What is still life photography anyway? According to the Tate Museum in London, still life is the art form of using a subject matter that does not move. “Still life includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on.” Food photography and floral photography are two common examples of still life photography that you will see, especially on Instagram.
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Advantages of Still Life Photography
- Inexpensive – you can start with what you have
- Easy set up and take down, so practice sessions can be quick and often
- Control of the subject
- Plan ahead
- Any day is a good day
- Comfort of your own home
- Easy to improve & learn the basics in a fun way
I grew up taking painting classes as my extracurricular and elective classes at school. In the beginning, and for what seemed like an eternity to a young teen, my teacher would only let me paint still life. I longed to paint beautiful landscapes and stunning wildlife. But just like in sports, you have to learn the basics and practice drills, over and over and over again. The ironic thing is, as much as I disliked painting still lifes, I absolutely love photographing them.
And here are some reasons why…
Because you can start photographing things that you already have around your home, still life photography can be very inexpensive and accessible to all.
All you need is:
- a flat surface, like your kitchen table, coffee table, or an end table (a small 3 foot by 3 foot movable table is perfect)
- a background, which can be your wall or bookshelf
- a window
- an interesting subject (a bowl of fruit, a flower arrangement, your favorite bauble, trinket, or memento)
- your phone camera or any camera you have
EASY SET UP
Since most still life images can be in a 3 foot by 3 foot space, you can set up and take down your subjects quickly. This means you can have practice sessions often and they don’t require a big chunk of your day. As a mom who has many commitments for my family, it is important to me to have a creative outlet that is not too cumbersome of my time, my space, or my budget.
Another benefit is that the subjects are usually small and not moving, therefore they are easier to get in focus and place in different arrangements instantly. This may be my favorite reason that I prefer still life over other forms of photography. I can control my subject without it moving or running away. Plus I like making desserts, photographing them, and then eating the leftovers!
After listening to many photographers teaching about their craft, I realized that planning is a major factor in capturing an impressive shot. You can gather a few items that you think will go together to tell a story in your image and place them on a shelf or small box for the next time you have a free 15 to 30 minutes. When you have the time, just pull them out and position them in a pleasing photo. Take a few pictures from different angles, examine them carefully, then rearrange your subjects to improve the composition for your next round of pictures.
ANY DAY is a GOOD DAY
For any photos taken outside there is usually an ideal season and optimal time of the day to take a post-worthy photo. However, rainy days, sunny days, and overcast days are all perfect days for shooting still life photos indoors. Since lighting is another major key to photography, controlling the light by using a window is easier. In contrast, with landscape and wildlife photography, you are somewhat at the mercy of the great outdoors, the bright and blazing sun, the wind that blows your subject around, floating clouds that can make your lighting ever changing, and the temperature which can often be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter making it unpleasant to be outside.
As you advance as a photographer, by all means try many forms of the art: landscape, wildlife, macro, sports/motion, portrait, and architectural. But when you are starting out, you will be encouraged to practice more if there are less barriers to your success. Even if you are not a beginner, you may not always have the time to travel to a destination to get an exceptional shot. It is pleasant to be in the comfort of your own home, without worrying about weather, insects, or even traveling to a particular location.
IMPROVE QUICKLY BY FOCUSING ON THE BASICS
Practicing still life photography is an easy way to improve your photography quickly. Being able to adjust and practice the basics like composition, lighting, and choosing the right subject is crucial to developing the skills needed to create unforgettable art. This will also give you a low-stakes chance to know how your camera works and reacts to various conditions and lighting. You can try multiple settings, and I recommend taking a handful of shots while changing the settings on your phone or camera. It will help you to know your camera better so that when you need to take a quick shot, you will be ready.
Not only can you practice often with many different subjects and layouts, you can see how the light changes the look of an image and applying what you are learning each time you have a creative session. You could also leave your subject and props in the same configuration and take a few shots every hour to see how the changing light affects the color, shadows, and overall feel of the image. After trying hourly photo shoots on various days, like sunny, rainy, and cloudy days, you may decide that you like a certain type of day during a certain hour of the day.
The added bonus of practicing still life photography often is that you will learn techniques that will help you when you have the opportunity to take pictures of family members, of the great outdoors, or on vacation.
So let’s get started…
Check out the link for a free downloadable booklet with ideas, descriptions, and examples that can introduce you to different styles and jump start your planning.