film photography · How To · Photo essay

Still Life on Kodak Portra 400 – A Good Practice for Beginners

Since Covid hit I started to realize I needed to get more creative with my compositions if I was going to be able to continue to shoot film while I was stuck at home.

Exakta VX1000 Kodak TX 400
Exakta VX1000 Kodak TX 400

I have done still life photos here and there, usually on black and white film. This time I tried color with some Kodak Portra and a vase of Lily’s.

Mamiya 645 Kodak Portra 400
Mamiya 645 Kodak Portra 400

I used a black poster board for the background. One of those folding ones that we all used for science projects in school. Over that I laid a black velvet blanket to make sure the background was completely black.

Mamiya 645 Kodak Portra 400
Mamiya 645 Kodak Portra 400

I used my two Fovitec lights and had one facing the ceiling with the other a couple feet away directly on the flowers. I didn’t want to get too close because I have learned that the highlights get blown easily with flowers. I think because they have a big range of tones with their dips and shadows. This makes it challenging to meter.

I try metering for different areas of the flower to see what results I get. For example, if I meter for the highlights, the bottom of the flowers such as the vase will come out almost completely black. If I meter off the shadows and the light source is close, the highlights will most likely be blown, but the rest will be bright as well. Usually, depending on how close the light source is to the subject, middle tones are the best area to meter.

Mamiya 645 Kodak Portra 400
Mamiya 645 Kodak Portra 400

I really like the way these have come out and I have really enjoyed doing these still life setups. If you’re new to photography and are learning exposure, I have found that this is actually really good practice for learning metering.

Left Pic: Metered for highlights
Right Pic: Metered for shadows

I just thought I would pass that on to any beginners reading this. I recommend trying out some still life photography. It’s a great way to practice your skills. I have been toying with the idea of making a video demonstrating how I shoot my still life photos. If you guys would like that, let me know in the comments.

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Riding in Cars with Color Film

By Alyssa Chiarello in Riding In Cars with Film

52 pages, published 11/19/2020

I have been taking photos on the way to and from doctors appointments for a year now, and it has been a tremendous help to my anxiety. These photos are a compilation of my favorite ones taken on 35mm color film from the passenger side of a moving car. Doing this has helped me to get to know my home town better, and has also helped me to quickly hone my skills of exposure. I decided to create this series as a way to encourage others with…

7 thoughts on “Still Life on Kodak Portra 400 – A Good Practice for Beginners

  1. Thanks for the info. I’ve never tried still life, and now I honestly feel silly for not realizing you can make a great black background with such simple materials. I’d definitely watch a video about your process and the lighting equipment. The shots came out really nice.

  2. Thanks for this. This is an area I’m not very good in and I can use the pointers. I’d love to see a post on your lighting equipment. I don’t own any and don’t know where to start.

  3. Mmmhh…yes still lives. Never really thought about them but maybe something to try out as long it is grey and cold. But then I usually do black and white when the light is bad 😉

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