HOW TO... What is still life photography? Definition, examples and set-ups explained

Still life images are one of the oldest genres of photography. Find out how you can make great images from the comfort of home

What is still life photography? Definition, examples and tips explained

Not everyone has the money to jet off to exciting locations to take photographs, or even the time to go exploring their local area with their camera. Thankfully, though, great images can be made in the comfort of home with no more than a few, simple everyday household items and a little imagination. Still life photography has been practiced for as long as shutters have been opening and closing. In fact, still life images were among the first photographs to be made back in the early days of photography.

It’s important to understand what still life photography is, however.

What Is still life photography?

Still life photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing inanimate objects. It is typically done in a studio setting and involves carefully arranging objects for the purpose of creating a visually appealing image. Still life photography is often used to create art, to sell products, to document objects for scientific research or for other commercial purposes.

What separates still life photography from general scenes with inanimate objects, such as a forest view, is that still life photographers have more time and control over the variables. The best still life photos are those that mix an interesting composition with nice lighting to emphasise the shape, form, colour, texture, light and shadow of a subject.

What are the best still life subjects?

The best still life subjects are typically objects that have character or an interesting shape. Objects like cutlery, rusty tools, glass bottles, flowers and fruit are all time-tested and oft-photographed still life subjects.

If you’re shooting a still life for this first time, try starting with a subject that’s simple – something like fruit or coloured pencils are great for this. Then play around with light. You can use natural light from a window or even simple table lamps to create a more dramatic light effect.

Definition of still life photography

The definition of still life photography is the art of taking pictures of inanimate objects. These objects are usually arranged in a creative way to create an aesthetically pleasing image. The objects used in still life photography can be anything from food, flowers and plants to books, bottles and other everyday objects. The aim of still life photography is to create an image that captures the beauty, simplicity and detail of these objects.

History of still life photography

The history of still life photography dates back to the early 19th century, when photographers began experimenting with the genre. At the time, still life photography was primarily used for scientific purposes, such as documenting plants and animals for research. In the late 19th century, still life photography began to be used for commercial purposes, such as advertising products.

In modern times, still life photography remains a popular form of both product photography and creative expression.

Types of still life photography

There are several different types of still life photography. These include product photography, food photography, flower photography, abstract photography, and table-top photography. Product photography is used to showcase products, such as electronics, jewelry, and clothing. Food photography is used to capture the beauty of food, such as cakes, pastries, and dishes. Flower photography is used to capture the beauty of flowers and plants. Abstract photography is used to capture shadows, reflections, and patterns. Table-top photography is used to capture small objects, such as jewelry, coins, and toys.

Still life photography set up

The set up of a still life photography session depends on the type of photography being done. Generally, the photographer will need a backdrop, lighting, and the objects to be photographed. For product photography, the photographer will need a plain white or black backdrop and studio lighting. For food photography, the photographer will need a plain white background, natural light, and props such as plates, dishes, and utensils. For flower photography, the photographer will need a light box and natural light. For abstract photography, the photographer will need a dark background and studio lighting. For table-top photography, the photographer will need a small light box and studio lighting.

Examples of still life photography

Some of the best still life photography examples can literally be anything! Still life setups are used to capture a variety of objects, such as food, flowers, plants, books, bottles, furniture, toys and everyday objects. Some classic examples of still life photography include a bowl of fruit, a freshly-brewed cup of coffee, a single rose, a bouquet of flowers, an ornately set table, even a collection of books or magazines. Still life photography can also be used to create abstract images, which make creative use of shadows, reflections and patterns.


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