So many of us feel like we need to have the latest and greatest gear to get the images we want, when in fact a lot can be done with what we have. I was given this shoot as an assignment four years ago and it taught me a lot. This was shot with my first DSLR and a used lens I purchased from a friend. I did not own any lighting equipment, umbrellas or even an external flash at this point. 

Assignment: Still life

The assignment was: Create a technically sound classical still life photograph. It can be whatever you want, but it must be spot on when it comes to lighting, focus, composition, etc.

The cover image is my final shot. I took a total of 22 shots, changed my lighting around, and moved around the position of the elements in the photo until it felt like it looked the best. This is straight out of the camera with only a tiny crop. (Also note that I did shoot RAW and exported out of Lightroom as a JPEG.)

I never used to edit my photos at all. Period. I’ve learned over the last several years that editing can bring out more of what our vision for an image might be, or that it can be just for fun, but it’s not always needed. In the end, you have to take a good shot to begin with; focus, composition, lighting and all the elements that go into a good photograph should be there first. It helps tremendously to really know your camera.

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Know and learn your tools and make them work

Here is the technical ‘stuff’.

  • I used my Canon 50mm f1.8 lens because I knew that was my sharpest lens
  • ISO 100 so I would have little to no noise
  • f/22 to help with lighting and depth of field (started out at f/5.6)
  • 30-second exposure for the final shot (my basement has no windows and not great light)

Are there better ways to have shot this? Of course there are. But, at that time, in my basement with only a desk, floor and overhead lights I made it work.

Here is a shot of my setup as well so you can see that you don’t have to have fancy equipment to make this happen. I have a basement, a non-reflective piece of material, desk lamps, tripod and camera. That’s it. It’s not perfect (the crease in the fabric in front of the grapes is making me crazy) but it just goes to show, you don’t always need expensive equipment or a studio to make things work, you can make it work with what you have.

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What can you learn by using what you have?

Doing assignments like this, limiting yourself with what you have, using only one lens when you go out to shoot, and challenging yourself in unfamiliar situations are all ways of pushing yourself and learning more about all the elements that go into a good photograph. What’s more, you get to learn your camera’s capabilities in the process and practice thinking creatively.