What is Still Life Photography?

Still Life Photography is a branch of fine art photography that is akin to a painting or other fine forms of art. The typical subject matter for still life photographs is inanimate, commonplace objects such as flowers, fruits and vegetables, and vintage items. Some consider it as a tough and tricky genre of fine art as there are certain specifics that need to be in place for still life photography to be perfect. Still life photos stand as one of the most essential and important skills that build the foundation of a photographer’s skill. Photographers should aim to learn and eventually master this fine art as it will give them complete control of their photographs. They can start with an inspiration and work their way to a complete product with the help of technology. Of course, there are other types of photography that may be considered harder than Still Life Photo, but this niche is one of the few that provides photographers the “do-over” opportunities. Some also see this as a profitable business as commissions are based on your prices.

The two types of Still Life Photography


Still Life Photos categorize into two sections: if you see a perfect spot or scene that you think would make your still life photo perfect, then you compose and take the photo. That is considered a “found” still life photo. Meanwhile, if you set out to find the perfect elements that you think would suit your dream scene for your still life photo, then you have made a “created” still life. Their functions and fundamentals remain the same as you still have total control of your photos. Although you don’t have the freedom to move or arrange elements to your liking for a found still life, you can still make adjustments with your equipment, yourself, lighting, and many other factors of the composition. That is, after all, one of the joys of being still life photographers. Either way, it’s a pleasure to be able to create art nowadays and share them with ease on your own website.It is important to take note that not all still life photos may be categorized as “fine art”. For commercial purposes, a commercial photographer takes a still life photo but is not technically considered as one. If these were the circumstances, then it is properly called “product photography”. Product photography requires the exact same skills needed for still life photography, though it was decided to be labeled differently since you are technically working to create a product and not a work of art.

The Equipment and Technicalities involved

Before you start rushing and buying the most expensive cameras, you have to realize that still life photos aren’t all about quality and how expensive your equipment is. You can start taking still life photos with only your smartphone camera and posting them on your art portfolios. Of course, having an expensive and advanced DSLR would be appreciated but the essence of still life photography is with the message, emotion, and tone of the image. All other expensive luxuries are just add-ons to your creativity and artsy way of thinking. Nevertheless, if you think that your smartphone won’t cut it, then here are the equipment you need to get the perfect still life photo. Note that these aren’t exclusive to still life photographers — photographers of other niches may also consider these tips to get the best shots.

  1. Camera

Just like we’ve mentioned earlier, you do not need the most expensive cameras in the world to start taking still life photographs. You can use anything from your smartphone to your DSLR, and you’ll be fine. Still life photographers don’t usually seek out the newest and greatest of these since it is their creativity that is required for this genre of fine art. To further enhance and optimize your current setup, make sure to manually adjust your settings according to the situation. Even smartphones already have this with their “pro” photography tools. Though, with smartphones, this tip is further encouraged as their small lenses typically have a hard time exposing to a subject that is according to the photographer’s taste. Mixing and matching using its “pro” features will give you the best shots.

For digital camera users, take advantage of the live-view LCD as this gives you an eagle’s eye perspective of what to expect out of your settings’ quality. The main premise of using digital cameras is somewhat similar to smartphones too. They may also have DSLR-like features but these come expensive and you’re just better off buying a DSLR anyway.


  1. Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a still life photo. Modern still life photography typically resort to artificial light, which at times can be too harsh or underwhelming. For best results, try to aim for natural lighting as it often provides the best lighting for your composition and gives out this “soft” look to the subject. If you stick with natural light, then equipment such as reflectors and diffusers might come in handy. Reflectors add warmth and optimizes the lighting even further so that your photos will bring out the specific colors and tones you like. Meanwhile, Diffusers can be utilized in front of windows or lamps to reduce harsh figures of shadows.

Strobes may also be used but we heavily advise against it as any on-camera lighting produce a very harsh and flat composition. Another tip to digest is that you can think of simple still photos being similar to studio models, as high-key tones require vibrant colors and even lighting, and low-key tones require a dimly lit environment that gives out a moody look.

  1. The composition, background, and props

These three elements are what define a still life photo. The composition is how you can dream of any image you would love to take and strive to make it happen. Your creativity is its fuel as you can only move forward when you have thought of your location, lighting, effects, and post-production stuff like editing it further in Adobe Photoshop.

The background becomes your photo’s bedrock. It defines the atmosphere and the tone of what your final product is going to be. Anything from wood pieces, wallpapers, and painted canvas may be used. You can also try being creative with natural background such as putting a subject foreground of a sunset. It’s up to you to decide what your still life photo’s tone is going to be.

And finally, the props. Still life photographers aim to make their photos pop even more with the right props. It adds certain elements and stories that the composition and background may have missed on the first try. Or maybe, it can help contrast the color of the subject. Again, it’s all up to you, the still life photographer, to be as creative as you can. It is important to note that these three should be considered as a whole. With that, you can plan while taking into account what one element may do to the other and vice versa.

Let’s help you get started with these 5 modern still life photography tips!

  • Give your photo a theme and tone

Plan ahead of this one since it can be quite puzzling to decide what kind of shot and how much depth of field do you want in your photograph. Thinking ahead for this one will also make it easy for post-production to tweak and edit the photo even better. An example would be if you are going to capture a lit candle that is about to go out, then keep your theme to a lonely and melancholic moment.

  • Still life photos are more akin to paintings rather than photographs

While still life photographs are, well, photographs, it’s better to stick with the mentality that it’s a painting, and you, your creativity are the brush, and your camera is the canvas. Just like paintings, these take time a lot of heart and time to create. It isn’t done with just a simple stroke of your brush or in this case, in one snap. Most of the time you will have to do-over it as the image of your dream isn’t really compatible with what you just took.


  • Be patient and take all the time you need

Like previously mentioned, mastering the craft of still life photography takes time. If you think that your final product isn’t really deserving to be a final product, then go out of your way and re-shoot it. Pressing the shutter button may only take a fraction of a second, but the efforts behind it take a lot of time. Think well about the elements that make your image, and break your image. A lot of the times, you will still see something that shouldn’t be there, and something that should be there. For some, it may seem like a tedious process but it’s not! It’s just called being creative and patient. That’s the beauty of art.

  • Teach yourself about the Black and White Still Life Photography

Some may argue that black and white photos are just part of the post-processing, and while this may be the case, modern still life photography and its photographers will tell you that it is not. Rather, it is an art form all to its own. Removing the color of an image gives out a completely different message. It tells the viewers that there is something wrong, something dark about the image that they will have to find. Other artistic elements such as contrast and textures become more crucial too. To achieve the best results, we advise that you include this in your “planning” phase and think about it well.

  • Build a portfolio that will define your career as still life photographers

Building a portfolio that is rightfully for your photo’s qualities is a good plus to get your work out there. With the power of social media, the internet, and technology, it’s now easier and ever to showcase your talent to the world. Build a website that is perfect for your work, or feature your photos in your own blog page coupled with a story that will resonate perfectly with the image. It’s a nice plus to think that you won’t have to work as hard as some photographers used to just to share your images. You can even link your portfolio to a commission page where people can contact you for their photography and shooting needs. The internet is your oyster!

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