with Courtney Slazinik
How to Shoot Still Life Photography to Push Your Creativity
Composition, Light
How to Shoot Still Life Photography to Push Your Creativity

With still life photography you have complete control over the situation, including the subject matter.

I’ve always found that taking photographs of still life to be a creative boost and charge. I enjoy taking ordinary objects, and looking at them in an extraordinary way.

What is still life photography?

Still life photography is an image of objects and not people. Typically you will see fruit and flowers but still life photography doesn’t have to be only fruit and flowers. It could be a scene that grabs your attention as you walk past.

As the photographer, challenge yourself to capture an object or scene to show someone a different way to look at it. Find a unique subject that inspires you and makes you excited to shoot.

Dusty pink flowers and cream colored coffee in a still life photograph

What all is considered as still life photography?

Here are some ideas to get your still life photography journey started.

Food photography of any kind. Don’t forget about those yummy drinks too. Capture an image of a nice cup of coffee or an ice cold lemonade.

Go to a library or book store and arrange books in a creative way, that’s still life. Use light to make these more interesting.

Have a specific hobby like crafting? Stage a photo showing off your basic tools and items and there is another still life photograph for you.

You can find inspiration for still life photography anywhere you look, so put on your creative lenses and start looking.

How to shoot still life photography

Two chocolate macarons stacked on a plate in a still life photography shoot.

Style your photos

When styling items for photos, you should consider light, color and theme. You don’t need a studio or fancy location to get started.

I use my white kitchen table for most of my styled work. This space is kept simple, with plenty of natural light coming in.

This is my set up:

Oranges stacked in a blue container on a white table with a reflector showing how to use it for still life photography

Use a reflector for still life photography

The reflector helps bounce light, and lessen the shadow fall (same settings for each image). First image, no reflector used. Second image, reflector used.

Oranges stacked in a blue container on a white table
Oranges stacked in a blue container on a white table

Choose your still life photography objects

Choosing objects for a great still life takes an artistic eye. Layer elements in your images. Grouping items in 3’s. Using complimentary colors. Play with different apertures, and focal points.

Your job is to think about what it is about that object that you want to say, or what the story is. Maybe adding an additional little detail to add interest, but also depth to the image.

Power of 3

The power of 3. Often used in marketing, experts say this is used as a power of persuasion. Think about the fairy tales we know. 3 little pigs, 3 little kittens, 3 blind mice. Three elements can also start to create a pattern and balance with the image.

Three chocolate chip cookies and two jars of milk with red and white straws.

What elements of still life photography are you drawn to?

Write down a few elements that you are drawn to in photography. For me, it’s light, color, lines, texture and depth. Now look around your home, or when you are out for these elements and how you can include them in an image.

Grouping and Themes

Group objects with the same shape or similar shape. Creating patterns and visual repetition can create a beautiful image.

This is also pleasing to the viewers eye. Repeating a certain size or shape or color adds strength to the overall feeling of the image.

Don’t always have to go with your first set up

With the image below I wanted to play with the shadows and harsh light. All natural light, but with this image I let more light come in. Explore with the light, experiment – be creative!

Slices of fruit all different variety and size. Example of still life photography using oranges, limes, grapefruit, and blood oranges.

Find a common theme

If you use multiple objects for your still life, they shouldn’t be random. They should all fit into a common theme.

That could be: shape, color, texture, etc.. Using patterns and repetition helps guide the viewers eye from point to point. Allowing the viewer to explore the composition.

Composition basics for still life photography

Vary the composition of the subject through the shoot and think outside of what is expected.

Consider where you are leading the eye within the image. Are you using negative space or maybe filling the frame works better? Are you able to put it into context or does it work as a stand alone subject?

Use rule of thirds

Composition in still life is a very important element to your work. Knowing the rule of thirds, and how that can be applied to your shoot will help you create a strong composition that engages the viewer.

You want to arrange the objects of your photo along the lines of the rule of thirds grid. This helps create balance and pushes you to creatively use negative space.

Other compositional elements to try

Open composition

Focus is not necessarily fixed. Elements within the frame extend past the edges of the frame. Think lines, colors, textures that stretch past the edges of the frame.

Still life image of a purple marbled planner, a cup of coffee, two plants, a greeting card and an orange on a table.

Closed composition

Focus is on a primary subject. Often used for portraits and macro photography. An image may include objects that extend beyond the frame, but it is clear they are framing or helping to highlight a primary subject.

An orange on a white table with two green leaves.

Bend the rules

Once you are comfortable with the basic rules – don’t forget to bend them! Play with harsh light, shoot at a wide aperture, change up the background.

Darker backgrounds help colors pop more. Using harsh light, and exposing for the highlights eliminates the background into shadows. This is called the inverse square law.

Still life image of pink peonies with a very shadowy background.

Take the still life photo from different angles

After setting up a shot and arranging props take several photos from different angles and perspectives.

I often add, take away and move items around. Get closer to the subject, or pull away to include more space. Look at the back of your camera and see if what you had in your head is coming together.

Sometimes just moving things slightly to one side or the other makes a big difference. I will also take a shot with my iPhone and check the composition that way.

What makes you feel excited to create?

If you are struggling with being creative. Ask yourself what it is you are drawn to. What makes you feel excited to create?

We are not all going to have the same answers. In fact, I’m drawn to many photographers work that I simply would not feel excited to create.

Read more: 14 Creative Photography Project Ideas You Should Try

Move forward with what you love

We can appreciate or even love something about each others work – but that doesn’t mean it would be something that we would want to create for ourselves. I think it’s important to acknowledge that and move forward with what you love.

Finding still life photographs

Still life doesn’t have to be set up. It can also be found. Walk around your backyard, observe how the light highlights certain parts of leaves. Notice the change of color. What grabs your attention? How would you want to show the viewer?

A front on view of a wisk mostly not in focus.

Practice still life using household items

Shooting still life can be as easy as using items found around your home. This is great practice for pushing yourself creatively. Take something as common as a whisk and photograph it in a different way.

Slow your shutter speed

Play with slow shutter speed to emphasize motion – again here is repetition of lines, shapes and using negative space.

Black and white image of a fan using slow shutter speed in a still life image

Still life photography will spark your creativity

Looking for inspiration, or being creative on a daily basis can be exhausting! But if you go back to what it is that you wrote down earlier, – what it is you are drawn to, what gets you excited to create – you will be inspired to create, and it will feel right.

It is important to have fun! Be creative and show your style. Taking into consideration your composition, how you want the viewers eye to move through the frame. Play with contrast, light and color. It really doesn’t take a big set up to spark your creativity.

Different berries in blue containers on a table.

Seeing the beauty in the everyday is a simple joy to take pleasure in.

Love the bonus composition tips! Read - "Captivating and Creative Still Life Photography"

Find more still life photography tips:

7 Must Read Food Photography Tutorials
– Food Photography: 10 Tips to Stage Food
How Focus Stacking will Help you Create Sharper Photos

  • trevor clarke
    September 9, 2019 at 5:30 AM

    you helped me to take the step of trying manual which i used on a flight over lake eyre in north of sth aust and got a great result .. thank you

  • Dawn
    September 9, 2019 at 12:08 PM

    This was very helpful! Thank you. I’m looking out the sliding glass door of my craft room/studio and have already seen a couple of things I can photograph that I’d never thought of before.

  • Nikki B
    September 11, 2019 at 9:45 AM

    nice read, thank you

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