The range of still life photography.
Still life photography has historically been done in classic photo studios or fine arts classrooms. But cameras are changing, and so is still life photography. Concannon explains, “In the age of Instagram, everyone is a still life photographer. Now still life is all about developing your own style. And so I would say to break the rules!”
“In the age of Instagram, everyone is a still life photographer. Now still life is all about developing your own style. And so I would say to break the rules!”
Art director and photographer Alex Tan says, “There’s a lot of really interesting still life that’s just found out in neighborhoods, or out in the wild…a lot of time, the things that are most interesting are the things that you don’t see every day.” Found still life is a new approach that can challenge photographers to use the tools at their disposal to craft a stunning photo. This approach can be impromptu — you never know when you’ll spy the perfect found still life.
Traveling is an exciting opportunity to explore and experiment with found still life photography. Focus on the little details you come across in your travels. Or gather small items from your trip, like brochures and train tickets, and make them the subjects of your still life photos later. Honing and clarifying the purpose and intent of your still life is what can make it successful.
Food and product photography are other examples of still life photography. While the purpose of product photos is to document and sell something, the same rules apply: lighting, composition, and depth of field all heavily impact your outcome. Consider taking an experimental approach to photographing products as well. Light your products from odd angles or crop in on the label unexpectedly. It could result in a stunning composition.
Tips from professionals.
Before you start your foray into the world of still life photography, consider these tips from industry professionals:
1. Don’t waste time. “If you spend an hour or two taking one still life photo and it’s good enough to move on, then you should usually listen to yourself in that moment,” Tan says. “Because a lot of people could get to 80 percent within that first hour and get something that they’re happy with but that’s not perfect. Then a lot of people will spend the next four hours working on that extra 20 percent just to make it perfect.” No photographer will ever be truly perfect, but through practice and experimentation, you can improve your skills and get better all the time.
2. Fuel your creativity. Long adds, “Challenge your compositional skills. If you need inspiration, go back to looking at other work. Go dig through magazines.” Inspiration is all around us, so don’t forget to use the resources at your disposal to explore new still life ideas.
3. Get the right tools. “One thing that totally changed my still life photography was shooting objects on a velvet background,” Concannon says. “Not crushed velvet, but real black, blue, or red velvet. What that material does is it absorbs light, so you can put your still life subject in direct sunlight, but you won’t see the shadows on the velvet.” Keep experimenting; you might find unexpected tricks that can elevate your still life photography.
Still life photography encompasses many styles — whether it’s a classic subject shot in a studio and reminiscent of Renaissance still life paintings, or a grainy image of an abandoned shoe found on the sidewalk. Be intentional with your choices, and still life can be a breeding ground for beautiful photographs and creative ideas. All that’s left is for you to get started.