Still Life Breakdown: Corn in Virginia

Still Life Breakdown: Corn in Virginia

This past weekend I was privileged to hang out with a bunch of photographers in Virginia. It was not a workshop, it was a hangout-and-shoot-your-ass-off weekend. Stephen and Michele were the gracious hosts who put it all together, and we had a blast.

Saturday had us shooting a wide variety of talent they had booked, and we shot in a very nice little studio in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. The weather cooperated and we had a couple of lovely days to shoot outside and in the studio.

More of those images on this Sunday’s dispatch “In The Frame” which you can sign up for free right over there on the right. We don’t spam you and we let you know if there is something for sale. Most of the time it is just a lot of fun, and stuff you will not find on this site.

One of the attendees, Bob Knill, wanted to step up his game in the still life / food arena, so he came prepared with two fresh ears of corn snapped up at the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. (If you live near Fredericksburg, you really should check it out – Saturday mornings near downtown.)

We are going to take a look at this image from a different perspective… we are going to deconstruct it from finished to start. Instead of starting with the corn and adding in what we did, we will look at what happens when we take things away.

(I should mention that these are straight out of the camera with zero adjustments or modifications. They were processed from Raw in LR5, and exported to PS for JPEG.)

First let’s set the stage:

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You can see all the major players here.

  • The main lighting is the scrim placed just above the set. That is lit by a small softbox about 4 inches from the scrim to make the light have shape. Backing it off fills the scrim, but moving it in close creates a hot spot on the scrim and lets Bob focus the main part of his light wherever he wants.
  • The second light is an unmodified speedlight on the left, passing through a glass block placed very close to the set.
  • Notice the glass block has a black card on the speedlight side and one on the corn side. Those small cards are helping to shape the light as it comes through the glass block. It also keeps unwanted light from spilling around the edges.
  • There are two small white cards propped up in front of the corn. They are adding a bit of fill, and something for the glistening corn to reflect on the shadow side.
  • Bob is shooting tethered here so he can see the nuances of his lighting.

The set is quite small – less than the coffee table we were shooting on. He set his shutter and aperture on a setting that assured no extraneous light would be added by the ambient.

ISO 200, f4.5, 1/60th of a second with a 50MM lens were the chosen tools and settings.

The first shot is with all the gear set as in the BTS above. Click on the images for a much larger experience.

Notice the smooth light, with delicate fill all around the corn. That is the combination of small speedlight and diffuser providing a nice ambient feel. The speedlight to camera right coming through the glass block gives the image some depth and interest, as well as shaping the top ear of corn with light and shadow. Notice how subtle the light is from the left.

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In this shot we removed the black cards that were on the glass block. The light is less nuanced, but still interesting. It is your shot – make it your way. With the cards no longer shaping the light, the fill cards in front are now brighter and providing more fill than when they were not receiving so much of the speedlight from the left.

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Now we remove the cards from in front of the corn and it goes much darker in front of the corn.

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This shot is with the light to camera right shut off. Now the only light is from the diffuser and the small softbox above the corn. This has a very soft, natural light look to it as well.

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On this shot we removed the scrim and just used the speedlight in the small softbox. You can see the entire feel of the ambient is now gone. This has a very point-source feel to it.

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Interestingly enough, you may like any one of these for your work. There is no one way or right way to do this stuff. Experiment and have fun creating your own versions of how you want to light.

Bob spent a couple of hours on this, working out exactly what he wanted to do, and doing some cool variations. I hope he shares those on his blog when he is ready.

This shot shows how the little shelf blocked some light behind the set so it would create a shadow and some fall off for the background.

Paying attention to the smallest details is what this type of photography is all about.

BTW, it is a blast to work with subjects and light like this. Try a couple ears of corn or a head of broccoli or whatever you like. Blend the light, make the light do what you want it to do and don’t give up at the first shot. Keep working it till you get what you want.

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Another shot of the set.

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Sort of a ‘spy-cam’ feel, eh?

OK – see you next time.

BTW, if you would like to see more posts like this, please let me know. I am happy to do them.

 

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On the Sun Times Firings… One Month Later

On the Sun Times Firings… One Month Later

(NOTE: I do not get any newspapers, nor am I at all interested in newspapers as they are printed… If I want yesterday’s news, I can listen to it on the radio. Newspapers are desperately trying to find a way to keep going without changing what they do. It is not possible, but they will continue to be surprised by every new trend that comes along until they shutter the doors, and sell off the furniture. Not if, but when. That is my personal opinion and of course may shade what I write.)

This may not win me any friends, but I have somethings to say about the Sun firings that I gotta get out. A comment on another thread got me thinking about it like this:

The Sun-Times fired all their staff photographers.

They were indeed the first to do this en-mass, but do remember that the NYT and LAT and SF Chronicle made massive cuts a few years ago. Also add ESPN and a few weekly magazines to the list. I think I read something about Sports Illustrated as well, but not sure if it was the entire staff.

The Sun may be the first newspaper to fire the entire crew, but they won’t be the last. Not by a long shot. Many other papers are down to only a small handful, and whether they fire them or let them retire will be a matter for the owners. (I have no doubt they will NOT do the honorable thing, most of newspaper owners are assholes. While that is not a scientific acknowledgement, I believe it to be true.)

Some say it is all about the bottom line, but I think in this case the bottom line is change.

Spot news has changed. The people on the scene now have technology that can record both video and photographs, and – they are there NOW. A PJ must be dispatched, sent across town, awakened… whatever, but they are usually NOT on the ground when the spot news is breaking.

Most people do not have any discerning taste regarding spot or hard news shots. Just watch the incredibly lame and terrible video that passes for local news any evening. Kids in garages could (and do) make better. How many people call the newspaper to complain about the tonal range or excessive sharpening of that shot of the car accident on Main? Sure, G+ photographers do, but who else?

As to the ‘beat’ photographer… the guy or gal who checks in at the local cop station and hangs around waiting for a grab shot or two… no one cares anymore. That was of interest to the public at an earlier time, it is not anymore.

A quick snap of an iPhone of the mayor giving a press conference is fine for most dailies. Think of the shots where the PJ’s are all lined up with cameras in the air shooting a talking head giving a press briefer… do we really need Pro’s for that anymore? The shots are generally tepid to boring.

Photo from this article which you should read as well.

iPhones in the hands of reporters can make tepid, boring photographs just fine. Add one of them cool camera phone filters and – wow. But I digress…

In this PP article, they show cover/cover comparisons of the Trib and the Sun side by side. And while the Stanley Cup covers can be held up as a “see we told you so” moment, the rest of the comparisons seem to be not so harshly decided. The Sun continues with the same sort of stuff it had before.

Is that surprising? It is disappointing?

Do YOU have a subscription to the Sun-Times?

Just asking…

I do not pretend to like this new trend, but I do recognize that it is a trend that will not be reversing any time soon. Every major story in the past 3 years has been covered by folks on the scene with camera phones and P&S’s, the PJ’s coming last to the scene.

The plane in the Hudson didn’t wait to sink till the PJ’s got there from Midtown, nor were any PJ’s on the scene in Boston when Muslim terrorists blew up innocent people. Riots in the streets of Cairo, to shootings in the streets of Washington DC, the people there have it… stills, video, the whole shebang. By the time the PJ gets there, they body is covered and the cops are taking statements.

That was enough then, it isn’t now. It won’t be going back to the old ways.

The world has changed… and PJ’s better change along with it.

Or risk being the subject of nostalgic documentaries made by those who did.

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