Looking for the perfect way to hone your technique? Or get completely creative? Still life photography gives you a high degree of control over the composition of your piece, leaving you free to experiment. After all, it’s much easier to focus on your technique without the added pressure of moving subjects or unpredictable lighting conditions.
Ready to try it out for yourself? Discover our top tips to help get you started.
What is Still Life Photography?
Simply put, still life photography is the art of creating images of non-living objects. That can mean anything from household knick knacks to musical instruments, or even vintage items like typewriters. Popular sub-genres today include food photography and flower photography, although there’s so much more to explore.
As a genre, still life photography has its roots in still life painting. But that doesn’t mean it’s restricted or dated. Contemporary still life photography can be playful or sombre, minimalist or bursting with shapes and colours from every angle. Still life photography is just as relevant and interesting today as it was a century ago, and why not? With so much scope to explore, and so much control for the photographer, it’s the ideal opportunity to get creative.
7 Still Life Photography Tips to Try
Whether you’re new to still life photography or want to refine your technique, here are some tips to help you capture that perfect shot.
1. Play with your composition
With still life photography, you’re truly in control. So make the most of it! Rearrange your items as many times as you need to create the perfect composition. After all, there’s no need to worry about your subjects getting tired or bored!
It’s easy to go for object overload. Instead, start by keeping your composition simple. A striking still life photograph only needs a single object to be effective, so start with one item and add in extras one at a time until you achieve the shot that you want. It can be fun to see how your composition builds up and could even make an interesting sequence of shots.
2. Break tradition
Who says still life photography has to be all about fruit bowls and vases of flowers? Don’t feel constrained by traditional subject matter – choose objects that have personal significance, such as baby’s first shoes or antique family heirlooms.
Another way to find interesting objects to shoot is to look out for items that you love simply because of their colour, texture or form. Keep an open mind and before you know it, you’ll be spotting still life photography ideas everywhere – from the vibrant colours of autumn leaves to the textured fibres of rope.
3. Try black and white
Looking for a simple way to create dynamic shots of everyday objects? Shooting in black and white can transform your subject by encouraging the viewer to focus on lines, textures and patterns. The stark botanical images created by Karl Blossfeldt in the 1920s are a great example of black and white still life photography, but this technique remains impactful today.
4. Explore abstract compositions
One of the most enjoyable things about still life photography, is the opportunity to give your viewer a new perspective on a familiar object. To explore abstract compositions, start by taking your picture from as many different angles as you can once you’ve got your setup. It’s all about thinking of the items as shapes, rather than individual objects.
Macro photography is another great way to take an abstract view of your objects. Extreme close-ups can make well-known items unrecognisable, allowing you to explore their surface textures and colours instead.
5. Watch out for your reflection
If you’re just starting out with photography, you might want to avoid items with reflective surfaces such as metal or glass, as unwanted reflections can be difficult and time-consuming to remove. Learn how to shoot still life with items that are easier to capture, so that you can spend more time on perfecting your composition and technique, and less time in the editing suite.
6. Choose your backdrop and surface carefully
Once you’ve chosen your subject, pay special attention to the background you place it against. This can have a huge impact on the overall mood of your image. Start with these tips on choosing the right background:
- Plain white backgrounds: These are clean, making them ideal for product photography. However, they can also be stark. This may not make them the right choice for displaying sentimental objects where you want to create a softer mood.
- Black backgrounds: These are great for experimenting with shadows and light. If you want to create a moody shot, opt for black!
- Textured backgrounds: These create visual interest without detracting from your subject, making them ideal for lifestyle shots. They tend to work better with natural light to show up texture.
But as always, don’t be afraid to throw all the rules out of the window and get really creative. Sometimes throwing in a strong colour or unexpected texture can really make your subject pop.
7. Experiment with light
Thanks to the high level of control you have over your shoot, still life photography is the ideal opportunity to experiment with your lighting setup and create a different mood. Try moving light sources further away from or closer to your objects to explore different effects, and take the opportunity to play with shadows and highlights too. Bouncing light off white or black surfaces is also a great way to create different moods. Try using sheets and bounce boards off-camera, at different angles, to see how they impact the lighting effects.
Want to pinpoint specific areas of your composition? Try positioning reading lamps to create spotlights over areas that you want to focus on. Finally, don’t forget natural light too! Experiment with diffusing light from a window to create a softer effect.
Still life photography tip: You can use your tripod and a very slow shutter speed without having to worry about blur. Keep your ISO low, and use manual focus to keep your focus on your favourite part of the setup.
How to Use Your Still Life Photos
Once you’ve captured your still life shot, you’ll be ready to show it off. Thanks to their versatility, still life photos can be used in a whole range of different ways.
- Tell the story of a special occasion: A close-up of the rings can be included in a wedding photo album to complement all those images of the happy couple. It’s a great way to bring the special day to life from their perspective.
- Create custom backgrounds: Close-ups of textured objects can make interesting backgrounds to use on the pages of your photo book, giving you complete creative control over your design.
- Make your own wall art: Abstract images make arresting art prints for your own wall, or as a gift for a friend. Why not create your very own photo canvas? Multi-panel designs add an extra element to abstract images, or you could choose to display your photo on an acrylic panel for a sleek, vibrant finish.