Tabletop photography, part two

With the cold weather keeping me indoors, I worked on another tabletop picture, this time with a military theme. As I have mentioned several times already, this kind of work is quite difficult and it looks a lot easier than it actually is.

To be successful, a still life picture has to tell a story, or suggest an emotion or a mood. You have to bring together props, background, lighting and composition, and a failure to get any of these “right” will leave the picture lacking. I am not sure this can be taught, or reduced to a checklist.

The best I can offer is to say that the process consists of building up the picture one layer at a time. I started with the main subject, in this case the military uniform. Then I decided on the background: its color, texture and lighting. Then I added the military hat, and the rose. It took me about two hours of fiddling with all of this before I thought I could make an exposure, and even then I wasn’t sure the picture would “work”.

military2-1The lighting for this photograph was deceptively simple: a single Fresnel spotlight from the right and slightly elevated. To avoid black shadows on the left I moved a white fill card as close as I could without its showing. The Fresnel lit up the background as well, however I wanted to see some tonal gradation, so I blocked the beam with a gobo, hence the dark edge at the upper right. This is not a “straight” shot: I gelled the light with an amber gel, and I used a #2 Softar filter over the lens. The latter gives a glow to highlights and adds to the mood. The amber lighting and the diffusion were absolutely necessary; the picture looked too sharp, clean and sterile without them.