As a beginner photographer, I still remember experimenting with random photo-shoots of colorful fruits, leaves and flowers. Believe it or not, capturing the inanimate has always been one of our favorite pass time activities as photographers. But, not anymore! With so much demand for lively product shoots in magazines and websites, still life photography is a million dollar business today.
Capturing the still life is a very unique photographic experience. With your subject being inanimate, you get enough time to play with all the creative controls on your camera, and keep snapping until you end up with a shot to which you say – Woah! That is the perfect one.
Capturing still life photographs seems easy, but breathing life into those inanimate objects requires a great deal of creativity and obviously, a lot of practice. Should you mess up with the lighting and framing, it’s fairly easy to end up with an austere shot of that already dull bunch of keys. Here are the six most common mistakes that photographers make while doing still life photography.
Still Life Mistake #1 – Improper Lighting
Rule one, your subject needs to be well lit up. After-all, it is the central theme of your photo-shoot. Using natural light generally gives superb results.
In case you are shooting inside a room, you need to be a little creative with the way light falls on your subject. One of the most common mistakes is to photograph your subject under full blown artificial light sources like LEDs and fluorescent tube-lights. Why? Because such light sources add a color temperature to your subject that makes it look less natural. Moreover, they make your inanimate object look just what they are – lifeless and boring.
Place your subject near a natural light source, such as an open window. Get creative with the light falling on the subject. Does it look amazing when light falls on it from the side? Or does it look more attractive with light falling on it from behind? I personally find natural light from the side to look more attractive. The subtle shadows and visible details under the natural light, sparks interest in the otherwise dull object.
Another important thing to take care of is the intensity of the natural light falling on your subject. Avoid shooting it under direct sunlight. The bright sunlight may washout the otherwise delicate details and colors of your subject. As a remedy, in case you really need to shoot under broad sunlight, use a light modifier such as a soft-box (or translucent reflector) that will help produce an overcast effect, and will direct the light to softly diffuse over your subject.
Still Life Mistake #2 – A Distracting Background
Placing your subject on a backdrop full of distractions is another potential mistake in still life photographs. Your product being the central theme, deserves all the attention. Therefore, you need to ensure that the background is free from all such distractions. By this, I mean anything that shifts your attention from the main product to the backdrop behind it. For example: capturing a vase of flowers in a background of a home furniture shot.
Choose a wall that’s simple, and painted with a plain color. If your wall is not plain, use a piece of white chart paper to cover the wall, so that it doesn’t interfere with your main subject. One more tip, if you’re shooting your product over a table top, again make sure that the table is neatly covered with a white piece of cloth or paper. The main idea is to focus as much attention on your product as possible.
Still Life Mistake #3 – Not Using a Tripod
In case you need to shoot your subject with longer shutter speed, you need to make sure that you do not end up with a blurry shot. An example under this kind of setup can be a decorative indoor water fountain. You may want to use longer shutter speed to capturing the motion of the falling water. So in this case, it makes any sense to use a tripod because even a slight camera shake can result in a blurry shot.
With a tripod, you may also wish to use a wireless remote control for shutter release. This makes sure that not even the slightest of the shakes can blur your photo. Alternatively, in case you do not have a remote control shutter release, you can capture the shot by setting your camera on the 2-second timer mode.
Still Life Mistake #4 – Improper Framing
Framing your shot helps focus and arrest the attention of the viewers on your main subject. While framing the shot, determine whether the subject fills the frame in a way that draws the required attention. Utilize the rule of thirds, move around and experiment with different possible angles. You’ll definitely come up with that perfect shot.
Still Life Mistake #5 – Not Experimenting
Being fastidious really pays off when it comes to taking still life photographs for professional and commercial purpose. When you’ve finished setting everything up for the shoot, take a few good clicks and randomize the entire setup – shift your subject to a little different location, add something to the scene that complements the subject, use different angles and lights, try framing the shots all over again. You’ll end up with a unique piece of art each time.
Still Life Mistake #6 – Wrong Choice of Lens
Still life photography is all about creating depth, and bringing out the subject in a way that directly interacts with the viewer. How will you achieve this level of focus? By utilizing the shallow depth of field.
This works great with subjects with high levels of detail such as: flowers, leaves, and fruits. Under this kind of a setup, you will want to come closer to your subject, set the camera to AV mode (Aperture Priority), and keep the focal length as long as possible. A telephoto lens is your best bet for this kind of a setup, because the longer focal length compresses perspective, helping your subject stand out more.
This doesn’t mean that only telephoto lenses work for still life photography. If you wish to bring out, and focus on the delicate details of your subject, go ahead and shoot with a telephoto lens. On the flip side, if you wish to capture everything on your table top setup, you would be fine with a either a standard 50mm lens or a wide angle.
How do you capture the still life?
What has been your experience with still life photography? Do you have any other useful tip to share? We look forward to your thoughts and suggestions on this article.