The Dutch masters, such a Vermeer (Girl with a Pearl Earring) and Van Utrecht or Claesz (pictured above and below) had the most incredible understanding of light and shadows. Painting at a time when 1) the Calvinists had banned many forms of religious art, and 2) painting was more widely available to the mercantile classes and not just the wealthy few as before, artists could take their inspiration from a wider variety of subjects. It’s no wonder that the period is known for, then, its proliferation of genres.

As a photographer, the study of light and the absence of light is crucial. A portrait’s feeling can be adjusted simply by shifting the key light slightly up or down, changing the shadows on the face. Experimenting with Still Life allows a photographer to play with light in a controlled environment.


I spent a while conceiving the above image. (And waiting for my roses, to die. That sounds awful, I know) I wanted to create a still life image that nodded to the traditional Dutch subject matter and symbolism, but had a contemporary feel. I used my fixed 135L f2 lens, at f2.2 as I trust this lens above all others for bringing some magic to a scene. I shot a medium ISO, which allowed me to shoot handheld as I didn’t have to worry about slow shutter speeds with my wide aperture. It’s no coincidence that the seasons were changing at the time of this photo – the decaying roses hinting at the end of autumn.

Lighting was the main concern: I used natural light, reflectors and flags to carefully direct side light onto the scene.

I’m looking forward to playing with some more traditional fruit scenes in the future (although I think I might be a bit too squeamish for the classic dead poultry/fish style images).

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