Still life photography FAQ’s.

Still life photography is the photography of inanimate subject matter, typically a small grouping of objects. It can be used for commercial purposes, as well as for art.

The term “still life” is derived from the Dutch word “stilleven,” which means “quiet life.” This genre of painting was popularized in the 17th century by Dutch artists such as Jan Steen and Willem Kalf who began focusing on everyday objects to elevate the mundane to the level of art.

moody still life image of a pale blue ribbed ceramic bowl brimming with oranges, one orange on the surface beside the bowl, in front of a dark shadowed background

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered still life photography?

Still life photography is a type of photography that captures inanimate objects arranged in a particular configuration or composition for an artistic or commercial purpose. Still life images can be taken of anything, from fruit to furniture, and often have a message or story to tell.

The purpose of still life photography will vary from image to image and from project to project, but despite how broad still life photography is, it has some consistent traits, such as capturing the still objects in a way that highlights their form, texture, color, or other characteristics while communicating something about it to the viewer.

still life of fruits on a table

What is the focus of still life photography?

One of the most critical aspects of still life photography is composition. This is because the photographer has complete control over the arrangement of elements in the frame and can therefore create a highly stylized and visually appealing image. 

In addition to composition, lighting is also crucial in still life photography; by carefully manipulating the light, the photographer can create an image that is both striking and evocative.

product photo still life

Why is still life photography important?

Still life photography is important for several reasons. It can capture beautiful images that can be enjoyed for years to come. It can serve as a way to document and preserve history. Still life photography can be used to create art and has been a popular art subject for centuries. Finally, still life photography can also be a vehicle for sharing ideas about different cultures.

fresh baked cookies still life

When did still life photography begin?

Still life photography began in the early days of photography, around the 1840s. Early photographers used still life subjects to test their cameras and techniques. 

By the late 1800s, still life photography was being used by artists to create beautiful and atmospheric images. Today, still life photography is enjoyed by amateur and professional photographers alike.

violin, flowers and fruits in a still life image

What are the 2 types of still life photography?

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

Found still life photography is when the photographer finds an interesting scene or object and decides to take a picture of it. This can be anything from a gripping arrangement of objects to a unique natural scene. 

still life image of old couch

Created still life photography is when the photographer sets up a scene or object and takes a picture. This is often done in a studio setting but can also be done in other locations.

objects in pink and red in still life image

What is found still life photography?

Found still life photography is a type of photography that focuses on capturing everyday objects as they are. It does not involve any staging and often depicts the subject as-is.

What is special about still life photography?

Still life photography is a unique and challenging genre that can produce some truly stunning results. The key to success lies in finding the right subject matter and arranging it in an aesthetically pleasing way. Still life photography is unique in how broad it is. It can run the gamut from anything from a quaint tabletop scene as an art piece, to photos for a global advertising campaign.

How can I be most successful at still life photography?

As a still life photographer, aspire to make your images unique – develop your own style that you are recognized for. The goal is to create something that no one else can do, or that differentiates you from the rest of the crowd. This is why you should focus on technical skills, like lighting and composition. 

But if you want to be successful at it, there are some other things that will help you get there.

To start, try not to neglect the story behind your work. It’s no secret that stories are one of the things that make people connect with art. The same can be said for still life photography. If you take the time to think about what’s going on in your image and how it relates to the world around us, then you’ll have a better chance of capturing an emotional response from viewers.

What kind of money can you make as a still life photographer?

The amount of money you can earn as a still life photographer depends widely on the type of still life photography you specialize in, as well as what kinds of clients you have, your location and a number of other factors.  

That being said, demographic data from the State of the Photography Industry Report that Zenfolio conducted earlier in 2022 shows that only 20% of still life photographers surveyed made less than $30,000 per year. In addition, 31.1% earn between $30,000 and $60,000 and 40% are above $60,000. 

What equipment do you need for still life photography?

Here is a list of equipment you will need for still life photography:

1. Camera: This is the most important piece of equipment when it comes to taking photos. You don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest camera on the market, but consider factors such as resolution, dynamic range, and color science. Things like autofocus are important, but typically a still life scene is a static setting that you’ve come across or set up so you’ll have time to focus accurately. The dynamic range is important because it dictates how much of a range of tones your camera can capture from darkest shadows to brightest highlights. More dynamic range means more flexibility and more engaging images. A camera with a high resolution will mean you can print larger photos. Digital photos are beautiful, but there is something special about a printed photograph that really makes it come alive, and this is another way for you to make money from your photography. 

2. Tripod: A tripod is essential for any photographer, but it’s especially important for still life photographers because many of their shots require a very steady platform so that they can take multiple shots without moving around too much or having their subject move away from them during the time between shots.

3. Lenses: Think about what kind of compositions you’ll set up for your still life photography and how much space you have to work with in your studio before you invest in a specific lens. If you want flexibility we recommend a zoom lens like a 24-70mm. This will give you a range of wide angle to telephoto so you can capture a range of still life scenes with one all purpose lens. Prime lenses are typically sharper and faster (wider aperture) but have the limitation of having a fixed focal length. Consider the fact that a wide angle lens will make objects feel more round and three-dimensional while a telephoto lens will flatten your composition. Both aesthetics have useful applications but make sure you take that into consideration, as well as the amount of space you have to create the image.

4. Props: You’ll also want a bunch of props handy for when you’re doing your photography session. One could argue that still life photography is almost strictly made up of props in some capacity so in this case, the props are most often your subject.

How do still life photographers make money?

There are a few ways that still life photographers can make money from their work. 

  • Selling prints: or other merchandise through their websites, Etsy shop, or other eCommerce platforms. With Zenfolio, photographers can easily list their prints and other products for sale directly on their portfolio website, control the pricing and fulfill orders with our trusted print lab partners.
  • Stock photography: If you’re looking for a way to make some passive income from your still life photography skills and you don’t want to take on private commissions, you may want to consider selling your images as stock photography. There are many sites online where photographers can post their photos for sale for someone to purchase them. The amount of money you make from this type of work will vary depending on how well-known or in-demand you are, as well as how much work you produce. Think about the kinds of photos that potential clients will want to buy and download and recreate those scenes.
  • Commissioned photos for companies looking for promotional material or advertising materials. Still life photographers who choose to take on commissions have a variety of options when it comes to pricing their services. This kind of arrangement will typically be a working relationship with a brand or advertising agency and you’ll be producing work based on the brief they provide you. Some photographers charge an hourly rate, others on a project basis, and some will charge a flat fee for a specific number of photographs.

How to light still life photography?

A commonly used lighting scenario requires one dominant light source to be up above the object and to the side at a 45-degree angle so that it illuminates ¾ of the form. Adjust the lighting so that you will have contrast between the light and the shadow edge. Avoid using too many sources of light as a beginner, but don’t be afraid to experiment!

How to create hard shadows in still life photography?

Lighting sources such as direct sunlight or artificial lighting can be used to create hard shadows. You can achieve it by shining the lighting source directly at and close to the subject of your choice. Hard shadows have definitive and pronounced darkness to them, and it has tasteful aesthetic uses for still life photography.

How to use the rule of thirds in photography still life?

When using the rule of thirds, imagine horizontal and vertical lines on the frame of an image to create 9 equally sized rectangle blocks. Placing your subject on one of these four intersecting points creates dynamic communication and the connection between the viewer and the subject you want to emphasize.

How to set up still life photography?

You can create a 3-sided and foldable dark paperboard. Use it as a backdrop by putting it behind the subject; consider adding a piece of fabric to create texture. Place the largest subject in the scene first followed by smaller ones. Position the lighting at the angles that will best suit your needs, depending on what you want to highlight in the scene. 

What is the key to effective visual communication when using still life photography?

The key to effective visual communication in still life photography is to keep the viewers engaged in the images by making the objects visually interesting to look at. Follow the three composition tips to make your still life photos visually appealing and tell a story that your viewers won’t want to miss.  

What shutter speed to use for still life photography?

This depends upon whether you might be including a subject that could have movement, your personal handholding skills, and whether you’re using a tripod. For most situations in still life photography, you can use a shutter speed of 1/60 – 1/250 of a second without a tripod. This is a general range but feel free to increase or decrease depending on the situation.

How to style still life photography?

Consider what you want to communicate with your scene before you even start building it out. Make sure every part of your still life scene is adding to the concept and follows a cohesive theme. This will help establish your styled scene. If the style you want to shoot is a fall theme, then choose the objects accordingly. Avoid mixing unrelated subjects because this will create confusion for the viewer.  

What type of objects do you need to create a still life?

Every inanimate item you come across in your household can become an object for your still life photography. Items like fruits, products, cutlery, cups, and wine bottles are great objects. A quick search on the Internet for still life paintings could also give you some great ideas. 

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