Masterclass :: Exposure Control

Assignment: Still Life

“Using as few or as many light sources as you wish, create an atmospheric still life.  Experiment with the arrangement of every element in the composition, from the objects themselves to the background and foreground, until you find the best picture possible.  Control the lighting and shade meticulously so that no manipulation of tone, color, or object is later needed.  Try various exposure settings to learn the effect on tonality of varying the placement of  midtones.”

— from Digital Photography Masterclass by Tom Ang


Here is my best photo from the shoot, using careful arrangement of the orange, lemon, tomatoes, and plant leaves.  I chose diffuse side lighting, shot at a 100mm focal length from about 3 feet away, fairly level with the subject.  There is no manipulation of  tone or color.

Commentary / Learnings

For this assignment from Tutorial 2 :: Mastering Your Camera :: Exposure Control, I took photos in our home of an arrangement of a sliced orange, a sliced lemon, and some cherry tomatoes, with a background of green plant leaves.  Some observations that may help you in doing this assignment:

  • Composition – I experimented with other objects and arrangements, including adding an apple and two colors of grapes on a teal plate, adding a glass of water and a vase of flowers, using my wife’s scarves draped about the plate and background —  but this made the frame larger and the background more difficult to control.   It also seemed more cluttered.  Simpler is better.
  • Viewpoint – I varied the viewpoints by using lens lengths from 18mm to 200 mm, and by shooting level with the fruit as well as from about 18″ higher.  The chosen viewpoint makes the viewer feel intimate with the fruit, but not too!
  • Lighting – Varying the light had the most dramatic effect.  In direct sunlight, lit from the side, highlights and shadows were much more pronounced.  The exposure range made it difficult to avoid blowing out the highlights and yet still not go to complete black in the shadows.  This soft lighting gave the fruit the sensuous look I was after.
  • Camera Setup – All shots were from a tripod.  This allows you to take a shot, view it in the LCD monitor of the camera, evaluate the objects and make small adjustments to the objects and placement within the frame, while keeping the frame and exposure constant.
  • Exposure – All exposures were manual, using spot metering, the final aperture at f/11.  You’ll want to check highlights and histogram after each shot.
  • Time –  to set up, shoot, and put away, 2 hours

Other Tips

If you’re  going to do a lot more still life photography, you’ll want to make life easier by getting set up with the following:

  • dedicate a room to it that has a direct exposure to the sun, with a light white curtain to diffuse the light.
  • have small tables or platforms that can be adjusted in height.
  • have something to create and hold different background cards or curtains.
  • have some modeling clay and toothpicks handy, which can be used to hold objects in place in the composition.
  • have at least two lights and light stands.

5 thoughts on “Masterclass :: Exposure Control

  1. Very nice. Makes me think of late summer–abundance. It’s amazing how long one can spend taking a picture of a lemon.

    Last night I spent over an hour trying to get a good picture of my computer, my favorite hat, my notebook and my video camera. The pic is for the header on my blog.

    I’ll pass this blog along to my friend Wes.


  2. I’m ready to squeeze the lemon on salmon and toss the tomatoes in a salad. Such intensity and clarity in photo and words. I sense your presence.


  3. What a lovely photo. The fruit is lucious; you can almost taste the lemon when you look at the photo. And, the colour of the tomatoes against the yellow and the deep green is striking.


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