Exercise 5.1: ‘Still life’

Exercise 5.1: ‘Still life’


Create a set of still-life pictures showing traces of life without using people.

You could do this with your camera phone to reflect the vernacular and transient nature of these moments or you could choose to use high-quality imagery to give these moments gravitas, like Nigel Shafran. Your technical decisions should back up your ideas, so write a short reflective commentary detailing these decisions and the reasons for them.

The exercise and reflections


I have been thinking about doing a still life of some of my daughter’s possessions. On her grave marker are the words ‘Always glamorous, never on time,’ which sums up my daughter’s attitude to looking good; after chemotherapy she would never go out without her artificial lashes and often people would comment positively on her appearance even up to the three weeks before here death. My wife helped her husband to sort through her clothes and other items which included lots of perfume and makeup. I see those discarded objects in the storage area of my bathroom. A still life of these used but no longer needed objects may say something about my daughter and her loss but may be a lot more ambiguous than that. That is what I intend to try out now as I am in a very active phase now after a period of being lethargic.


I have some white and black backgrounds but these are the kind of objects that maybe need a setting that others can identify with. I know that this is going to be a high quality image taken with my Nikon D810 with a 50mm 1.4f lens, even though it will look ‘casual,’ and may use natural light of flash depending on the setting. In the past I have tended to clutter the scene, but here there needs to be clarity of presentation. I am not looking to produce a copy or parody of and ‘Old Masters’ painting but something fresh and modern.


I used a tripod, timer, ISO 100 and two vantage points to take my images. I liked the pattern of light falling on the walls of the cabinet. I orchestrated the lipsticks and nail varnish and perfumes to make larger piles and bringing the nail varnishes down from the top shelf to create another series. The toy was in my wife’s side of the cabinet which is taken over by my daughters beauty products and I suspect that is because she and her shared a love of this character – ‘Miffy’ who we visited on holiday in the Netherlands.

Still life

I did not feel the need to create a simpler series which I intended to do with only one or two objects. Maybe that makes the objects more ambiguous but repeats of objects is very much in the spirit of absence photography.

I experimented with several edits which were about isolating areas of repetition.

edit still


Final image

I am really not sure which to pick. My instinct is to like the bigger colourful image with reflection but maybe an edit of one area implies more.

Still jpegs-2