Still life photography is perhaps one of the easiest forms to get right because a beautiful flower arrangement in a bowl will not complain how many hours you want to work at taking pictures of it, does not cost much and can be shot indoors where you can control the lighting to bring out as much pathos as possible by manipulating the shadows cast by the subject.
Still Life Photography
This is why so many novice photographers start with still life photography in a studio, before moving on to shoot scenery under natural sunlight and then moving on to live subjects; first humans and then animals, which are difficult because they don’t understand that you want them to hold a pose until you have taken the shot.
As with most forms of photography, lighting technique is paramount. Side lighting will provide the best opportunity for you to play with and cast shadows and shade, but you also have the choice of harsh or soft lighting. Harsh, blue, cold light will create strong, stark, outlines and clear-cut shadows, whereas soft warm lighting will bring out the reds, yellows and oranges.
Remember that you have a great range of colours and textures with still life photography. There is almost an infinite range of colours and shapes when you consider arranged flowers, fruit, leaves, grasses, twigs and mushrooms, but then you have the vessel – the vase or fruit bowl – and the table cloth too, if you want to use one.
It is best to go for harmony rather than contrast. If your arrangement is pleasing on the eye, your picture will have more chance of being interesting too. Don’t forget that many famous names throughout history painted still life compositions and they now sell for millions at auction. Still life has always been a popular subject.
We talked above about the variety of subject matter available, but do not forget that cut fruit offers another range of colours and shapes. A watermelon is green and yellow, but cut a wedge out of one and it is also dark red with many shiny black pips. Be inventive with your choice of subject matter. Look at how the fruit is arranged in a restaurant for special ideas for shooting.
You may find still life boring or lacking inspiration, most students do until they realise that if they cannot produce a good still life photograph, then their prospects as a photographer are looking pretty grim. You need to work hard at composing a still life shot, because what you learn, you will carry on to more interesting aspects of photography like portraiture.
You can console yourself, as you work on your still life portfolio with your digital camera, with the fact that thousands of still life photos of food, fruit and flowers are published in magazines and books every week. There is a huge demand for still life photographs for cookery books, advertising (restaurants and products) and horticultural events.
On a slightly different tack, what about all the photographs of toys, household and garden items in catalogues? Or the photo images on websites? Someone has to take them and it might as well be you one day.