There are several ways to shoot a still life. If you have lights, backdrops, plate cameras that have adjustable settings you wouldn’t be reading this anyway, so let’s cut to the chase.Still Life shots are good to practice your ‘eye for photo composition’, your color sense, and lens techniques because usually the subject isn’t going anywhere or being a distraction.
Still Life can also be satisfying – maybe your friends will yawn but hey they’re probably yawning anyway.
Try this as an experiment:
- Find somewhere in your home that has good lighting and an interesting or a neutral background, like a tabletop near a window.
- Empty out your pockets into a heap on the table.
- Don’t rearrange anything. You’ve probably got coins, keys, a cellphone perhaps, maybe some notes, an old movie ticket and a receipt for a coffee or whatever.
- Pick up your camera and walk around your still life until you like what you see in the viewfinder and shoot a few frames.
- Try it again from different heights and different angles.
- Download your shots and pick out the three best.
- Now critique them. Why do you like them? What do they communicate about you? Messy pockets or do they represent a interesting window into your life?
Now save those and leave your heap on the table (if you can) for a couple of hours. Now the light should be different. Do the same exercise. Shoot another bunch of shots and pick three. Compare them to the first three. Decide which ones you like best now.
Maybe in the first shots the lighting was soft and the shadows not noticeable. But in the later shots the shadows are harder, and now maybe the geometry of the composition has changed dramatically. Now you have something that looks like the cover of an espionage thriller. You decide what the image communicates now and if you want it to communicate that.
Wait a few more hours and by now there’s probably no sunlight so the shots are going to be taken using fluorescent lighting or incandescent lighting. Maybe now you have no shot at all.
In any case the amount of light falling on your scene is probably too little even for your neat digital camera, so now you need to haul out that tripod. (Ah that’s why I bought it!) Yes, tripods are for when camera movement is going to spoil the shot.
Unless you have trained as a sniper for ten years, below about 1/60 your body movement or the pressure of your finger on the shutter button is going to cause ‘movement’ in your picture.
Put the camera on the tripod and figure out the delayed shutter function on your camera. It will have one. Most give you 15-30 seconds before the image is captured.
Frame the shot, trip the shutter, and hope you don’t get an earth tremor at the critical moment. If you’re serious about getting decent shots you should know how to use the “bracket” function.
That means the camera will take a series of shots exposing for more light and less light than the basic exposure. Purists dig this kind of thing but between you and me, you can fix a host of exposure problems in photo editing software – what you can’t fix in image editing software is camera or subject movement. You shouldn’t have any subject movement unless you keep small animals in your pockets and because – hey it’s a STILL Life.
Shoot a few shots. Chances are the results suck because direct overhead light is pretty boring. Your Still Life now looks like a dead life.
You probably have images that look boringly like you unloaded your pockets on a table. All the feel and mood is gone.
Now let’s start creating with light.