5 Still Life Lighting Tips for Beginners

5 Still Life Lighting Tips for Beginners

Lighting is the single most important element of “Still Life” photography. The way a photographer uses light for still life will add mood, give context, provide interest, and ultimately, create a dynamic still life photograph. Lighting for still life is not complicated. In fact, stick to these 5 tips, and you will nail your still life shots every time.

1. Use an simple backdrop: Wrinkles and ridges in a still life photograph – unless a part of the setting – will be distracting to your main subject. Be vigilant about keeping your backdrops smooth and simple.

2. Make your lighting contrasty: Whether you are using strobes, speedlights, or LED’s, it’s important that your “ratio” from one light to the next is varied. The main light should be strongest, and the second light should simply provide a nice fill.

3. Light directionally: Side light is always most effective for bringing out texture and creating dynamic variation between the highlights and shadows. Whether rings, or florals, side light will enable you to give dimension and depth to your still life imagery.

4. Pay attention to your angles: Two things to think about when faced with a studio lighting scenario. a). The position of the lights to your subject and b). the position of your subject to the camera. Side light will give dimension, but so also will the angle at which you take your shot [ie. side, above, below, etc.]. Don’t be afraid to experiment and change up angles. A photo is most interesting when you give a new perspective to something that is ordinary.

5. Light for shape: We see life 3 dimensionally. For this reason, the most dynamic photographs are the ones in which the audience could walk into the scene, or reach out and touch the subject. Lighting for shape will be most emphasized by side light, when your highlights spread along the edge of your subject and add that 3rd dimension.

Whether or not commercial Still Life is an area you want to enter professionally, practicing in a still life context will give you a better understanding of directing light for maximum photographic impact.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

Some Older Comments

  • Jaccine E September 28, 2012 11:09 pm

    Rolando... I see why you were lost. She never said hello.

  • Rolando May 15, 2010 02:37 pm

    "Whether you are using strobes, speedlights, or LED’s" - I thought these tips were for beginners. Sorry but you lost me at hello.

  • amir paz October 17, 2009 04:01 pm

    here are 2 i took just yesterday, played with the lights for a romantic view.

    i used one flash, with an orange gel, and a home made snoot grid directed straight and another diffused light on the side for the backgorund shadows on the second pic

    hope you like it, i'd like to hear what you have to say

    thanks for the post,




  • enrico rueda October 16, 2009 06:06 pm

    I agree it would have been a lot better if there were photos on each tip. I could not make out what I have in mind specially when might lights is of D.I.Y. Please enlighten how to get those good photos of still life using DIY LIGHTHINGS

  • David Huynh October 16, 2009 02:35 pm

    It's really helpful, great tips thank you so much.... :)

  • Phottix | Steve October 16, 2009 07:19 am

    Great tips. Getting lighting ratios right takes a lot of experimentation. Fun and frustrating, but time well spent.

  • djashish October 16, 2009 05:15 am

    Lighting Ratio should always be kept in mind while capturing a portrait. The mathematical formula says it as keyLight upon fill Light which should always be less than one.Yes if you want to show a dull or sad or may be worried mood keep the fill light as low as possible and just see the effect.

  • Chandu October 13, 2009 02:58 pm

    This article is something I was just looking for, after trying and failing at still life photography...
    but the article could have been better with some images

  • Robin Ryan October 13, 2009 06:28 am

    I'd add an even more important one: learn one-light lighting! It's the best and forces creativity. I love the results. Here are some that I've done:

    my set on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinryan/sets/72157616184538095/

    a few favs:

    feel free to ask if you have any more questions on how I lit these... basically it was a softbox and a grey background.

  • sbunting108 October 13, 2009 06:10 am

    Thanks nice tips shame I havent got any money at the moment too splash out on some studio lighting

  • Christina October 13, 2009 01:18 am

    Hmmm...I guess the photo got lost in translation. Sorry everyone! I'm sure Darren will get the example image up soon!

  • MJ Pascual October 13, 2009 12:59 am

    I agree with Pablo, this is such an interesting article... but without the visuals... it's kinda bland....

  • Stock Photos October 12, 2009 11:38 pm

    Lighting is something I've always struggled with, thank you for sharing these tips!

  • pablo October 12, 2009 07:40 pm

    Interesting article. But it would be even better if you could provide some examples with and without each tip.

  • Allison October 12, 2009 01:56 pm

    Great tips! Thanks Christina!
    Your articles are so encouraging!