The single-subject project is the first (technically 2nd, I guess) project my mentor, Craig Brown, assigned to me. The instructions were simple. Choose a single subject, small in size, and create 10 unique images of it. Sounds simple, right?
I said to my husband, “Go grab me something small from the shop to shoot.” What does he bring me? A large antique wrench and a pipe wrench! You call that small?! I glanced upward at my shelf and saw a little carved owl that I thought would make a great subject. But I had this idea that a shop thing would also make a great subject. So I texted him and said, “When you come in bring me something that fits in the palm of your hand.” Well, he took me pretty seriously and brought me some vaguely star-shaped tool he called a palm ratchet. Boring!
I think a part of me wanted to create something that my husband would appreciate. So I hummed and hawed over which item to use. Obviously, the unique little owl would be easy to shoot. However, I struggle with creating images of subjects I find boring. This becomes an issue when you are shooting for a client! I need, actually want, to be able to make unique and creative images of ANYTHING.
So, I decided to shoot both subjects side-by-side. Not in the same frame but everything I wanted to do with the owl, I would attempt to do with the ratchet. There are so many potential techniques, lighting schemes, and background choices you can make. I officially began my single subject project with a plan.
Over the course of a couple of days, I began a list of techniques that I wanted to try. I considered what was required to accomplish them and prepared what I needed. My husband cut spare floorboards we had leftover from renovating to create mini floors. I painted a variety of canvases to act as backdrops. Finally, I considered lighting schemes and where I could ideally build my working set.
Once all these things were in place, I began shooting. These are the complete final images for each, but I will do I side-by-side comparison of each image with a brief explanation of the technique.
Recently, I have been working on a Joel Grimes tutorial on creating Still Life images. Joel Grimes has a unique style that I rather enjoy. His process involves using Photoshop to create backgrounds and tones. These are my versions of his style. The week before I started I had been out shooting and captured the lovely sun coming through the trees and the factory. I felt they made a great background for the owl and the ratchet respectively.
One abstract technique that I really enjoy is ICM & Multiple Exposure. My Nikon Z6 Camera has the capability to create multiple exposure images in-camera. This worked for the owl but I had to create the multiple exposure image for the ratchet in Photoshop.
Another abstract technique is to use a manual zoom lens and a long exposure. You zoom in or out during exposure. This was my first attempt at this technique. I may not have attempted it for some time to come if not for this Single-Subject Project. I love how the owl looks like he sending his eyes out to see more. And the ratchet looks even more like a star.
Being largely a portrait photographer, you know portrait I’m making portraits! Just a little bit of moodiness for these guys!
An optical snoot is a gadget that allows you to use a lens to focus light through a template. I attached my 70-300 mm lens to it and used a GOBO (or, Go-Between Optic, which is a metal laser cut template) that shapes the light. Technically, the owl is a test shot I made testing where the light fell. It is shot with the optical snoot but no GOBO. On the other hand, the palm ratchet uses the blinds GOBO plus an additional coloured light.
I don’t actually have a macro lens. In order to create macro images, I detach my 35 mm from my camera body and flip it around. Holding it to the camera body I have to adjust my hand position in relation to the subject until part of it comes into focus. I love the soft effect it has.
Certainly we need monochrome versions! These two images combine black and white with another technique. I love the film noir version of the owl and the macro monochrome of the palm ratchet is interesting.
Both of these images are shot on the same background. Are you surprised? I wanted to make something red and blue and swirly. The owl’s background is lit with an LED panel to give it that glow. The palm ratchet lays directly on the canvas. Both are shot with a spotlight template (GOBO) in my optical snoot. Creative portraits allow you to do things you generally wouldn’t. It’s about the concept, not reality.
The Pep Ventosa Technique involves taking multiple images of a subject (either slightly shifting the subject or slightly moving around the subject) and then combining the layers in a program like Photoshop. You then play with the layer types and opacities to achieve a look that you like. If you’d like to learn more about this technique, this is the source I consulted: https://www.leavesnbloom.com/2017/04/pep-ventosa-photography-technique.html.
For these images I wanted to incorporate light from behind the subject. Initially, I thought I would aim for silhouettes on both. The shape of the yellow light behind the owl reminding of an open door with light spilling out. Because of this, I incorporated an image of a gingerbread house my daughter built at Christmas. The shape of the ratchet, on the other hand, lent itself well to silhouette.
I learned a great deal during this project. Some of these lessons were practical and some were more profound.
Not all subjects are created equal.
What works for one does not always work for another. For example, the super cool film noir look worked for the owl but was confusing on the owl.
The elements you include for one image can really change the story. What if I swapped the backgrounds in the Still Life images? What story would that tell? It would likely feel a bit jarring.
Even if it is a loose one, it helps give you a plan of attack. Writing down the techniques I wanted to try helped to keep me on task. I knew I could adapt or change plans if I needed, but the plan is a great starting place.
I am my own limit.
My belief that the palm ratchet was boring held me back. Forcing myself to approach it as I would a subject that interested me helped me see that a seemingly boring subject can create some fantastic and unique images. I’m prouder of the ratchet images because they stretched my mind and my skills.
Which images were your favourite? I’d love to hear!
Interested in working with me or buy prints? Reach out to me: Contact Me