Simple Methods for Creating Better Still Life Images

The post Simple Methods for Creating Better Still Life Images appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

Many find shooting still life images a real challenge when they’re just starting out because it can be hard to know where to start. But taking the time to shoot a great still life can be a rewarding and somewhat meditative pastime for photographers.

Still life photography can help you hone your photographic skills at your own pace while still creating work that can go in a portfolio or be printed for your wall. But styling tabletop images doesn’t come naturally to all photographers, so here are some simple things to think about when you’re next shooting still life.

Choose props for color and mood

Now might be a good time to go and brush up on your color knowledge, because you’re really going to need it when it comes to creating still life images! Everything, including the colors, in your still life scene, will be there because you put it there. Nothing has to make it onto your tabletop studio if you don’t want to include it in your shot.

Colors can be a way of introducing either harmony or contrast. If you were photographing something blue, for example, and you used blue and green backgrounds you’d have a very harmonious and potentially calm image. On the other hand, if you added yellows or oranges into the scene, it would create tension and result in a more dynamic overall feeling to the shot.

You can bring color to your still life images in different ways. Backgrounds, fabrics, plates, bowls, vases – all these items are props that you can start collecting to build up a color library of props. Don’t forget natural objects like flowers and foliage too; they can often really bring a shot to life.

Selecting complementary backdrops

Your backdrops will often be the most dominant colors in your scene, so pick wisely (it’s also hard to change it once you’ve started arranging your props). Pick your backdrops according to the feel you’d like to create in your final image.

Backdrops can be anything that works with the scene you’re creating. It might be a marble countertop, a beautiful old farmhouse table, or a complementary piece of fabric. Whatever helps to set the mood for your images.

As well as the color of your backdrop, think about the texture as well. A scuffed up, blackened old baking tray creates a very different feel to draped silk. Think about the way that different backdrops make you feel as you select them for your scenes and decide if that’s correct for the kind of story you’re trying to tell in your photograph.

Over time you will build up a library of different backdrops to use in your shots. Then you can create a whole variety of different styles of images just by switching out the backdrop. Keep your eye open when you’re out and about for potential backdrops to add to your library!

Thinking about texture

I love including texture in my still life photographs, and it has become a part of my style now. Scouring both high street and artists shops for interestingly textured table linens, bowls, and backgrounds for my still life images are favorite pastimes.

Along with all the other elements of a still life image, texture can really help set the mood. Are you shooting something rustic that would have its story helped by the introduction of some beautiful coarse fabric? Or maybe you’re photographing a more modern scene that would benefit from glossy backdrops and slick, shiny props?

It also adds interest and depth to your final image. If you look around the room you’re in I’m sure you’ll see a whole variety of different textures. Perhaps you have a smooth leather chair with a velvet cushion on it, placed next to a distressed wood coffee table. Our lives are a riot of different textures, and these affect our senses both visually and through touch.

Since you can’t touch the objects in a photograph, you need to tell the viewer what they’re like. Texture is the main way to visually convey what something would feel like if you reached into the photograph and touched it. With that in mind, pay attention to what the textures in your shot are telling your viewer.

Create a beginning, middle, and end

Just like a good story, a photograph needs a beginning, middle, and end. Except we usually refer to these things as foreground, middle ground, and background when it comes to visual storytelling. Creating a layered effect in your photographs helps to create depth in what is a two-dimensional object.

Try building your still life scenes intentionally. First of all, place your main object roughly where you think you’d like it to be. It helps if you put your camera on a tripod for this because you can keep the framing and focus consistent.

After you’ve placed your main object try creating some foreground interest. This could be some petals if you were photographing flowers, or perhaps the curled corner of table linen if you were shooting food. Anything that leads the eye into the shot without distracting too much from the main focal point is good. You want something that adds to the story.

Lastly, place a background element in your scene. In the shots above, I’ve added a yellow napkin which both creates interests and adds a contrasting color, but you could be more subtle. Your background itself could also be your background element if it were sufficiently interesting! It should be like a “full stop” to your composition; ending the viewer’s attention the same way that a full stop ends a sentence.

You might find it easier to play with compositional colors and shapes for the foreground and background if you use a shallow depth of field. Rendering these elements as out of focus in your scene helps to keep the viewer’s attention on the main focus of your image.

Finishing an image in post-processing

There’s no rule in creative still life photography that says the colors have to be true to life. Using different colors – or even turning your digital files black and white – can result in a change of mood and story.

Processing your still life images in Adobe Lightroom allows you to create duplicates of images and try out different color treatments while comparing them side by side. It’s great for black and white conversions too. The best thing about Adobe Lightroom is that the editing is completely non-destructive to the original file. This means you can try out everything from wild color treatments to something more conservative and always go back to the original file.

I touched on color grading your still life photographs in a previous article. It can help evoke different moods, bringing different colors to the fore. It can also help to make items really pop off the page if you use color grading in a way that emphasizes your main subject.

Color grading your shots can also help to contribute to a more coherent style in your work. You don’t always have to treat the color in your images the same way, but over time you might notice that you seem to pick up a style the more you shoot. This can help to make your work recognizable which you might find desirable.

Put it all Together

Now that you know the simple ways that you can improve your still life images it’s time for you to have a go. Get some inspiration, shoot some images, and then come back and let us see them in the comments!

Don’t be afraid to work slowly and try new things when you’re shooting still life. The objects in your scene are not going anywhere, and they won’t run out of patience as a portrait subject will! Also remember, you don’t have to show anyone the images if you’re not completely happy with them.

 

The post Simple Methods for Creating Better Still Life Images appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

DIY Food Photography Props on a Budget

The post DIY Food Photography Props on a Budget appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

With the rise of Instagram, every meal has become a potential subject for a photographer. We’re sharing our food through photographs like never before, and higher quality imagery gets more likes in the world of #instafood.

But how do you create that styled look to your food photographs when you’re on a budget? Not everyone has the cash to drop on a whole styling kit of tableware, linens, and backgrounds. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ as the proverb says, so let me tell you about a few creative ways I’ve made the money go a little further when it comes to food photography.

Take the suggestions in this article as a starting point and be creative with your own ideas. Bring in skills you’ve already got (or would love to learn) in your quest to DIY your food photography on a budget!

Shop your home

It seems so obvious, but you’d be amazed at what you can find at home (or in the homes of your friends and relatives). The best thing about shopping your home is that everything is free! Take a minute now to take a look around your house and see what you already own that might work for food photography.

The kitchen is the first place to start – but don’t just stop at crockery and flatware! Ancient old baking trays make fabulous backgrounds, and interesting glassware can make great detail in an out-of-focus background.

Don’t neglect the bathroom as you make your shopping trip. More than once I have put food on a (clean) soap dish that happened to be beautiful in color or texture. From the living room, vases can hold a freshly cut flower for a food photography scene. Bedrooms are a treasure trove of trinket dishes, baskets, boxes, and fabrics (more than one evening dress has found its way into my shots as a textile element). Finally, check outside – weathered old plant pots or interesting bits of wood can really bring life to your food stories (once they’ve been scrubbed, of course).

On a similar note to shopping your home, don’t forget to visit your local thrift shops regularly! The staff in my local shops know me so well that they put interesting flatware, linens and ceramics aside for me now. Moreover, each item costs very, very little compared to buying them new.

Creating backgrounds and surfaces with interest

When you’re setting your scene for a styled food photograph, the background can really make or break the shot. You can purchase pre-made background boards designed especially for photographers that replicate various textures. They’re very and good, and I use them often, but they’re also quite expensive! While homemade boards don’t replace textures such as wood or marble they can be very effective for the right shot.

Top: pink stripes created with a child’s foam painting roller.
Bottom: blue, black, and grey emulsion paints applied with a kitchen sponge.

Head along to your local DIY store that sells sheet materials. There you can buy sheets of plywood. If you are lucky, the store will also cut these sheets of plywood into manageable chunks either for free or at a minimal cost.

It works out to be extremely cost-effective to create backgrounds using these boards as a base. A sheet of plywood that is 2.4m by 1.2m costs about £25 here in the UK and that makes eight neat 60cm square boards. You can paint both sides too, so it works out to about £1.50 per background (plus whatever paint you use).

Usually, I use cheap emulsion paint samplers to create backgrounds. Don’t be restricted to brushes for applying the paint either – a sponge is my favorite tool followed closely by children’s painting toys! Go bold with your designs; once you’ve made the background out of focus with a shallow aperture, you won’t see small details. Experiment with color – dark backgrounds can be as interesting as light backgrounds.

Build the set

Once you’ve created some backdrops, put one on a table next to a window and prop the other up behind it vertically like a wall. You now have a table set for a fraction of what it would cost you to buy special backdrops marketed to photographers!

Floor tiles used as backgrounds for food photography.

While you’re at the DIY store buying your plywood, check out the flooring section too. Very often DIY shops will sell sample flooring tiles for people to try at home. For just £1.50 I bought all three of the flooring tiles in the pictures above. The boards are often quite small, but if you’re shooting close-ups, they can still work really well (they’re also good for jewelry photographs).

Customised table linens

Beautiful linens can help to make a food shot pop. They feel luxurious because they’re something you usually only use for special occasions. Plus if you keep your eye out, you can often find linens with unusual textures to the fabric or fancy trim around the edge, and these can help elevate your shots to be something quite special.

Two different colours of linen fabric used for food styling. Consider the mood of your final image when selecting colours.

Table linens are, at their most basic, just a square of interesting (or not-so-interesting) fabric. To create the simplest DIY napkin that really packs a punch, head to a fabric store that sells dressmaking fabrics. Have a look through their linen selection. You’re after something heavy with lots of texture, and you’ll want half a meter of the fabric. Use sharp scissors to cut it into a large square (you should get at least two out of half a meter of fabric) and you’ve created your first designer napkin!

You can either turn the raw edges over and sew them with some matching thread or start pulling the threads away to fray them. Both styles give a different look to your shots as you can see in the shots above. Think about color when you are purchasing fabric; it can really make a difference to the mood of your shots. I’d suggest purchasing neutral colors first and then venturing out into colors when you have some good basics.

Many shops sell a ‘fat quarter’ of fabric (it is a meter of fabric cut horizontally and then vertically to make a rectangle). These cuts are the perfect size for a single oversized napkin. Once you’ve built up a stash of beautiful plain napkins, you can try venturing out into something a little more complicated.

Embellish your DIY props

If you browse the designer homeware stores, you’ll find that table linens often have intricate detailing like trim or hand-stitching on the edges. Back to the fabric shop again, and this time shop for some coordinating trim that matches some fabric you’ve got.

You can sew the trim around the edges of your napkins, or you can take some fabric glue to it. Food styling props for photography don’t have to be perfectly functional; they just have to look good on camera! Make sure you arrange your props so that any mistakes are facing away from your camera!

In the photograph above is white linen. The linen was made with very cheap white cotton fabric with fancy pompom trim stitched around the edge. It cost me around £3 in total. Considerably less than buying the fancy version I’d had my eye on in a shop! Photography is all about illusion. If the trim is particularly expensive just buy enough to go around two edges. You can style it when you shoot so that the other side doesn’t show.

The proof is in the pudding

In any good food photograph, success is measured by how much your viewer wants to eat the subject. I followed my own advice: shopping at my house, creating backdrops, buying fabric and trim, and then I photographed the results.

For under £15, I put together two completely different food photography sets that I can reuse time and time again. Moreover, the bonus is that if I don’t like the backgrounds in the future, I can paint over them time and time again!

Now it’s your turn; have a go at building yourself some props and shooting some food photos. I’d love to see what backgrounds and props you create for your food photography shots. Perhaps you can apply a skill you already know and create something really special that you just can’t buy in the shops.

Please share with us in the comments below.

 

The post DIY Food Photography Props on a Budget appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography?

The post Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

1 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” or GAS for short. Photographers usually consider GAS to be negative; frivolously spending money that you don’t need on equipment that won’t make your photography better. However, I’m here to tell you that sometimes a new piece of kit is exactly what you need to inspire you to do something different with your photography.

White rose in a gold basket. 2 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Getting out of your comfort zone

It’s easy to become complacent with the equipment that you already own. You’ll get to the point where you know it inside out, and you’re completely comfortable using it to create the kind of images that you love. Many photographers have gone for years always using the same system, the same set of lenses, and just upgrading to a new camera body every once in a while to keep pace with new technology.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that approach. Sticking with what you already know produces results that can be a wise use of your limited time and funds. However, sometimes a piece of new gear can push you outside of your comfort zone, forcing you to experiment with new techniques and styles.

A modernist piece of architecture. 3 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

A modernist piece of architecture. © Charlie Moss

New gear for a new style

For me, it was a combination of a new Fujifilm mirrorless camera and a 50mm equivalent lens that forced me into trying new styles. Lugging my dSLR camera around with me always felt like a chore; it was so big and heavy. The Fujifilm X-T20, on the other hand, is small and lightweight. It feels much more like the small Yashica rangefinder that my Grandfather used to bring with him on every family holiday. I found that I would shoot much more spontaneous and joyful images with my new little camera, rather than the “serious” images I shot on my larger dSLR.

But what really changed my photography, and could change yours too, was the investment in a new lens. I didn’t spend a fortune – a secondhand Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 lens found its way into my possession. It is a 50mm equivalent lens (on the Fujifilm X-T20 crop-sensor body), so it’s the classic length for many styles of photography. It’s a great focal length for portraits, street photography, food, and still life. So as soon as it arrived, I began to test it extensively. I should point out that I shot every image in this article with the new lens.

Two images of bright yellow classic cars. One image is of a chrome-trimmd wing mirror, the other is a Humber logo. 4 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Bright yellow classic cars – a chrome-trimmed wing mirror, and a Humber logo. © Charlie Moss

Do you really need new gear?

I get it; not everyone has the money to go out and pick up a new lens or camera just to see if it helps them be more creative. And maybe it wasn’t even the lens or the camera that inspired me to change the way I photograph. Plenty of people manage to change up their style without spending any money at all.

So with that in mind, I have a few suggestions for breaking out of your comfort zone before you break out your credit card.

Two images of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. 5 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. © Charlie Moss

Look at more photography

I don’t just mean on social media. Get out and about in the real world. Take yourself off to an exhibition of photography or an art gallery with a photographic collection. If you live anywhere near a major city, photography exhibitions shouldn’t be too hard to find. Have an open mind about the kind of work you could see. Try to remember that you’re looking for something to inspire a new way of working!

Take a notebook with you too. Make notes in it while you’re walking around the gallery looking at images. Think about how the works of art make you feel or if there’s a particular detail you love. Perhaps there’s a subject you hadn’t thought about photographing before. Or maybe a new use of color that you hadn’t considered for your own work.

Don’t forget to look up the work when you get home too! Many photographers now have a social media presence so that you can keep up to date with their current projects. Historical photographers often have lots written about them on museum and gallery websites for you to read.

Two street images of Oxford, UK. One is at the Botanical Gardens looking through a doorway at a wheelbarrow. The other is a woman walking in front of a science lab. 6 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Two street images of Oxford, UK. Left: Botanical Gardens looking through a doorway at a wheelbarrow. Right: a woman walking in front of a science lab. © Charlie Moss

Try a new genre

Pick something you’ve never done before in photography. Do a bit of research online and then go out and try shooting it. Be brave – what’s the worst that can happen?

For me, it was street photography. I read some tutorials, talked to a few friends, checked out some images on social media and then went out for the day and just had a go. If the images were rubbish, I’d still had a nice day out photographing!

It’s too easy to become very conservative with your approach to photography. Staying with what you know works well is an easy approach, but you might miss out on a new kind of photography that you absolutely adore. Becoming more fearless and trying new things is something that can benefit all photographers – from beginners to professionals! We all need a kickstart every now and again with our work.

Two images. One is a self-portrait with out-of-focus fairy lights. The other is a white and red doorway. 7 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Follow a trend

Of course, we’d all like to be trendsetters rather than followers. But every once in a while it’s good to experiment with something that is clearly capturing the imagination of lots of other photographers!

Instagram is great for checking out what’s fashionable in the world of photography right now. That could be portraits with out-of-focus fairy lights that create bokeh, or beautiful doors and pretty houses. Even if you don’t love the images that you create, each trend will give you the opportunity to experiment with a new technique. You might learn more about the technical aspects of photography, about composition, or even about styling. The key is to take these new things that you’ve learned and use them in your own authentic way.

A photograph of new buildings on Albert Embankment, London. 8 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

A photograph of new buildings on Albert Embankment, London. © Charlie Moss

Whatever you do – do something!

If there’s one thing I’m certain about, it’s that if you never try anything new in your photographic practice, then you’ll come to regret it. So take a leap of faith and try something new.

Start by working out what you’d like to try photographically. See if you can try it without investing in any new gear. However, don’t be afraid to think about if a new piece of gear might bring you a new way of working. A lens, a flashgun, or a new lighting modifier. Perhaps even a new camera.

Also, don’t forget to let us know in the comments what you’re planning on trying out. Or if you’ve changed things up in the past let us know what you did to try and reinvigorate your photography and how well it worked for you!

The post Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography?

The post Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

1 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

I’m sure you’ve heard of “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” or GAS for short. Photographers usually consider GAS to be negative; frivolously spending money that you don’t need on equipment that won’t make your photography better. However, I’m here to tell you that sometimes a new piece of kit is exactly what you need to inspire you to do something different with your photography.

White rose in a gold basket. 2 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Getting out of your comfort zone

It’s easy to become complacent with the equipment that you already own. You’ll get to the point where you know it inside out, and you’re completely comfortable using it to create the kind of images that you love. Many photographers have gone for years always using the same system, the same set of lenses, and just upgrading to a new camera body every once in a while to keep pace with new technology.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that approach. Sticking with what you already know produces results that can be a wise use of your limited time and funds. However, sometimes a piece of new gear can push you outside of your comfort zone, forcing you to experiment with new techniques and styles.

A modernist piece of architecture. 3 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

A modernist piece of architecture. © Charlie Moss

New gear for a new style

For me, it was a combination of a new Fujifilm mirrorless camera and a 50mm equivalent lens that forced me into trying new styles. Lugging my dSLR camera around with me always felt like a chore; it was so big and heavy. The Fujifilm X-T20, on the other hand, is small and lightweight. It feels much more like the small Yashica rangefinder that my Grandfather used to bring with him on every family holiday. I found that I would shoot much more spontaneous and joyful images with my new little camera, rather than the “serious” images I shot on my larger dSLR.

But what really changed my photography, and could change yours too, was the investment in a new lens. I didn’t spend a fortune – a secondhand Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 lens found its way into my possession. It is a 50mm equivalent lens (on the Fujifilm X-T20 crop-sensor body), so it’s the classic length for many styles of photography. It’s a great focal length for portraits, street photography, food, and still life. So as soon as it arrived, I began to test it extensively. I should point out that I shot every image in this article with the new lens.

Two images of bright yellow classic cars. One image is of a chrome-trimmd wing mirror, the other is a Humber logo. 4 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Bright yellow classic cars – a chrome-trimmed wing mirror, and a Humber logo. © Charlie Moss

Do you really need new gear?

I get it; not everyone has the money to go out and pick up a new lens or camera just to see if it helps them be more creative. And maybe it wasn’t even the lens or the camera that inspired me to change the way I photograph. Plenty of people manage to change up their style without spending any money at all.

So with that in mind, I have a few suggestions for breaking out of your comfort zone before you break out your credit card.

Two images of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. 5 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. © Charlie Moss

Look at more photography

I don’t just mean on social media. Get out and about in the real world. Take yourself off to an exhibition of photography or an art gallery with a photographic collection. If you live anywhere near a major city, photography exhibitions shouldn’t be too hard to find. Have an open mind about the kind of work you could see. Try to remember that you’re looking for something to inspire a new way of working!

Take a notebook with you too. Make notes in it while you’re walking around the gallery looking at images. Think about how the works of art make you feel or if there’s a particular detail you love. Perhaps there’s a subject you hadn’t thought about photographing before. Or maybe a new use of color that you hadn’t considered for your own work.

Don’t forget to look up the work when you get home too! Many photographers now have a social media presence so that you can keep up to date with their current projects. Historical photographers often have lots written about them on museum and gallery websites for you to read.

Two street images of Oxford, UK. One is at the Botanical Gardens looking through a doorway at a wheelbarrow. The other is a woman walking in front of a science lab. 6 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Two street images of Oxford, UK. Left: Botanical Gardens looking through a doorway at a wheelbarrow. Right: a woman walking in front of a science lab. © Charlie Moss

Try a new genre

Pick something you’ve never done before in photography. Do a bit of research online and then go out and try shooting it. Be brave – what’s the worst that can happen?

For me, it was street photography. I read some tutorials, talked to a few friends, checked out some images on social media and then went out for the day and just had a go. If the images were rubbish, I’d still had a nice day out photographing!

It’s too easy to become very conservative with your approach to photography. Staying with what you know works well is an easy approach, but you might miss out on a new kind of photography that you absolutely adore. Becoming more fearless and trying new things is something that can benefit all photographers – from beginners to professionals! We all need a kickstart every now and again with our work.

Two images. One is a self-portrait with out-of-focus fairy lights. The other is a white and red doorway. 7 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

Follow a trend

Of course, we’d all like to be trendsetters rather than followers. But every once in a while it’s good to experiment with something that is clearly capturing the imagination of lots of other photographers!

Instagram is great for checking out what’s fashionable in the world of photography right now. That could be portraits with out-of-focus fairy lights that create bokeh, or beautiful doors and pretty houses. Even if you don’t love the images that you create, each trend will give you the opportunity to experiment with a new technique. You might learn more about the technical aspects of photography, about composition, or even about styling. The key is to take these new things that you’ve learned and use them in your own authentic way.

A photograph of new buildings on Albert Embankment, London. 8 - Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography - Charlie Moss

A photograph of new buildings on Albert Embankment, London. © Charlie Moss

Whatever you do – do something!

If there’s one thing I’m certain about, it’s that if you never try anything new in your photographic practice, then you’ll come to regret it. So take a leap of faith and try something new.

Start by working out what you’d like to try photographically. See if you can try it without investing in any new gear. However, don’t be afraid to think about if a new piece of gear might bring you a new way of working. A lens, a flashgun, or a new lighting modifier. Perhaps even a new camera.

Also, don’t forget to let us know in the comments what you’re planning on trying out. Or if you’ve changed things up in the past let us know what you did to try and reinvigorate your photography and how well it worked for you!

The post Can New Gear Kickstart Your Photography? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

There’s been an explosion of interest in photographing costume portraits over the last few years. From movie cosplays to historically-inspired portraits – there’s no end to the kind of costumes that could make their way into your portrait portfolio.

Shooting someone who is playing a role can bring a whole new dimension to your images. It can add depth and vibrancy to your portfolio. People often lose their inhibitions about being in front of the camera if they are pretending to be someone else!

With that in mind, here are my top five tips for creating portfolio-worthy costume portraits.

1 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

1. Be inspired by history

Fabulous costume portraits have been created throughout history, both in photography and in other kinds of art. Julia Margaret Cameron, for example, was a British photographer born in 1815 who used to shoot people dressed up as characters from Shakespeare. Her contemporary, David Wilkie Wynfield, would photograph his friends wearing fancy dress in the style of the great 16th-Century Venetian artist, Titian.

And don’t just stop at taking inspiration from photographer either – there are thousands of years of portraits to take inspiration from. In the portrait above, I took inspiration from a painting called La belle ferronnière by Leonardo da Vinci. Other times I’ve been inspired by different historical artists – Rembrandt lighting is a popular technique amongst photographers too and a great place to start!

Never be afraid to try self-portraiture when you’re experimenting with different lighting and looks inspired by historical portraits. It can take a bit of practice to get it right, and you will almost certainly be your most patient model! The shot above is the result of an hour locked in my studio experimenting with light and self-portraiture. I cannot recommend the Fujifilm camera system and app highly enough for shooting self portraits. You can focus and shoot at the touch of your phone screen!

Costume portraits are a great excuse to step away from the kind of lighting that you would usually use and try something different. If you always use studio lights then how about trying some available light? That’s how artists would have mostly worked in the past, and if it worked for them then it must be worth trying! Equally, if you usually work with available light then perhaps this is an excellent opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try something tight and controlled with studio lights?

2 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

2. Check the costume faithfulness

I’m not suggesting for one moment that you should become a victim to historical or film accuracy in your costume portraits. But it does pay to just think through all of the elements that your subject is wearing or surrounded by.

In a costume portrait, even more so than a regular portrait, every aspect of the costume and any props contribute to the story being told by the final image. Ideally, nothing should appear in the final image that wasn’t intentionally put there to be a part of the story.

So if you are shooting a portrait inspired by a period of history, or perhaps inspired by a film or comic book, just take a little time to research your inspiration before scheduling a shoot. Check that your costume, accessories, and props aren’t going to be jarring to the story you are trying to tell.

This is where it might be worthwhile working with costume designers if you are new to styling costume portraits. Their expertise and advice on putting together and styling different kinds of costumes could save you an awful lot of time and heartache in the long run! Of course, there are always opportunities to hire costumes from theatres too – it can be a surprisingly cost-effective option.

3 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

3. Set the scene

Think about the scene that you want your character to inhabit. Are they royalty sitting atop a beautiful throne, or are they a post-apocalyptic warrior tracking danger through the forest? Scouting out a location and sourcing props to suit can be half of the fun when it comes to staging a costume portrait!

You can find great locations in the most surprising places. I have shot in front of huge roller shutter doors on industrial estates, in a scrubby bit of forest that looked like a dreamy estate in the final images, and against an old stone wall in my back garden. With the right lighting, lens selection, framing choices, and post-processing the most unexpected locations can look great in portraits.

But, of course, there’s always the option to head into the studio! Taking a subject into the studio and placing them against a plain backdrop can serve to really highlight the story you are telling through their costume and appearance. It puts the focus squarely onto the subject. This style of studio shooting can be a double-edged sword. There’s less room for mistakes in this kind of controlled studio portrait, but the payoff can be more than worth it when it comes to portfolio-worthy images.

4 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

4. Give your subject a character

When people usually sit for portraits they are playing themselves. So when you have someone sit for a costume portrait, it is helpful if you can have them play a role. It can help them to get into character more quickly and easily.

Before you do the shoot – while you’re pulling together your styling and location – think about the character that you’re looking to capture and write down a few thoughts as part of a shoot plan.

Are they a brooding young Victorian poet who lost their love? Perhaps they’re an underground rebel trying to uncover a government conspiracy four decades in the future? This is the driving force behind the entire shoot, so gear everything towards bringing this character to life.

Once you have your subject dressed up and with makeup done, equipped with props, and in the location you have chosen, all these elements should come together to help them portray the character. It’s their portrayal of the character that will shine through, tell the story, and truly make your shots portfolio-worthy.

5 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

5. Don’t forget the post-processing

You’ve styled an amazing shoot in a fantastically atmospheric location with a great team, and you’ve collaboratively told a compelling story. So what is next? Post-processing – that’s what.

The choices you make on the computer or in the darkroom after the shoot really help you focus the storytelling. Good post-processing can help elevate a portrait to something extraordinary.

You can make stylistic choices in post-processing that you may not otherwise make if you were shooting regular headshots or family portraits. For instance, when I shoot images with an apocalyptic theme, I tend to add lots of layers over the top to create a grungy look to the piece. If I am shooting something inspired by a sci-fi movie, then I often choose to push the colors quite hard to resemble the film grading used by cinematographers. Moreover, if I shoot something medieval- or viking-ish, I usually dull all the colors down and make the finished shots look “dusty” and worn.

With practice, you’ll find your style for post-processing costume portraits. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and do something different from your usual approach. Everything about these images is already completely different from how most people would approach a regular portrait. It’s a chance to experiment!

6 - 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits - charlie moss

Now that you’re armed with my top tips for shooting costume portraits, it’s time to try it out yourself! Remember to create a character, set the scene, and think about every element that you’re placing in the image. That way, you’ll tell a compelling and consistent story that shines through in the final image.

I’d love to see your attempts at shooting costume portraits. Post an image in the comments for everyone to see!

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Portfolio-Worthy Costume Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

How to Tell Stories with Architecture Photography

The post How to Tell Stories with Architecture Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

At first glance, it might seem like architecture photography is all about prestige projects, glittering corporate headquarters, and well-paid specialist photography gigs. However, there can be much more to architectural photography if you look a little deeper.

The Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford © Charlie Moss

Architecture is a vast and diverse field. It basically means the design and construction of buildings or the style in which a building is built. Styles vastly differ from country to country, even from town to town. Very local architecture that is heavily inspired by the local conditions and traditions is known as “vernacular architecture” – and that is the kind of built environment that inspires me most in my architectural photography.

On weekends, it is quite common to find me out and about with a camera in The Cotswolds – the beautiful area of England that is on my doorstep. There I seek out beautiful examples of buildings crafted from Cotswold Stone – the local building material. The stone itself varies in color from beautiful honey to a rich golden hue, and it’s these variations that tell you where you are!

Head a little further south, and you’re in the city of Oxford, famous for its prestigious university. The story of the city and the university is told through its architecture and is a vernacular architectural photographer’s dream. It’s here in Oxford that I’ve based this article on architectural photography, but hopefully, you’ll find it full of tips and tricks for shooting any of your surroundings or those you visit on a trip.

1. Do some research

Schools Quadrangle, Oxford, and a door on Parks Road, Oxford. © Charlie Moss

Before you grab your camera bag and walk out of the door, the first thing you’re going to want to do is a little research. See if you can read up on the most important buildings in the place you’re heading out to. Then see if you can work out why they’re considered the most important.

Look at images of the place that other people have already taken and see if you can pick out any themes. Other photographers might have had some smart ideas for locations – no harm in making a note to check them out while you’re there too. Is there a predominant style of architecture? A set of repeating motifs? Or perhaps a common building material? If there does seem to be patterns in the buildings, ask yourself why that might be and see if you can get to the bottom of what they could perhaps mean.

In Oxford, there is a long-running fight over which architecture styles best reflect buildings dedicated to learning and research. Are the Roman and Greek inspired Classical style buildings the most appropriate because of their obvious connection to ancient civilization? Alternatively, are the tall, soaring, pointed towers of Gothic architecture better for a university because it seems to be reaching ambitiously skywards towards God? The designers and patrons of the city have argued this backward and forwards for many centuries now, so it is the perfect place to tell stories about the architecture!

If nothing else, think of some themes that you might like to shoot while you’re out with your camera. I can never seem to resist a good photograph of a door, and nor can many other people judging from the subject’s popularity on Instagram.

2. Look for contrast

The Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford © Charlie Moss

Images that juxtapose different but related buildings or themes can be very powerful when you’re photographing architecture. Well-considered juxtapositions of images can show both positives and negatives about architecture. In the first image above of the Radcliffe Science Library, I’ve tried to capture the contrast between the ancient Headington Stone used in the original Victorian library building, and the modern glass extension.

Both materials express different ideas about what it means to study science, and so together they tell the story of what science has become over the last two hundred years. The reflection of the tree brings the two together – reminding us that science is all around us and not just found in libraries and laboratories.

If you can capture scenes like this all in the same image then that is great, but do not be afraid to place two or more images next to each other as I did above in the images of Keble College.

3. Plan to shoot a series

Keble College Chapel reflected in the Beecroft Building, Oxford, and Keble College, Oxford © Charlie Moss

Creating diptychs and triptychs in photography is as old as the medium itself. Setting out to specifically capturing two or three images that work together (and could perhaps be mounted together as prints) is a fantastic way to tell a story.

It might be that you plan these images specifically to be a series while doing your research, but often you might make connections while you’re out and about. The best tip I can give to you is to write down the connections that you’ve made while shooting in a notebook; otherwise, you’re bound to forget them while editing!

The two images above were a happy accident. I didn’t realize that there was a brand new physics building constructed in the last twelve months, and it perfectly reflects the chapel of the college across the road. This juxtaposition of science and religion is quite powerful, but also I enjoyed the way that the facade of the new building draws inspiration from the old. The tall rectangular windows of the new Beecroft building seem almost to be a modern version of the tall rectangular windows in Keble College built around a hundred and fifty years ago.

If you see an interesting image that wasn’t on your original itinerary, then stop and take a few minutes to photograph it. Don’t be so focused on your research that you miss unexpected gems – they might turn out to be some of the best photographs of your trip.

4. Bring the architecture to life

Bikes in Oxford. © Charlie Moss

Regardless of how spectacular the buildings themselves might be, it is how the inhabitants of the city use the architecture that’s important. In Oxford, the primary mode of transport is the bicycle. There simply isn’t enough room in this medieval city for cars, and so pedal-power is far more efficient.

Every street and building has space for parking bikes – and if it doesn’t – the cyclists soon find somewhere to put them! To photograph the city of Oxford without photographing the bikes would be to miss out on a large part of what makes the place come alive.

Think of how you can show the life that lives alongside the architecture in your images. It could be something as iconic as a bright yellow taxi in front of the iconic Flatiron building in New York. Alternatively, it might be as simple as a reflection of a busy city street in a brilliant local coffee shop.

Try to capture what makes the place you’re photographing unique, both in the buildings and in what is happening around them.

5. Shoot the icons

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, with All Souls College, Oxford in the background. © Charlie Moss

While you’re focusing on the details and the hidden stories, don’t forget to tell the big stories too! Iconic architecture is iconic for a reason, so don’t keep it off your itinerary. The important thing is, once again, to find the story that you want to tell and try to capture that.

The above image shows the Classical versus Gothic war of architecture in Oxford in a single shot. The front building is the Radcliffe Camera, an historically significant library built in the English Palladian style inspired by the classical temples of the ancient Greeks. Behind its defensive wall is the soaring tower of All Souls College built in the Gothic style. You couldn’t get two more contrasting buildings in the same shot if you tried.

These contrasts and histories are the keys in photographing architecture. If you can seek out the interesting stories to tell, you’ll have no problem shooting great images.

The post How to Tell Stories with Architecture Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Charlie Moss.

How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

It’s easy to feel defeated before you’ve even started when it comes to creating fine art images. A quick search of any of the popular photography sites brings up beautiful and humbling images from the far corners of the world.

However, you don’t need a round-the-world ticket and a six-month career break to shoot beautiful fine art photography. You can do this at home in your living room with minimal expenses if you’re prepared to think a little outside the box!

Physalis color duo - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

What does fine art mean anyway?

Fine art photography is one of those terms that is tricky to pin down. There are two ways that the term “fine art” is usually used so it’s important not to get confused between the two.

The first is usually in the context of museums and galleries. Fine art in European academic traditions is most often used to describe a work that was created primarily for beauty and has no other function. It is the opposite of “applied art” which describes everyday objects (such as ceramics) which have been decorated to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

When people talk about fine art photography though, they tend to be talking about a style of photography rather than a method of production. In this context, it’s usually art that was created for art’s sake. An image that was always designed to be primarily enjoyed for its beauty rather than its subject matter.

Sometimes there are lighting and processing styles that maybe associated with the term “fine art photography” but fashions and trends come and go, even in the world of art!

Physalis colour triptych

For a more in-depth look at fine art photography read: The dPS Ultimate Guide to Fine Art Photography

Flat Perspectives

Flat lay images have been gaining popularity for a while now. If you scroll through Instagram or Pinterest you’ll almost certainly find them in your feed. But most of the flat lay images out there on social media are heavily focussed on creating a real commercial vibe that sells a product or an experience.

Even those photographers not selling anything have often adopted this commercial style for their personal feeds. While there’s nothing wrong with this approach at all, there is room for a different interpretation of this style of an image by creative photographers who want to shoot fine art.

Searching for Inspiration

It’s always a good idea to start with a vision of how your final shots will look. A close study of the detail and texture of an object was the idea that I had in mind for this image. There’s a real trend in interior design right now for groups of artfully curated objects placed creatively on walls and it was this trend that I wanted to explore.

These images are also heavily inspired by the work of Edward Weston over the past few years, someone who has been inspiring me in my work for years.

Weston used photography to explore natural forms. He strived to capture details of the reality around him with real precision. Between 1927-30 he would shoot a portfolio of images based around peppers, shells, and cabbages. Through these images, Weston translated reality into something much more abstracted and Modernism-inspired.

Physalis - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

A trip to the supermarket was in the cards as a homage to Weston’s visionary images of food. I auditioned pomegranates, gnarly heirloom tomatoes, and unusually long, thin peppers. But it was finding a bag of physalis (sometimes also called ground cherries or Chinese Lanterns) on the top shelf that really stoked my imagination.

Shooting Techniques

Lighting is everything when it comes to creating close photographic studies of objects. I am lucky enough to have an east-facing bay window in my studio. Around about early afternoon, it has the most perfect light for shooting really natural looking fine art images. You could create similar images using any large window on a bright overcast day.

Place a background onto your shooting table first – I selected a faux-wooden finish – and then set your camera up on a tripod looking directly down at the table (use a spirit level here if you have one).

If you don’t have a tripod that can flip its central column and tilt it horizontally you’ll want to purchase an accessory arm in order to shoot flat lays. Getting the camera directly above the subject without the tripod’s legs getting in the way is crucial to this style.

Physalis bw triptych - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

Finding the Light

There’s a theory that humans read images in a similar way to how they read written text. For me, because English is my primary language, I read from left to right. That means when I shoot I almost always start with the light coming from the left and the shadows on the right as default.

This way your viewer would be reading the image from the light to dark in the same way that they would read a book. It should feel very natural and easy.

If the light isn’t right for the image then wait until later in the day or even another day altogether. Shooting with available light isn’t always the quickest process but it can be very rewarding. When you’re using available light always have black and white cards on hand to bounce or block the light. Just because it’s not coming from a studio light, doesn’t mean you can’t modify it.

Controlling the Camera, Creating Compositions

One of the best things about the Fuji range of cameras is the iPhone app that goes with them. Although the screen on some cameras, like my Fuji, tilt so that you can see what you’re shooting – when you’re set up for flat lay shots it can still be a little awkward. The app gets around this problem and allows you to see exactly what you’re doing in real time.

Physalis fuji app - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

When you’re shooting overhead flat lay images, a smart thing to do is to connect the phone and camera, start the app, and then place it on the table next to the arrangement of objects (but out of the shot). That way you can watch the scene as you move objects around to get the perfect composition before you push the shutter button.

It’s an extraordinarily useful feature to have the images transmit live so that you can watch them as you work. It really allows you to perfect your styling in a much shorter time than it might otherwise take.

Look for More Images

It was too easy to be content with the first flat lay group of physalis that I shot, but I knew that there were more images to be had of such a beautifully delicate subject. A physalis is quite small so I grabbed my old DSLR and its macro lens and begun the process all over again of finding a shot.

Changing lenses, especially if you shoot with primes, can really help you find another great image if you’re stuck for ideas or you think you’ve already got “the one.”

An even better image emerged – a single lone physalis still encased in its delicate shell! I shot this image by getting myself between the window and the shooting table and placing a black card behind the fruit.

Physalis05

The soft, beautiful light made the semitransparent physalis appear to glow and I knew at once I had shot an image I’d be happy to print large on my wall. Changing your perspective and getting down low or up high can also stimulate new ideas when it comes to shooting the same subject.

color or Black and White?

Physalis bw color - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

I once interviewed a great boudoir photographer who was very candid about why people spent money with her. She said it was because she gave them images that they couldn’t easily create at home – and she did that by color grading every image.

It is relatively easy nowadays with modern cameras and phones to get an image that’s in focus with colors which are true to life. Auto settings will get you pretty close most of the time. In that respect, it’s also much harder to make an image stand out from the crowd.

If everyone can shoot images that look like what’s in front of you then you need to go beyond image selection, focus, and composition to get a truly unique image.

Physalis color lightroom - How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane

On the color images of the physalis the saturation was dropped, and then blues were added to the shadows and a warm tan color to the highlights using the split toning panel in Lightroom.

For the black and whites, I experimented to find settings that created a deep contrast between the subject and the background, adding some clarity and darkening the shadows. For some of the images, the background texture was removed altogether by selectively decreasing the exposure, thereby referencing Edward Weston’s images that are usually shot on dark backgrounds.

Seeing Art Everywhere

With some practice, you can start to see potential in every object to become a subject for a piece of photographic fine art images. Many artists have preoccupied themselves with close studies of the world around them.

Edward Weston, the painters of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, even Michelangelo all produced bodies of work that reflected on reality and how best to translate that into art.

You don’t need expensive trips around the world to exotic places or whole teams of people to create fine art photography. You just need a keen eye, your camera, and your kitchen table.

The post How to Create Fine Art Images from the Mundane appeared first on Digital Photography School.