Do you want to learn about still life photography? This article will cover some essential tips in regards to shooting still life images. You can use our expert tricks to get better results in your hobby. However, you can also implement them if you are aiming to become a pro and earn money.
So take a look at the top 10 tips that will get you started with still life photography!
Still Life as a Common Photography Style
If you’ve ever taken an art class, you’ve probably heard of still life paintings, the art form depicting motionless objects on a canvas. Anything from apples, flowers to human skulls can fit the bill here. Regardless, the style requires a fundamental knowledge of composition and lighting.
When it comes to still life photography, the style is rooted in those types of paintings. The genre is a pillar of modern photography, along with portraits photography, documentary, or landscape styles.
What’s more, still life images were taken way back when photography and its technologies were just starting to develop. In fact, around the mid-1800s, early and rudimentary cameras could only capture motionless subjects. The equipment needed long exposure times, so the limited technology gave rise to a key photography genre.
Much like with painting, this style of photography focuses on static objects and the artist’s interpretation. Composition skills, subject matter, and careful lighting conditions are among the leading elements of still life photography.
Today, professional photographers who specialize in this art form are highly sought-after. They can find well-paid jobs for websites, magazines, catalogs, galleries, companies, and more. Commercial photography, for example, is quite lucrative. Furthermore, it’s a genuine form of expression for fine art photographers and world-class artists.
Most importantly, hobbyists and beginners can truly find their creative spark in it. On a larger scale, you could say that life photos are changing the way we connect every day — social media and platforms like Instagram are virtually full of vibrant and unique still life images!
But, before you start snapping and sharing nearly any motionless object you encounter, it’s best to learn some fundamental rules.
Choosing the Subject
Before you begin to experiment, keep in mind that professional studios and tons of equipment are not a requirement. It’s possible to use nearly anything as the subject. The same goes for your space and background. Just find a table or something with a flat surface.
Moreover, the neat thing about this art form is that you don’t have to rush it. Your apples and bananas won’t go bad if you take your time. The same goes for skulls, which definitely have plenty of time to spare. So start slowly and consider your subject matter.
Overall, the subject is key since it is the central theme of your image. You will need to control other variables like lighting, but it’s always crucial to consider the object first.
A fun way to start is to roam around your home and gather any intriguing items. Since this is art, you don’t have to stick to anything conventional like flowers. For example, you can visit garage sales and flea markets to find unique objects. Of course, don’t feel pressured to create something overly ambitious.
Finally, some techniques could also determine if your subject is suitable for a good photo.
Find Suitable Light and Lighting
If you start with a single object, consider the type of lighting that you’ll have available. Some glass or metal items are sensitive to light, which could result in a tricky and even messy shot. The lighting will definitely influence the texture, shape, and shade of your item too. That is especially important if you decide to combine several objects into the frame.
Fortunately, with still life photos, pro lighting equipment isn’t a necessity. You can get any type of basic lamp, or you can also use sunlight. If you have a few table lamps, try to block out any sunlight with curtains or something similar. That will give you full control. Additionally, lighting should usually hit the object from the front — that is an essential photography tip that many experts will tell you.
However, that’s not always the case, and you can add various light sources from the sides or from behind. You can test this by examining the shot’s depth and shadows, and you can also try a blend of natural light and lamps from either side of the item. That could produce the most natural-looking results.
Choosing the Right Backdrop
It’s highly important to choose a basic and simple backdrop. It should not shift the viewer’s focus away from your subject. That means the backdrop should usually be a plain wall. Sheets of paper are super effective.
If you don’t have a lot of color choices, white will work the best. The key is to capture the contrast between the subject and the background. Try a black and white image for a striking effect.
However, you can pick a backdrop with shades that will complement the item you are taking a photo of. In this case, go for the tones that blend neatly with the subject’s color. Additionally, a backdrop may not even be needed for smaller objects — simply rest the items on a hard surface. Black will work the best here.
As mentioned earlier, the composition is essential for any still life image. It can emphasize or even distort your subject. The trick is to read up on important guidelines such as the incredibly useful rule of thirds. It can allow you to set the best frame and angle while ensuring perfect composition. Of course, avoid any distractions in the background or foreground.
Another excellent beginner photography tip is to consider the key point of focus. That applies to almost any camera work. Where do you want the viewer’s eyes to end up first? How does your negative space fill the image, and what are the key features of the subject? Does it require context, or is it self-explanatory? There are some important questions that you’ll need to cover.
Shoot as Many as You Can
Nowadays, we have nearly unlimited amounts of memory, which means we can keep shooting for hours. Another tip for beginners is to snap as many still life images as you can.
Like we’ve said before, you don’t have to be hasty. Other photography types like landscape or documentary are primarily about timing. While photographing still life, you can take all the time you need. You can think about the frame, backdrop, lightning, or other elements for hours if you are dedicated.
However, it’s also vital to consider the technical aspects of the image. It shouldn’t be blurry or underexposed. Spend some time learning the details (e.g., shutter speeds, depth of field, exposure triangle, aperture priority, etc.) and the way your analog or digital camera ticks. Additionally, the subjects and your backdrop should be clean and tidy.
Get Inspiration From Others
Earlier on, we brushed upon still life painting and how it’s an essential element of any art form. If controlling lighting, subject matter, and composition are tricky for you, it may be time to do some research. Look up some still life examples from the masters of various movements. Check out the paintings from the early renaissance up to the modern period. That way, you’ll study trained and experienced masters and gain profound knowledge of colors, form, composition, etc.
And for contemporary inspiration, simply look at the most popular artists and interesting blogs. You can even find inspiration on social platforms and turn your internet browsing time into something productive.
Experiment With Camera Angles
It’s also important to have fun and try new things. You can put your creative ideas into action with camera angles. Consider getting a tripod for better control. But, experimentation doesn’t stop there — you can also play around with lighting and perspective. Use candles or unusual lamps for an interesting effect, for instance. It’s also advisable to use a macro lens (e.g., 50mm f/1.8). That will give your photos a unique and professional look.
Still life is also the ideal style for learning any editing techniques. However, experiment with it after you get the hang of actually shooting. If you shoot in RAW, It’s possible to change nearly anything.
However, this could make you lazy and unwilling to consider the details while shooting. If you genuinely wish to be great, make sure that your photo is as good as you want before any post-production work.
But, post-processing can yield some incredible results on its own. While editing your still life shots, you’ll be able to get a better grasp of perspective, touch-ups of harsh shadows, color correction, etc.
Make Money From Still Life Photography
As mentioned before, this genre of photography has several commercial opportunities. If you wish to explore a career in it or earn some cash on the side, there are several things that you can try. That includes starting a business or selling your work privately as well as via stock sites. It’s also possible to build up a strong artist profile online, conduct a photo exhibit in a gallery, and then try to profit from that.
Unfortunately, professional photo work is frantically competitive. However, if you’ve got the right motivation, you could climb up the ranks and generate a lot of money from it. As an alternative, it’s also possible to profit from teaching.
Never Stop Learning
If you keep all the previous tips in mind, you’ll be able to develop your own style. With some focus and experience, you’ll get an eye for this type of photography. However, you should always stay curious and explore your skills to their fullest. If you spend a lot of time with still photography and get bored, you can move on to other types like fashion, wildlife, etc.
There are many more photography tips and tricks that will help you learn and build your skills. Hopefully, we’ve enlightened you on some of the key aspects of still life photography and have shown you several ways to get started. So don’t hesitate and good luck with your first shot!