Photo Variations - Fountain Pen Still Life

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was working on an ‘assignment‘ posted on the Art of Photography’s YouTube Channel. The assignment was variations on a scene – ten images of a particular subject. In that previous post, I sort of cheated. In this post, I take the assignment a bit more seriously. Here we have photo variations of a fountain pen still life.

Set Up

It didn’t take long after watching the video for me to come up with an idea for this challenge. I would do a night time still life featuring one of my fountain pens, a photography-related quote that I would write out with the pen, and one of my old cameras. I would play with my new-ish headlamp for lighting.

The quote:

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
― Susan Sontag

It sums up a lot about my relationship with photography.

I wrote the quote out last night. This morning I was at the drug store and, while I waited in line, I saw a display of Christmas lights. I don’t actually own any Christmas lights but they had a small, cheap battery-operated set and I thought… that will be perfect for my photo! So I went ahead and picked that up.

Still life photo experiment. Pen - Pilot Plumix with De Atramentis Elderberries ink. 1951 Kodak Signet 35 camera
The set up

Finally, it got dark and I set to work. My couch seems to be a popular place to set up shop for these things. I got a box to set the scene on and originally covered it, and the back of the couch, in a white shawl. This shawl is also a regular in these experiments. It’s pretty thin, though, and I thought the colours of the box and the blanket on the back of the couch might show through so I found this grey and white blanket to put under the shawl. Next I turned on the Christmas lights and put those under the shawl, too, along the back. Then it was time to set up the notepad, pen, and camera and get shooting!

Pen: Pilot Plumix (Funny that I chose one of my cheapest pens to showcase in this still life. Really, it was just the one I had inked up at the time!)

Ink: De Atramentis Elderberries

Camera: 1951 Kodak Signet 35

Photo Variations  – Fountain Pen Still Life

The assignment was for ten different images. I actually took about 60 photos of 13 or 14 different compositions. Here are 11 of the best compositions.

Overexposed Pen
Your bonus image first. In this first image I have have the fairy lights doubled up behind the shawl at the rear of the image and my headlamp on its bright setting and hanging above the subject. I misjudged how bright the scene was and forgot to check my light meter. But I really like this so it makes the cut!

All Photographs
Second composition. I fixed the exposure settings and realized that, duh, fountain pens are more interesting when you can see the nib, so I took the cap off. I still have no idea why I left the cap in all the images…

Next, I moved the headlamp to the coffee table behind me to reduce the lighting.
Played around with getting the light to bounce off the nip. I also like the reflections of the transparent grip on the paper.
Played around with getting the light to bounce off the nip. I also like the reflections of the nib on the paper.
Pilot Plumix
Next I tried to get more of the quote in the photo.
Finally brought the camera into the composition. In this shot, I also tried the red light setting on my headlamp. I didn't like it.
Finally brought the camera into the composition. In this shot, I also tried the red light setting on my headlamp. I didn’t like it.
Pen and Camera
Tried shooting from above. I realized I preferred shooting low on this scene so you can see the pen nib better. The headlamp gets hung up again.

Playing around with the lighting. So far, the string of lights was doubled at the back. Here, I circled the string around the subjects and moved the headlamp back to the table. Too dark.
Playing around with the lighting. So far, the string of lights was doubled at the back. Here, I circled the string around the subjects and moved the headlamp back to the table. Too dark. I thought about getting my Gorillapod out and doing a long exposure, but that would blow out the light in the back.
Here, I'm trying a different angle and, more importantly, brought the headlamp to sit on the edge of the box, just out of frame. I didn't like the harsh spotlight.
Here, I’m trying a different angle and, more importantly, brought the headlamp to sit on the edge of the box, just out of frame. I didn’t like the harsh spotlight.
I didn't like the harsh spotlight, but it was a good middle ground, so I continued playing with it. The camera comes back into the frame and I remove the pen.
I didn’t like the harsh spotlight, but it was a good middle ground, so I continued playing with it. The camera comes back into the frame and I remove the pen.
Camera and pen together again in this final shot.
Camera and pen together again in this final shot.

So, what do you think? Successful? Not successful? Let me know! Do you have any similar projects to share?

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