Creativity is an interesting beast. Many people talk about the “Aha” moment or the sudden strike of inspiration, but most artists I know don’t work this way. Almost every artist I admire starts with an idea, and massages that idea through many iterations until it reaches fruition.
For quite some time, Michael Rose (a close friend and incredible photographer), and I have been talking about photography and the ingredients for creativity. We, like many photographers before us believe that a good way to explore art and creative process is to learn from painters. Painters by nature of their craft have to produce their images so much more slowly than we do. They have to consider their light and recreate every specular highlight, every shadow. Whether the light is soft or hard, warm or cool, they need to consider that in every stroke of their painting.
Thus when we decided to study light and composition, we decided to start with a still life as a day project.
We started with some online research in Google. We found a painting that struck us and we decided to use it as the basis to start our project. The painting we selected was from an artist in Holland by the name of Jos Van Riswick from his Postcard from Holland series. We chose this painting:
We ran around town collecting the pieces. A trip to Whole Foods for some apples, the local Chinese grocery store for a suitable bowl, and a few other items here and there. We setup the scene and did some quick tests:
Upon completion of this phase, we looked at the other item’s we had picked up. We had a bottle of sparkling wine and a loaf of bread from Whole foods. We set up the scene with these additional items, but didn’t feel the composition was correct, so we made another trip to the Asian grocery store where they had some fresh grapes. Adding the grapes allowed us to create a pleasing composition with 3 distinct levels, a good triangle composition, and repetition in form and color.
Again, we started with a few test shots and slowly built our lighting one light at a time. Initially we played with the placement of the soft box and reflectors. Then we added a backdrop separation light, changed one element at a time. This process was probably 20 different iterations, each adding or modifying an element or light in the scene. Here are some of the first attempts:
Many iterations later, we figured out what we considered to be our best lighting. It involved 3 strobe units and a reflector. Even then, we could not get the bottle lit quite right, so we decided to do a composite where we lit the bottle separately.
Once we finished the final shots, we began the work in Lightroom to finish the image. A lot of clean up and dodging and burning was done, and much adjustment of proportions, color and contrast. Over all the entire image from conception to completion was a 5 hour project. with 203 test shots where different modifications were tested. After all was said and done, we ended up with this final image:
High fives and fist bumps! This image met our goal for the day’s project.
Both Michael and I learned a lot doing this still life, both about photography and also about the nature of creativity. The many iterations to take a photograph from concept and idea to final product taught us a lot about how we approach projects. We learned a lot from each other, as well as the project itself. Truth is, there was never an “Aha” moment in this project. Just many small victories that led to the ultimate realization of our shared vision. Many people may create in a different process, but for us, and most of the artists we know, the process of iteration has served us well.