Early Stages & Planning

With colours and structures as a central theme for my assignment, my approach to still life follows through my landscape images. My initial concept was to construct intricate structures using M&M sweets. Much time was spent experimenting and figuring a solution to stack these sweets. The reasons why I choose M&Ms were because these sweets have colourful visuals, and I was partially inspired by photographer Sam Kaplan’s constructivist approach to still life objects. As an individual sweet, they are small but when stacked together they form a structure, and they become more significant. This has a metaphorical representation of unity is strength.

Work Processes

Started off with M&M sweets which took a great deal of my time to experiment. As time progresses, my research references eventually led me to realise I had to consider other options other than these sweets, which involves dissection of citrus fruits and green kiwi, as well as salad cress and a red sweet. Both attempts turned out well.

Technical Considerations

Still Life One:

Stacking sweets had been one of the most time-consuming experiment I have done for the assignment.  I started out using M&Ms with Cheerios Loop cereals and realised that I needed a more even surface to stack. Polo Sweets was the answer. These experiments were done at home, and “trained” myself before translating it into the photo studio. As I explored various sweet arrangements, as well as stacking formation using math formulas, further explore other unconventional methods of stacking. I found that triangular pyramid to be the most stable formation of all.

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Even during photo studio shoots poses many challenges. I needed longer studio sessions as I was limited by its session time. Blue background worked well in contrast with the colourful structure; I bought sweets to fill the flat surfaces in frame. Adhesive materials were not used throughout the process because that would have restricted my stacking adjustments.

Taking into consideration of the barrel distortion effect from minute adjustments of my camera position, I choose a 45mm Tilt-shift over a 100mm Macro lens because I would have better control over perspective and a greater leeway for my camera setup. I adopted focus stacking technique to attain the sharp, crisp image of the structure.

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The outcome of this shoot, I was glad that I was able to construct the structure, but not satisfied as It was not what I need. Refusing to call this a failed attempt, I went on to work out what could be improved upon.

I also considered the colour arrangement of the pyramid structure, the use of green backdrop instead of blue. Eventually, I settled with two HMI light setup, so I could use these continuous lights for videography. An additional snoot light was added later on to assimilate back-lighting. A total of twenty-six raw images were used to stack.

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On post production, I processed each individual raw images, pushing the colours to saturation before stacking them. I cropped the image to a tighter composition.

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The stacking preparation took two days, and the shoot on the third. The result of countless unsuccessful attempts eventually led me to a breakthrough. By analysing the failed attempts, I was able to work out key decisions that made the last one successful:

  • The triangular pyramid was right.
  • Green background works better than blue
  • Focus stack with tilt-shift lens.
  • Use dual HMI Lights, and a snoot behind.
  • Math formulas are important. Work on colour scheme before stacking.
  • Buy more sweets.

This still life image works because the colour elements have been well-thought of and the structure is overall crisp and sharp. The framing was done from a slightly lower angle, and there are similar backlighting and contrasting elements. Thus, visually coherent with its landscape counterpart. A total of twenty-six raw images were used to stack.

Still Life Two:

The initial plan was to exhaust my ideas for the earlier stacking experiments before moving on, and the idea of using colourful citrus fruits with blue background has evolved at the back of my mind for a while. Prior to the photo shoot, I researched on similar visual references that would work for me. I identified grapefruit, lemons and green kiwis to assimilate the reddening of tree leaves in my landscape. After a couple of exploration in the studio, I found this to be a better arrangement compared to a landscape orientation.

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This image was taken from a bird’s eye perspective; the objects were set up with transparent glass on the table and blue background at the bottom. This minimises reflection and separates the shadows in the background. The same HMI lighting setup was used.

Some decisions I considered include how the fruits should be layered, and citrus fruit seeds should be hidden. I choose a 100mm Macro over tilt-shift lens because I figured the barrel distortions were not as important as the detail of the fruits. However, because of the nature of the depth of field macro lens tend to create, I had to adopt focus stacking technique to achieve the crisp image. A total of three exposures were used.

This image works because it reflects the right colours and structures, as well as contrasting element with the landscape counterpart.

Still Life Three:

In Landscape three, I looked at the primary colours. In relation to still life, I choose green salad cress and a red sweet against the blue background to assimilate the same colours and structure. I analysed the lighting on my landscape, the quality of light was more diffused than sharp, crisp lights. Hence setting up a mini studio in my room, I used the Elinchrom ranger lighting kit, one at the front left of my camera and the other on the right back. I fitted an umbrella to front light, so it would give a softer, diffused light. A 100mm macro lens with an aperture of F8.0 was used to magnify the structure of these small objects.

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Overall I am satisfied with the outcome of the result. The diffused lighting was achieved, and there is a certain element of fuzziness in the structure of the salad cress, which closely resembles the green fields in landscape; not too messy, and not too uniform.

Still Life Four:

After analysing photographer Harold Davis’s flower photography approach, I have found the visual elements of backlighting to inform my final still life. I understood the technique of using multiple exposures to paint high luminosity on flower petals which result in a translucent, high key image.

I chose twigs and chrysanthemum flowers as my subjects. Those twigs came from the pruning of trees one day while on the way to school, and the yellow flowers to assimilate leaves in my landscape, taking reference from Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting.

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Following Harold Davis’ process, I set up the table with a continuous light below. I explored using light blue gel over the light. Instead of the white background, I wanted to imitate the sky blue effect. Eventually, I settled for five exposures; four without the lighting gel, and the darkest exposure with it. This was to get the correct white balance on the surface of the petals. Between landscape and portrait orientation, I found the latter to be more effective an image.

On post process, I blended the first four images with the correct white balance and then added the blue element in. I did post cropping to landscape. This image has a visual balance of luminosity, colour and structure, as demonstrated by the petals and twigs, hence coherent with my landscape.

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