Still Life Photography

When most people think of still life photography, they think of a bowl of fruit on a wood grain table, but actually, still life simply refers to the photography of inanimate objects.

Still life photography allows you to experiment with and learn about lighting and arrangement, and inanimate objects are happy to model for you for hours without complaining.

Indoors vs. Outdoors

Though you can take compelling still life photos outdoors, from arrangements of rocks to the stark beauty of a bare tree against the winter sky to a handful of dead flowers after the first frost, sometimes it's easier to work indoors.

When you're working indoors, try to arrange your subject or subjects near a window that captures plenty of light, and try to shoot without your flash.

Of course, there is no rule that says shoot next to a window and don't use a flash, but if you are able to do this, you will naturally get warm-ish, golden tones to your picture, which really complement the stereotypical bowl of fruit. Because this will require relatively long exposure times, you will probably need to use a tripod, and a remote shutter control if you have one.

If you do work under or near a light source, check if your camera has a "tungsten" setting. If so, it can help make up for the cold cast that artificial light sometimes adds. Another trick is to place a sheet of white paper opposite your light source. This will help reflect light into some of the areas that are shadowy.

Shooting still life photography

Sometimes you will want to use your camera's built in flash for indoor photography, and there's nothing wrong with that. The problem is, the lighting will sometimes look flat, with no shadows.

But there are things you can do to diminish that problem. Placing a sheet of white tissue paper over the flash will help diffuse the light. You can also experiment with a sheet of pink or yellow tissue paper to see if you get a different effect.

Possible subjects

When choosing your subject, your imagination is your only limit.

Great still life photography can be made with sewing supplies, marbles, an array of colored pencils, or even an article of clothing draped artistically over a chair.

Fruits make for great still life subjects, but so do other foods, particularly if they have just been brought in from where they are grown. A handful of wild blackberries on a (expendable) piece of white cotton fabric that will wick away the berry juice can make a good still life subject. Or, you could have a little fun and do still life photography of your favorite comfort food, whether it's a hot bowl of macaroni and cheese or a glazed donut next to a glass of milk.

Another way to make your still life photos interesting is to show contrast: a fuzzy cashmere sweater in pink in a pile next to a rugged pair of denim jeans, or, outdoors, a steaming mug of coffee placed on a snow covered tree stump.

Experiment with backgrounds as well. Black velvet makes a good background, as does white cotton fabric. Patterned silks can make a great contrast to a chunky pair of silver earrings.

Wrapping it up

Still life never has to mean "boring." Some of the most mundane household objects make great still life subjects. Shooting from one end of a measuring stick to the other gives you some nice converging lines.

Sometimes photographing something so closely that you can't really tell what it is can make a real artistic statement. And still life photos can suggest movement, too, in an overturned chair, for example, or a vase of flowers that has been knocked over.

With still life photography, like any other art form, the key to getting better at it is to let your imagination run, and most of all, to take lots and lots of pictures. Experimenting can reveal surprises in your photos that you may never have captured had you stuck with the same old bowl of fruit.

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