When looking at artists whose photographic technique I admire, Edward Weston is one of the top photographers on that list. In order to understand how to apply similar techniques in my own work, I needed to learn about the man behind the lens.
Who Was Edward Weston?
Edward Weston was born on March 24, 1886, in Highland Park, Illinois. He developed his interest in photography at the age of 16. He started out using a 5×7 view camera to photograph around the Chicago area and working on his photographic technique. In April 1906, the magazine Camera and Darkroom published Weston’s Spring, Chicago as a full-page image. This was his first known publication of his 40-year career. Subsequently, he moved to California in 1908 and began working with other photographers. Most noteworthy of these was Margrethe Mather. The only photographer that Weston ever shared credit with on photographs.
In 1927, Weston met the painter Henrietta Shore. She encouraged him to explore other subjects than the nudes he had done for so long. Shore’s paintings of nautilus shells intrigued Weston. As a result, he explored the photographic techniques of still-life photography. He used his large format 8×10 inch view camera. This work produced some of Weston’s most famous and iconic images. Among these are Pepper No. 30 and Shell, 1927 (Garrison). It is these images that has captured my attention. This led me to explore Weston’s photographic technique and style.
Photographic Technique of Signature Still Life
Weston used a large format camera. So, he dealt with an extremely narrow depth-of-field. This was due to using a large format camera shooting so close to his subject. Even stopped at f/64, an extremely small opening. This technique gives large depth-of-field when shooting landscapes due to the distance. As a result, Weston created his own apertures. And in f-stops much smaller than the mechanical stops on the camera. Because he only used natural light, this necessitated extremely long exposure times. The photographic technique used for Pepper No. 30 was a custom f/240 aperture and a 4- to 6-hour exposure (Angus-Lee). Due to placing the pepper in a tin funnel combined with the sun’s movement over that length of time, he created the broad lighting across the pepper. (Silber, Secrets of Edward Weston’s Photography)
What I find so fascinating about Weston’s work, especially Pepper No. 30, is how he can take an everyday subject and create such unique images of them. The subject in Pepper No. 30 is just a bell pepper. But the way Weston photographs it makes this ordinary pepper into something sublime. The lighting is subtle and the shapes intriguing which draws the viewer into the image.
My photographs for this project were taken using only available light at f/16 to f/22 using a 30 second exposure. Similarly, I chose the watermelon and pinecones as subjects similar to Weston’s and the other subjects were items chosen to showcase the possibilities of this style for product photography. The images were captured using Capture One tethered to my Sony α7R III. Then processed through Adobe Photoshop using Alien Skin Exposure 2 to emulate the look of the Agfa film used by Weston. (Silber, Photography Secrets of Edward Weston’s Darkroom)
Angus-Lee, Doug. Edward Weston and me. 10 November 2017. August 2018. <http://www.mightymacro.com/2017/11/10/edward-weston-and-me/>.
“Edward Weston.” 2014. Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona. August 2018. <http://ccp-emuseum.catnet.arizona.edu>.
Edward Weston: The Photographer. Dir. Willard van Dyke. Affiliated Film Producers, Inc. United States Information Agency, 1948. Film. August 2018. <https://youtu.be/J8S4HoxuDzw>.
Garrison, Liam. Edward Weston. 2018. August 2018. <http://edward-weston.com/>.
Silber, Marc. “Photography Secrets of Edward Weston’s Darkroom.” Advancing Your Photography YouTube Channel. Carmel, 24 August 2017. August 2018. <https://youtu.be/yT2-xpKBafs>.
—. “Secrets of Edward Weston’s Photography.” Advancing Your Photography YouTube Channel. Silber Studios. Carmel, 11 August 2017. August 2018. <https://youtu.be/bUAKoiRhLR8>.