Fruit and flowers in still life photography doesn’t sound like you’re thinking outside the box, but it is the doorway that leads you into the first room full of doors in improving your still life photography.
The first thing to think about is yourself. Be very honest about what you really enjoy photographing. This will help you to understand what motivates you as a still life photographer, and as a photographer in general.
What you need to take good still life photos
- A digital, or film, camera – mobile phone camera works fine, too.
- A source of light; windows with tables and chairs close by, or speed light / flashlight, static constant lights of any kind that give you a white, almost daylight, source of light. LED bulbs help here.
- Objects to build still lifes for your motifs; fruits and flowers work well, and were always the classical choice because of the colours, the decadence, and more importantly, the variety of shapes and sizes on offer.
- If possible, a reflector to bounce light. Small or large pieces of reflective materials, or the real thing bought especially for photography will help you model the light source into something that suits your needs.
Do you go for colours more than black and white?
Black and white still life photography is challenging – but, it’s really enjoyable and the results, when got right, are amazing.
Think about compositions. What is your sense of order?
Do you enjoy looking at puzzling compositions that require a lot of thought to figure out? If you do, then you are probably talented at created complex still life compositions for your photography.
There is a lot to be had from the simplicity of two objects in juxtaposition, or harmony. People love to look at objects that have been arranged in strange ways, or in ways that they don’t see every day.
Honesty, with yourself, about colours, composition, and objects – whether it be fruit and flowers, or whether you want to create a modern styled composition of mobile phone, coffee cup and a few coins on the table, it doesn’t matter.
Thinking about all of these things will lead you to out-of-the-box ideas.
Are you going to use flashlights, or natural lights? An LED room lamp with a makeshift diffuser does the job too, if you don’t yet own any speed lights or constant photography lighting.
The best light is what’s available.
When you set up the still life, and you want natural light, be sure to think about where the highlights will hit the objects. The highlights are the highest point of diffused light that comes directly from the source. Bring the still life composition close enough to a window so that it catches enough light to create a strong highlight, and enough pure light to create a soft blending effect through the small pure colour, to the fading colours that disappear into the shadows.
Pure colour on an apple is red or green, sometimes yellow. If you look closely, you will recognise the point in colour that is strongest, and most obviously the purest colour on the composition. As the light or shadow seeps into it, it will fade into higher tones of light, or deeper shadow.
Working with still life is fun, but intense. You can spend all weekend building compositions and testing shots, adjusting, and putting objects in, or taking them out, you are constantly learning about how to set up your camera.
I like to ensure that I have everything in the shot in good focus – I don’t always go for the sharpest image. I like painterly shots that produce a better effect for the viewer, my still life photography is all about learning to push the limits with my brain, my camera, and the compositions. I don’t have any commercial intentions when I do still life photography, at these times, I’m all about fine art photography.
Tack Sharp Focus, or Soft Focus?
So the focus is “very good”, and only tack sharp when I know I need that, and it starts at the front of the composition, and at the rear of the set-up the focus begins to blur into the background. This is how you isolate your composition.
Tack sharp focus can be distracting. It makes the shot look technical, and these days, with the fantastic lenses and camera sensors on offer, there are too many people who are only interested in a super duper sharp photo, and use that as the judgement of good or bad shot.
A good still life photograph has content, colour, focus as the photographer intended, depth of field well chosen(F Stop), and choice of lighting as high contrast, or soft light, and so on.
I always like to think that when you have three or more components to work on with anything in life, it indicates that there are many moving parts that are as yet unknown.
Photography, and still life photography in particular, shows you how deep you can go into combinations of angle, lighting, depth of field and intensity of colour. Probably in the range of several hundred thousand possibilities that you can play with. A rose is just a rose, until you think deeply about it.
You can use a camera or a mobile phone for your still life photography.
I like to photograph almost everything I do free hand. Tripods are great, and have some, but as soon as I set up the tripod, I’m limited to a position. Not quite, but I have to jiggle the thing about in order to find a different height, and change angles.
I will use the tripod if I want to be sure of absolute sharpness, and no camera shake – a mobile phone needs a tripod, or a steady hand that can be sure of no camera shake.
Often when beginners are starting out, taking shots of all kinds of objects, and learning about their camera, they forget how important the background is.
Use backdrops that you can make yourself. table clothes, large pieces of cardboard, and bedsheets hanging from the wall or bookcase, work perfectly. You have to remember that the background will be out of focus. If you set up depth of field correctly, your backdrop will turn into a pleasantly soft pastel tone of bed sheet.
Packing box materials create lovely tones of neutral brownish. The flaps on packing boxes are useful as “flags” used to block reflections and light coming from unwanted sources.
Still Life Photography, whether you photograph apples and oranges, fruits and flowers, will always allow you to develop and improve your general photography skills.
In still life photography you have total control. If you are using daylight as the source, that will be the only downside, waning daylight as you work. You can still spend hours of each day working on building various still lifes with a multitude of materials to satisfy exactly what you want to achieve.
There’s something deeply satisfying about still life; you work alone, no chattering with others, mobile switched onto silent, your brain focusses, your mind is engaged totally, and the results are as much about how much you put into it all, as well as how well you set your technical side up.
If you compare still life photography with street photography, or portrait photography, you have so much control of your subject, that you can do anything you like – and take liberties with the object. An apple is for cutting, chopping, or it can be left in the picture with a small bite out of it.
Thinking outside of the box and improving your still life photography starts in the first room of thought, then step through another door and discover that still life photography can be anything you decide upon.
A pile of kid’s toys creatively combined, a pile of dish cloths, or a bag of potatoes that you have just bought, all of it is a possibility for creative still life photography.
Time and Imagination Through the Camera – article on this site
My Medium articles on Photography