Professional still life photography guide.

Objects have always been a popular subject for photographers. In the early days of photography, although portraits were very popular, they were also impractical due to the technological constraints of needing to use an extremely long shutter speed – like minutes, or hours long. Because of this, still, inanimate objects became popular subjects for early photographers, and this has carried through, and evolved, to present day. 

Still life photography is the art of capturing inanimate objects on camera. It can be a challenging and rewarding genre, requiring both a keen eye for composition and the patience to capture the perfect moment.

Whether photographing a simple, singular object like a flower, or something more complex like a machine, a few fundamental principles will help you create beautiful and impactful still life images. 

In this article, we’ll explore still life photography, what it is, and some key techniques from finding the right subject matter to creating the perfect composition. So grab your camera, and let’s get started!

avocado sliced in half on pink surface still life

What is still life photography?

Still life photography is a genre that focuses on photographing inanimate subjects, typically commonplace objects that are either natural or man-made.

bright objects on white surface still life

Definition of still life photography.

Still life photography or object photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing stationary objects. These objects can be anything from flowers and fruits to inanimate objects like tools and toys. 

The key element in still life photography is making the object(s) look appealing through lighting, composition, and styling.

The two types of still life photography.

There are two types of still life photography: found and created.

Found still life photography is when you take a photograph of an existing scene or object. Created still life photography, on the other hand, is when you set up a scene or arrange objects to take a photograph. 

Which type of still life photography you choose to pursue is entirely up to you. Some people prefer the simplicity of found still life scenes, while others enjoy the creative challenge of making their own. 

Whichever you choose, there are endless possibilities for beautiful and unique images.

cups suspended in air

Created still life photography.

Created still life photography involves the creation of images of inanimate objects. This can be done by arranging the objects in a specific way or using special lighting techniques. 

Created still life photography can be used for various purposes, including art, commercial, and scientific applications.

dirty dishes in kitchen still life

Found still life photography.

Found still life photography focuses on capturing everyday objects as they are found and photographing them in an interesting and unique way. A subset of documentary photography, this type of photography often uses found objects as subjects, hence the name. 

Found still life photography can be a great way to add some creativity to your photos, and it can also be a fun way to explore your surroundings or look at everyday objects from a different perspective.

Still life photography is a hugely popular subject matter for both creative and commercial photographers. Why? Because it allows the photographer to show off their creative skills, which can be highly lucrative too.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to still life photography, which is why it continues to be such a popular choice for amateur and professional photographers alike.

Whether you’re shooting food, flowers, beauty products, or everyday objects, there’s always a way to make your still life photos unique and exciting. Here are some common subjects.

still life image depicting a fluffy white cat sitting beside a blue checkered cloth napkin, onions, garlic, clementines, a bottle of wine, a platter with a crusty loaf of bread, and a metal vase holding dried wheat

Still life fine art photography.

Still life is a genre of fine art photography that focuses on an inanimate subject matter, either natural or man-made with the goal of creating fine art images. The genre can be traced back to the days of early photography when photographers were limited in their ability to capture moving subjects. You can go even farther back in history to explore still life subject matter as a prevalent theme throughout art history. 

Still life fine art photography allows the photographer to focus on the beauty of the objects, whether it’s a composition made up of flowers and fruit, or just a simple household item. The genre has continued to be popular throughout the history of photography, and today many still life photographers specialize in fine art still life photography.

ginger beer and oranges product sill life

Still life product photography.

Still life product photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing images of commercial products, whether it’s food, consumer packaged goods, plants, jewelry, or any other items. 

It is often used in advertising and marketing campaigns. This type of photography can help to make products look more appealing and can also be used to convey certain messages or themes. The primary purpose of this kind of still life photography is to make the products look attractive and desirable with the aim of ultimately selling that product to consumers.

Still life product photography can be shot in a studio or on location. 

When shooting still life product photography, it is important to have a good understanding of composition, lighting, and styling. This will help to ensure that the final images are well-crafted and look professional. More importantly, it’s important that when working with commercial clients you get a brief of what they are trying to achieve with these images, what the company and the product represent, what their mission statement is, and anything else that can help inform how you want to photograph the product.

ice cream cone on blue background

Still life food photography.

Still life food photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing images and series of food, as well as related foods, ingredients, beverage products, and tools. This type of photography can be used to capture the beauty and the details of the food, as well as tell a story about the food, culture, and craft of making the food.

Still life food photography often requires special techniques to bring out the best in the subject. For example, photographers may use lighting techniques to create a certain mood or effect. There are also many tricks on how to treat the food so that it looks fresh, and vibrant and is styled in a way that makes it look mouthwatering and irresistible.

Additionally, still life food photography often uses props and backdrops to add interest to the image.

fun colorful glasses product still life

Still life fashion photography.

Still life fashion photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing fashion items in a static, often posed setting. 

This type of photography can be used to showcase new clothing and accessory collections, create advertising campaigns, or simply capture the garments’ beauty.

While still life fashion photography may not be as action-packed as other genres, it can still be quite challenging to master. After all, you need to be able to capture the clothing in a way that is both flattering and stylish. Working in a trend-setting industry like fashion can be exciting and challenging, but also affords a lot of opportunities to get creative and push the boundaries with your photography. 

portrait of woman still life with floral

Still life portrait photography.

Still life portrait photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing portraits of people in static poses. This type of photography can be used to capture both formal and informal portraits, as well as candid shots of people in everyday settings.

Still life portrait photography often uses props and backdrops to create an interesting scene or setting for the subject. 

Common props include furniture, flowers, and other objects that can add color and interest to the photograph. Backdrops can be anything from a simple sheet of paper to a more elaborate setting such as a beach or park.

landscape still life of tree in water

Still life landscape photography.

Still life landscape photography is a genre that captures the natural beauty of the world around us. This type of photography can be used to capture the stunning landscapes of nature, or it can be used to document the everyday scenes that we see around us.

Still life landscape photography often uses a wide-angle lens to capture the grandeur of the scene, or it can use a telephoto lens to focus on specific details. 

Still life landscape photography is a versatile genre that can capture a wide variety of beautiful subjects and can be used to create beautiful art prints.

Creative still life photography styles.

In addition to the types of still life photography we’ve already discussed as well as the varied subject matter that can be shot within the genre, photographers also employ various creative still life photography styles. 

Each style embodies a unique taste and perspective of still life photography, from minimalist to abstract to modern. 

modern shape still life

Modern still life photography.

Modern still life photography is a genre of photography that typically features carefully composed images of inanimate objects. The genre began to emerge in the early 20th century as photographers experimented with new ways of depicting everyday items in innovative and unusual ways.

While traditional still life photography tends to focus on subjects like fruits, flowers, and other natural objects, modern still life photographers usually take a more conceptual approach, incorporating unexpected elements into their compositions. While the subject matter being photographed is an important decision, what really makes modern still life photography is the approach to depict those items in a contemporary, unusual, or unexpected way. 

classic detailed still life floral with fresh fruits and vegetables

Classic still life photography.

Traditional or classic still life photography is a genre of photography that focuses on capturing static images of subjects like flowers, fruits, and other traditional household items such as hats, shoes, tools, or books.

Classic still life photographers often strive to create highly-detailed, realistic images that capture the beauty of their subjects. Often times, the aim is to elevate the perceived beauty of everyday objects to a place where, as a composition, it is a stunning piece of art. This photography genre often requires specialized lighting techniques and props to create the desired effect.

Traditional still life photography can be quite challenging to master. Classic still life photographers must have a keen eye for detail and composition to create stunning images.

leaf in vase

Minimalist still life photography.

Minimalist still life photography is a genre of photography that emphasizes simplicity and minimalism. This type of photography often features clean, simple compositions with few elements. The focus is typically on one or two main subjects, and the background is often kept clean and uncluttered.

Minimalist still life photography can capture the beauty of everyday objects in a new and exciting way. This type of photography can also be used to create abstract compositions. 

It is often calming and serene, making it ideal for creating tranquil images. Minimalist still life photography can also convey that sense of simplicity through the use of similar colors and tones to bring the composition together or convey an idea to the viewer. 

conceptual still life

Conceptual still life photography.

Conceptual still life photography often features common objects in unexpected ways, or in curious juxtapositions. This type of photography aims to create images that tell a story or convey a message. 

Conceptual still life photographers often use props and other elements to help create their vision. Anything can be used as a subject for this type of photography. The key is to find a way to make the ordinary look extraordinary.

abstract bubbles colors still life

Abstract still life photography.

Abstract still life photography is a type of photography that seeks to capture the essence of an object or scene rather than its literal appearance. 

This can be accomplished by using a variety of techniques, such as close-ups, unusual angles, unconventional compositions, and even techniques that distort the image like reflections, or materials that obscure the subject.

Abstract still life photography often relies heavily on light and shadow to create its effects. By playing with these elements, photographers can create aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking images.

While it can be challenging to execute, abstract still life photography can yield stunning results. When done well, it can convey the feeling or mood of an object or scene in a unique and memorable way.

black and white image of blankets on couch still life

Narrative still life photography.

Narrative still life photography is a type of photography that tells a story through the images captured. 

The photographer carefully selects each element in the scene to create a specific mood or tell a particular tale. The composition of the scene, the lighting, and the props all play a role in conveying the desired narrative. 

Narrative still life photography can be used to capture any number of stories. Common themes include love stories, loss, and self-reflection. 

However, really any story can be told through this type of photography. The important thing is that each element in the scene works together to create a cohesive and compelling narrative.

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