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What Is Still Life Photography?

What Is Still Life Photography?

Still life photography is probably one of the most popular styles in all of art. It’s definitely not your average photograph! In fact, it can be quite difficult to define still lifes because there are so many variations.

Usually, people call pictures with food or other materials “still lives.” But what makes this style special is that the objects in the picture are usually organized into a story or narrative.

For example, say you photographed an apple plate with an orange slice hanging off of it. The photo would likely focus more on just how juicy and perfect the oranges layer looks next to the apple. Or maybe the viewer is drawn to the shape of the fruit pieces themselves.

There are lots of ways to use still life photos for inspiration. You could organize them by color, shapes, textures, etc. And while some artists include narratives in their work, others prefer keeping things mostly neutral and observational. Either way, they’re both great types of photographs!

Many famous painters used still life as a source of imagery and ideas. Pablo Picasso made a lot of references to still lifes in his work, especially during his Cubism phase. Other classic masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Giotto also incorporated still life images into their works.

In this article, we’ll go over some basic tips and tricks for taking beautiful still life photos.

Examples of still life

what is still life photography

Still lifes are one of the most classic photography styles. They do not have an object, instead they contain several objects that work together to create a picture.

Most people recognize still lifes from their representation in art galleries or museums. Art collectors purchase still lifes as souvenirs or decorations because they want to see how the artist incorporated them into their own style.

Taking pictures of still lifes is very tricky since you need to make sure all the elements in the photo are aesthetically pleasing! When taking your first few photos, try putting some items together at home and then moving onto more complex settings.

Your settings can be anything from completely natural environments like forests or beach areas, to indoor locations with just enough changes to add depth to the image.

When capturing landscapes and still lives, keep the light source consistent so that the image does not look unnatural. Flash cannot be used unless the item being photographed has special features that use it, such as a lamp or computer screen.

Equipment needed for still life

what is still life photography

Looking at still lifes can be tricky as there are so many things you could choose to use or add into this genre. You do not need expensive equipment to create stunning still life pictures!

In fact, we have mentioned before that having several items of good quality is much better than buying very expensive ones. Having some basic photography tools already will get you started with still lifes, especially if you are looking to take your art skills to the next level.

A tripod, neutral background, and photoshop are pretty universal settings people start using when creating still lives. Beyond those three basics, most professional still life photographers own at least one other piece of equipment specific to their style- such as large bowls or buckets they put products in, clear glassware, or ceramic containers.

There are many great resources online and through photographer groups where you can find out more about advanced still life techniques.

Subject matter for still life


Many people consider painting to be the most popular form of art. However, there are many other forms of expression that use color, shape, and/or material as their main focus. These types of artwork are referred to as nonrepresentational or abstract.

Still lifes are one type of nonrepresentational work. A still life is when nothing else exists except for what you gave it – food, flowers, bottles, etc. It can also include objects such as vases, bowls, or trays.

The thing about still lives is that they seem to imply something beyond just having fun decorations and eating! Some say still lifes make us think about our relationship with nature and the importance of beauty in this world.

Beauty lies not only in shapes and colors but also in materials alone. Using natural products makes your piece more environmentally friendly. Materials like glass, metal, and wood add value to the piece too because they are expensive.

Lighting still life

what is still life photography

A lightning or shutter speed-only shot of an object is referred to as a “lighting” or “strobist” still life. These are typically set up, photographed, and edited very strategically.

The reason why these shots are so popular is because they create a sense of calmness. The way the light hits the objects in the photo makes it feel like you have time to take a break and enjoy what your eyes were drawn to in nature or in everyday life.

Still lifes can also be more conceptual than just naturalistic images. For example, we see a lot of photos of vegetables painted with chocolate and milk as a form of food photography. More recent examples include using fruits and flowers as diaries that tell us a story about our lives.

There are many styles of lighting still life photographs. Some use heavy background darks which contrast with the brightness of the item being depicted while others keep the lights soft to draw attention away from the item.

Compositional elements for still life

what is still life photography

There are many types of still lifes, but all contain one key element: something that makes it interesting to look at.

That something can be an object or collection of objects, but what is important is that nothing in the painting looks like anything else.

It also cannot express any emotion beyond “I am here” or “Take me in.” A still life with food is usually about eating, so there is some implication of consuming whatever you find in it.

A famous example of still life photography is Ansel Adams’s “The Beach at Sunset” where he placed his wife next to some fruits and vegetables she had just washed before putting them into the canvas.

This created a sense of intimacy between viewer and subject because we feel connected to her as she enjoys this natural beauty around her.

Persistence of vision

what is still life photography

Another defining characteristic of still life photography is its use of persistence of vision (or deliberate eye closure). This is when the photographer will close his or her eyes, expose the image, and then open them up to check the result.

The reason for this is so that the viewer can see the effect of the setting and props on the mind as well as the body. It also gives the viewer time to reflect on the picture before moving on.

Still life photographers often use very bright light sources such as lamps or flash to create an interesting contrast with the objects in the photograph.

Potential effects of still life photography

what is still life photography

While some people consider still lifes to be boring or even cliché, many artists rely heavily on them for inspiration. The reason why they are so popular is because they offer a lot to look at!

Still lifes can tell you a story. A flower may speak about love, nature, or hope. A pot might talk about gift giving or home-making.

A very famous still life painting is Van Gogh’s Sunflower. In it he painted several sunflowers along with a knife, wheat field, and a window frame. All these items together create a picture that speaks about self-reflection and death.

The bright colors represent the living parts of someone’s body while the thin stalk and closed petal show there is not much live energy left. It is similar to how someone would view a person after witnessing a tragic event like a car accident.

There is also an element of calm in the painting due to all the empty space. This represents the quiet inner soul part most everyone has.

Takeaways for still life photography

what is still life photography

As we have seen, still lifes can be very interesting compositions. While some people may call it boring or even unnecessary, they are always worth trying out!

There is an art to creating still lifes that make them seem more artistic. Even if you do not consider yourself a good artist, you can try your hand at this genre of photography.

In this article, we will go over some tips and tricks for taking beautiful still life photos. These include things like how to organize natural objects, colors with nature, and using textures in your settings.

We will also talk about some types of still lives that are unique and/or helpful in giving you inspiration. To close off, there is one major rule when doing any type of still life photo.

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Billy Barnes
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