When photography was just beginning, exposures took a long time – the first photograph, created by Joseph Niepce in 1827 took eight hours to create. Understandably, this made images of people impossible, so for a long time, still life photography (the photographing of inanimate objects) was very popular. It is a classical style in the tradition of Renaissance fruit bowl paintings – but rest assured, you need neither fruit nor a bowl to create a great still life image. In fact, you don’t need much at all but a clean background, a bright window or lamp, and maybe a tripod.
Still life photography is a very meticulous practice; it involves attention to details such as precise lighting and shadow depth, photo composition, and color coordination. It can be very meditative for perfectionists, and give photographers a chance to build a scene before the lens. Here’s is a step-by-step tutorial on how to create still life.
Set up a table with a clean background next to a bright window and/or manoeuvrable lamp. A large piece of poster board will create a good seamless backdrop, or use sheets and other fabric for a rumpled effect. You can also incorporate other props, as long as they complement your subject.
Starting with one key item, place it in the frame and light it. Consider the rules of composition and how you want to use them. Notice where the shadows are falling, and move the item and/or light, watching how the light changes. Take your time and set it up the way you want it.
A sturdy surface will make composing easier, and allow slower shutter speeds without blur. If you don’t own a photo camera tripod, we recommend balancing your camera on a steady surface, but if you have enough light you might get away without it.
The ISO should be as low as you can go for the best image quality, and the white balance should be set for the type of light you’re using (Daylight beside a window, tungsten under a lamp, etc. Try not to mix two or more colors of light). If your camera zooms, adjust it until you like the framing. If it doesn’t, bring the camera closer to achieve the same effect. Adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation and the camera exposure compensation until the levels look their best.
If you’re using a DSLR, choose your settings – instead of auto, put your camera on aperture priority mode and select the f-stop that gives you the depth of field you want (take a test shot to compare). A prime lens is your best friend – you can get a very sharp 50mm f/1.8 lens for cheap, no matter what brand you’re using, which will give you very shallow focus and great detail.
Take a picture. See how it looks. If you see a problem, fix it; if the shadows are too dark, use a piece of white card, tin foil, or even a mirror (these will all have different effects) on the side opposite the light, to bounce it back in. If they’re too direct, use a piece of white cloth or thin paper in front of the light to diffuse and soften it.
Adjust the light if necessary, paying attention to how it affects the first item. Play with placement and positioning. Continue this way – adding one element at a time, building the scene piece by piece and accounting for each as it’s added. Be careful of metal, glass, and anything else with a glossy surface, as reflections are very hard to control and can ruin a good still life photo.
Move your tripod on occasion – mix it up to avoid getting stale. You’ve composed your shot very carefully, but it might look even better if looked at from another point of view. Try it; you can always put it back the way it was.
Try to say something with your image. If you need inspiration, turn to words, phrases, songs, poems, or anything else non-visual that you could create an image from. It’s the story of your photograph that makes it resonate with your viewer, so use your camera as a medium to say what you have to say!
Once you have your best shot picked out, open it in PicsArt to enhance it. Apply a smart blur or sharpen effect if needed, and use the “Blemish Fix” correction to dab out any unwanted spots and imperfections. If the color balance is off, change the hue to fix it, and try putting a border on it. Once it’s perfect, upload it and share your creation with the community!