Tips for Still Life Photography

Tips for Still Life Photography

There are many areas of specialization in photographer. Beginning photographers will often start with still life photography and learn about the other areas like portrait, wedding, pets, etc., as their skills grow. People who are new to photography can learn to use light and shadow at a slower pace with still life subject instead of trying to pose children or the family pet. Artistically speaking, a still life is the expression photographer’s “self” through inanimate objects.

This post is a brief discussion of some of the many attributes of still life photography

Control the Light

The first thing to consider in still life photography, as well as every other type of photography, is your lighting conditions. You will want to start with just one light source coming from one direction so you will be able to cast some shadows as well as properly light your subject. The shadows will help to give your final image some three dimensional qualities. You will also need to consider the quality of your light, meaning soft or strong (and harsh) lighting. The harsher the light is the greater contrast the contrast between the shadows and the lighted areas of your image. Reflectors are often used to modify the light and “bounce” some light in to the shadows. The most pleasing lighting is often side lighting because it creates the greatest contrast between light and shadow on you subject. Learning to use a single light this was will help in the rest of your photography too, think about outdoor photography, there is a single light source we call the Sun.

Control the Colors

In still life photography you have total control of color, just as you do with lighting. When choosing subjects for your composition you will want to look for contrasting colors and still retain a natural look, such as green mint leaves with a yellow fruit like lemons, or autumn leaves with squash and pumpkins like you see in a cornucopia. The harmony of colors is what you are looking for to create a pleasing picture.

Be Abstract

In still life photography can be abstract photography, be as abstract as you would like to be. You can select two objects that do not relate to each other and create something that is visually interesting. Maybe you find a piece of fruit that’s been cut to be visually interesting, like a wedge cut from a piece of cantaloupe. What your final image means will require some thought from the viewer. Each of us sees art differently and interpret it through their our own unique view of the world. Never change your vision or stop working to improve your abilities as a photographer based on what the viewers of you work think.


You can use the same objects in various arrangements and a variety of backgrounds to create unlimited variations of theme. Learning to avoid clutter while creating contrast (visual, color, light vs. shadow, texture, etc.) is the key. The rules of composition such are a good starting point for placing your still life objects. Consider creating a pattern with your objects using “the rule of thirds”. The process of setting up your various shots will lead to the right arrangement for expressing your own vision.


Often still life photography is thought to lack depth compared to other types photography. But it can be used as develop your skills to be a better photographer in general. Creating your arrangements indoors or outside is just one way to make images you will want to show off or give to your friends and family. Learning to control the lighting, color combinations, and varying the arrangement of your objects will generate many, many, unique scenes to capture.

Nearly every magazine that uses photography uses still life pictures. For example, home decorating magazines use still life photography all the time to show the details their articles are about. With all the choices in photography, it takes a special eye to arrange objects creatively and light them creatively to create a still life image for commercial use. Once you develop your talent and feel confident with your work you could start a lucrative business providing still life images to media outlets. Look at the ”Photographers Market” for ideas on selling your photographs to magazines.

Are you interested in learning more about still life photography? Check out the training programs offered on this site.

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