Still life Photography
Creating a beautiful image is an impressive feat. But just as painting a bowl of fruit is a good introduction for new painters, shooting everyday places and objects is the ideal training ground for still life photographers. It gives you the opportunity to experiment with light, materials, textures and subjects in a controlled setting. Whatever your creative vision and artistic goals, still life is a great place to start.
What makes the best still life photography?
Still life photography encompasses everything that is an inanimate object in front of a camera. But a successful still life is a little harder to classify. It all comes down to:
- Is your message conveyed?
- Is your composition strong?
- Does it guide the viewer’s eye through the image?
- Does your still life convey a narrative?
- By asking these deeper questions you can understand whether a still life photograph is successful.
- Ideas for still life photography
- Looking for some inspiration for your next composition? We’ve selected 20 still life photography examples – and added some expert comments and tips – to help you realise your artistic vision when capturing still life photographs.
- Experiment with two-tone backgrounds to achieve a striking contrast between distinct colours. It can help emphasise any objects that are placed in the foreground, making your still life image pop immediately.
- “Still life is a fantastic challenge for your compositional skills. It’s entirely about form and a pleasing arrangement of forms within the frame. The image needs to be well balanced and have an interesting geometric play. Everything you’re doing in the frame is guiding the viewer’s eye.”
- Steam can be tricky to capture in still life photography. But having the correct lighting and camera setup can help. Simply use two separate light sources to achieve the perfect snap. Place one behind the scene and another to the side to flick the steam blur-free.
- Objects photographed against a black background can give the illusion that they are floating in front of the backdrop. Using a single studio light and materials that absorb, rather than reflect light, can produce the perfect “drop out black” style.
- If you’re photographing glass, getting the lighting just right is essential, as glass is transparent and partially reflective. Using a backlight can dull these reflections. Alternatively, use two separate light sources to add extra depth – one placed behind and one at the side.
- If you’re shooting things like products, consider taking an experimental approach. Try lighting them from odd angles, or crop in on the label unexpectedly. It could result in a stunning composition that stands out from standard still life photographs.
- For minimalist shots, play with your composition and test different layouts and arrangements of your objects. Tweak and adjust your layout as you go to refine your composition skills and identify what makes a photo pleasing to both your eye and your viewers’.
- Try alternative strategies with your lighting, both in the studio and in natural light. Avoid shooting with traditional overhead lights in your home, as light colours will mix and produce odd and unintentional shadows. Using different light sources can subtly change the mood and atmosphere of an image.
- Food is a classic subject in still life photography. The usual aim is to bring out the character of the objects depicted. If the purpose of your food photos is to document and sell something, the same rules apply – good lighting, composition and depth of field. These can all heavily impact your outcome.
- Flowers showcase the most attractive aspects of nature when photographed in still life. For photographer Hannah Concannon: “Still life has been mostly about experimentation and trying new things, because you never quite know how certain light is going to reflect off of a marble versus a rose.”
- Experiment with depth of field. Consider focal length and try using a prime lens or a zoom lens to mix things up. Focusing on one small point rather than having the entire frame in focus can change your composition dramatically.
- Compose your photo with diverse textures and materials. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a handful of random objects from your home or a curated collection of sterling silver candlesticks. Bringing in these different elements can pull together a collage that draws the viewer’s eye towards different directions – resulting in a thought-provoking piece.