fake ice cream on a wooden board

Life Is What You Make It

Pablo Gil

“Some people might think that still-life photography is basic,” says Pablo Gil, “or something that’s for beginners. But in reality, it’s one of the most demanding subjects you can shoot.” This is true. When you think about it, still life is the most creatively taxing of any photographic discipline. The photographer begins with an empty frame. There is nothing to lead them, or to react to, but their own ideas. And nothing, from the selection of subjects to their arrangement or lighting, happens by accident. “It’s tremendously complicated,” Pablo says, “but once you get it, it’s both beautiful and enjoyable.”

still life of a wine glass and bunch of grapes

© Pablo Gil | Sony α7R III + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/250s @ f/5.6, ISO 100

Whether creating a complex image with multiple elements or a minimalist photo in which the subject is practically alone, Pablo’s process begins long before touching his camera. “The most important thing is to be very clear about an idea before starting the session,” he explains. “I develop ideas in depth with sketches so I can see the result before shooting. Conversely, still life’s created through improvisation are usually a mistake. Planning and preparation are essential. Ideas evolve with alternation of colours, shapes, balance in position and scale… but the most important thing is what the image transmits as a whole.”

Part of his planning is how the narrative of the image can be strengthened. Products and items are chosen based on aesthetics and what they bring to the story, while tricks in lighting and dressing add meaning. “For example, in the case of shooting a beer or soft drink,” he explains, “we add drops of artificial condensation on the glass and light it from behind to make it glow. Without that, it can just look sad and dull. For vegetables, we can add a solution of bicarbonate and ice water to intensify green tones.” Objects that sit around the focal point are also chosen to amplify its meaning, Pablo says, “so if it’s an artisan product, we add natural and wholesome dressing. We’re always looking at shape and form that tells the story best.”

still life image of baked goods and chocolate on a table

© Pablo Gil | Sony α7R III + FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA | 1/250s @ f/6.3, ISO 100

Where improvisation does come in, is in dealing with problems and managing the finer points of composition and lighting. In shooting, Pablo sets up with his camera locked off on a tripod and tethered, “so I can visualise the evolution of the composition through live view on the computer,” he explains. “This lets me compose little by little, placing objects with great precision, shaping light, and moving closer and closer to the final result. I also use Sony’s Bluetooth remote trigger to run the camera remotely, which also allows me to bias the exposure if required for a high or low-key look.”

Having previously used the Sony Alpha 7R II and Alpha 7R IV, Pablo now shoots with the Alpha 1. “The reason is fundamentally the image quality it gives me,” he explains. “The sensors have tremendous dynamic range with the ability to attenuate highlights and shadows, and the fidelity of the colours is amazing. In product photography, that’s essential. We have to reproduce the look and tone of a product with complete confidence. Then there’s the massive resolution. It allows me to work comfortably with advertising agencies on projects of any size.”

a glass and bottle of beer on a wooden table

© Pablo Gil | Sony α7R III + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/250s @ f/4.0, ISO 100

Another aspect of his Alpha cameras that Pablo relies on is their manual focusing options. “For still life, with the camera’s position locked, it’s normal to focus in manual,” he says, “and for maximum precision I use the on-screen magnification, as well as focus peaking. I check results on the computer screen to be 100% sure, but it’s totally reliable. In the same way, if I want to make separate images for focus stacking, I can move the focus point wirelessly, so I know each part of the subject is covered and get the exact depth-of-field I want.”

When it comes to lenses, Pablo relies on still-life staples like the FE 50mm f/1.2 GM, FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS and FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS, “with the 50mm also very useful for my flat-lay photos,” he explains, “and the 90mm macro or 100mm for details. I almost always prefer prime lenses, but I don’t close myself off, and like to play with different options until I find the view I saw in my mind. For instance, the wonderful FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lets me compress and flatten a composition, getting an almost isometric perspective.”

smartwatch sitting next to some red tentacles

© Pablo Gil | Sony α7R III + FE 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS | 1/250s @ f/5.6, ISO 100

Pablo has clearly found the perfect partner in his Sony Alpha gear, his cameras and lenses being the tools that turn his still-life ideas into reality. “Like I said,” he concludes, “every still-life or product shoot is a challenge, but these cameras mean it’s a creative task, not a technical effort.”

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Pablo Gil

Pablo Gil | Spain

"An image never lies, mine may be"

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