Photographing Everyday Objects
Photographing Everyday Objects. This article addresses one of my favorite topics, how to see the ordinary in a new way. It also skirts around the subject of abstraction and aesthetics and gives a passing nod to lighting and composition.
As I’ve mentioned often I do the photography for my wife’s blog, Minimalist Cook. The process is pretty straight forward, she tells me when she’ll need photographs taking, and I appear and snap away. I then put the best, or potentially most useful of the shots on Flickr and she selects one or two to use with her story. The image below is a fairly typical preparation type shot.
This is a fairly typical textbook food shot. Clean, no harsh shadows and no ambiguity. The lighting is flash diffused and bounced off the ceiling with a little daylight. Flash predominates though, as the position of the shadows shows.
I like this shot because I managed to time the shot to catch the cut piece in mid air.
The requests are usually for photographs of things that are in themselves considered aesthetically pleasing such as fruit, vegetables, baked goods straight out of thew oven or a well prepared and presented meal. My job is the relatively simple one of making sure the lighting and composition are good. Occasionally she sets me a more interesting task such as this one, a photograph of almost empty ketchup and mustard plastic bottles. These are items that would not be considered objects of beauty by any stretch of the imagination… at least not to any normal sane human being that is.
To a photographer though, things are a little different, nearly empty sauce bottles are made up of things that do interesting stuff to light. The transparent plastic not only allows light through but it also reflects and diffuses some of it and the liquidy remnants of the ketchup provides a surface that is almost entirely reflective. It really does get to the point where the bottles are no longer seen as rather icky objects ready for nothing other than a rinse and the recycling bin but rather objects that have really interesting properties.To me, this is when things get good, when I start to forget what an object is, or what it does and start to think of it in these much more abstract terms.
This photograph focuses on several things, the patterns made by the gunk that is stuck to the sides of the bottle the reflective quality of the remnants of the ketchup and the play of light, especially towards the top of the two bottles towards the right. I usually try to full compose the image in camera and avoid cropping on the computer. This is an exception though. The cropping really tightened up the composition and made the bottles less recognizable by losing some of their outline. This enables the viewer to see the image in terms of tone and composition and not get hung up on the fact that these look like the results of the annual fridge de-biohazarding. This is really how the abstraction process starts – take it further and the objects identities get lost altogether.
This image is all about composition and light. The light is obviously coming from the glass in the door directly behind the plastic bottles and pooling on the surface that they are set on (a card table). The really interesting thing, to me at any rate, is what happens in the bottles between the window and the pool of light on the card table. The bottles almost seem to be their own light source.
This lighting makes the composition in my opinion. Other things that help are the echoing of the three bottles by the three panes of glass and the indistinct building in the background. It is also a very simple composition without any confusing detail in the shadows.
This photograph was shot for fun. By shooting from below the height of the bottles it is possible to take advantage of something called converging verticals. This is not a disease but what happens to upright lines if the camera is tilted upwards. It is generally considered a bad thing in photography but like most bad things in photography it can be turned to advantage. This converging lines combined with the back lighting give a gothic feel to the image. Bet you didn’t know that sauce bottles could look so intimidating!
Photographing everyday type objects in a way that catches the viewer’s attention can be done but it requires a different approach. Without getting too philosophical or arty the object has to be deconstructed, its function forgotten and its physical form reduced to simple geometry and surface properties. Once this is done the distinction between interesting object and mundane object disappears. All objects are potentially interesting. The only reason that we think of some objects as mundane or everyday is that our brain has tagged them this way to save itself the unnecessary work of having to see them anew every time they come into our field of vision. We tend to forget that we have the power to, in effect, untag these objects and bring them back into the realm of the interesting.