How to photograph a fruit-themed still life against banana leaves

fruit themed still life photographed against banana leaves
A papaya, banana, pineapple, coconut, watermelon photographed against banana leaves in my messy garage. A $10 budget production.

Photographing a fruit-themed still life against banana leaves

In college I never understood the obsession  my photo-Illustration classmates had with surfaces.

They practically lived in the studio.

They spent hours learning how to light, pick props, arrange those props on a backdrop of some sort.

They often reshot again and again each time consulting with their instructor.

Sometimes it would be around a theme, other times they would be working on an ad for a fictitious product.

I remember one particular fellow who combed flea markets, thrift stores and junkyards for flat pieces of wood, strange plexiglass and other odd flat objects.

Over time, the communal studio became a pigsty because no one wanted to throw those treasures out.

the setup used to photograph fruit themed still life photographed against banana leaves
One view of my setup. I have illumination from the windows of my garage doors.

So one day I sat him down and asked.

He explains he always starts with a blank canvas so that’s a backdrop where props are placed.

An example would be  an interesting piece of wood with texture and then build from there.

Then he brainstorms and figures out what will work with his backdrop.

Is it working in reverse?

Some photographers find objects that share common physical appearances then build a composition around it.

I thought about this approach and I’m using it to share how I photographed some fruits I bought for under $10 in my messy garage.

Is starting with the backdrop a strange approach? You tell me.

Banana leaves as a backdrop for a still life

another view of  the setup used to photograph fruit themed still life photographed against banana leaves
The other lights source–an open door to my garage. It let in quite a bit of light, so I had to use a cardboard box as a gobo to shield the light to suit the modeling I wanted. When it was time to shoot, I turned off the overhead florescent lights.

If you live or grow up in the tropics, you may be familiar with how indigenous people tend to utilize every part of a plant.

I’ve always been fascinated with the banana plant.

Besides the ghost stories of my childhood  that suggest evil spirits dwell in this plant, I love the way banana leaves feel.

They are waxy and water proof, translucent and are a wonderful shade of green.

They are big enough to use for wrapping food or as plates, so why not as use banana leaves as a  backdrop?

I had no access to any banana leaves until a few years ago when I spied a tree in my next door neighbor’s yard.

Since they are not native to California, my neighbor’s banana plant doesn’t always have the best looking leaves year round.

I am fortunate my neighbor has told me I can just help myself whenever I need some.


Working in the clutter of my messy garage, I chose to work with very directional available light.

There is a door and then there are windows in the garage door.

  1. 2 Canon Speedlites–both set on Manual setting.
  2. Canon 5DM2, using a 50mm lens and  17-35 zoom mounted on tripod
  3. Off-camera cord for triggering 580EX II Speedlite as Master and 430EX as Slave. Both on Manual power setting.

A fruit theme

yet another view of the setup used to photograph fruit themed still life photographed against banana leaves
The view from behind the set. Note the placement of the Speedlites underneath and behind to give some separation of the fruits from the banana leaves.

The perfectionist would not get started because finding the perfect specimen for any fruit is next to impossible.

Bananas maybe plentiful and easy but they bruise very easily as I found out when I shot an illustration using bananas.

In a commercial setting, there would be a stylist whose main job is to make sure the food is impeccable.

In my high budget ($10) production, I was pretty happy with my results.

Sure, there’s always room for improvement.

It’s a decent start or maybe not.

Go ahead and let me know what you would do different under comments.
Peter Phun Photography

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6 thoughts on “How to photograph a fruit-themed still life against banana leaves”

  1. Sabe,
    I should have mentioned that the behind-the-scenes pictures were taken with the overhead florescent lights in the garage turned on. I was hand holding my Canon Powershot G11, so I needed more light.

    The actual exposure for the pictures taken by my 5DM2 was 15 seconds @ f22 were done with the overhead florescent lights off for obvious reasons—I wanted to keep the color temperature of my light sources the same so that I wouldn’t have white balance issues.

    If I had access to a large format camera, I would have used it. For the amount of time and trouble to set this still life up, it would have made sense to do that.

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. If you have ideas or comments on what might make a good post, feel free to suggest it.

  2. Peter….
    Thank you for your information. I didn’t realize it was so dark in the room to require a 15 second exposure. I didn’t see any imperfections on the banana leaves or the fruit, but was simply looking at your two links to the leaves and the bananas which both seem to have a different kind of light. The bamboo and cup were very rich in color and detail.

    Thanks again, I enjoy your posts!

  3. Sabe,
    Thanks for commenting. Great question about my choice of lighting. You are correct that a harder light source might be a better choice.
    If I do this over, I will paint it with some LED lights since it’s a long enough exposure of about 15 seconds.
    I will try adding another Speedlite but with a snoot of some sort.

    When I do this over, I will find some better looking banana leaves.
    The ones in this picture were torn and so I had to use clear tape to ‘repair’ them. I also need to find a bigger piece of clear plexiglass to place the backdrop of leaves.

    While I’m thinking of it, I will probably cut out the base of the various round fruits so they don’t roll around. It was a battle to keep those round fruits from moving all around.

    Great to hear from you.

  4. Peter… Thanks for sharing your lighting methods. I like the translucent leaves and composition. I am wondering why you chose a relatively flat lighting for the fruit instead of a direct source to spot the very colorful elements of the various items?

    Thanks, Sabe

  5. Peter,
    I love how your banana leaves are ‘translucent and…wonderful shade of green’, which lends to perfect photo background with flash below and behind.
    Texture of banana leaves adds to your fruit/still life visual arrangement.
    Can see how bruising bananas would be a problem.

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