During the cold winter months, when it is nasty outside and all I want to do is remain indoors still life photography still allows me to spend time with my camera taking photos. I admit I don’t get much time to photograph still life subjects, but being forced to remain indoors provides the perfect excuse to take some still life shots.
Still life photography isn’t easy however the following tips (that I have learned over the years) may help you improve your still life shots:-
1. Still life photography tips – Choosing what to shoot
The only limitation to shooting still lives is you imagination. Yep, when it comes to still life photography subjects the sky really is the limit, and there are a million and one things you can use. Food, toys, teddy bears, gadgets, kitchen utensils, clothing, shoes, jewelry, drinking vessels…….. the list goes on.
Any item you can find around the house, in the garage or in the shed has the potential to create stunning still life photos – you just have to think around new and original ways of shooting them.
"Loads of things (like the homemade cuddly rhino above) make great still life subjects"
2. Still life photography tips – Consider the lighting
When taking still life photos lighting is crucial and something you have to consider. How to light the subject should be the first consideration since the lighting method directly affects other aspects of the shoot.
Are you going to rely on natural ambient light? Is there a window to provide natural light? Is there sufficient natural light? Are you going to use natural light and reflectors? Are you going to use a mixture of natural light and flash light? Are you going to light the subject entirely with flash? ………. There are lots of lighting questions you have to ask yourself and sort out before setting everything up.
The point I am trying to make here is that you should never jump right in, set up the subject and start snapping away. Still life photography takes thought and planning, and whilst this may seem tedious it is something you have to do if you want to get the best still life photos possible.
"Flash light, continuous lamps or daylight? You need to choose the most suitable way to light your subjects"
3. Still life photography tips – Use an interchangeable lens camera
Many people would argue you can use any camera for still life photography, and whilst you can I guarantee the type of camera does make a difference. Top end point and shoot cameras (like my Canon G1X) are very good, and capable of capturing top quality photos, but the “all purpose” lens on the point and shoot cameras doesn’t have the image quality required to capture good still life shots.
To get the best still life photos you need to use a specific lens, which obviously requires an interchangeable lens camera, and as we know there are two to choose from. These, of course, are mirrorless cameras or dslrs. I don’t care what anyone says, the best interchangeable lens camera is a dslr. Okay, mirrorless cameras have come a long way but they are still not a dslr beater. I am sure the day of the mirrorless camera will come soon, but it is not here yet. If you want to capture the best still life photos you need a dslr.
The dslr camera I use for still life photography is the Canon 6d. The 6d is small, light, discreet and the full frame sensor is perfect for capturing the highest level of detail. The Canon 6d isn’t a fast camera with super-quick auto focus but then given still life subjects don’t move, this is not a problem.
Even though a full frame sensor is useful you don’t necessarily need a full frame dslr camera to capture excellent still life images. The image quality of some of the prosumer level crop sensor dslr cameras is exceptionally good, and almost on par to that of the full frame dslr cameras.
"I use the Canon 6d for still life photography, and I love it"
4. Still life photography tips – Use a macro lens
The best lens for still life photography is, without a doubt a macro lens. Macro lenses record a level of detail the naked eye can’t see, i.e. they are super sharp. The image quality of macro lenses is second to none, which is crucial for still life photography. Macro lenses are not only good for extreme close up photos but also “standard” style photos.
I have two macro lenses available for still life photography. My first macro lens is the Canon 50mm f2.5 macro lens, which I use with my Canon 6d. This macro lens is small, light and discreet – and perfect for still life shots when I am out on location or simply want to use an ultra-light setup. The build quality of this lens is good and the image quality very good, although it is not quite as good as the other macro lens I use for still life photography, as detailed below.
The second macro lens I use is the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS lens (see a full review here), which is an awesome lens. Compared to the 50mm f2.8 macro lens this lens is big and heavy, but it is still a manageable. Being an L series lens this lens has the usual professional lens features – superior build quality, weather sealing and superior optics. If I want to get the best still life photo, and the sharpest still life photo this is my go to lens.
"The Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens is my go to, unless I am travelling or want to shoot light"
Buy the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS lens from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens
5. Still life photography tips – Use a tripod
In order to capture the required level of detail in still life photos it is crucial to maximise the depth of field, which will decrease the shutter speed, which in turn increase the chances of camera shake and blurry photos. The only way to shoot at narrow apertures and ensure of sharp still life shots is to use a sturdy support, and they don’t come any sturdier than a tripod.
A good still life photography tripod is strong and sturdy enough to securely hold the camera dead still during the exposure. “Sturdy” is a subjective term, and what one photographer considers sturdy another won’t. A sturdy tripod is any tripod that supports your particular camera/lens set up, and you need to keep this in mind when buying a tripod. I have two tripods for still life photography, and the tripod I use depends on the set up I am using to photograph the still life subjects.
If I am shooting with a small and lightweight setup (my Canon 6d (see the pros and cons here) and Canon 50mm f2.8 macro lens) I will opt for the Manfrotto Befree travel tripod. This tripod is small, lightweight and I can easily move it around the subject. It is ideal for a light setup indoors but not ideal for a heavy setup.
If I am shooting a heavier set up (my Canon 6d and Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens) I use my Giottos tripod. This tripod is bigger, heavier, sturdier and can hold more weight than the Manfrotto Befree, and I have total confidence knowing I can use this tripod and not suffer any lens creep.
"I use the Manfrotto Befree travel tripod shooting light and the Giottos otherwise"
Buy the Manfrotto Befree tripod from Amazon.com (US citizens) or buy from Amazon.co.uk (UK citizens)
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.