Still life is a renowned genre in both art photography and painting. Since cameras came a bit later, it’s quite okay to say this style of capturing objects has its origins in brushes and paintings. Coming into full fruition in the 16th century, even if the style was present since medieval times, it’s still going on strong to this day.
The still life style considers capturing lifeless objects arranged in a strict order. Judging by the name, it’s a sterile genre. But not in content — just in the way artists show us things that interest them. Moreover, one could argue the point is to capture the subject in the most natural way so that the viewer can assess it without any obstacles.
Still life photography mostly relies on medium framing and avoiding close-ups and wide shots. These genre choices work perfectly with product marketing. Hence, one could argue this style and advertisement are a match made in heaven.
In still photography, the artist relies heavily on lighting and framing, which are essential for quality and content accessibility. But, besides its constant use in product placement, the still life genre is universally accepted in artistic circles. Most art galleries around the globe hold annual exhibitions consisting of still life photos and scenes.
How to Improve Your Still Life Photography Skills?
Like with most things, it’s wrong to say that money is key for improvement. In no way is buying an expensive Nikon D850 or a DJI Mavic 2 Pro with a full-frame sensor going to make you a pro in no time. People tend to fool themselves into thinking expensive analog or digital cameras make them successful, but it’s not the case.
So how do you improve your skills? Well, like said — it’s not something you can do overnight. Take into account that to become a master of your craft, you’ll need time to reach a certain level. A piece of obvious advice most people will fail to mention is that you should think thoroughly about your subject.
Yeah, pure mental work! Take into consideration what you’re trying to achieve with your photo — study your lifeless object, think about its shape and colors, and find a perfect way to arrange the items to make them stand out. Without knowing the context you’re trying to place your subject in well enough, you’ll pretty much go nowhere.
Of course, take into account obstacle avoidance, color balancing, and lighting, and you’ll end up good. See, great photos rely on quality light. You can buy the most expensive flagship device out there, but without understanding the light source, it’s no use.
The Base Setup for Still Life Photography?
Once again, getting the most expensive premium devices and gadgets is great and all, but it works for nothing if you don’t know how to apply it. Your best drone for still photography (Parrot Anafi) that shoots in 4K is useless if it’s in the wrong hands. After coming up with an exciting concept, the artist must set up everything perfectly to take a photo.
So how do you do it? Well, there are simple principles one can apply for their work. In addition to your idea, consider your equipment, lenses, light, and softboxes you use — a quality device will give you a clear picture. For example, an interesting lens will produce a unique piece of art, and a good combination of right lighting and a suitable softbox will make it look like something out of a Panos Cosmatos movie.
Some fine devices we’d suggest for still-life photography are certainly the DJI Phantom, Nikon D850, or a Parrot Anafi for drone stuff. They’re all high-quality premium products that’ll capture perfect colors and shapes. Of course, they cost real money, but that’s what you get when trying to go pro.
It’s best to use a macro lens of around 24–120 mm to get a great perspective for this genre. It’ll produce that professional look everyone’s craving for in their photos. Also, choosing a light source that suits the object is essential. And when combined with a softbox that’s applied closer to the subject, shadows will become almost natural-like.
Like the name says, tabletop photography relies on placing the object of desire on top of a table. It’s a fairly common style in commercial photography, implying that it’s almost a standard when it comes to advertising of certain products or brands.
Using a wide-angle lens is a big no here. Go for the 24–120 mm stuff, as it will avoid distorting the object on the table. Correct your white balance, adjusting it to suit the temperature of your light source. The lighting can be a classic floodlight anyone can get at a Walmart as it doesn’t have to be expensive at all.
Applying a flatly, stylized, or completely white background will make for a professional-looking piece of art. Using this advice, you’ll, without a doubt, make the photo work and bring your idea to life.
Similarly to tabletop shoots, product photography relies on transparency. You want to showcase what you’re offering in the best possible light. When shooting from different angles, it’s important to allow potential customers to see they’re going to get quality for their money.
Therefore, using a white background is key — a plain backdrop will help make your product look beautiful, elegant, and transparent. Using the autofocus system on most flagship cameras will do just that. That is, you’ll get a clear image, still and available for inspection from any angle.
Again, it’s key to use a 24–120 mm lens — it will help avoid blurry and distorted images, making the subject fully visible. Also, adding softboxes to your studio light will make shadows soft and natural. Understand that it’s essential to be precise and clear here, as any kind of visible obstacle will only bring up doubt in the eye of the consumer.
When it comes to showing off delicious meals for your Instagram page or an online cookbook, it’s key to make your audience imagine the taste. Even if it sounds weird, it’s entirely possible with the right use of your still photography camera.
Decorating the dish accordingly or finding an interesting way to show it off is all about your imagination. Your aim should be for your food to stand out from the pretty crowded online culinary scene. So think of a cool plate to serve it in, a glass or bottle of a drink that best suits the meal, and a right table cloth.
Once you do all that, incorporate natural light as it’ll accommodate food photos the best. Add a 50 mm lens to capture the subject in its full glory, and you’ve got yourself a number one trending photo in no time. Of course, it’s a trial and error operation, so don’t hesitate to constantly check what you’ve captured on your electronic viewfinder display.
Found Object Photography
Easy now, folks! We’re going into art photography territory here! It’s easy to step on some shaky ground once dealing with the elitist and emotional artists here. We should take it step-by-step. After all, there’s so much art in old, used, and dumped pieces of everyday objects, wouldn’t you agree?
Kidding aside, found object photography has strong roots in the art community. Since the early 1900s, waves of artists emulated this idea into showcasing certain motivations and emotions through damaged and disregarded objects. But since the last decade saw the birth of Instagram and other photo-based social media platforms, all sorts of amateurs showed up with fairly interesting content.
Found object photography doesn’t have that many rules one could mention. It’s a pretty open art form, ready to accept all kinds of quirky and gnarly ideas into its catalog. The only real piece of advice is to be original and hands down dirty.
See, found objects placed in desolated, rusty, and dust-filled surroundings do wonders for that dystopian feel most photographers go for. It’s like imagining a one-eyed doll, lying beside a gas mask in a completely torn down apartment in Pripyat, near Chernobyl. It’s what makes most people tick these days.
Choosing the Background
Now, this is a vital part of making your photos look good. So listen up now, there’s no room slacking around. No matter how exciting or fresh your subject is, it can all go down in flames without a perfect background to complement it. Missing the right surrounding is like pouring rotten milk in your coffee.
The first thing a newbie photographer should take into consideration is the context of what they are shooting. For example, if you’re taking food photos, you won’t place the table with the dish in a garage. It needs to feel in place, like a baby in a cradle. So avoid obstacles that’ll ruin the photo.
Also, you’ll need to understand the lighting. For instance, led lights in still photography work only if inside or when it’s dark. You don’t want to fill your memory cards with tons of crap just because you don’t know how led panels work. It’s important to represent your subject in the right way.
Last but not least — be original! It’s maybe easy to say this, but there’s no use in producing content that’s somewhat similar to all the stuff you see on your Instagram search page. To differ from the crowd, try to find a specific way of showing original and interesting content for your future followers.