In still life photography, a photographer creates an image with almost full control over lighting, mood, and composition. Because photographers directly influence the image creation process, still life photos reflect the creativity and style of the photographers themselves. For this reason, photographers who specialize in still life will end up with a unique and creative portfolio. Even if the endless possibilities of still life photography can seem daunting, it’s definitely worth trying out.
7 Things to Keep in Mind About Still Life Photography
Here are 7 things to keep in mind while shooting still life photography, followed by examples of still life photography.
1. Plan your photo
In still life photography, you won’t generally stumble upon a great photo by sheer luck. You should take charge of the entire creative process. The more you plan out your shoot, the better the result is likely to be. So take some time to brainstorm ideas and how you can execute them. When reading through the other items on this list, think of how you can plan for them in advance.
Different styles of still life photography will present unique challenges. You’ll want to factor these challenges, or how you’ll overcome them, into your planning. For example, jewelry photography demands a solution for photographing highly reflective surfaces. There are steps you can take to minimize reflections, like using specialized light modifiers that reduce the amount of open space surrounding the jewelry. Whatever subject you choose to photograph for a still life session, keep the challenges associated with that subject in mind when planning.
In still life photos, you have more freedom to move your subjects around. This gives you the opportunity to play around with composition (without your subjects getting bored or upset). Think of yourself as a graphic designer who is composing an image. You will discover that certain compositions are more interesting than others. You can also try out different proportional relations between objects. One thing you should definitely pay attention to is the space around your subject, the negative (or white) space. The composition of your photo may become better, just by increasing (or decreasing) the negative space.
As with all other types of photography, good lighting is essential in still life photography. Because you have virtually complete control of your environment, there’s not really an excuse for poor lighting. In other words, figure out how to perfect the lighting in your still life shooting environment. If you’re relying on natural light, figure out the best time for a shoot or wait until the light has improved. When using a flash, you should consider diffusing the light, using an external flash and directing the light with a reflector. For more information on lighting, check out this guide on different lighting techniques in still life photography.
You want to make sure that the background works well with your main subject. For example, think about how the background will look in-focus and out-of-focus. Maybe you can find a background with an interesting texture or no texture at all. A single-color background can be an effective way to make your subject stand out. If you have the option, try out different types of background with the same subject.
6. Take it outside
With still life photography, you’re not limited to staying inside. You can find plenty of excellent still life subjects outdoors: leaves floating down the river, a nice composition of street objects, or an interesting rock on the beach. It might be harder to control the shooting environment, but outside you can find unique subjects and backgrounds.
7. Release your inner creative genius
There are no limits on what you can do with still life photography (as long as your subjects are, you know, still). So play around with ideas and the contents in your cupboards! Maybe you will be the first person to photograph a rubber ducky in a bathtub filled with watermelons. You can also create your own message. Still life paintings were infused with meaning and symbolism, you could do the same in your still life photos.
Examples of Still Life Photography
Here’s a selection of great still life photos from our Flickr group.