Creating a still life with a camera had never really occurred to me but I was kind of excited by the thought of setting something up in a real photographic studio with proper lighting.
My favourite still life paintings are those Flemish and Italian oil paintings of bowls of luscious fruit, luminous in the darkness, some of them cut open with dribbly juices gleaming.
The artistry and the way the light plays on them is captivating. So I thought I’d have a go at re-creating that effect with a camera. The main thing was to create something I’d enjoy looking at.
It was probably a bit ambitious for my first ever session in a studio but, hey, you might as well go for it. I got apples, beautiful dark grapes with a velvety bloom, I picked dying peony leaves from the garden, hawthorn berries and blackberry branches from the hedge by the wood, I took a nice Venetian glass plate, an old table cloth and a burgundy silk devoré scarf.
I staggered into class with my tripod bag over my shoulder, my work bag, my camera bag and a massive “lifetime” Tesco bag filled with my still-life stuff. Oh and I forgot I also took a candle holder and candle.
No-one else had as much. Some people took one thing – one very beautiful thing was a bronze figure of a cellist, which looked very sophisticated casting a sharp shadow in the spotlight.
Of course, I couldn’t use all of my stuff and I discovered that composition is probably two-thirds of the trick with still-life photography. I couldn’t keep faffing about with my props so ended up with an ‘ok’ yet flawed arrangement.
But.. and that should have been a big BUT, the way the light played on it all and the way you could control the effects and transform it into a glowing wonderful scene of warmth surrounded by darkness was a bit magical.
I should have been going round taking shots of all the various still life set-ups that my classmates had brought in.. but I kept going back to my unruly fruitbowl.
The fascinating thing, afterwards, was seeing the shots that other people had taken of the same arrangement and how different they were. One guy produced an image of the grapes almost looking translucent.
A couple of nights later, I created a similar, less bountiful scene with some pomegranates and discovered that actually, you don’t need a studio – a couple of anglepoise lights on a chest of drawers will do nicely!