Making the most out of still life photography

Don't dismiss still life photography as boring

Broccoli header.jpeg

It's easy to dismiss still life photography as boring and old-fashioned. After all, the classic still life subjects of fruit, vegetables, flowers, and game were made classic by their renditions in oil paintings. The truth is, however, that creating good still life photos is surprisingly difficult and practising the skills required for them can be particularly beneficial for your photography as a whole.

So let's start with a definition. Still life typically refers to scenes that depict inanimate objects in such a way that displays their form, shape, texture, and colour. While we might associate still lifes with fruit and flowers, just about anything that doesn't move can be a still life subject. The idea is that you are displaying your subject or subjects and photographing it or them to appear their most attractive. 

I suppose that you could say a good still life looks so perfect, but at the same time so real, that there's a sense of the impossible about it.

You'll often find that photographers who are accomplished at producing still lifes can turn their hand to product photography. While product photographers might not be afforded the creative freedom that goes with, say, fine art photography, they are highly skilled and understand just how to arrange their subjects and light them to perfection. 

Four steps to still life perfection

Still life photography is a great rainy-day activity. You can set yourself up a scene and do your best to photograph it so that it looks as close to perfect as you can manage. It's a great exercise in subject placement and lighting. But there's a bit more to it, too.

1. Select your objects with care

Don’t use any old collection of objects for your still life, or will just resemble a disjointed pile of junk. There needs to be some unity to the subjects, or a common theme—consider age, colour, shape, or purpose. If you're choosing fruit or vegetables, ensure that you select the specimens coming closest to perfection that you can find.

2. Composition

Good composition is crucial to a successful still life, or indeed any photograph. Arrange your objects in such a way that the eye is lead through and around them. Think about using leading lines, curves, and off-centre composition.

3. Lighting

Make sure your lighting, whether natural or artificial, shows off the form and texture of the objects, and that there are discrete areas of light and shade.

4. Background

Either use a background that complements the arrangement (such as dark fabric for a classic still life) or use a large sheet of white paper if you want a minimalist, white background look. 

Of course, you don't have to wait for a rainy day to have a go at still life photography!