was.
Lastly I added some gold elements on top of the brass. I added the spoons on the scoop, the napkin ring, and box. I love the subtle tones and the warmth they add.
All that to come up with an image that while don’t make a lot of sense from a prop stand point…why do you have a bowl with plates in with, holding a scoop, eucalyptus and spoons? Because the colors, shape, and feel are create a harmonious image. I guess in the end I am not looking for something that always makes sense, rather I am pushing my eye to see elements that work well together. My goal is to remove the distractions and focus on elements which elevate a picture. What I also want you to know is that (at least for me) images rarely just “fall into place” right in front of my. I don’t usually throw food on a table and have it land perfectly. It takes time and patience to play with your scene. So don’t give up, keep playing and working on learning to see the elements in a shot that are the most important to you. I can show you an entire hard drive of bad images. Sometimes it takes me awhile to get to the final image.
Here are some of my top tips for still life/food photography images.
- Start with one prop or element you love. In the image above everything is based on the bowl. Other times I am inspired by a recipe or a food. Even one simple apple can result in a beautiful image.
- Gather a bunch of supporting props or elements. You may not use all of them but have them on hand so you can add, move around, layer as you want. Don’t be surprised if you add 10 things… and then remove eight. My goal is to keep editing down the props so they help tell as story without being overly cluttering or distracting.
- Look for the light. I use natural light in my images because i love the way it is free! haha..and how it wraps around objects in my image. I also love that it changes. I know lots of photographers love consistent light, but I enjoy seeing how the light changes during the day. Sometimes I leave my props set up and as the light changes the image I see changes and evolves.
- Look at your images form all angles. Walk all the way around and see if there are additional interesting shots.
- Create multiple compositions. I like to create multiple looks of the same image. I either move elements around or photograph props individually
All shots were taken using a Sony A9 mirrorless camera. I also used both a Zeiss Batis 40 and 25 mm! The 25 is a perfect lay flat lens and the 40 is also great for lay flat work as well as close up work.