Shooting Flat Photography
There may be times, when, as a photographer you want to shoot something flat, without perspective. This may be a part of building, car, or a piece of artwork, in fact it could be anything. But what does flat really mean? Basically, in everyday language, it means, square on. The camera should be square on to the thing being photographed. Although anything could be photographed flat, in the majority of cases this method is used to reproduce a copy of an image, be it a painting or the written word. There are some rules that you must adhere to, so that you get an even photograph, where it is sharp in every area. The first thing that has to be noted is that you will need the use of tripod.
Depending on what it is that you want to photograph, will dictate the best place to site your subject. If you are photographing a piece of art, it should be hung on a wall at a height you can easily raise your tripod to. If its something like clothing, maybe for advertising purposes, again, it should be hung up so it is facing you.
For photographing objects, they should be placed flat on the floor or on a table. If its the case that you are using the floor, then make sure the legs of the tripod will not be a problem and end up in the shot. If you are using the table, make sure your tripod will reach such a height that you can place it over the object being photographed, and still be able to fill the frame with the object you are photographing.
If you are photographing a building, then make sure you are able to be at a suitable distance, and still be able to fill the frame with the image. There may be limitations of how far away from the building you can go, this maybe due to a small pavement (and ending up on the road), busy pavement or limited access not allowing you to get close enough to the building, like a fence in the way. Each venue will have its own problems, so its advisable to visit the building before you plan your shots, in order to iron out the difficulties that you may encounter.
A tripod is a must for flat photography, as you will need to make sure your camera is positioned square onto the centre of the object you are photographing. Failing to do this will result in problems with perspective in the final image. Additionally, if you are photographing a piece of art, it should be hung level. Depth of field may become an issue, so use a smaller lens, remembering to slow down the shutter speed, and this is another reason you will need the use of a tripod.
Even though you maybe using a tripod, it is advisable for you to remotely operate the shutter if you can, as this will eliminate camera shake. If you do not have a remote, then one tip is, to set the camera at a 2 sec pause, which will give you chance to press the shutter and move away before the image is shot.
Use a low ISO setting (100), as this will combat the grainy look and you will end up with a sharper picture. If you have the capability on your camera, then shoot in RAW as you will be able to pull back more data, giving you are shaper image.
And finally, use a neutral background so that there is no distraction in the final image, and make sure you position the camera, so that it is placed central to the object you are photographing.
I started off thinking I wanted to shoot a photograph I had taken on holiday, with the grandchildren and my husband. I got my two cameras ready, tripod set up, cleared the kitchen table and covered it with a neutral background. Then I placed the photograph on the table. And here was my first problem. The tripod did not reach far enough over the kitchen table for me to get the camera square onto the print. I tried moving the print nearer the edge of the table, but then I got a shot of the floor and tripod legs. so I abandoned that idea. Leaning lesson number 1, now a point to remember, make sure the thing you are photographing can be placed square onto the camera so it fills the frame, with no other things in the way.
I went outside, there I had planned to photograph the bricks at the side of the bungalow. I set up the tripod, fixed on the camera and……I couldn’t understand why the bricks didn’t look level. Learning lesson number 2, check to see if you are working on even ground. The fact that you have the tripod legs all the exactly the same length, doesn’t mean the tripod is level. so after some jiggling around, all was square
I thought about photographing the mesh chicken run, I was looking for something with lines and that not only had the mess lines, but there was the wall and the horizon. Maybe I could create something interesting with that. The mesh was at an angle to the wall so I tried to straighten it. I found it was too heavy for me to move. It had been there all summer and the grass had grown around it. Finally I managed to move it a bit, but lesson number 3 was learnt. Make sure you have the necessary help with some projects, know your own limitations. In the image to the left, you can clearly see the problem, because the mesh was not flat against the wall, it was difficult to get both the wall and the mesh to be square in the camera.
Next to the mesh was the trellis, with a poorly looking kiwi fruit plant that in 4 years, had never yielded any fruit. The trellis was not uniform, some of the cross sections were wider/narrower than others, but I liked the way the sun shone through, leaving a shadow in the background, I was pretty pleased with the outcome. I set the 2 sec timer as the ground (grass) was uneven and soft after the rain and the tripod was not as solid to the ground as I would have liked. To the right is the result of the trellis shot.
The sun shining on the bleached wood made some areas of the trellis a little washed out, but I think this gives a better contrast between the wood and the shadow.
The Chicken hutch had some really nice geometric shapes, not exactly straight lines but still interesting. I could not get too close the hutch to fill the frame as a shadow of my out line was cast, so I decided to take in the surrounding area. Lesson number 4 learnt, Make sure there are no restrictions to stop you getting close to the thing you need to photograph. The conflicting lines from the hutch, trellis, wall and mesh, made a very busy shot. So I honed in to just the hutch and the trellis to see what how that would turn out.
The photograph on the left is the finished image I want to use for this exercise. It has the complex lines of the hutch, with diagonal lines from the trellis on the left and horizontal/vertical lines from some chicken wire to the right. Even though there are various lines they are all flat and this is what I was trying to achieve.
Oil painting has been a passion of mine for over 50 years, I started painting as a child and loved it. It is a passion that I have practised on off over the years. I decided to photograph one of my own paintings as there was one hanging in dining room. Its on the wall already, and I need to see what difference techniques were needed to photograph a wall hanging, contra to the photographs I have already taken out in the garden.
Lesson number 5, make sure the tripod being used can be placed square onto the work hanging on the wall. If not take the painting down and re hang it according to the hieght of the tripod. Or use your table to get the height needed. As a disabled person, I had to get help climbing onto the table and placing the tripod in the correct position!
In the photograph above, I could see the dark area in shadow from the window, I needed some more light reflected upward, but as I don’t have any fancy studio lighting I switched on the light. This did not have the desired effect, but as I was shooting in RAW, I would have enough detail to fix it on the computer when I processed the RAW file.
In the left photograph above, the painting was lined up using the spirit level on the tripod. Most of todays’ tripods have a spirit level, which is really useful when on uneven ground. Luckily enough, my dining room table was level and I didn’t need to adjust the legs on the tripod, in the same way as I did when I was outside on uneven ground.
After taking various shots outside and the painting as a wall hanging, the other practice needed was flat on a level surface. I have already ruled out using the table. I decided to use the kitchen worktop, utilising the natural light from the window. The pegs from a previous exercise came into play.
In order to get the camera square to the pegs I had to use a little initiative and leaned the tripod over using some books. I used a 2 second delay as it was not as steady as I would have liked it to be, but it did the job.
The pegs in the image below, on the right, move the line out of the frame, this is similar in bricks, mesh and trellis above. In the previous exercise, where the lines should not have crept outside the frame as the perspective would have been unbalance, the viewer needed something to focus on at the end of the line. But in this case, especially if the line is taken to the frame, the work, in my opinion, becomes a piece of abstract art.
While I had the tripod in the correct position I thought I would experiment with a number of different objects and the results are below.
I thought the spoons in the photograph on the right made an effective pattern, my thoughts were, if I had enough tea spoons I could carry on the pattern to make a spoon-daisy shape.
In the photograph above on the right, I had been collecting Iris seeds and had them in a container to over winter them. It was difficult to line the camera up with the plastic container as it was almost transparent, but eventually I got the shot I wanted.
The images above, are the same chess piece, the bishop. I was experimenting with this to show that from differing flat angels the thing you are photographing can dramatically change in appearance. Again I deviate from the exercise of working with lines, but I have learned that flat photography can have many outcomes with the final look of a shot and in some cases, turns an every day item into something abstract.
In the photograph above on the right, I mixed up all the pencils in my drawing case so the colours were all mixed up and not in the natural colour order as they usually are. The silver colouring in the pencils dance when you look at them like some abstract picture.
While doing a little research on abstract art, I came across this piece of work by an artist I don’t know, Noah Halpert. I couldn’t really find out much about his work, but this is the quote I found about his painting found to the right. It caught my eye because it reminded me so much of my final pencil case shot above.
Quote “Some see life as a painting. When you are born, you were given an easel, a brush, canvas, and most definitely a fancy beret. The stick on mustache can be added a little later. Suppose that you started your painting based off of how your family’s painting looked. They provided a lot of love, nurturing, and that other stuff that makes you who you are today. While growing up, you can be very naive to many things going on around you, or just too immature to understand. Sometimes this painting or grand work of art can be seen as a definitive person, place, or thing; a finalized work of art. Often, it is never considered that maybe this painting is actually an abstract, or something that may never be fully finished. It takes time and reflection to realize that each day, each event, person, place, or thing, might simply be a brush stroke to a grand work of art. Not all strokes are even, contain enough paint, or even enhance the beauty of this painting. They represent happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and all of your emotions” Noah Halpert
Click here for more information on Alfred Stieglitz an early 20th centrury photographer who went against the norm. He married abstract artist,Georgia O’Keeffe, who shared his views.
And finally, my own little piece of abstract line art, my hand in 3d
Read More about Cropping V Framing click here
Research on John Szarkowski click here
Read more about Formalism click here