Seventeenth-century painters used natural light to produce their still lifes. Photographer Karen Maugans replicates that look for her still life photos via studio strobes. “I’ve always been drawn to low-key still life imagery with Rembrandt-style lighting,” she says. “I love how the subjects seem to dramatically emerge from the shadows as the light skims across them, bringing out textures and creating a sense of depth.”
Math plays into Maugans’ compositions. She follows the rule of thirds and also arranges objects into geometric shapes that are pleasing to the eye—three round pomegranates positioned in a triangle, for example. Her greatest challenge is making the photograph before her subjects wilt or fall apart. “I often keep the most perishable items refrigerated until the last minute, sometimes submerged in cold water to keep them hydrated and plumped up,” she explains. She composes the nonperishable items first and tests her lighting, then adds the perishables just before she trips the shutter.
“I love the challenge of building a scene on a tabletop with objects that might not ordinarily be together into a cohesive, unique composition,” she says. Capturing the image is secondary to the satisfaction she derives from creating harmony from disparate elements.
Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.