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Look for Contrast, Shape and Texture. The complimentary and opposing colours that bring a colour image to life are all reduced to black and white or shades of grey in a monochrome image and you have to look for tonal contrast to make a shot stand out. In colour photography, for example, your eye would instantaneously be drawn to a red object on a green background, but in monochrome photography these two areas are likely to have the same brightness, so the image looks flat and dingy straight from the camera. happily , it’s possible to work adjust the brightness of these two colours separately to introduce some contrast. However, a good starting point is to look for scenes with tonal contrast. There are always exceptions, but as a general rule look for scenes that contain some powerful blacks and whites. This could be achieved by the light or by the brightness (or tone) of the objects in the scene as well as the exposure settings that you use. The brightness of the bark of a silver birch tree for example, should inject some contrast (and interest) in to a woodland scene. Setting the exposure for these brighter areas also makes the shadows darker, so the highlights stand out even more. Look for shapes, patterns and textures in a scene and move around to find the greatest composition.

Try Long Exposure. Long exposure shots could work really well in monochrome photography, especially where there’s moving water or clouds. During the exposure the highlights of the water, for example, are recorded across a wider place than they would with a short exposure and this could help enhance tonal contrast. The blurring of the movement also adds textural contrast with any solid objects in the frame. If compulsory , use a neutral density filter such as Lee Filters’ Big Stopper or Little Stopper to reduce exposure and extend shutter speed (by 10 and 4 stops respectively). classically , when exposures extend beyond re 1/60 sec a tripod is wanted to keep the camera still and avoid blurring. It’s also advisable to use a remote release and mirror lock-up to minimise vibration and produce super-sharp images.

Use Filters. Graduated neutral density (AKA ND grad) and polarizing filters are purely as advantageous in monochrome photography as they are in colour. In fact, because they manipulate image contrast they are arguably more useful . An ND grad is collaborative when you require to retain detail in a bright sky while a polarizing filter could be used to reduce reflections and boost contrast. Alternatively, count taking two or more shots with diverse exposures to create a high dynamic range (HDR) composite. Don’t be anxious to use a ND grad with a standard neural density filter if the sky is brighter than the foreground in a long exposure shot. Coloured filters, which are an essential tool for monochrome film photographers, may also be useful for manipulating contrast in digital images. They work by darkening objects of their opposite colour while lightening objects of their own. An orange filter, for example, will darken the blue of the sky while a green one will lighten foliage.

Shoot RAW + JPEG. The unsurpassed monochrome conversions are stumbled on by editing raw files which have the full colour information, but if you shoot raw and JPEG files simultaneously and set the camera to its monochrome photograph Style/Picture Control/Film Simulation mode you get an indication of how the image will look in black and white. As many photographers struggle to visualise a scene in black and white, these monochrome modes are an invaluable tool that will help with composition and scene assessment. many cameras are also capable of producing decent in-camera monochrome images these days and it’s worth experimenting with image parameters (usually contrast, sharpness, filter effects and toning) to find a look that you like. Because compact process cameras and compact cameras show the scene seen by the sensor with camera settings applied, users of these cameras are able to preview the monochrome image in the electronic viewfinder or on rear screen before taking the shot. DSLR users can also do this if they kick in his camera’s live funny feeling mode , but the usually slower responses mean that many will find it preferable or check the image on the screen post-capture.

Take Control. Although coloured filters can still be used to manipulate contrast when shooting digital black and white images, it’s more prominent to save this work until the processing stage. Until a some years ago Photoshop’s Channel Mixer was the favorite means of turning colour images monochrome, but now Adobe Camera Raw has more powerful tools (in the HSL/Grayscale tab) that allow you to adjust the brightness of eight individual colours that make up the image. It’s possible to adjust one of these colours to make it anything from white to black with the sliding control. However, it’s important to keep an eye on the whole image when adjusting a particular colour as subtle gradations should become unnatural looking. And adjusting the brightness of a red or pink shirt with the red sliding control, for instance , will have an impact on the model’s skin, especially the lips. The Levels and Curves controls can also be used to manipulate tonal range and contrast, but the HSL/Grayscale controls allow you to create separation between objects of the same brightness but with different colours.

Dodge and Burn. Dodging and burning is a convention that comes from the traditional darkroom and is usually used to burn in or darken highlights and hold back (brighten) shadows. Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools allow a level of control that film photographers may only dream of because you may target the highlights, shadows or mid-tones with both. This means that you could use the Burn tool to darken highlights when they are too bright, or the Dodge tool to perk up them to grow local contrast. It’s a great path of giving a sense of better sharpness and enhancing texture. Plus, because you could set the opacity of the tools, you may build up her effect gradually so the impact is subtle and there are no hard edges.

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Flowers and fruit on a table 1865 henri fantin latour oil paintingPencil drawing print of hands reaching to help each other by world famous artist john nelson print size 13x28Richard romero still life apples drawing date unknown pencil on paperWilliam sommer 1867 1949Still life drawings by namrata kumar at coroflot comBy kerry james marshall sold for more than 5 million last night at christies new york titled still life with wedding portrait the painting depictsStill life with fruit and candles mixed media 2014 by everett spruill abstractFernand léger still life with a beer mug 1921 2Still life with buddha mixed media 2014 by everett spruill abstract artSo i took great comfort from titians statement a good painter needs only three colors blackPicture 3 of 3Still life photography wikipediaJean metzinger fruit and a jug on a table 1916 oil and sand on canvas 115 9 x 81 cm museum of fine arts bostonPablo picasso bowl of fruit violin and bottle 1914Paintings of famous artistStill life

Representing mundane objects such as bowls, flowers, foodstuffs, and other things found in a common household, was and still is the main preoccupation of still life artists. However, the means, styles and media in which still life can be represented varies significantly.

Featured image: Roy Lichtenstein – Still Life. Image via

Active during the Dutch Golden Age, Pieter Claesz was among the foremost still-life painters of his time. He is famous for vanitas or still lifes which contain symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability. This is his most famous painting. It depicts a plethora of objects most interestingly a glass sphere in the background which shows Claesz at the easel, serving as a self-portrait.

More than just a leader of Fauvist movement with André Derain, Henri Matisse is considered one of the key figures of the 20th century Modernism. Still Life with a Pewter Jug and Pink Statuette is from his Fauvist period where bright colors and linear style create a dynamic composition featuring one of the artist’s sculptures. Created in a rented house at Issy-les-Moulineaux near Paris, the painting shows the wall of his studio, which will appear in numerous paintings from this period. Fauvism gave primacy to expression and color over realistic renderings of the world, and in Matisse’s still lifes such tendency is evident. Colors usually do not correspond with the factual situation, which makes his still life paintings among the first modernist ones of the 20th century.

Featured image: Giorgio Morandi – Still Life, 1955. Image via

Featured image: Paul Cézanne – Still Life with Skull, 1895-1900. Image via


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In the 20th century still life was considered a theme in art abreast with others. The development of still life closely followed the stylistic changes of the period, from Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, to Pop Art and Photorealism. Still life objects even transgressed the frame of the traditional medium of painting and entered the art scene as art objects through ready-mades and installations where instead of being represented, they became artworks themselves, as in Arman’s and Judy Chicago’s works.

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Editors’ Tip: Nature Morte: Contemporary Artists Reinvigorate the Still-Life Tradition

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In the early 17th century still life became an independent genre in art, but it was considered less important than historical and allegorical representations of the period. Appearing as an independent genre around the Europe in the same years, it is impossible to discern who first developed and practiced it in painting. The still life genre’s beginnings can be traced in pictorial traditions around Europe, including Flemish Marian paintings created in the fifteenth century, Italian meat- stall images, and Spanish bodegas. Jean-Baptiste Chardin in the 18th century continued to develop still life painting following the success of Flemish artists. He deployed either Dutch-style realism or softer harmonies in his creations. With the development of art academies around Europe that propagated hierarchy of genres, still life slowly fall behind and was less practiced than other genre forms. However, as Neo-classicism started to fade with the rise of Romanticism and Realism, still life again became an important theme among the artists such as Francisco Goya, Gustave Courbet, and Eugène Delacroix. The next stage in the development of still life came with Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and dominance of color and light over theme.

Paul Cézanne is considered a precursor of Cubism and Modernism in general. His analytical approach to form, lines and color often led him to create his images from fragmentary brushstrokes that will be further exploited by Cubists. In his still life painting, fruits, pitchers, and bottles are laid on corrugated tablecloths and often situated to resemble being one above the other. Instead of creating a realist effect through the illusion of depth, Cézanne experimented with painterly elements. Thus, it comes as no surprise that he was called “the father of us all” by many modernists.

Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (Jug, Curtain and Fruit Bowl) (1894) – Paul Cezanne

Caravaggio was a pioneer of realistic depiction and dramatic use of lighting in paintings. He applied his naturalism to still life and hence Basket of Fruit stands out from previous paintings in the genre. Apart from its apparently photographic portrayal, the painting is noted for the spoiled fruits which appear to have been eaten by insects. Whether the master painted what was available or was he trying to convey a deeper meaning is debated.

Pop Art is definitely a high art movement where mundane stuff got the unprecedented prominence. One of the representatives of the movement, Roy Lichtenstein, created some of the most striking examples of the type. Famous for his use of dots and comic book excerpts, Lichtenstein adopted the same approach in his still lifes.

Apart from a brief period in 17th century Northern Europe, still life was a neglected genre despite the efforts of Jean-Baptiste Chardin. It was Paul Cezanne who almost single handedly took it to heights that it became a popular subject for future artists including Picasso, Matisse, Morandi and Braque. This painting is a shining example of his artwork in which he used techniques like two viewpoints which were to change the direction of art. The painting is also noted for its unbalanced parts like the titled bottle, inclined basket and the fruits which are about to fall.

Featured image: Maya Kopitseva – Still Life with Bananas, 1975. Image via


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Deemed as a mother of American Modernism, Georgia O’Keeffe is known for her paintings of flowers and landscapes. O’Keeffe’s painted subjects, motifs and forms changed with the influence of European Modernism. Although many connected her depictions of iris flower with vulva, she rejected such Freudian interpretations. However, this did not precluded other feminist artists to refer to her as their influence, and even Judy Chicago dedicated a place of her on her Dinner Party piece.

Featured image: Georges Braque – Still Life with a Bunch of Grapes, 1912. Image via

Featured image: Henri Matisse – Still Life with a Pewter Jug and Pink Statuette, 1910. Image via

Featured image: Georgia O’Keeffe – Oriental Poppies, 1927. Image via

Armand Fernandez, or just Arman, is a French artist who started out as a painter using traces of ink and paint left by different objects on his works, to later transfer his interest from painterly effects to the objects themselves. A member of Nouveau réalisme, Arman is best known for his Accumulations – polyester castings filled with different found stuff, from cutlery, shoes, and clocks, to perfume bottles and even gas masks. Accumulations resemble traditional still life paintings with a difference that found stuff here is not represented but literary present in its plastic cage.

Featured image: Judy Chicago – The Dinner Party, 1979. Image via

Perhaps the greatest still life artist of the 20th century, Giorgio Morandi primarily focused on representations of vases, flowers, bowls, and bottles. His style moved from more Metaphsycial renderings, to a very subtle use of color which was often reduced to several gradations of hue and tone. Due to his limited palette and minimalist expression, he is considered a prescient of Minimal Art.

Pop Art Movement emerged in the 1950s and it used recognizable imagery from popular culture. Among the most popular works in pop art is Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life series. His still lifes portray elements of the modern world rather that the fruits and vegetables of previous generation artists of the genre. This work (Still Life #30) is a combination of painting, sculpture and collage of commercial labels Tom found on the street.


Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party is considered one of the most significant works of 20th century art. Although it is not made in traditional technique for the genre, this installation refers to both tradition of still life paintings and more importantly to the historical marginalization of women. Table is set for 39 famous women, and each place-setting has a unique hand – painted china plate based on vulvar and butterfly forms, embroidered runners, gold chalice and utensils. The aim of this exceptional still life installation is, in Chicago’s words, to “end the ongoing cycle of omission in which women were written out of the historical record.”

Still Life is a genre which gained prominence in Western Art by the late 16th century and has remained an important genre since then. Still Lifes are categorized by the depiction of ordinary objects which may be natural, like flowers, fruits etc. or man-made, like glasses, musical instruments etc. Here is a list of the 10 most famous still life paintings by renowned artists of the genre including Chardin, Paul Cezanne, Van Gogh and Giorgio Morandi.

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Vincent Van Gogh is considered a master of still life paintings and his series of paintings on ‘sunflowers’ rank among the most famous still life paintings ever created. The paintings are well known for depicting the natural beauty of the flowers and for their vibrant colors. The above painting which is titled Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers smashed the auction record for a painting when it was sold to a Japanese investor for almost $40 million in March 1987.

Giorgio Morandi was the leading still life painter of the twentieth century and among the greatest Italian artists of his era. His still lifes are known for their unsophisticated subject matter, muted colors and simplicity of execution. Marandi used the same title Natura Morta, which is the Italian term for still life, for all his works in the genre. The above painting is one of his many famous works known for their poetic quality and intensity.

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Leading artists of contemporary time are reviving the still life, a genre that once was more associated with the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Old Masters than with contemporary art. The audacious still lifes celebrated here challenge that historical supremacy and redefine what it means to be a work of nature morte (literally translated from the French: “dead nature”). Whether through painting, drawing, sculpture, video, or other media, contemporary artists have drawn on the centuries-old tradition to create works of conceptual vivacity, beauty, and emotional poignancy in the present time.Structured according to the classical categories of the still-life tradition – Flora, Food, House and Home, Fauna, and Death, each chapter in Michael Petry’s book explores how the timeless symbolic resonance of the memento mori, has been rediscovered for a new millennium.

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Featured image: Arman -Athérosclérose, 1961. Image via

Francisco de Zurbaran is more famous for his religious paintings but he was also one of the most influential still life painters. This painting is considered a masterwork of the genre and is the only canvas ever signed and dated by the Spanish master. The three objects in the painting are placed carefully and illuminate against a dark background. It is widely believed that the painting has religious symbolism.

Paul Cezanne is considered the greatest master of still life painting and this work is his most celebrated painting in the genre. Technically it is noted for the double perspective which Cezanne’s creates while visually it captivates the viewer with the beautifully painted unbalanced parts. Cezanne’s paintings of this type are considered a prelude to several art types of the twentieth century including Picasso’s Cubism. As of 2105, this painting is the most expensive still life ever sold at an auction.


Born in 1931 in New York City, Audrey Flack’s adulthood was defined by Civil Rights Movements and Second-wave feminism. Her painterly work reflects on these social conditions. Her still life paintings include depictions of jewelry, perfume bottles, lipstick tubes and other paraphernalia of femininity. Done in Photorealist style, these paintings still provoke debates of whether she represented femininity, if these works show feminist stance, or both at the same instance.


Considered an all-time great in still life painting, Jean-Baptiste Chardin is credited with advancing still life such that it would challenge other established genres. The Ray was his masterpiece through which he allured the future generations of artists to still life painting. The painting contains several novel elements most prominently the introduction of a living being in the form of a cat. It was widely studied, admired and copied by future artists including Henri Matisse.

Georges Braque, along with Picasso, co-founded the dominant art style of the twentieth century, Cubism. Although he began with landscapes, he shifted to still lifes later. This masterpiece is an example of Analytic Cubism, the first phase of Cubism which was short but influential. The elements in the painting are depicted in simple forms using multiple point-perspectives and it is painted in monochromatic style, i.e. different tones of a single color are used.

One of the representatives of Leningrad school of painting and Meritorious Artist of the Soviet Union, Maya Kopitseva is famous for her still lifes where she was inspired by colors and textures of fruits, dishes and other objects found in a kitchen. She created expressive color renderings of these objects where play with complementary and contrasting colors is given dominance over subject.

Featured image: Andrey Flack – Jolie Madame, 1973. Image via


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The following list examples some of the famous still life artists of the 20th century together with their works.

Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose (1633) – Francisco de Zurbaran

Continuing and deepening Cézanne’s experimentation with painterly elements, Georges Braque created his still lifes in the Cubist style, fragmenting objects in the paintings and presenting their different angles all at once. Although he started out as a Fauvist, after meeting with Pablo Picasso he soon changed his style and adopted Cubism as his main mode of expression. During his career he created numerous paintings depicting mundane subjects, and was often using collage technique in his creations.

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