Still life tips

I love still life photography.  I find it helps me slow down, relax and concentrate on the moment.... just being mindful of what's right there in front of me and nothing else.  Pure chill.

My 10 top still life tips

  • Lighting - what light direction would look best, e.g. back, side, front, or even reflected light?  Back lighting tends to give a dreamy, soft look, whilst side lighting provides depth and shadow.  I don't like to use front lighting often because I find it can flatten an image but your choice will depend on the story you want to convey.  
Bouncing light / reflecting light with a mirror onto your still life set is something else you may wish to try.  Reflecting light onto your main prop ensures it is highlighted exactly where you want it to be. I haven't tried this method much myself, but I have a friend who has and she has achieved some really beautifully lit still life and food images as a result.
  • Keep props simple.  I generally use one main prop and a couple of supporting props in my still life set ups.  Thereafter, I may add 'extras' into the frame one at a time if I feel this is necessary.  I always step back and assess the scene after every item added and this cuts down the risk of ending up with a cluttered image.  I'm never afraid to add or subtract from a scene if something doesn't look how I want it to look.
  • Keep your story line simple and clear.  Don't be tempted to use supporting props just because they look pretty.  A prop has to have a purpose within your story or in all likelihood it will detract from the overall image.
  • Composition - I like to use triangular compositions which work brilliantly with still life, but don't be afraid to mix up your compositions for a bit of spice and variety.  Using the same composition all the time ends up being boring. 
  • Colours - I tend to use 2-3 coordinating colours or 2-3 various shades / tones of the same colour within my still life / flat lay images.  Keep colours simple.  Too many colours can make a scene look 'busy' (unless you are photographing coloured smarties, M & M's, etc that is).
  • Check all around your frame.  Be careful to check all around the edges of your frame to ensure that there are no background items spilling onto your image that shouldn't be there.  I have had supporting clips and all sorts of background items, etc appear in my images and ruin what could have been a fine shot if I'd paid more attention - soooo frustrating!!!   
  • Are there any bright spots that could benefit from using a screen to soften them up or a piece of black card to block them out completely?  If you don't have either to hand, you could improvise using something like a piece of net curtain to soften the light.  If you want to cancel out a bright spot entirely, use something dark and neutral in colour, e.g. a piece of dark wood, a black umbrella, or even a dark coloured item of clothing.  Or you could try pulling a curtain across your window (assuming you are using window light) until the bright spot disappears.  
  • Do I need to introduce more light into the shadows to soften and raise them slightly?  You can use a piece of white card or reflector to do this. If you don't have either, you could try using a white towel, umbrella, sheet or even a piece of white clothing if you are really stuck.
  • Work your image.  Walk around your set up and take a shot from all different angles and heights.... down below, up above, side on, front on, etc.  Also, don't just stick to one lens - rather, try various lenses plus vary your f/stops and see what you come up with.  You will get a lot more variety if you follow these tips.  I tend to work in f/stops of f1.4 through f8 depending on how I want my image to look.
  • Finally, go easy on yourself!  Some days a still life set up works brilliantly whilst other days you may struggle to get as much as one good shot.  The beauty of still life photography is you don't have to pack things away when you want to call time; rather you can leave everything where it is and return to it the next day━or a few days later even━with a fresh set of eyes to start again.  So if you are having a non-productive day, don't fret.  Not all my best images happen on day one either!  Put your camera down, take some time off or try again later.


Jillian said…
Fantastic tips Wendy, going to give this a go! Thanks for sharing!
Nadeen said…
Splendid comments! Just a wonderful checklist. Thank you for sharing.
Wendy said…
Thanks Jillian. Glad to help.
Wendy said…
Thanks Nadeen. Bet you could add quite a few more tips to this list. :) Love your still life.