Still life photography

Still life photography is the photography of inanimate objects purposefully arranged and lit. There’s something very satisfying about capturing something exactly as you pictured it in your mind. The items themselves, their arrangement, lighting, and camera settings are all meticulously controlled to produce the desired result. Still life photography is arguably the most technical of the photographic disciplines. Because the scene, the lighting, and the camera are all under your control, it is good training for becoming proficient both technically (camera control) and artistically (composition and lighting).

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Learning composition: foreground, middleground, background

In traditional landscape photography (or cityscape or seascape), photographers combine wide angle lenses with small apertures to achieve sharpness throughout an entire scene from the foreground to the background. This is in direct contrast to, say, portrait photography where the background is intentionally blurred. When looking at a photograph, the eye naturally goes to foreground elements and wants to rest on whatever is in focus. That works out perfectly for portraits where you usually want the focus on the eyes of your subject. The blurred background and in-focus foreground are strong compositional elements that focus attention where you want it. But in a photograph with everything in focus, you can’t rely on a single focus point to hold the viewer’s attention.

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Learning composition: Leading the eye

Photo Friday is a weekly photography competition where everyone votes and the six entries with the most votes are chosen as “Noteworthy.” I’ve written about leading the eye into a scene before but I thought last week’s competition, The Road, illustrated the point very nicely. Of the six noteworthy photos, five of them were landscape photographs that used a road as a strong compositional element to lead the eye through the photo to other interesting elements in the scene. Four of those used an uncluttered, s-curve type road. People seem to have a natural attraction to meandering curves in a scene.

Here are the photos:

The Open Road
Final solitude (before the beginning)
The road
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…
Road to heaven

And the sixth? A great photo that got through on sheer power of personality: Euphoria.

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Learning composition: simplify, simplify, simplify

What’s really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer. — William Albert Allard, National Geographic

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
Albert Einstein, Smart Guy

Like a cluttered room in a house or an overstuffed closet, a photo with too much random stuff can make it difficult for a viewer to find the subject. How many times have you taken a photograph of something only to have something else completely unrelated (and unwanted) in the frame like a car or a telephone pole? This isn’t to say that all photos should be minimalist affairs with a single subject and a plain background ala Apple Macintosh ads. But you should strive to only include elements in a photo that add something to it rather than serve as distractions. One way to do this is to simplify your compositions.

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Learning composition: getting in close and filling the frame

In the previous two installments of this series, basic concepts and lines and curves, we covered how to control what is in your viewfinder and the use of lines in your compositions. In this third article, I want to talk a little more about framing because it is so important. In particular, a very simple concept that can have a profound impact on your photographs: filling the frame with your subject.

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Learning composition: lines and curves

In my last post on composition I covered the basics: what composition is, how you can control exactly what appears in a photo (and what doesn’t), and some tips to get your started. A photo with impact grabs the viewer’s attention right away and doesn’t let go. Subject matter certainly contributes to this. But composition is one of the most important factors. Two photographs of exactly the same subject can look completely different and evoke different feelings in the viewer simply by changing the composition. In this second article, I’ll talk a little bit about another concept: how lines and curves can make a composition stronger.

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Learning composition: basic concepts and framing

There are many things that go into the concept of “composition.” Composition is a defining characteristic that separates a forgettable snapshot from a photo that has a strong impact on the viewer. It’s more important than mega-pixels, more important than what equipment you use. This will be the first in an ongoing series to try and demystify this pretentious-sounding subject and show you how thinking about composition, even a little, can help you improve your photos. We’ll start with a few basic concepts and some guidelines you can follow that will help you start creating images with impact and that draw the viewer in.

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