New Spins On Classic Still Life Photography

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Whether you are embarking on a new career, trying out a new hobby, or exploring additional outlets for expressing your artistic abilities, still life photography is an exciting path to take. Keep in mind that although being a still life photographer is fulfilling, it requires a great deal of patience. But with a little perseverance and determination, you can produce quality work.

Still life photography is a great alternative to other forms of photography because it allows for control and unlimited time. With still life, photographers will never miss out on a great shot due to lack of lighting or poor composition. They don't have to worry about their models becoming impatient and walking out. Still life photographers have free rein to create their perfect photo.

What Is Still Life Photography?

Still life photography is a distinct photographic genre. It has different subcategories and offers many creative options. Common subjects for still life photography include flowers, food, plants, rocks, glasses, shoes, and tools.

Types Of Still Life Photography

Two main types of still life photography are found and created still life. Found still life is when a photographer comes across an interesting scene that has the characteristics of a great photo without needing adjustments. Created still life is when a photographer alters or composes the scene so it makes for a great image.

Still Life Beginners: What You Need To Know

A common misconception is that you need a lot of expensive studio equipment to become a photographer. Let us dispel that myth for you right now. You don't need a high-end camera or expensive top-of-the-line lenses. All you need is to be economical. Purchase the basics to get yourself started. After you get rolling, you can add recommended equipment to your collection.

Required Equipment

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To start, find a camera that appeals to you. We prefer a digital camera because it is cheaper over time and gives you an instant image. However, you can work with a film camera if you want.

Find a variety of materials to create the background for your potential scene. Small silver and white reflectors will help bounce backlight into the scene. You can buy these online for a low price or easily build your own with tinfoil and cardboard.

Search your house for items to be used as props which will inspire you and make a good scene composition. You can visit a flea market for interesting, cheap props.

Recommended Equipment

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A tripod for your camera is an incredibly useful tool. At least one flashgun is suggested, but we recommend multiple if you can afford them. Flashguns can be used in manual mode, but they also have adjustable power. Wireless triggers or a fairly long E-TTL cord are other nice-to-haves. A softbox for your flashgun and tripods for these are good to have as well.

A telephoto lens and a fast normal lens are two other recommended items. If you do not have a macro lens, you can make do with a set of close-up lenses. The lower f-stop lenses will give you the ability to blur items in the background. Old, manual lenses are good too and are usually inexpensive.

Markets For Still Life Photography

Many photographers specialize in sub-genres of still life photography. Such sub-categories are product photography, food photography, architectural photography, advertising online, and catalog work.
Stock photography archives have created a high demand for still life photographers. As a result, there now is a good chance for job security in this field. But you must get noticed. As a word of advice, whenever preparing for a photo shoot, keep the mindset that you are working on an assignment. If you do this, you will always deliver your best work.

​Still Life Photography Essentials

​Although a professional photographer requires a sophisticated arrangement and expensive equipment, anyone can take great photos with relatively basic set-up right in the corner of their own living room. Still life photography merely requires a camera, an artistic eye, and a good imagination. Keep price tags low by crafting DIY accessories and solutions to kick off your first photo shoot.

Types Of Cameras

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As we mentioned earlier in this article, digital cameras are preferred. They are inexpensive to operate and you get immediate feedback. If you are old school, feel free to use a film camera. Whether you choose digital or film, single-lens reflex, and mirrorless cameras are ideal because they offer a fuller frame, depth of field and significantly more creative control than point-and-shoot cameras. Point-and-shoots don't allow lens changes.


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Different lenses for still life photography include:

  • ​Wide-angle lens
  • ​Telephoto lens
  • ​Wide-aperture lens (low f-stop)

A wide-angle lens emphasizes the dimensions of the nearest objects, while a telephoto lens compresses space. A wide-aperture lens reduces the depth of field and creates an out-of-focus background.

Macro Photography

Macro photos show an object's tiny details that most people do not see. Macro photography techniques can exaggerate the common, yet attractive traits of still life photography: slow, quiet, methodical, contemplative.


Composition in still life photography pertains to the makeup of a scene, types of subjects, placement, backgrounds and how they work together. The ability to create the layout of your scene effectively depends on your knowledge of compositional concepts such as:

  • ​Rule of thirds
  • ​Rule of odds
  • ​Leading lines
  • ​Repeating patterns
  • ​Negative space
  • ​Simplification
  • ​Choice of background
  • ​Creation of depth

Light And Shadows

Professional photographers use a lightbox or a softbox. Light tools such as softboxes distribute light equally over the object. Softboxes are helpful but not necessary for taking great pictures.

A cloudy or bright sky also can produce a natural softbox effect without disruptive shadows. Studio lights can be replaced by curtains that diffuse the sunlight. In this way, you have total control over the light upon your subject.

7 Tips To Spice Up Still Life Photography

​By adhering to the following practices, you can improve the caliber of your work by giving it the extra boost it needs.

Finding The Best Angles

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Although there are times when a tripod might not be necessary for still life photography, it is an irreplaceable tool. Tripods provide stability and repeatability. Adjustments are often needed. Taking multiple shots without a tripod may cause unwanted variations in your photographs. With a tripod, you can take an endless number of pictures and control the variations. You might change the angle of your subject, move the lights, or alter the composition. However, you may not want to move your camera. This is a scenario where a tripod comes in handy. Long exposures also require a tripod.

Changing camera positions can improve your pictures. Instead of photographing from eye level, try an overhead or ground level view. You want your viewer to see your subject in an entirely new way. You can change the height of the tripod to adjust the angles without touching the scene. However, be wary of adding any unwanted shadows.

Opaque Or Translucent Acrylic Lighting: Which

Is Better?

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Opaque white acrylic transmits light through it but keeps the edge of your light’s pattern contained. White translucent acrylic, however, spreads the edge of your light’s pattern. One method is not better than the other. Each offers different effects and gives you more control over your scene.

Simple Storytelling

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A proper background for the subject is vital for still life photography. Select a backdrop that fits your needs. Are you looking for a background that will contrast? Do you need a neutral background? Are there color tones that can complement the shades of color within your subject? Give it some thought.

Keep it simple and attractive. Do not use a background that disrupts the theme or creates an unwanted clash of colors, textures or shapes. Large sheets of plain/white colored paper or plain walls make perfect backgrounds. Do not make a hasty decision.

Some photo shoots call for photographing small objects. In this case, the surface your object sits on will be the backdrop. A good example is black velvet. It absorbs the light and provides a fine black surface.

Black Mirrored Surface

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​A black mirrored surface is an interesting choice that adds depth and dimension to your scene. To create such a surface, use a piece of black opaque acrylic and place lights above and behind your subject. Diffuse the light source so the reflected light spreads. By changing the position of the rear light, you can change the mirrored effect. There is also a semi-transparent black acrylic called “smoke.”


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Bokeh is the blurred area in the out-of-focus portion of a photograph taken with a narrow depth of field. This technique is a great way to create background interest that enhances your subject. Different lenses at wide apertures have different Bokeh qualities.


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Monofilament, also known as fishing line, is a thin, clear nylon thread that disappears from sight within a few feet's distance. Monofilament gives you the power to erect or suspend objects to create the desired look.

​New Techniques

​Despite the name, there is no rule that prohibits the movement of objects in still life photographs. Some photographers might be interested in capturing smoke, water splashes, flames or sparks. Controlling the light while making long exposures gives a creative effect. On the flip side, controlling light while making extremely short exposures freezes action that is basically invisible to the naked eye.


​Still life photography is all about imagination and creativity. Figure out the story you want to tell, find the objects that help depict that story, then choose the photographic techniques that bring your vision to life. Remember, good things come with time. Have patience during your still life photography shoot. If you do, you will achieve perfection.

If you are having trouble with lighting, composition or structure, or you need inspiration, go online and research renaissance still life masters. Look at the details of their pieces. You can never go wrong with the classics. Also, do not neglect post-processing. It is just as important as photographing your subjects. If you work with your images via Photoshop, you can save time and produce a steady flow of work. Have fun with it and get creative.

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