Monday, October 8, 2012

Photog class: Still life with natural light

Oddly, the timing of this photography class has coincided with (what can only be called) a dull lull in my everyday picture-taking.  I really struggle with changes in season (especially summer to fall and spring to summer).  It's like getting over a fever and having to recalibrate your senses and their ability to grab and register things in your brain.  The past two weeks have been psychologically grey to me--nothing stands out, and everything blurs together like mud.  When everything is blurred, it never even occurs to me to take a picture of anything.  Luckily, weekly assignments have kept me thinking rather than add to the mud.

Last week's assignment was a still life using natural light.  (You can see examples here--I don't know why there are pictures of people grouped in here.  Pictures of people are portraits, not still lifes. Yes, that's "lifes," not lives.  "Lives" makes no sense if you think about it.  Yes: I actually had to think about it last week.)  I had mentioned in my last post that I had bought a bunch of fruit to use as my subjects, but that idea ended up not appealing to me.  Making things worse was the weather: it rained most of last week (and was cloudy when it was not raining) and that makes everything harder.  Plus, the days are dramatically shorter.  Altogether, this added up to very little time for actually taking pictures.

In classic Me style, I took my pictures ten minutes before I had to leave for class.  Maybe it was five minutes before I had to leave.  This assignment only reaffirmed what I doubted in college and learned once and for all in graduate school: When you force yourself to do an assignment ahead of time EVEN THOUGH you DON'T feel like thinking about it, it practically guarantees that your final product will be a stupid, insipid, vacuous, unenlightening, cliche piece of crap.  However, if you wait until you're REALLY READY to think about something before you actually think about it, even if it's dangerously last minute, odds are that you won't totally hate what you produce.  The catch: If you get sick (or in a car accident or something really unexpected and bad happens) at the last second ... you're screwed.  You won't make your deadline.  The lesson?  Every possible strategy for working on something has a trade-off.

I lined up my pomegranates outside and started taking pictures ...  after seven or eight, this was the only one I liked:


Ugh, oh God. So boring, which is how I introduced it in class.  One lady said, "That's too bad--I like it."  The teacher said, "Yeah ... I see the boring ... what if you had cut one in half?  What about all the details inside that you overlooked?" DUH!!! I hadn't thought of that.  "Why not focus on ONE pomegranate rather than a bunch? Or what about having one very close-up in the foreground and then providing context with two more in the distant background?"  Love it. Didn't think of it.

I rounded out my four submissions using this small sculpture I have on my desk.  I bought him at Marshall's years ago.  Cliche? Maybe.  Sad but true: This guy has been on my desk for about seven years, and I had not really looked at him until I grabbed him as my subject.


He didn't get rave reviews, but that was ok with me.  Everyone's biggest complaint was the wall behind him.  And one lady was confused by the placement of his left arm. I thought that was funny, because earlier I really couldn't figure out how to crop him on this angle.  Do I zoom out and risk too much information? Crop in more and risk leaving out important details? Turned out that I still didn't get it right.


Two things: First, we were shown how to use a shiny white poster board to bounce light on to our subjects.  I did not use an additional reflective surface here, BUT this guy is sitting on a white lacquered surface.  It's sorta the same thing, but I have far less control over it than I would a poster board that I could move around.  Second, I liked the blank beige wall behind him while I was taking the pictures, but nearly everybody in the class agreed that they would have preferred a flat white surface rather than the muddy beige.  After seeing the images on the large screen in class, I was sorry that I hadn't thought to white out the background.  I want to know what that would look like, so I'll have to try these again at some point.

This one was my favorite--I think he's most like a real person here:


Two things the teacher pointed out to me: several of the highlights (or white spots from reflected light) on him--especially his head and shoulder--are blown out.  If I had developed these in a darkroom, I would have to burn those in a little bit to see if there's any lost detail there.  Also, I used a sepia filter on this shot.  As a result, rather than the subject simply not competing with the aforementioned beige background, he just blends into it which arguably adds to the muddiness of the whole thing.  Additionally, I can't decide if I like my depth of field.  His profile is completely in focus, but I can't decide if I should have included more in focus. I go back and forth about this.

So, not a complete disaster.  All I know is that if I had wasted two hours photographing fruit much earlier in the week, I would've hated everything I did and probably would've retaken all of these shots right before walking out the door anyway.  I have two assignments coming up: monochrome and "A Day in the Life."  For the first assignment, I have to take two shots that are predominantly one color (like the big green leaf in the last post).  Then I have to turn each shot into black and white or sepia for a total of four shots.  "A Day in the Life" is a total of five shots that describe (what else?) your day.  I think I'm going to make myself approach this as a black and white assignment.  Granted, all of the shots will initially be taken in color, but I'll have to take each shot without being dependent on color at all.  Honestly, the last time I shot anything in b&w was high school.  It was a solid habit for three years, but I've been out of this habit for a really long time, and I need to recall the strategies I used to handle this.  It's like relearning a language. (Ay yi yi--don't get me started on that again.) At least I'm digital now: I don't have to parse out my ideas over 24 exposures with the fear that messing up will require $6 more for another roll of film.

I really want to extol the virtues of film photography. (If I were Louis Litt, I would pull out my voice recorder: Idea for future use--using film makes one really economize on her picture-taking. This is a virtue!  Also, double check how one explains "virtue.")  But, not right now.  I need to think about monochrome ideas instead.


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