Still Life in the Kitchen - Part One

January 02, 2016  •  7 Comments

It's the start of a new year, and one of my resolutions is to make more time for my personal photography projects.  If it's anything like my many other resolutions through the years, it may not last much longer than the final traces of glitter and tinsel in the house, but I'm going to try! ;-)

I started with a simple set up on my kitchen counter, to the left of the sink.  There's a nice big window above the sink, and I removed the curtain to let in plenty of afternoon light.

For a backdrop I used thumbtacks and hung a sheer curtain on the wall and draped it over the counter.  A simple wooden bowl heaped with tangerines (left over from Christmas!) was set out, and I started taking pictures.  

I liked the simplicity of this arrangement.  The sunlight hits the oranges just right, setting off their texture.  The dark wooden bowl contrasts with the soft billowing drape and adds more texture.  That's a good tip when setting up any kind of still life: use a variety of textures!

Also I wanted to keep moving, changing my angle and distance from my subject.  Here's another version that shows more of the background:

I loved the way the folds of the drapes draw the viewer's eye to the oranges.  Even though the wrinkles and folds in the drape may look random, I actually took time in between shots to carefully adjust them to achieve the look I wanted.

Whenever I shoot still life, I have a process.  I start with something as my focal point, then slowly add elements to alter the scene.  This gives me a greater variety of images to choose from when editing.  So next in this session I added a small white pitcher with some dried sage.  This added more textural interest without changing the neutral & orange color scheme.

 The way the dried sage leaves reflected that soft light was perfect!  I made sure the shape of the dried branch was like an arrow, guiding the viewer's eye to the oranges.  There's quite a bit of science behind a simple still life!  I decided to keep going, and this time added a second color element: turquoise.

When composing a still life, I use the color wheel all the time.  I know that turquoise and orange are complementary colors, and will work well together in an arrangement.  So I start off any still life session by pulling a lot of items from my hutch and cabinets that fit the color scheme I'm wanting to use.  I keep them on a small table near me, so I can quickly add and remove items from the scene as I work.  This time I had gathered brown, white, orange and turquoise.  So I added an antique teapot to the scene.

You can see I also added more of the dried sage to the arrangement, around the bowl and the teapot.  I liked the way these colors worked together, but now it felt like there was an empty space in the center of the image.  So I added a small shiny silver plate shaped like a leaf.

This gave me something to fill in that blank spot, balance the image, and add another type of texture.

I love using lots of different textures!  Now we have the rough wooden bowl, the dimpled oranges, the dried curling leaves, glossy teapot and shiny metal plate. Each of them catches and reflects light in a unique way, giving the eye a lot of interest.

After this, I decided to remove the added color and go back to neutral and orange.  So I replaced the turquoise teapot with a creamy white one, and added two white teacups stacked together.

That was more like it!  I LOVE the softness of all the white, letting the oranges have center stage without competing with another vivid color.  But I didn't like the orange partly hidden by the teapot, and I wanted to change the tilt of the teacup on top to show less of the inside.  So I made a few small changes and got this:

Now we're almost there!  For the final image I slightly rearranged the sage in the pitcher to bring it closer to the oranges, and flipped the teapot so the spout was pointing toward the bowl.  That kept the teapot from blocking the bowl, and now it's not competing for attention with the oranges.  I'm very happy with the final result, even though I'll keep all the others as well!  There are things about each of them that I like.  The process always involves lots of trial and error, and experimenting.  I took over 300 images during this session!  But I'm thrilled with the results.  Which one is your favorite?


Comments

laura jones(non-registered)
I love your work Rachel. You have such a gift. I like the last one. I wish you could teach me.
Laurie Bernard(non-registered)
I like the bottom photo. I like the teapot pointing to the oranges and the looser arrangement of the sage. Thanks for sharing your process. Cool!
Carrie(non-registered)
Rachel, I LOVED seeing the process! Fascinating!
My personal favorites are #1,4,8 not necessarily in that order.
Heather Ore(non-registered)
I love #5, the turquoise pops!
Dotha(non-registered)
I like number 1 and 7 (second to the last one.
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