Friday, February 22, 2013

Still Life with Mysterious Rock

“still life photography does not have to be of fruit and flowers!” says Photo Tuts+.
Continuing our tour of notable but mysterious rocks in the kitchen, we move next to several reminiscent of abstract sculptures.  They don't attract as much attention as the heavy green rock from the upper mantle.  Still, when visitors do see them, their bizarre forms always elicit comments:   “they were made by a volcano”, “they must be meteorite fragments”, “are these left over from D’s latest welding project?”, and so forth.
These rocks aren’t all that mysterious.  In fact, I know what they are.  Do you?  (tiles are 12” x 12”)
I’ve been reading about still-life photography, and was eager to try it.  My goal was to compose an artsy shot of the curious rocks, with typical still life objects of similar color and texture in the background.  These would be slightly out of focus.  The results were very clear in my head, but I didn’t quite get there.
Playing with perspective ... larger objects in distance, smaller object up close.
A large aperture is required for a shallow depth of field, so that only the rock in the foreground is in focus.  With my Canon Powershot A720 IS in Av mode, I chose the lowest value, f/2.8, i.e. largest aperture, and moved the auto-focus frame to center it on the rock in the bottom of the picture.  This is all quite doable with the Powershot, even for someone who hates reading instructions.  However I never could get the degree of blurring in the background that I wanted.  I need to figure out how to make the depth of field even more shallow, if that’s possible.

Turning to light:  “The soft, flat light produced when the sky is overcast and cloudy may be frustrating when shooting outdoors, but it’s perfect for shooting still lifes at home” according to Digital Camera World in a post on still life photography using window light.  With a snow storm outside, it was a good day to try it.
Every now and then the sun came out, changing the game.  With the window directly in front, objects are fully lit but that can be boring.  Side light provides a mix of light and shadow to play with.  Also, it’s easier to keep the photographer’s shadow out of the mix.
Supplemental light can be helpful or interesting.  An incandescent bulb added warmth -- interesting maybe, but I didn’t pursue it.
Light from a flash often gives a flat boring photo with unwanted highlights and reflections.  But not always.  Sometimes it works nicely, here revealing the interior of the old cup.
On to composition:  the “compositional element of your still life work is an absolutely crucial part of ensuring that your work is engaging” (Photo Tuts+).  This is good, as composition has always fascinated me and it’s something I play with naturally.  Shooting still lifes indoors allows for a lot of control in composition -- over color, pattern, texture, and light and shadow, as well as choice and arrangement of objects.  I found the grout lines to be useful additions.  They add interest without taking away from the subject, and can direct the eye of the viewer.
I like photos with something a bit different, unexpected.  Here’s a regular pattern but a rock is missing it seems.
Finally, post-processing (iPhoto):  I did some straightening when grout lines were unintentionally askew, and some cropping of course.  With the day’s light and somewhat-reflective tiles, I often had to reduce highlights.  I also lightened shadows a bit.

As always, I took lots of shots ... very easy as still lifes don’t move.
Old and rusty -- this is a hint!
As to the mysterious rocks -- here's one in situ, not yet weathered out ...
... and its home:
Where on Google Earth?  Right here (click photo for a better view):

UPDATE:  For more on the Navajo sandstone and iron concretions, see the sequel to this post:  The largest erg on earth ... ever!


  1. I like the top one. That does, I reckon, as a fascinating still life. I like the close-ups too. After all, I like natural patterns.

    As for light and stops and cameras . . . I find the best practice is to make sure at least one thing is in focus, then pretend that whatever the overall effect is -that's precisely what was intended. It works!

    1. very good advice, I like it! :-) thanks, Lucy.

  2. I like the combination of the rock and the everyday items.
    Sarah x

  3. Can't recall what it's called, but the rock looks like iron oxides/hydroxides concentrated in a small area, and cementing the sand/siltstone tight. Wikipedia has an entry for ironstone that looks about right.

    1. I think so! I call them "iron concretions" ... but more research needed before the sequel next week (hopefully). Thanks for the link.