Deliver Message in Still-Life Photography with Technique

When creating personal, artistic photographs, you’re not confined to the purpose or function of a still-life subject. Instead, you’re granted full creative license to create images based on what you have to say about something.

The way to bring your vision to life is to use technique. Light your still-life subjects in a way that brings out the properties and features that you find to be interesting, and remember that amazing composition requires more than simply placing the subject in the center of your frame and snapping a shot.

To determine the techniques that work best, first think of what you want to emphasize in a subject. Then choose the techniques that help you do so. Here’s a list of things to keep in mind:

  • Light direction: Sidelighting (which comes from the side of the camera) can bring out the texture or create dramatic shadows in a scene. Flat lighting (coming from the direction of the camera), or backlighting (coming from behind the subject) can be used to emphasize the shape of a subject. Three-quarter lighting (somewhere between side and front lighting) is ideal for emphasizing a subject’s form.

  • Light quality: Hard light creates well-defined shadows, while soft light (produced by a larger light source) creates gradual shadow edges. Consider hard lighting when creating a dramatic distinction between shadow and highlight areas. Consider soft lighting when you want to show off a subject’s form or create smoother highlights.

  • Camera angle: Choose camera angle based on how you want viewers to see a subject and what details you want to make visible. Also, consider how the subject fits into its surroundings when choosing the best camera angle.

  • Subject size: The size of the subject in your frame helps reveal information to viewers. Larger representations give the subject a bigger impact. Smaller representations give room for supporting elements. Consider the use of props to provide a sense of scale to viewers.

  • Color and tonality: The colors and tones in your frame tend to manipulate how viewers see the image. Does your product photograph better with a light background or a dark one? Should the background consist of a certain color to provide a specific mood or feeling? Do the colors of your supporting elements support the mood or feeling you’d like to associate with the product?

  • Depth of field: Is your goal to show as much sharp detail as possible or to draw viewers to one specific detail with selective focus? Do you wish to reveal sharp detail in supporting elements or blur out the distracting background?

While you may be forced to use a great depth of field when photographing a subject as a product, feel free to use a shallow depth of field when shooting the same subject as an artistic still-life. Take the steps necessary to reveal the subject how you want it to be seen.

This photo uses the transparent qualities of a kiwi to create a unique photograph. It was backlight to make that happen; therefore, the photographer did the following:

  • Propped the kiwi upright in front of a black background. The dark background works best to emphasize the glow from the backlit subject.

  • Positioned the key light source behind the subject.

  • Situated the camera directly in front of the kiwi.

  • Used a black flag to block the key light from hitting the background, and to prevent it from casting the subject’s shadow onto the foreground.

  • Chose a small aperture setting to ensure I could capture sharp detail in the kiwi’s seeds, pulp, and fuzzy outer rim.

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