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.