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Tuesday, 20 March 2018


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Shut off your computer(s), tablet, phone, and whatever else ties you to TOP for a week or two and get better!!! Sit, stay.

Yes to all of the above.
My first real photography Job, (after teaching for a while at NY Institute of Photography which back in the daybed an actual building with studios etc, was for a 'general advertising photographer. We did everything from location shoots of people or products, to high end 8x10 pour shots to Aspirin bottles & Scissors (want to learn lighting in a hurry try lighting a table full of mirror finished scissors)
But to this day I can't help but notice naturally arranged objects and have to stop and make a picture.
I have a book of Penn still life pictures that is a great joy to look at, but Penn was in another league entirely.

There is a wonderful Frederick Sommer quote which I will roughly paraphrase as "If you have a number of small objects in your hand and you simply let them fall, you will notice that they arrange themselves in ways that we could not duplicate given any amount of time"
I've done a series of found arrangements based on that quote.
I have also been documenting old tools that have come down to me from family members who were craftsmen of various sorts. Some of these old tools are incredibly beautiful.
It is a kind of photography that I come back to again and again.

Well, I'm cracking myself up. I'd never really considered that I enjoy still life photography (of the found variety). What I've called it is "happy snapping." But after reading your article, well..heck, I feel like I owe you one. It also helps explain why I like a standard prime so much (I think), but it's a kind of photography I do on walk-about and that kind of thing. Even inside my own home, which is the photo here. The doll was made by a grandmother in Sierra Leone, the fabric is wrapped on a tomato paste can and she sells these to help pay for her granddaughter to go to school, it's not free like it is here (USA). I suppose it is nice when there is a story to go with the photo.

I am happy to answer. Watch your health though.

I wanted a camera that was both small enough to carry around and good enough to produce photographs of the quality I wanted. After a few mis-steps and mistakes I settled on a Fuji X100s, and that has proved to be able to take just about anything I want except portraits

I can even take portraits as long as they are portraits with the subject not taking up too much of the frame.

The 35mm-equivalent lens has become the lens that I love most of all. I know that is so because it's the lens that I use on a camera I have been shooting with for several years now - since 2014.

I think of a longer lens sometimes, and in my mind's eye I frame a shot and then realise I am 'seeing' it with the breadth that the 35mm offers - and that anything tighter wouldn't do.

I think the answer for me would be a super-mega-pixel verson of my camera, so that I could crop a small part when I wanted, and still get a printable image.

I, like you, prefer the "found" variety. And then, on reflection, realised that is what I like in my portraiture, too, the "found" candid shot. Two sides of the same coin, I suppose.
That goes equally well for my shooting as for those I like by others.

Very much in the found category & whatever lens is to hand.

This one, from a night at a bar in Madison, WI, remains my favorite. It was one of the few photos I ever printed and hung in my house. Even had made a couple of prints when asked for them by friends.

Canon T90 & 50/1.4 SSC chrome nose. A beautiful combination that still tempts me to buy it again and several bulk rolls of Tri-X... With a 28 & a 85... Yum!

EOS? What's that? :D

Sorry Mike, I measured wrong, I think it's too big.

Take it easy Mike... perhaps post some candid iphone portraits. It doesn't have be Susan Sontag's "On Photography" *every* week....

The constructed still life, whether one item or twenty, is without a doubt my favorite kind of still life. For me, it's not just the artistic challenge of composing and lighting the scene, but it's also the technical challenge of managing the tone curve--both in-camera and in-computer. It's very much a mind game, and there are still life photographs I've been working on for years in my head, pondering and wondering and worrying away at them until I'm drifting off to sleep and snap awake with the realization it can be done. Sometimes I'm even right. Sometimes I even get it 100% right first exposure.

And, of course, there's also a curatorial aspect of creating a still life. What you make can mean more than what you find ever will.

The found still life, whether a single item or twenty, is without a doubt my favorite kind of still life. For me, it's not just the artistic challenge of framing the shot and managing the available light, it's also the technical challenge of getting razor-sharp results exposed how I want in conditions that are nightmarish in terms of working space, safety, and light. It's very much a mind game, and there are still life photographs I've been imagining for years in my head, carefully running through the same shot with a thousand different variables tweaked one by one until I drift off to sleep. Sometimes I see them in dreamland. Sometimes I see them out here.

And, of course, there's also the serendipity of it. What you find can speak with a wild tone you could never create.

Some of my photography could be considered still life but it is always in the 'found' category. It really would not interest me to construct a still life. These are things that I am taken be surprise by, so as a consequence it is taken with what ever is to hand (if it is suitable of course) Here is an example of a found still life. On this particular day I was concentrating on birds in flight. This was the last thing I expected to take a photograph of!

Both ! Found and Constructed.
Finding a compelling composition in plein-air is one of goals and great pleasures of photography. One looks for that natural arrangement. Then one moves in, moves out, chooses a longer or shorter focal length to extract the strong composition from the chaos of nature. Perhaps you wait for the light to improve!

Constructing a still life is completely different. One starts with a few items as subject matter, but the canvas is blank. How to arrange and how to light the objects? What to use for a background? The choices seem infinite. Finally, the careful positioning and repositioning of each item until the composition is just right.

When finding the still life, I hope for magic. When constructing the still life, I work for perfection.

Could one of you erudite gentlemen tell me the difference between a candid and a snapshot?

This is not a smart alec question, I'd really like to know. Every whatever has it's own argot or jargon. My background is Hollywood. I've never heard a movie director or an agency art director ask for a candid.

I have been using a Olympus 12-40 Pro, I find it to be tremendous, it focuses really close and and produces great results, if I do everything correctly

Yep, found still life for me. I've never had the patience to set something up to photograph - and if I try, it inevitably looks stilted somehow.

But, having said that, does "still life" imply some specific tabletop scale? Because if so I go wider, and narrower. I'll consider anything from macro up to landscape if there are interesting patterns, shapes, textures to be had...

Regarding the last, there are two basic kinds—constructed and found.

Sorry that this example — https://www.flickr.com/photos/chriskernpix/40220388084/in/datetaken-public/ — doesn't meet your long-edge restriction for an inline linked image, but I wanted to illustrate my point that I believe there is a third category: constructed by someone else for non-photographic purposes.

My wife constantly creates little dioramas around our house with various objects she has purchased for another purpose or acquired just because their appearance appeals to her. She does this just as an esthetic exercise, with no regard to whether anyone else will even notice.

It often takes me a while to realize how interesting these are, and pull out a camera to photograph them.

These typically are epiphenomena. They will exist on a table or counter or windowsill for a day or a week or a month, then suddenly disappear. She never reconstitutes them in exactly the same way, so if they're worth shooting, I need to be alert to the opportunity and seize it while I can.

This is in regard to the prior post before this one.

Mike. Your health is mission number one. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!
So no apologies. Just take care of yourself.


I don't think of myself as a 'still life' photographer but I do photograph things that I suppose fall into that category. I usually think of them as 'details' if found and arrangements if, well... arranged. One form of arrangement I have played with is to make a box of black foam core that is several inches deep and fits over the glass on my scanner. I then place/arrange objects on the glass, set my black box over them and 'photograph' them with the scanner. https://scontent-ort2-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/12032177_10153613012769544_2691154380716967340_n.jpg?_nc_cat=0&oh=217303c1c0f64728dacc3b2b81d669d7&oe=5B27316B

As with other subject matter, the answer to this is that what I like to look at and what I like to do aren't necessarily the same. I appreciate constructed still lifes (the plural is weird) - I even thought about trying to emulate Walter Wick "Eye Spy" type shots with my daughter's toys at one time. But I never did and I don't often construct anything - I don't like to pose people or arrange objects. It's not out of some misguided notion that one way of shooting is somehow superior to another, but a recognition of what I enjoy about photography. And that is the search for scenes, moments, subjects that beg to be photographed ! Things I see that I want you to see, too, or that I want to remember. The result is a photograph whose "interestingness" sometimes depends on context - on the knowledge that what you're seeing is a representation of something I actually saw; something serendipitous, not something constructed.
Honestly, I wouldn't even know what to construct to make a good image. I don't have the artist's drive to create something. But I love seeing cool sights and I love that the more I photograph, the more I train myself to see cool sights.

Found. 40-60 mm equiv.

I do both. Prefer found objects, but if I have the time I also like to use at least good lights (especially in the evenings when I'm back home), like in this 'Dying flowers and a bass guitar' from this year:

So how did the appointment with the cardiologist go, Mike? I'm sure there are others who'd like to know, too.


Of the many, many identifiable genres of photography (I'm sure there are more than you think...
This would be the Rule 34 of photography?

More than once, when a constructed still life that has won an award is shown at my photo club, someone has said 'anyone could have taken that'. Of course it is always someone who has never tried it. It's one of the hardest genres to master. I have a go every now and then but I am always disappointed in my results.

I just finished reading Kirk Tuck's current post about how trying different things kills you off as a photographer. Means you have no vision, apparently. So your article and Kirk's stand in opposition, which is interesting.

Don't worry, just get better. Take the time you need. I'll be interested to hear if your two doctors agree. We are of similar age so I "feel ya".

I always thought that one of the best at this theme/topic was and still is Olivia Parker. I am quite surprised her name did not show up in your comments. The phrase "Found or Constructed" for still life's truly fits her life long work, please do a search and you will find many great examples and I wish I can find one of her books I once owned but it appears it has been loaned or misplaced many years ago, a shame.

You need to do what you need to do to recover Mike. Unfortunately we are not the masters of our bodies and they pick the most inconvenient times to remind us.
That said I am a fand of still life photography, both found and constructed. One of my favorites. 500px.com/photo/222700633/rope-by-terry-letton?c
It probably is a little of both, I found it as you see it but it was not just random rope caught in a fence, someone deliberately constructed it there as a bit of public art.

Really, Mike, ye are the limit. Just had a cardiac related procedure and back to blogging, inviting / responding to comments even as further check-ups await you. Take your foot off the gas, switch off the engine, listen to Bach, read old back issues of Modern or Pop Photo - remember Jason Schneider? 'Keppler on the SLR'? - and let Butters lie around near your slippers. Just TAKE YOUR FINGERS OFF THE KEYBOARDS. By way of encouragement, I volunteer that when I was sixty-six (four years back), an ulcer I didn't even know I had, burst. I lost so much blood that I had a cardiac issue and a mild stroke. I did something along the above lines (read 'Bingo' for 'Butters') and two months later I went on a hectic trip to the Deep South (Kerala and Tamil Nadu, took in the Kanniyakumari sunset) armed with an Olympus E-pl5, two lenses and the trusty RX100. Got some nice shots, too.
Rest, let Nature heal you after the docs have done their bit and settle down to another few decades of running TOP. Please.

Found, taken with whatever is at hand.

I bought my first SLR in college, a Mamiya Sekor 1000TL. So excited. But what to photograph? I still remember shooting some sand dollars on a wet redwood bench, and the photograph that resulted.

The best thing about still lifes (autocorrect wants "lives", grrr) is that they are all around us and looking for them trains us to see. And they illustrate well and allow us to practice all the principles of composition, slowly and contemplatively if necessary.

mostly found, as that is easier. Camera? Sony AR7II with a Voigtlander macro 65 or 125.

Created still life is a lot of work.



Your health first, that’s all that matters! Take care and listen to the Doctors!

My experience in photography has mostly been news, sports and reportage, so even when I shoot a still life I'm still in that mode.

Also, I'm lazy. Setting up a still life seems like more work than looking for one!

And you know, I just like finding those "accidental paintings" that life will bring us. I've described my work as "sharing cool stuff I see in the world," and still lifes (stills life?) are no no different.

There's a thrill when you come across something that looks so right.

I was at my mom's and saw this and thought, "take that, Edward Weston!"

pepper aug07

I'm another person who leans towards found still life, everyday types of assortments like this...

But sometimes I clean up all the clutter around a found shot to make it more presentable.

I enjoy "found" especially food in restaurants! (I arranged the fork but the plates are as the server placed them.)

My 50mm macro is always on my camera as a general purpose lens plus closeup (mostly flowers).

Best of good health!

Richard Jones

I think the “found vs. constructed” dichotomy is pervasive in the arts.
See also windows vs. mirrors el al.

Hi Mike
¿Isn't William Eggleston one of the greatest found still life photographers of all time?

Cheers Paul

This post neatly solves a problem I have been dealing with. It's not that I need to have a label for the type of photography that I do, but I do need an identifiable path to walk along as a photographer. While I am drawn to landscape photography, I am not 100% comfortable as a practitioner. The same goes for Architecture. After reading this post I understand that photographing found objects is what tickles my interest. Trees, buildings, hills, clouds. Now I can add to that sticks, fruits, doors and other objects I find along the way.

Found Still Life Photographer. That's a nice little path to walk along, and I will be deviating from it often ;)

Dear Mike,
Get well first. We can wait, especially since we are waiting for something good. :-)

All the best.

I enjoy both found and constructed.
Here’s a found sample

The Jim Bullard scanner photo immediately brought to mind several Jan Brueghel (the elder) flower paintings -- not that they're the same, but they have the same kind of elegance.

Even found still lifes strike me as a contrivance, at least when I do it. The process of lens choice, viewpoint, framing and all that other composition stuff works well when I'm photographing people, portraits and moments. The constant flux of movement and interaction happening beyond my control creates surprising and welcome visual ideas.
I like to think that I'm finding a moment of stillness when I photograph this brief glimpse of someone's life. Does that qualify as still life?
I know it doesn't but I'm sticking to it.
Here's an example from a recent magazine assignment about an over-sixties ballet class:

Found, definitely, although I find myself arranging "camera porn" scenarios for another forum from time to time. Here's a genuinely found object, and not just by me:

These are the boots of a herring fisherman in a small cove in Iceland. Both he and the herring left for Norway sometime in the 1920s, closing up his loft behind him. Neither returned. The loft was only opened a few years ago, when a resident opened a small cafe in the downstairs of the building and discovered what had been left, untouched, upstairs.

Keep Calm and Carry On (but slowly!).

I like to construct images, not in the darkroom or computer but in real life, to grab the image with the camera. Since I have little time to go and find images in the city or in the wild, constructing images is nice and relaxing, specially now that I'm in my late sixties. Here is an example of a still life construction. It started from an impulse to copy one of Edward Weston nautilus photographs. Since I don't like just copying I spent a couple of hours doing different arrangements, until I placed a rose inside the shell and saw a potential image. Carefully moving the petals I arrived to this alien face.

Image in comments:

Recently I have been experimenting with constructing landscapes. (sort of) Here is an image I took while visiting a friend's new country house on the mountains of central Chile. I was observing the clouds forming over the horizon while I was holding a twig in mi hand. I raised the twig and figured out the image, so I asked my wife to hold the twig for me, and I made the image. Very fun. The Japanese photographer Masao Yamamoto have some images of clouds as if they were flowers.

Image in comments:

Hey Mike , wishing you a speedy recovery. I recall a nice still life you photographed of a fork in your kitchen when you were possibly testing a lens? Black and white image with great shadows. One of the images that I remember well from TOP as I wish I had taken it. I think you used your nex so it was a while ago. Relax and get better first before working .

Mike, it's advisable to disable and/or shut off your keyboard. Typing puts pressure and strain on your arm and your body, something you should avoid.
You know enough people who I'm sure will fill in for you for a while...contact them.
Also, in a past posting I mentioned getting out there and shoveling snow----I hope you realize I was just kidding.
SHUT IT DOWN FOR A WHILE, your readers will still be here.

Mike wrote, "Constructed still life ranges all the way from creating amazing ephemeral artwork just for the camera, to the happy activity of arranging objects to be photographed ... "

Wikipedia tells us in part, "Following from the computer age with computer art and digital art, the notion of the still life has also included digital technology. Computer-generated graphics have potentially increased the techniques available to still-life artists." and includes an example.

I was once in charge of soliciting theme ideas for my photo club's competitions. Someone suggested "nature morte". So with my sophomoric French, I thought that meant photos of dead fish, roadkill, dried up flowers and such.

I often find myself thinking of some of my street photography images as something akin to a museum diorama. A diorama seems to fall within your definition of still life: "... objects and their settings in the course of ordinary life". Here's an example:

I always wondered where did Irving Penn found those frozen vegetables. Maybe in a field in Poland, mid January?

I like beer, I like making images of my beers.
X-T2 & 60mm



I call them "droppings" and when I am out and about with my wife, sometimes she points one or two out.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I do not have a place on the web to link to so I can not show my found stuff.

As for the doctor, do what they tell you to do. The alternative could last for a long time if you get my drift. Sit back and marvel at where you are, where you came from and where you want to go. Your discussion with Steven Hawking can wait for a few more years.

I have never liked 'constructed' images unless they are done with real imagination. Searching for 'found' images is the love of my life, still life or otherwise. It's like a voyage of exploration.

I much prefer “found” especially with an iPhone, although lighting is a challenge. I found this tiller wheel and ball of twine in a friends old barn in west North Carolina...

img src=https://www.instagram.com/p/BbhEI1olkvxXbMTS4oAzYt2f8dxOWa4tK3_noE0/?taken-by=tennjed130

I’ve long wondered why it’s called “still life”, anybody know?

@Jamie Pillers: eye opener! Street photography images regarded as something akin to museum diorama's. Isn't that what we do in photography, still life as it were, freeze the moment (no pun), to see it all the better? Made me immediately think of one of my recent pictures of late winter ice on the Dutch city canals, totally in the 'found' category:

Your question has had me pondering all night.

I love both found and constructed! When found, it's any camera and lens with me at the time. When constructed, I like either a 35mm macro or 100mm portrait, but I also will use a good zoom.

I never thought of it that way before, that most of my photography is of the constructed kind. Although, when out and about, I am constantly "seeing" the found. Some of which I then re-construct later if I can or if not, I try to photograph it right then, if possible. I never called them stil lifes though. If I construct, I just call them 'setups'.

Confuses my sister-in-law as she is always asking me how I come up with my ideas, but to me, it's something that's just normal.

The only way I can explain it is it's like a double-vision thing. I'm constantly seeing the world in a normal 'view' and laid on top of that is a second 'vision' of how something looks if photographed, painted or crafted.

When I'm shopping, I am always looking at items and thinking of how they might be used in either my photography as 'props' or crafting plans.

My pet photos, my work with miniatures, even some of my astrophotography is planned (constructed). I can't move trees but I will move my tripod until I get the image that is in my head.

Someone else wrote that their wife makes little setups around the house. I do too. They may last for only a few hours or sometimes they can last for months. But I always photograph them.

I've taken to carrying a small notebook with me at all times because if I come across something I like or have an idea for, if it can't be photographed at that time, I write it down or make a small sketch to try and recreate it later.

One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs. He said: "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while."

Now I know I'm not as weird as I once thought. That can be either comforting or disappointing or disturbing, not sure yet which...LOL.

Thanks Mike, for making me spend time in thought.
Take your time getting better. Your blog is a treasure we don't want to lose.

99% of my photography are images of found scenes, which could be called still life or urban landscape, or whatever term one might prefer.

A few days ago I was working on pulling a rotten railroad tie out of the ground in my backyard, upon a glimpse of a small area on that piece of junk, for a few seconds I thought I was in a very different place. (So I had to run inside to grab my camera …)

Image in comments: https://www.flickr.com/photos/153336718@N02/27089324668/sizes/c/”>

Lens: Olympus Zuiko 35 mm Macro & 43/m43 adapter
Camera: Olympus E-M1

Mike, get well soon.

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