Traditional still life presents a small-scale space to explore the composition and meaning
of objects. But still life doesn’t have to be bowls of fruit and vases of flowers. You can
place any object or combination of objects in any setting. And both can be constructed. It
may be useful to think of still life as having two key elements – object(s) and setting – and
go wherever your imagination takes you with them
Choose a space that you can work with over time. You don’t need the traditional wall and
table yet, just a cleared space.
What does your space present you with? A wall? A floor? A corner? Put your camera on
a tripod and aim it at this empty space. Now add to this space one large flat object. It
could be a sheet, a painting turned back to front, an up-turned table or a large piece of
paper stuck to the wall. Don’t place anything in the middle of space to act as an ‘object’ but rather compose your setting with surfaces, colours and textures. Have a look in the
viewfinder. Note every element in the frame:
• the way surfaces create angles, lines, shapes and planes
• the way planes create a dimensional ‘space’
• the effect of different lighting on this setting.
Take a photo. This should be an entirely artificial, constructed image even with no proper sense of gravity.
• Now choose a simple object and carefully place it into this composition. Avoid
clichéd objects. Take a photo, then remove the object.
• Replace it with another object, something very different. Place this object in such
a way that it’s not emphasised. (Did your first photo emphasise the object?) Take a
• Now fill the space with a lot of different things (mattresses, furniture, crockery, books,
plants, anything handy) and try to create an entirely constructed ‘environment’. Think
about how objects coincide as planes, lines and points in your frame. It may be very
messy, but it should depict a ‘place’ with an identity that only exists inside the frame
of your camera.
• Look at these pictures and you will see that gradually you have removed any trace of
the original space. It could be anywhere. Just like a painter, you have taken control
over every part of the picture.
Clear the setting. Keep the space free for your use as a ‘studio’ for a few days and
experiment with different backgrounds, objects and lighting. Try to create different self-
contained, unique environments. Experiment with creating a new sense of space.
The space I used for this was the top of a chest of drawers that is next to a wardrobe in one of the bedrooms at home. It’s at the opposite side of the room to the window so light from the window is blocked in part by the wardrobe, as can be seen from the shadow in the first few images.
That provided the opportunity to look at the effect of light on a couple of objects, just by moving them around.
The photos of the juggling equipment allowed me to fill the space so that it went from bare white area to something full of colour and shape.
With the photos of the ships I wanted to contruct something different. I’m not totally happy with it. I think it changes the area but it would be better if the background to the area was also changed so it’s not so noticeable.