Still Life Photography with Paul Sanders

Still Life Photography Tips and Tricks
I began shooting still life images around 8 years ago, it is by far the genre of photography I get the most satisfaction from.
For me Still Life is about gesture, grace, throw away lines within the subject. My images are not about the subject, they are about me, I use the concept of equivalence when I work with still life subjects; that is using the subject as a metaphor.
My work is usually of flowers, seedbeds, grasses and various bits of fruit I find in my garden or local shops. I don’t hunt for a subject, I let the subject find me - it’s a bit like a dating process, something catches my eye, so I pause and spend time looking at it, waiting to see if there is more to the moment, from here I gently hold it, feeling the texture, weight and fragility. Gradually as I go through this courtship the subject starts to suggest ideas to me so then I retire to my makeshift studio.

The Hardest Part

For me the hardest part is over once the subject and I have established we can work together. People make a huge deal about the complexities of lighting still life, let me tell you, it is not hard.
When I first started I would tape bits of baking parchment to my kitchen window or just pull the blind down to create a dark background, gaffer taping subjects in place.
I have evolved a little since then. I now use LED light boxes, I have several but generally I have one at the back and one on either side of my subject. I also have some handy little clamps that hold the subject more accurately in position plus a number of flower arranging devices. 
For me the image is about my relationship with the subject, it is not about the technique or the complexities of flash - that’s why I use continuous lighting. The light boxes are similar to the light through my old kitchen window covered in baking parchment.

The Process

The process is simple - after spending time with the subject, carefully looking into and seeing all of it’s unique qualities I follow the lead given by the subject and position it according to which part has spoken to me, then I simply turn off the light boxes, starting with a dark scene I build the light into the subject until it feels right.
My exposures vary between 30 seconds and 10 minutes, I love watching the lighting shaping and building the contours or transparency of the subject, it is fascinating looking at the balance of it and how the slightest change of position or light makes the most change.
Still life photography is for the patient, the kind and thoughtful, it’s not a genre of photography you can just bash out.


My work is inspired by Edward Weston and Robert Mapplethorpe, I’ve studied their still life images and love the energy their work exudes, the calm majestic sweeps, intimate curves and intriguing shadows.
Still life is play, it’s fun and the fact I barely have to leave home is a win win for me! 
To see more of Paul's amzing work please visit Discover Still.
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