Still Life Experiments – Four Elements and Earth

For my second approach to still life practice,  I decided to experiment with creating together different coloured backgrounds using paper materials following my observations of Aaron Tilley’s still life works.  The second element I am focusing on in this experiment is ‘Earth’ in which I have chosen to use sand to represent this natural form.  Once again, my intention is to create a simplistic style to the imagery where I bring contrast between opaque space and a textured item.

For the the set up for this experiment, I used two separate sheets of coloured card to lay out the backdrop with the card laid down flat slightly raised to avoid noticeable gaps between the two sheets.  I then placed a small pile of sand upon its surface. I used a shlow exposure time to capture the subject matter in ambient lighting conditions.

Contact Sheets

Post Production: Photoshop

During the post production process, I used curves to enhance the contrast and clarity in the image as well as using the spot healing tool to erase any unwanted marks.  as some grains of the sand were out of focus, creating multiple blurred dots in the image. This adjustment gave the image appear cleaner look and improved the overall definition.

I also used the colour balance tool on some images to present the hues of the surfaces to a more even standard.  For example, one of the images featuring a yellow card as part of the background made the image appear too bright and so this colour needed to be decreased slightly to better distinguish the different tones of colour between the card sheets.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 17.21.59

I also adjusted the brightness/contrast in the image to have the images appear more striking in terms of light.  However, this needed to be carefully balanced to avoid overexposing the sand pile.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 16.54.36


I found the best images from the experiment were the settings using pastel paper backgrounds as these were not too harsh in colour but still gave a nice, striking appearance that worked well with the sand.


For this background test, I chose to partner the colours beige and peach pink.  This works well as the beige colour of the bottom surface actually matches the hues of the sand while the pink backdrop compliments these aspects with a deeper colour.  This image gives a strawberry and cream feel to it and is one of the best images that brings similar colours together.


This image presents the colours beige and sky blue together for the background.  I used a slightly higher exposure for this image and once again, the ‘mint’ colours compliment each other well.  Using the blue card as the backdrop gives the image a colder appearance that, together with the beige card, gives reference to a beach environment with the beige card representing the sand and the blue card representing the sky.


This image is slightly weaker than the other two in this three piece set as there is no colour contrast between the foreground and the background.  However, I intended to see how beige would work with no colour and discovered that lighter colours appear better against a deeper colour.  The image still sits nicely with the other two as there is still a difference in tonal value that matches the pastel colours seen in the other images.


In other tests, I also tried using different colours against a white card backdrop.  I found colder colours suited each other better.  This image features blue as the forefront card surface.  This image is strong as the exposure is well established and the detail of the sand is well defined.


As well as using white against coloured backgrounds, I also experimented with bringing bold coloured backgrounds together.  This image brings green and yellow into the background.  I think as both colours are rather warm, they compliment each other to an extent, however, there is a slight lack of contrast between the two.  The colours in this image could almost reference plantation as it gives a tropical appearance that is fresh and natural.


In conclusion, I have found this experiment with the element ‘Earth’ an interesting process to manage as this enabled me to continuously change the appearance of the scene and think about how to match the background with the main subject matter.  Once again, this was an experiment to seek another method of photographing still life, despite this, there needs to be more progression in narrative as this is something that it strongly lacks. There also could have been more experimentation with movement in this series, however it does bring a clean, focused quality that brings a commercial feel to it.

My next step now is to experiment in the studio using a plain white background in which I intend to construct more narrative within the imagery.


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