Still Life Photography (Found In The Back Of Beyond)

The phrase “still life” might conjure images of classic oil paintings of bowls of fruit, with perhaps an elegant vase and a draped curtain, all carefully arranged and softly lit so as to be aesthetically pleasing.

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With photography, I thought, I have little interest in such compositions, and especially ones that are staged.

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But in fact, a significant proportion of my photographs are what I consider a different kind of “still life”.

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They’re still, in that they’re nothing within the scene is moving. And they’re life, but a found, perhaps abandoned, life, stumbled upon in the back of beyond.

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Street photography of the classic kind, full of people and the chase for “decisive moments”, is not for me.

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But I do enjoy finding compositions in a similar way – arrangements of light, shapes, objects, textures, that I find very pleasing to the eye. And of course once I find them, I want to capture their beauty, and share them with others.

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This post features some of my favourite found still life photographs of the last 18 months or so.

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Are you a photographer of still life – either found compositions like me, or the more traditional staged arrangements of objects?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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18 thoughts on “Still Life Photography (Found In The Back Of Beyond)”

  1. I’ve been known to remove the odd bit of trash from an otherwise photogenic subject. What I do much more often is make a note of the possible subject and come back when I think the light might be more favorable.

    1. Thanks Doug. I do make a mental note sometimes of places, but generally I visit familiar places and know the objects I like to shoot. Plus keep looking for anything new that might be different from the last time I visited.

  2. Dan, the photo of the tulips is gorgeous. I often don’t think of flowers as something that I would photograph in black and white, but you’ve changed my view. The light in that photo adds a depth I don’t think you’d see in color.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments Rob.

      I think for a long time I thought the most important aspect to capture with flowers is the colour. Because they are often stunning. But if you focus on just colour, it can blind you to other elements.

      By shooting black and white (and not just flowers) I think it enables you to see more layers, more interest. Elements such as texture, shape, shadows and so on come alive more.

      Like in the tulip photo, the b/w i think accentuates the light coming through the petals and illuminating the veins within them. That perhaps would not have been apparent, or as clearly defined, with a colour image.

      1. I’m still learning to “see” in black and white. Sometimes its easier for me to take a picture in color, then think “this would look really cool in black and white”.

        I shot these in color, then changed them to B&W:
        https://www.lomography.com/homes/therealmrblue/albums/2194062-8-4-2018-street-shoot/23278898
        https://www.lomography.com/homes/therealmrblue/albums/2194062-8-4-2018-street-shoot/23278903

        The problem with that approach, in my view is that I lose opportunities to capture the texture and shadows you mentioned.

  3. Although the term is originally Dutch, the practice predates ‘modern’ art techniques. We tend to look at it the wrong way around: it might be better to call it “life stilled” because that is the origin; scenes that indicate life is going on, but without any living thing in the view.
    Thus we see some irony in the “staged” pictures, and should realize that YOUR interpretation of it is the more correct one. If only historically. 🙂

    1. Yes, it’s like a snapshot of the presence of life perhaps, rather than the snapshot of people living their lives like some street photography is.

      I kind of like the implied story of a found still life, and the conclusions the viewer comes to about what the items are, why they’re arranged as they are, and the people behind it.

      Plus there’s the pure aesthetic pleasure of it, sometimes it’s the textures, shadows, shapes and so on that delight the eye more than any implied story. Like Edward Weston’s peppers and other vegetables…

  4. Traditional definition:
    .a painting or drawing of an arrangement of objects, typically including fruit and flowers and objects contrasting with these in texture, such as bowls and glassware. (i have a bit art history knowledge but never realized TEXTURE being the contrast focus.) Merriam Webster: : a picture consisting predominantly of inanimate objects
    2 : the category of graphic arts concerned with inanimate subject matter
    I was unsure of the actual definition. So it doesn’t have to be life- per se I guess. (UMM sorry only read the last comment before posting this.)
    I REALLY like the idea of texture as the focus

  5. I have certainly staged a lot of photos in the past, maybe creating a seaside themed composition with shells and pebbles, rock stacking and such like but like you, I can find a unique beauty in what is already in front of me.

    1. I think one reason I don’t do this, let’s take rock stacking as an example, is it opens up another vast (indeed infinite) realm of possibility. I’d rather just find what is (which itself offers huge variety) then seek the best angle to capture it. Otherwise the amount of variables just melts my brain!

      1. A few years ago, I organised a few informal get togethers of fellow amateur photographers in the Exeter area, one trip was to Budleigh Salterton on the East Devon coast, where I started to make a rock stack, it was not long before this group of fully grown adults had appeared to revert to childhood by trying to make the biggest one to photograph 🙂

      2. Years ago you’d never come across any kind of temporary sculpture on a beach. These days it’s more unusual not to see some!

        I assume your familiar with artists like Andy Goldsworthy?

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