How to Photograph a Still Life. Simple Methods

You do not need to treat still life photography as a real problem, because you do not understand where to start work. This genre is definitely worth mastering, because it can become a kind of meditation for the photographer.

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How to photograph a still life.  Simple methods

Still life photography helps the photographer hone professional skills at his own pace, while at the same time, it immediately becomes possible to create works that can later be placed in the portfolio. This article will help you get started creating still life photographs: photographer Charlie Moss shares his experience in shooting them.

Lens selection

As with any other genre of photography, it is imperative to have a lens suitable for the subject. Everyone knows that there is no universal lens. But for photographing still lifes, you don’t need a large assortment of lenses .

It is recommended to start with 50 mm. When it comes to still life photography, a lens with a focal length of 50 mm is considered a wide-angle lens. If you shoot only one or two objects, or if your object is simply small, too much of the image will be occupied by the surface on which it is located, or the background. You will need to come very close to the object in order to get rid of everything superfluous in the frame.

Scale is a very important aspect of still life photography. Some objects may appear wider or taller in the camera viewfinder . And a large amount of the background visible in the picture can simply overshadow the entire object.

Choosing the right props for color and mood

Once you have selected the necessary photo equipment, it’s time to refresh your knowledge of color theory , because when creating still life images you really need them. Colors provide harmony and contrast in the photo. If you were to shoot something with a blue hue, for example, and use the blue and green backgrounds, you would get a very harmonious and, possibly, calm image.

On the other hand, if you add yellow or orange tones to the scene, this will create a certain tension and lead to a more dynamic overall feeling from the picture.

You can add color to a still life picture in a variety of ways. Background, fabrics, plates, bowls, vases – all these things are part of the scenery in the shooting, which you can start collecting to create a color library of props. Do not forget about natural objects such as flowers and foliage; very often they can truly bring a picture to life.

Make sure that the props you use look consistent. For example, if you want a vintage look, keep all the details in a single retro style. Do not use shiny pink gold cutlery next to an antique silver tray. It may look nice, but the visual story is not good.

Think about the fact that most of your props should be neutral – so its elements will combine well and look together in many pictures, that is, it will be possible to extract great benefit from them. Sometimes, if the props are too bright, this can distract the viewer from the main object. It should be remembered that shiny objects in a still life can be quite problematic. Sometimes photographers have to spend the whole day to take the right shot of a brilliant kitchen appliance, because it reflects the whole situation.

Background selection

The color of your background will often play the role of the most dominant color in the scene, so choose wisely and remember that it will be difficult to change the background when you already place all the props on it. Choose the background according to the feeling you would like to create in your final image.

The role of the backdrop can play everything that visually combines with the scene that you create. It can be a marble countertop, a beautiful old rustic table or an additional piece of fabric. Everything that helps create a mood for the image.

In addition to the background color, think about its texture. A shabby, darkened old baking sheet will create a feeling completely different from, for example, draped silk. Think about the feelings that different backgrounds cause when choosing them for your scenes, and decide what is right for the story you are trying to tell with your photo.

Textures in a still life

Along with all the other elements of still life photography, the texture really creates the right mood. Search both the main streets of the city and art shops. Are you shooting something rustic in country style? Then the beautiful rough fabric will perfectly convey the story in the frame. Or maybe you are photographing a more modern scene that will benefit from the use of glossy plastic backgrounds and smooth shiny props?

The texture also adds interest and depth to the final image. Human life is a riot of various textures, they affect feelings both visually and through touch.

Since you cannot touch the objects in the photo, you need to tell the viewer what they look like. Using textures is the main way to visually convey the feeling of physical touch to the frame. Consider what exactly textures tell the viewer the information that is embedded in your frame.

Create a beginning, middle and end

Like a good story, a snapshot needs a beginning, middle, and completion. Except that in photography this is usually called foreground, middle and background. This layering effect in pictures helps create frame depth.

Use a tripod to maintain focus and hold the desired frame, while carefully positioning the main subject. Place an element of interest in the foreground. It can be petals if you were photographing flowers, or maybe a folded corner of table linen if you are shooting food in a still life. Everything that leads the eye to the frame, while not too distracting attention from the main focus, is good.

Finally, frame the background element. In the pictures above, the photographer added a yellow napkin, which at the same time creates a certain interest and adds a contrasting color, but you can act more skillfully. The background itself can also be a background element if it is interesting enough. In this case, it should play the role of the “final point” in the composition; stopping the viewer’s attention just as the dot ends the sentence.

You may find it easier to play with compositional colors and shapes for the foreground and background if you use a shallow depth of field. If these elements are displayed out of focus in the frame, this will help to keep the viewer’s attention on the main image object.

Post-Processing Image Completion

There are no rules in creative still life photography, according to which the colors must be believable. Using different colors – or even turning the picture in monochrome – can lead to a change in mood and story.

Processing still-life photos in Adobe Lightroom allows you to try different color schemes by comparing copies of images nearby. The best thing about Adobe Lightroom is that editing does not destroy the original file. This means that you can try anything from wild acid shades to something more conservative, and always return to the original file.


Do not be afraid to work slowly and try something new when shooting a still life. Take your time, do not limit the number of options. You will surely notice that the shot later will be the best result of the photo shoot. Also, remember that sometimes the most beautiful compositions are the most minimalistic. Do not know which decision to choose – simplify!

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