photo by Alan Wilson

Macro Still Life Masterclass with Paul Hobson

Wildlife photographer Paul Hobson and three AP readers explore the possibilities of studio-based macro still life and show how the simplest of lighting set-ups can produce creative results. Oliver Atwell joins them

The art of still life is a genre that has been with us for centuries. In fact, its first appearance can be traced back to the days of ancient Egypt where it was believed that the items depicted, such as food, would become real and available to the deceased in the afterlife. Many centuries later, through the Renaissance, Caravaggio, van Gogh and Abstract Expressionism, the genre has found its home in perhaps its most iconic form – a Paul Hobson Masterclass!

‘From my perspective I think of still-life imagery as photographing static objects,’ says Paul, ‘That applies to all kinds of objects that you can find in the natural world and take indoors. For example, you may take some autumn leaves from a forest or cut some flowers from your garden and still life allows you to explore them in a completely new way because you’re able to get as close as you want. If the subject were a living creature, then you wouldn’t be able to do that.’

Photo by Alan Wilson

Wildlife photographer Paul Hobson and three AP readers have set themselves up in the AP studio in order to explore the creative possibilities of studio-based macro photography using the simplest of lighting set-ups. But where much still life is concerned with the whole object, this Masterclass will find the attendees getting in a little closer.

‘We’re going to be using macro lenses to look at various objects, such as flowers and feathers,’ says Paul. ‘Each one of them is composed of many fascinating shapes, textures and details. When you’re in a studio environment you’re able to fully explore those elements and bring them out using composition and light.’

Paul points out that many of the techniques that the attendees will be looking at are ones that can easily be taken away and used in their everyday photography.

‘Still life is an excellent way of ensuring that your day isn’t wasted when the weather has taken a turn for the worse,’ says Paul. ‘All kinds of objects can be brought indoors and photographed in a studio setting. That kind of environment can easily be replicated in your own home. Within ten minutes you can set up your own little studio in your kitchen or living room.’

Paul suggests that anyone wanting to attempt still life needn’t worry about not owning professional lighting equipment – in fact, just using the kinds of lights found around the average home can produce some excellent results.

‘Most people could easily find an everyday desk lamp that they can move around to control the light,’ says Paul. ‘With regards to the backdrop, something as simple as cheap black cloth, velvet or white paper is more than adequate. If you arrange these things on a table, then you’ve got yourself a little photographic studio. It’s that simple.’

Your AP Master…

Paul Hobson
Paul studied environmental science at Sheffield University and has worked as an environmental sciences lecturer for 25 years. With more than 20 years’ photography experience behind him, Paul was specially commended in the 2008 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and two of his images were exhibition finalists in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2009. Paul regularly lectures on wildlife photography and also runs workshops.

The AP readers…

Sue Howard
Sue primarily enjoys shooting wildlife. She uses a Nikon D300S with a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG macro lens. ‘I’ve learned a lot,’ says Sue. ‘It’s always inspiring meeting like-minded people and learning from them.’

Colin Haygarth
Colin likes to shoot butterflies and wild orchids. He uses a Nikon D300 with a 200mm f/4 macro lens. ‘It’s been great,’ he says. ‘I’ve picked up a great number of tips from Paul. He’s very generous with his knowledge.’

Alan Wilson
Alan’s interests lie in wildlife photography, particularly in South Africa where he enjoys photographing lions. He uses an Olympus E-5 and 50mm macro lens. ‘It’s been a fantastic day. The whole experience has been friendly and open. I’ve learned a huge amount.’