Still Life or Landscape?

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Outdoor Still Life

Landscape photographs can take on the feeling of a still life when the view is narrowed to a few isolated elements. The label probably doesn’t matter but the approach is similar.

In a typical still life painting or photograph you have control over the lighting, the objects, and the composition. The image is about the inanimate items that you place within the scene.

I have experimented with still life photographs in a small enclosure with controlled lighting. It is time-consuming and interesting to see the effects of altering the light intensity and direction. My preference is a black background, very low lighting, and underexposure so that the objects appear to be floating in the dark. Sometimes I use a flashing red bicycle light during a long exposure to introduce another color on the surface of the items or to reflect off of the background cloth. But it is always about the objects placed in the enclosure. Not the setting or the surroundings. There is no context.

Landscape photographs can be approached in a similar way. It helps to find distinctive objects that fill the view.

You only have control of the view of the objects, as with all landscape photographs. You can not rearrange the objects. When you find a few interesting natural objects you exclude the rest of the landscape. It is a close-up of those objects, like a still life. Nothing complicated.

The creative part is the composition of that close-up and the lighting. The lighting you wait for. It is what you think about and plan for. You watch it develop and change. It is the entertainment as you try different compositions. It continuously alters the scene in front of you.

Your composition might have worked with the light five minutes ago, but now, you move to show the effect of the light that enhances surface texture or shadows. The color of the light changes also as the sun angle lowers. The light is manipulated by the Earth’s rotation, not by where you move your studio lights. But it is still all about the objects, not the setting. There is no context.

This scene could be in Africa, the middle east, Australia, South America, or the western United States. It is apparently an arid place. But the location is not important. This image will always be about the objects floating against a background. The background sky could easily be a cloth drape behind a carefully arranged miniature diorama.

I am not trying to show you the Mojave Desert. This photograph is about shapes, composition, colors, and lighting.

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