SHOOT IN NATURAL LIGHTING
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