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Still Life Photography – Four Tips

Learn Photography – Still Life

Still Life Photography – Four Tips

Throughout the decades, artists have depicted still life scenes–arrangements of inanimate objects–in paintings and photography. Shooting still life subjects is one of the best ways to sharpen your photographic skills. You can take your time, and your subject remains stationary. Good composition, framing and lighting are all very important to translate your still life into a great photo.

Reader photo by Tom Reich, Tuscon, AZ

Study Good Photos

Every day we are bombarded with still life images of appetizing foods, shiny housewares and other appealing products in magazine ads, brochures and catalogs. Professionals spend a great deal of time setting up these shots and you can learn a lot just by studying the photos you find most appealing and unique. Notice how photographers use repeating shapes and lines to create patterns and use complimentary colors. Study the lighting that they use. One of the best things you can do before you shoot still lifes is to collect images that inspire you.

Reader photo by Kenneth A. Deitcher, Albany, NY


Keep It Simple

Simplicity is very important when composing still lifes. You don’t need to collect a wide range of complicated objects to create an interesting picture. Instead, choose a few objects with a common thread. The arrangement of a still life should begin with the positioning of a single dominant subject. Then add other objects one at a time, and examine the arrangement through your camera’s viewfinder. Experiment with your camera angle until the scene shows the elements in the most pleasing balance. Photograph the original grouping, and then rearrange or remove objects to see if it improves the composition.


Reader photo by Adele Collins, Plymouth, MA


Challenge Yourself

You can use any object or group of objects to create a still life. Flowers, fruit, and vegetables are popular subjects and easy to obtain. You can also create a good still life with some of your own personal belongings. This also allows you to make a personal statement. A cherished necklace, a favorite article of clothing, sporting equipment, or a collection of memorabilia can say a lot about who you are. Challenge yourself by gathering objects to create your own still life image–think about what interests you and use that as your theme.

If your hobby is photography, use your camera, a roll of negatives, some prints and a few of your favorite accessories as props. This self-assignment can be an experiment in light, shape, color, and composition, as well as
an opportunity to express your own imagination.


Reader photo by Jan Stadelmyer, Bellwood, PA


Equipment & Backdrops

Most pros use elaborate studio setups for their still lifes, but you can do this yourself on a smaller scale at home. Invest in a yard or two of cloth from a fabric store, or purchase backdrop paper (known as “seamless”) which is available in many camera and art stores. This will give you a more-professional looking, uncluttered background. You may also want to shoot your subject(s) on a tabletop or another surface draped with fabric.

I recommend using light from a window or ambient room light instead of your camera’s flash. You’ll get much more pleasing light than with the harsh illumination that on-camera flash provides (unless you have a means of using off-camera lighting). A sheet of white cardboard or Fome-Cor can be used as a reflector to fill in the shadows.

Natural outdoor settings work well for some objects, like an arrangement of shells on a beach. When shooting outdoors, utilize the more-flattering illumination of early or late sunlight, or the soft light of an overcast day.


Four Tips In Brief

· Collect still life images that you admire.
· Assemble personal objects to create a unique still life statement.
· Keep compositions simple.
· Utilize backdrop elements and lighting to produce strong still life photos.

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