Still Life Photography – 9 Steps to Perfection


Still Life Skull

Still life photography is one of the oldest of the photographic practices, and there is a reason for this. When photography was first started it was necessary for exposures to be quite long, so static objects were the perfect studies since they did not move.

1. Start Simple

Contrary to common belief, you don’t need a studio to get started in still life photography. All that is needed is a table placed by a window along with a simple backdrop and some props. You can even use the window as your backdrop!

Bottle Still Life

2. Subject Selection

You are free to choose whatever subject you want. You don’t have to photograph fruits or flowers just because that is what you see other still life photographers shooting. However, these do make good subjects when starting out. If you’d rather not photograph fruits and flowers, look around the house for other objects, or groups of objects to use.

It’s best to avoid reflective surfaces in the beginning, such as glass and metal, because they are extremely difficult to light without getting reflections. Once you are comfortable with the single object shots, try combining objects of contrasting shapes, colors, textures to see what creative arrangement you can make.

Fruit and Flower Still Life

3. Lighting Options

Lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. Natural diffused light streaming in through a window works great. To avoid shadows, compliment natural light with a lamp or reflector on the other side.

Bear Still Life

4. Tripods and Viewpoints

Using a tripod and a shutter release or your self-timer allows you to concentrate on setting up the shot. Also because your subject is normally closer than in other types of photography, you have a much shallower depth-of-field. So using a tripod and shutter release allows you to use longer shutter speeds so you can use small apertures thereby holding the whole subject in focus.

Be sure to vary the angle and height of your camera as you shoot your subject. Try shooting at subject level or try shooting from a bird’s eye view, looking down onto the subject, but be careful that you don’t end up casting shadows on your subject!

Purse Still Life

5. Selecting a Backdrop

Generally, you want to keep your background simple as this is a crucial part in the overall success of your shots. A plain painted wall, or a large sheet of white or plain colored fabric works well.
Make sure your choice of background contrasts with your subject. Think about if you want a neutral background, or a complimentary shade of your subject. For smaller objects, you might want to use a surface of a light absorbing, non-reflective black velvet.

Still Life "Studio"
Image Source

6. Composing the Shot

The composition element when shooting still life is crucial to make your work engaging and unique. One element that should be part of your compositional criteria is using the Rule of Thirds. When applied correctly, it will create stronger compositions than the ones you have without using the rule. Minimize distractions by using selective focusing.

Still Life Using Rule of Thirds

7. Take Your Time

In still life photography, generally the light isn’t rapidly changing and your subject isn’t going to get bored and move. Because of this, you can take as much time as you need to set up your shot correctly. With still life photography, there’s no reason not to have clean sharp images, so take your time to get the lighting and focus right.

Christmas Still Life

8. Inspiration from the Masters

If you need help lighting and composing set-ups, look to the old renaissance still life painters. Study their paintings to see how they viewed form, subject and lighting in their works.

Renaissance Still Life

9. Practice to Improve

Try setting up your camera with your subject and backdrop suitably lighted next to a window. Once you’ve the basics down pat, try getting more creative by experimenting with different camera viewpoints, lighting angles and using alternative light sources, such as candles and lamps.

Keep in mind that still life photography does not have to all about fruit and flowers. Find some unique and inspiring subjects and start shooting!

Shoe Still Life


Previous Post
Digital Photography

Drone Arial Photography Tips

Next Post
Digital Photography

The Secrets to Getting Great Nature Shots