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How to Photograph Beautifully Simple Still Life

Updated on March 17, 2015
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

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CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

"A still life (plural still lifes) is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which may be either natural (food, flowers, dead animals, plants, rocks, or shells) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, and so on). With origins in the Middle Ages and Ancient Graeco-Roman art, still-life painting emerged as a distinct genre and professional specialization in Western painting by the late 16th century, and has remained significant since then. Still life gives the artist more freedom in the arrangement of elements within a composition than do paintings of other types of subjects such as landscape or portraiture. Early still-life paintings, particularly before 1700, often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted. Some modern still life breaks the two-dimensional barrier and employs three-dimensional mixed media, and uses found objects, photography, computer graphics, as well as video and sound." Wikipedia

Photographing still life is looked at more as an art than a photographic project.

The photographer looks at elements and creates a scene by carefully arranging these chosen elements into a desirable pattern to create wherever idea he or she had in mind when it was decided that these elements would be used for a still life photographic set up.

Beautifully simple still life's are created by arranging the objects according to our own choice and in a manner meant to define a message.

In a way this is probably true because most still life, especially those done in a studio, takes a creative mind to bring together various, often unrelated, subjects and compose a scene that takes an idea and makes it into a reality. Unlike still life that can be found in nature, the scene does not inspire the photographer, the inspiration comes from within.

However, unlike the traditional style of the old masters of painting and many typical still life set ups, the scene does not need to be overly complicated or full of many interesting elements and use complicated light set ups or fancy backdrops.

One will be surprised how many still life can be found in a home. You need to look ate things with a "photographic eye" as it were, and look at simple things with this mindset. Often the simplest things will do for a creative and pleasant still life.

Mostly what you will need to do to complete the set up is use some creative lighting and this can be as simple as creating shadows, adding more light or even eliminating some of it.

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CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Does this open your eyes to new possibilities in photographing still life?

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CC BY-ND 2.0 | Source

The first place to look at in your home should be the kitchen. This are is where most of the colors can be found.

Things like vegetables and fruits make for good still life subjects and when you combine them with other less colorful items like kitchen utensils you create a contrast in colors that lends themselves well for still life shots.

Living spaces like where you keep literature (books), figurines and even the bathroom can feature still life subjects if only you look at them with an open mind.

Flower bases, especially those that are made form clear glass are really good subjects and by using their transparency to your advantage you can create beautiful still life photos. When you use light creatively like back light, then you give these simple subjects an added perspective that is seldom noticed by most people.

In essence you are asking your viewers to take a second look at every day routine things that most anyone has in their homes. They are looking at a scene from your perspective.

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Public domain image | Source
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public domain image | Source
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public domain image | Source

These still images will teach you to see things differently and if you are just starting out in the wonderful world that photography can open up for you, then you will also gain a new understanding in how it is the photographer and not the equipment that makes photography such a special art form.

Even with a simple camera a creative individual can produce really quality images. But learning to see things with a photographic eye takes time, learning as much as you can, experience and some talent.

How many times have you individuals with really technologically advanced and expensive gear approach their photography from the same un-inspiring way that has been done for many years.

Even a family portrait at a kid's birthday can produce stunning images if you are creative and take the time to explore the possibilities.

After you are done with this project take the time and think about how you looked at things, how you composed the images in your mind, how you set everything up and the technical aspects of each shot and you begin to understand why professionals are so because of how they approach their photography and how they look at their potential subjects.

Their attention to every detail is what allows them to continually take beautifully simple still life shots.

The main thing to keep in your mind is that even if you are not pursuing the art from a commercial standpoint; you are not looking for sales, but from a hobby or artistic mindset, it is incumbent upon you to do the best that you can.

Otherwise you may take mundane shot after shot and run the risk getting frustrated with your photography and regret having spent the money you did on that piece of expensive gear or worst, put the camera away because you lack inspiration.

Keep at it, and take pleasure in all your photographs. If there are some that didn't quite come out the way you envisioned them, learn from the experience and think about how you could have made them better.

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      teaches12345: Thank you very much. BTW I always appreciate when a colleague honors my work.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      Thanks for the lesson. I am going to practice these techniques.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      sallybea: Thank you and have fun!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 3 years ago from Norfolk


      This Hub comes at a time when I am experimenting with some still life and food photography. I am so looking forward to putting some of your ideas into action. I feel really quite excited at the prospect. Thank you.