Anne Darling Photography

Still Life Photography Tips

Still life photographers have been around since the very beginning of photography itself. Of course the earliest attempts were black and white still life images such as the one below by Bayard created in 1839 but contemporary still-life photographers work in colour too - the choice is yours and I suggest you try both.

Still Life Photography Tips: Learn from the Past

Click the link to see an even earlier still life called L'Atelier de l'Artiste (The Artist's Studio), made by Louis Daguerre in 1837 or click here to see Set Table, made in 1827 by the French inventor of photography, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, and probably the first ever photographic still life. You might need to scroll down the page a bit to see the Daguerre photograph. Also, try to look at lots of still life paintings by great artists such as Chardin (he's one of the best in this genre) to see how they composed their pictures, what objects they used and so on.

hippolyte bayard - still life photographers
Still Life with Plaster Casts, c.1839 - Photo by Hippolyte Bayard

Still Life Photography Tips: Keep it Simple

The great thing about creating still life pictures is that you have total control over every element in the photograph. All you need to create a good still life picture is a table, a camera, a tripod and good lighting.

You can be as creative as your imagination wishes as there is plenty of time to try things out so for example, you might decide to make just black and white still life photographs. Or you might set up a vanitas still life (more about this below) with objects you have found at car boot sales or through Ebay. The possibilities are endless.

roger fenton - still life photographers
Fruit and Flowers, 1860 - Photo by Roger Fenton

Still Life Photography Tips: Still Life Objects

Still life objects can be very simple, For example, you might choose an arrangement of fruit that you already have in the kitchen or flowers from your garden. Some beautiful cloth draped over the table or at one end of your picture will give your composition elegance. Cloth can also be used to good effect as a back drop. Try to gather together a selection of different materials to use in combination but don't go overboard as you don't want to have too cluttered a composition. Take a look at the still life photograph above by Roger Fenton to see what I mean about cluttered!

Try to think about the textures, the velvety softness of the peach contrasted with the cold metal of a knife. Colour is very important too and a limited 'palette' of harmonious colours such as a range of warm browns, yellows and reds will be more pleasing than a riot of colours.

Still Life Photography Tips: Lighting

Perhaps one of the most crucial elements of a still life photograph is the lighting. Unless you have some wildly creative idea, generally speaking, the lighting should be even and gentle, without too many hard shadows particularly if you are using flowers. Hard shadows detract from the gentle beauty and elegance that can be conveyed in a still life. If your table is set up near a window use a sheet to block out direct sunlight. You can increasew your exposure accordingly if your camera is on a tripod.

louis jules duboscq - still life photographers
Still Life with Skull, c.1850 - Photo by Louis Jules Duboscq

Still Life Photography Tips: Create a Vanitas

If you are feeling a little adventurous, you might like to create a vanitas still life, one which is composed of objects which have a symbolic value. Often a skull is included in the composition to symbolise death and the brevity of life. A candle or hourglass may be included to represent time and the brevity of life.

Other common symbols include rotting fruit to symbolise death, or musical instruments and books to represent the arts and literature and other intellectual pleasures and the fleetingness of these pursuits in the face of the brevity of life.

The word vanitas comes from the Latin for 'vanity'. The symbolism is meant to remind us how brief life is and the futility of its pleasures in the face of certain death.

I have included two vanitas still life pictures for you to look at. The one above dates from 1850 and the one below is contemporary. Human skulls (not real ones!) are available on ebay for around 10 dollars or less. I don't know what matterial they are made from but they are very realistic so if you would like to do some vanitas pictures get yourself a nice looking skull for a few dollars and set up an interesting still life composition. It will also make a great conversation piece when guests come to dinner!

still life photographers
Vanitas - Photo by Anyka

Still Life Photography Tips: Create a Miracle!

If you don't want to go out and buy a skull and candles (can't say I blame you!) then try something simpler like the still life below. Although this is a modern still life, the title obviously refers to the miracle of the loaves and fishes described in the Bible. The photographer has used very simple elements to good effect. The colours are harmonious and the textures interesting, it makes me want to reach out and touch everything.

I also really like the large jug which gives a classical feel to the whole composition and raises the image out of the 'food photography' category into the more artistic 'still life' category. Notice also the way the basket is tilted with the bread rolls spilling out in a manner reminiscent of a cornucopia also known as the horn of plenty. This is another compositional device you can use which alludes to classical paintings and is easy to do.

still life photographers
Holy Multiplication - Photo by Anyka

A Bit More Art History

still life photography Still Life in Photography surveys some of the innovative ways photographers have explored the traditional genre of still life from photography's earliest years to the present day. The introductory essay is followed by an illuminating sequence and juxtaposition of plates selected from the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection. Still life has served as both a conventional and an experimental form during periods of significant aesthetic and technological change. Illustrating that here are nineteenth-century masterpieces by practitioners such as Hippolyte Bayard and Roger Fenton, twentieth-century examples that include the diverse styles of Baron Adolph de Meyer, Irving Penn, and Edward Weston, and a sampling of contemporary artists, some recalling styles from the past. The current revival of interest in the genre comes as the digital age is transforming the medium. The author, Paul Martineau, is assistant curator in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Creating Your Own Still Life Photographs

still life photographyGreat food always elicits strong reactions-the smell of freshly baked bread, the taste of a perfectly prepared steak. The job of a food photographer is to elicit that same mouth-watering reaction, but without the benefit of scent or taste. A well-shot photograph can send crowds flocking to a new restaurant or boost the sales of a culinary magazine. Capturing the perfect image requires a trained eye, finesse, and photographic skill. Digital Food Photographygives you the ingredients to cook up your own recipe for success-with professional lighting techniques, composition, food and prop styling, retouching, and tricks of the trade. You'll learn how digital photography combines teamwork, creativity, and technology, and how to make money creating delectable works of photographic art.

still life photography Every picture featured in Still Life and Special Effects Photography is accompanied by a description of how the lighting was achieved, while clear illustrations showing each lighting set-up help readers achieve the same effect. The first section is dedicated to shooting conventional still-life subjects (such as food, product shots and natural flora), and the second to the more challenging field of special-effect photography (montage, multiexposure, mirrors and props, constructing simple room sets, etc).

still life photography Low Budget Shooting: Do It Yourself Solutions to Professional Photo Gear
The serious amateur photographer often faces the problem that even after all the dollars spent on camera, lenses, computer gear, and software, the spending never seems to end. More gear is needed for studio photography, tabletop photography, flash photography, and for accessories here and there. And in many cases, the right accessories are not even available. That is where this book comes in. Low Budget Shooting is the one-stop source where you will find instructions and a shopping list on how to build an array of useful and inexpensive photographic tools. Filled with full-color images and easy-to-follow text, this book shows how to build essential lighting and studio equipment; how to make the perfect light-table for shooting small objects; and how to build reflectors, soft-boxes, and light-tents that really work. It also tells where to get some of the little helpers that make a photographer's life so much easier. This clever little book is a creative and valuable resource for most any photographer.

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