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After teaching a workshop this past weekend, here is a synopsis my approach still life photography.

It’s not easy, but begin.

First, there is the subject. What is it that draws you, the photographer, to it? What is it that you want to say? What does IT want to say? And how to facilitate that? What will the background be? And what about surface on which the subject is placed? Is it scuffed like an old shoe? A soft patina? Rusted metal? Peeling paint?

And where does the light come from? Not the front, please—so flat and boring. From the side, perhaps, which allows the form of the subject to become more textured and interesting. And what kind of light? Natural? Strobe? Tungsten? A combination? What makes the piece come alive for the camera?

And then, what about the story? A well-told story has some tension that draws us in. It doesn’t give away too much, but still there can’t be too little. Details, like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, lead us into the image. At some point, through composition, light and placement of the subject, it starts to come alive.

More decisions: How high the camera? Overhead or straight on? Or in-between? What can we remove from the “stage” that will make the story stronger? Or add? Who is the unseen person who inhabits this space? Feel the story, inhabit the story and then it begins to evolve.

Fire the editor! The one who is constantly telling you that you can’t do it, that you’ve done it before. That your ideas are boring. Fire the editor! Become a child. Ask “why?” or “why not?” or say “I wonder what would happen if . . .” and then try it. Disappear in it. Time stops and there is only “now.” Eventually a story will begin to emerge. It may take an hour, a day, a week. You might be surprised, even delighted, as if you can’t believe that you brought this to life.

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