Digital Photograper - - Techniques -

Learn es­sen­tial tips to util­is­ing nat­u­ral soft light in your still life pho­tog­ra­phy

Shoot­ing still life has an ad­van­tage in that be­cause you’ll mostly be shoot­ing inan­i­mate ob­jects, you have the lux­ury of be­ing able to use long shut­ter speeds if needed. So, shoot­ing with nat­u­ral, soft light­ing be­comes re­ally easy. You have the op­tion of shoot­ing with a closed aper­ture if you want sharp­ness through­out the im­age, and can main­tain a low ISO (100 or less) for greater sharp­ness and bright colours. You’ll need a tri­pod or at least a sturdy place to bal­ance your cam­era, and shoot with the timer on or a shut­ter re­lease to en­sure you don’t nudge the cam­era when re­leas­ing the shut­ter. The dis­ad­van­tage of us­ing the am­bi­ent light is that de­pend­ing on the weather, the colour tem­per­a­ture will change from project to project or even within the same shoot. If you want all your im­agery to look the same, you’ll need to take care of both the colour bal­ance in-cam­era and how you process your im­agery af­ter­wards.

Direct sun­light can cre­ate dra­matic ef­fects that look great es­pe­cially when con­verted to high-con­trast monochrome. Shady light­ing can give a softer, more nat­u­ral im­age com­bined with a wide-open aper­ture for a shal­low depth of field, which can cre­ate some re­ally dreamy ef­fects fo­cus­ing in on very par­tic­u­lar ar­eas of the shot whilst blur­ring out back­grounds.

When plan­ning a still life shoot in day­light you’ll need to make note of the di­rec­tion of the sun at your lo­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the time of day and year, which will dic­tate when your shoot hap­pens. If shoot­ing out­doors keep an eye on the weather, and be pre­pared for any­thing.

Dif­fusers, re­flec­tors and flags are re­ally use­ful, and if you are happy to mix your light­ing then carry a speed­light with you to fill in shad­ows or bounce light off walls and ceil­ings. Use a coloured gel to bal­ance out the flash light with the am­bi­ent light.

Com­po­si­tion and setup doesn’t al­ways need to be con­trived. Some of my favourite still life im­ages are of na­ture in situ. With a clever bit of post-pro­cess­ing and re­touch­ing you can iso­late your sub­ject ei­ther by dark­en­ing the back­ground or cut­ting out the sub­ject from its en­vi­ron­ment.

1 SET UP even with a small space to work in sim­ple, clean nat­u­ral light­ing can be pos­si­ble. this test shot uses the light from the bay win­dow on the other side of the studio, which bounces off the white wall and ceil­ing to give me plenty of light.

2 FO­CUS AND FRAM­ING i have my back func­tion but­ton set up as my fo­cus. With au­to­matic fo­cus i use sin­gle-shot mode. once i am happy with my com­po­si­tion and fram­ing i move my fo­cal point to the part of the im­age i want sharpest.

3 SHOOT AND CHECK i like to check the in­for­ma­tion on the back of the cam­era after tak­ing my shot. i shoot ev­ery­thing as stan­dard and neu­tral so any ad­just­ments can be made in post-pro­cess­ing. i pre­fer to achieve con­trast through light­ing con­trol.

4 INI­TIAL TWEAKS i open my se­lected im­ages in cam­era raw and make some ad­just­ments. i bring down the high­lights and up the de­tail in the shad­ows. a bit of clar­ity helps the im­age pop. then i use pho­to­shop for any fi­nal ad­just­ments.

5 FUR­THER DE­TAIL in pho­to­shop i open up a lev­els layer where i can lighten the mid­tones if needed and bring down the blacks fur­ther. this helps to make a punchier but re­al­is­tic im­age. the proof is al­ways in the fi­nal print so do some test prints to check.

6 THE FI­NAL LOOK i dark­ened parts of the back­ground us­ing pho­to­shop’s Burn tool and con­verted the im­age to greyscale for en­hanced drama and el­e­gance. the shal­low depth of field with the black and white adds an artis­tic yet sim­plis­tic qual­ity to the im­age.

hand­held at f3.5 for 1/200th of a sec­ond to cre­ate a soft fo­cus with crisp de­tail

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