Although fruit may be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term still life, just about anything can qualify as a subject for a still life. A still life simply refers to an inanimate object or group of objects, composed and captured in an interesting way. For centuries, painters have used still lifes as a means for exploring and learning about their craft, and photographers can do the same.
Many of the photographs used in advertising are still lifes. Open a domestic-themed magazine, for example, such as
Cooked shrimp make an interesting still life.
When setting up your own still life, everyday items you have around the house can be used to make a statement if they're arranged well. To make it more than just a snapshot, you will need to consider the texture, theme, and composition of your image. Your choices of subject, placement, and lighting will be the keys to creating successful still life images.
Pick objects of complementary or contrasting color or shape, things that will work together to convey a story, or objects that are found together in nature. Arrange them so that they are leaning against or are placed next to each other. Larger items will become the main focal points of the composition, with smaller objects placed in front of them.
When photographing a still life, you have complete control over the creative process and can experiment with shape, light, color, texture, and composition. Still lifes tend to be more time-consuming because you must first set up the shot. By paying attention to detail and allowing your creativity to surface, you can create a memorable still life image.
Soft, diffuse lighting will give the image a soft quality, like a painting. Stronger light is more appropriate for use with a still life composed of contemporary or angular items. Varying the angle of the light also changes the mood of the shot. Lighting your still life from above will make it appear more grounded. If you light it from below, the objects will cast high shadows and appear larger.
Close photography could be considered a special branch of still life photography. Often created in the studio, these shots are rarely spontaneous. By their nature they must be carefully set up, lighted, and framed. Close photography has special requirements. You may want to work with it or need to do it more often than you might realize.
If your digital camera has a close-up mode, you can enjoy taking intimate shots of the world around you. Nature offers a limitless array of possibilities, from the elegant butterfly perched on a garden bush to tidal pools hidden among seaside rocks. For technical aspects of this kind of photography, go to Chapter 5 and read the “Taking a Closer Look at Macro Photography” section.
Close-up photos, such as this picture of a grill ornament on an old Buick, make worlds unto themselves.