Still Life Photography
Written by: Tiffany Joyce
Still life photography involves taking photographs of an inanimate object or small grouping of objects. When capturing still life images, it is important to pay close attention to the photograph’s composition and the arrangement of the objects themselves. The type and quality of lighting is also important in order to illuminate the details, cast appealing shadows, and create depth.
The photographer has a lot of flexibility and control over the environment and the objects themselves, which would make it seem like still life photography is the most simple of photographic disciplines. However, is actually an exacting science – there is a fine line between an artistically arranged still life photograph and a snapshot of, well, just some stuff.
So, how do you choose the subject of your still life photograph? Basically, you can use anything that is visually appealing to you. Lots of people go for fruit, or an arrangement of flowers, or create a scene using period-based objects. Some still life photos have a theme, others are based on the geometrics and patterns created by the objects themselves.
When choosing and arranging your objects, it is important to maintain a central subject that is the key focus of the photograph. A random grouping of objects with no clear subject just becomes confusing to the viewer. When shooting in color, ensure the objects coordinate with one another, and shoot against a neutral colored background. Have a clear understanding of the goal you have in mind, for the feeling you wish to generate when a person views your picture. Are you going for a sterile environment and clean lines that bring forth a sense of symmetry and geometry? Or are you aiming toward generating a feeling of nostalgia by creating a scene that depicts, say, a hearth or table found in a country home? Play with the textures of the objects you’re photographing as well. Pair smooth surfaces with those that have a texture – glass with woven cloth, wood grain with shiny metal, etc.
Lighting is key to creating the mood of your photograph. Portable lighting that can be aimed in various directions will allow you to illuminate from below or off to the sides, which creates a different sense of depth and character than if the objects were illuminated straight-on or from above. Also, experiment with different focal lengths and depths of field. Take shots where your subjects are pulled in close, and take shots where your subjects are a smaller part of the overall scene. Try shooting from various angles, off to the side, from below or from above. A heavy dose of experimentation is a key method to achieving visually stimulating still life photographs. Throughout, remember that the use of a tripod and remote shutter release is important to capture tack-sharp images.
Other than experimentation and trial and error, the best way to understand still life photographic techniques is to look at the many fine examples provided by folks who have done it themselves. If you have a great still life photograph to share, please post it in the comments and tell us how you composed the shot!
Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “Still Life” by Margot Wolfs on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Fruits” by DeusXFlorida on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Traveller” by Alosh Bennett on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Wharf” by Tiffany Joyce.
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