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$4 plus 4 Props! (And some Photo Tips)

Sometimes you’re shooting a photograph to show multiple elements, and other times you’re stripping it down to something like a single piece of fruit. It’s fun to gather a small number of props and challenge yourself to find different ways of styling and photographing with them.

Today’s challenge for The Daily Artisan involved $4 and 4 props!

Here’s a look behind the curtain for the finished photographs, as well as some related photo tips.

To start, yesterday I was in Publix for groceries, and as I passed by the floral department, I could’t help but take a quick look (not intending to buy). There were lots of brightly-colored flowers in full bloom, and on first glance, these stunners certainly would make beautiful photographs.

But what really caught my eye was quietly tucked away behind those stage-stealing flowers.

It was a small set of seven mini-carnation buds that were completely unopened (the below photo is a later shot). They were cream and soft-green colored, until I got closer … and then closer … and saw that just inside the ruffled petals – and waiting to bloom – was a beautiful purplish-red fuchsia almost hidden from view (and the store’s other shoppers).

The closer I got to them, the prettier they became in their subtle showing of what was to come. I could only imagine how even more beautiful they would be when they began to bloom – and … so, of course … I brought them home with me for the whopping price of $4!

During the rest of yesterday and then this morning, the carnations began to slightly bloom. And, the way their subtle creams and greens met the emerging vivid fuchsias made them all the more intriguing. I wanted to photograph them at some point between closed bud and fully opened flower, and this afternoon the time was right!

For the challenge, I gave myself the guideline that I could use a total of four props, including the flowers. Rummaging around the house, I selected as the other props (1) a cream-colored, olive oil cruet from Italy; (2) a cream-colored, cloth napkin; and (3) a wrinkled piece of fuchsia ribbon.

Game on.

My natural light coming through the windows was good; the mini-carnations were slowly getting prettier by the minute; and my mind was coming up with ways to style scenes for a variety of photo looks. Here are some of the finished photographs, accompanied by tips about a particular prop or photo use.

1. Composing Your Image, and A Standard Shot

For this first photograph and tip, always remember to take a straight-on, in-focus (non-macro) picture of your subject. I sometimes get so caught up in shooting stylized photos, for example with intentional (macro) blurring, that afterwards I’ll realize that I didn’t take a basic photograph.

You don’t have to use all your props in every photo, either. In this one, I’ve used the flowers, cruet and napkin – but not the fuchsia ribbon. Notice I’ve draped the napkin to one side to give it a pleasing look that’s not 50/50 symmetrical. The shot is cropped more tightly on the left, with the cruet of flowers placed off-center in the photo.

2. Sharp vs Blur for Interest

Here, I’ve intentionally blurred parts of the photo with a macro lens, and kept the foreground flowers sharp and crisply in focus.

The contrast of sharp and blur always interests me in photographs.

Also, note the angle from which the picture was shot – not straight on but rather in a downward angle.

3. Compare the Two Images

Compare these two photos. The one on the left is far more pleasing to the eye due to how the flowers better fill the space, and also because of the subtle presence of the cruet in the lower left corner.

The photograph on the right uses the same sharp at the front – blurred at the back – approach, but the image seems to be lost in the space, and not in a good way. It’s also missing the element of interest with the cruet.

4. Don’t Forget Both Horizontal and Vertical, & Shoot with Space for Words

My natural inclination is to shoot vertically, and it’s my favorite photo orientation to look at. Regardless, it’s important to get both horizontal and vertical shots. I wish I could tell you how many times as I’ve taken photos out of the camera, I found I’d neglected to take needed horizontal shots.

Also, take some photographs that give a solid area of color, as in this case in the lower right. This gives you the ability later to superimpose words on the space – light-colored words on dark space, and dark-colored words on light space.

See the example in the second view of the (same) photo for how words were added to this dark space (using a font color of pale green to complement the carnation colors).

5. Abstract vs Too Abstract

Abstract photos with my favorite sharp vs blur are some of my favorite types of pictures, but you can take it too far sometimes when shooting – and end up with something that’s too abstract for the mind to understand what the eye is seeing.

Here’s an example of this. In the first photo, you’ll see I draped the cloth napkin differently than in the previous shots, and I love the way it frames the cruet yet stays creamy and dreamy against the sharp focus of the foreground carnations.

In the second photo, however, I took it too far with the blur, and also with the composition – and the result is a picture that doesn’t make sense to my mind. (This is in addition to too closely framing the flowers at the top of the image.)

Notice also that the cruet and carnations are centered in the second shot, giving it an unnatural feel – while in the first photograph, they’re set off to the left side in a more pleasing way.

This first photo is one of my favorites from today.

6. Shooting from Overhead, & Negative Space

Flat lay photography simply means shooting from overhead the subject, which becomes two-dimensional instead of three-dimensional. It can be shot directly or nearly overhead, and it’s something I use a lot with food photography. Flowers also make interesting flat lay shots because you’re able to show the more complete shape of the flowers.

Here are several such pictures from today that I like for the different uses of negative space (the dark butcher block surface). These photos with the napkin arranged in the various ways make me think of weddings and bouquets, and I especially like the contrasting cream of the napkin against the dark brown of the butcher block surface.

The fuchsia ribbon brings out the fuchsia in the carnations, and also works nicely against the cream napkin.

7. Let the Hero Be the Hero

As I’m composing a photograph in my mind, there’s always a hero, or feature, object that I want to take center stage. Clearly for today, this hero was the flowers.

The first photograph is better composed than the second one, and the main reason is the flowers are sharp and emphasized in the first one. I like how the cloth napkin and the fuchsia ribbon are splayed out around the cruet, also giving me a sense of a wedding with a bride’s dress.

Even though I like the crisp detail of the ribbon and the napkin in the second photo, the flowers are blurry and don’t command your focus when looking at the picture. I might use the ribbon and napkin in a different photo session without flowers, and take advantage of the appeal of their textures, but the photograph doesn’t work here.

The beautiful colors of these mini-carnations are still drawing me in, and I look forward to seeing them tomorrow in further bloom!

What studio photography tips do you have to share? Please comment below!



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