My Still-Life Photography Adventure

My Still-Life Photography Adventure

Everyone has photographed still life images at one time or another.  It’s usually one of those everyday images that catches our eye such as the sun shining through colored glass bottles on a window sill, fresh flowers in a vase or a stack of old books on an antique table. Photographers are attracted to beautiful, interesting or just random things, and just naturally want to capture those images. I have done my share of random still-life shots, and especially enjoy shooting collections such as colored pencils in a row or old tools in a barn. But I had never created a still-life scene from scratch with the goal of telling a story in a single frame.  This process is much more involved, requiring thoughtfully selecting the items, placing and lighting them in a visually appealing way.

Last September my Dutch photographer friend Klaas van Huizen asked me to join his still-life photography project.  The plan was that we would shoot only still-life images, but of any theme we liked, stage each on a black background, and each select 8 to 10 of them for an exhibit in the Netherlands in January 2012. I am a busy photographer here in the US and was at first reluctant to take on another project. And whatever spare time I did have was spent developing my international photography workshops to launch this fall in Paris.  My plate was pretty full, but I just couldn’t resist the challenge. The project was too interesting to pass up and I was confident that three months was plenty of time to do it.  Besides, I work better under pressure, so I jumped in!

As I said, this was my first time building from scratch still-life images to photograph, and was a real test to my “working well under pressure!”  I was totally unprepared for how time consuming the creative process of envisioning, gathering and composing the objects for each shot, and the myriad of details involved.  At first I thought, “I’ll just find a day here and there in my busy schedule, and just shoot something.” Was I ever wrong!  Sure, I had good days and bad days, but I mostly had to realize that the creative process cannot be forced or scheduled. It has to flow naturally and on its own time.

So where does one start with staged still-life photography? For me it started with the discovery of trigger objects, an item that inspired me, and then I’d start composing a theme or a setting about it in my head. Friends helped me locate specialty items such as an old typewriter or ballet shoes. I chose to use mostly window light and reflectors instead of studio lights. I soon learned that over thinking the composition of the shot was getting in the way of a natural, pure image. It was quite powerful to realize that once I followed my heart and my intuition, I was creating better images.

This still-life building exercise exposes a photographer’s unique personality and life experience.  No two photographers select, place or light their objects in the same way. However, two photographers’ work, such as Klaas’ and mine, can compliment one another, even though we were working on two different continents.

The project was completed within the deadline. I flew to the Netherlands in January for the exhibit opening at FOTOexpo202 in Amersfoort.  While our individual work was unique and singular, the combined sets of images complimented one another very well.  I am proud to say that the exhibit was a good success overall, and I am now looking forward to experimenting with more still life compositions to show in other venues.

Staging and photographing your own still-life is definitely a challenge, but if you balance internal creative process with the techniques of the craft, you will create your own unique images to appreciate for a long time, maybe even immortalize some prized family heirlooms.  Just be sure you are not under a tight deadline and can enjoy the ebb and flow of the creative process!


'George' ~ A close relative of mine passed away while I was working on the project. I gathered some of his personal items to create a still life image in his memory.

Adding motion to a still-life image, going against the rules?

1950 Leica

Writer's Block



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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • christina March 9, 2012 05:49 am

    Amazing Photos!

  • Benn March 7, 2012 03:21 pm


  • Ewien February 25, 2012 11:18 pm

    Great work, all of them! Inspiring too...Too bad, I - as a Dutchie - live in Mali, West-Africa otherwise I could have come to see the exhibit.

  • Goingkookies February 25, 2012 03:45 pm

    I loved the pictures!! Simple and yet tells a lot!

  • Ania February 25, 2012 09:31 am

    very interesting and beautifully set up images... thanks for the interesting article and inspiration Valerie, love all your props! I've been playing with still life photography, here are two of mine :)

  • Valerie Jardin February 24, 2012 11:57 pm

    Thank you for all the feedback. I am so glad that some of you were inspired to give it a try and photograph some prized heirlooms or other meaningful items. Keep shooting and have fun in the process. The point is to evoke an emotion. No rules should apply, do it with your heart. After all, if everyone followed the so-called 'rules' no one would ever define a style of their own.

    @'hoop': No worries, still-life photography is not my area of expertise and I would never be presumptuous enough to teach or advise anyone how to do it. The point is to inspire someone to try something different, to get out of their comfort zone and apply their skills in a new photography genre. This is a very personal form of exercise and I believe no specific rules should apply. The point is to compose something that is pleasing to the eye and tells a story while leaving room for the imagination. And, best of all, one should have fun with it :-)

  • Hoop February 24, 2012 11:16 pm

    Valerie, your work shows that you are definitely thinking about the subjects and trying to create meaningful and "on point" images since they don't have any extraneous pieces of information in them. And the colours are nicely matched throughout the images (except for that red Corona????). The problem that I have with them is that you are dividing the frame in two vertically by placing information in the centre which leads the eye into the image from the bottom right (like the western one with the pocket knife) and is then a very balanced image without any sort of a "kicker" (something that will be of extreme visual interest). The violin one is divided in two with blank space. The typewrite one is divided in two with the edge of the paper and the side of the typewriter. The images, to my taste, are far too balanced and therefore don't have any dynamic force to keep the eye in the image. They are "nice pictures" as most of these comments state, but to the evaluative eye they lack a visual interest that holds the viewer in the image. I hope the photography students in Paris are more understanding of this type of technique than I am. Keep practicing!

  • Charles February 24, 2012 02:04 pm

    I was inspired by the picture with the metronome and music and tried my own variations. Please note that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I hope you don't think I'm stealing your ideas. Besides, I don't think this picture is remotely comparable to these brilliant images. But, I found it challenging to try to work with the black background and the metronome. I do need better lighting solutions, though.

  • Louise February 24, 2012 05:11 am

    Absolutely fabulous photos! You have inspired me to do a still life about my mother. I have ideas now... :)

  • theofilo February 24, 2012 04:25 am

    Amazing shots!!!!!!! I also do a lot of still life shots. i anything that interest me, small or big things around me. I do it a lot in front of our house specially in the afternoon. I love your violin output..

  • Paul February 24, 2012 03:49 am

    Great article, lovely images with an almost timeless quality?

  • Forough Proof February 23, 2012 06:25 am

    Just wow!

  • Claudia February 23, 2012 03:28 am

    Excellent article and wonderful images from the two of you. This does sound like a challenge and I hope we get to see more. If anyone is interested click on the link to see a playful slide show of still lifes i strung together to tell the story of "The Dirty Old Meat Grinder".

  • Klaas van Huizen PhotoVorm February 23, 2012 12:09 am

    It's great to cooperate with Valerie. I am a professional photographer and photographic lecturer, in my spare time I work in themes and projects. The intention of my still life project is/was a create a still life with a real story. I have asked Valerie because we are friends and we have very a good photographic connection. The result was a successful photo exhibition in the city Amersfoort the Netherlands. I hope it gets a sequel, I'm working to involve other galleries, not only in the Netherlands, does anyone have suggestions?? Valerie is a great photographer inspiring, creative and hard working. We are still working to expand the collection. Thanks Valerie for participating in this project! Klaas van Huizen PhotoVorm.

  • Jai Catalano February 22, 2012 03:19 pm

    Great stuff. I love the piano and shoes. It reminds me of my grandfather who played for the silent film era.

  • Jeff E Jensen February 22, 2012 01:34 pm

    Beautiful work! I haven't played around with this too much. This is about as close as I've come:

  • As Scene Photography February 22, 2012 01:22 pm

    This was a Creative Photography class assignment

  • Scottc February 22, 2012 09:59 am

    Trying to put together a still life scene is one of the toughest things I've tried in photography. Most of mine are completely radom, not even sure this one would qualify (as an example):

  • Sharon February 22, 2012 09:47 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed these still lifes. Thank you for sharing. It's given me ideas for some of my own work. Thank you.

  • Simon February 22, 2012 09:20 am

    Very nice shots.

    Hope you didn't actually have to smoke all those cigarettes :)

  • Valerie Jardin February 22, 2012 08:16 am

    Thanks for the nice comments everyone! @Aadil the show in Amersfoort ended on Feb. 4 but the work may be displayed in other venues in your area. Keep in touch through FB or email for updates.

  • Aadil Kurji February 22, 2012 08:10 am


    I live in Amsterdam, just wondering if the show is around at all, or if its much too late to see?

  • leila February 22, 2012 05:30 am

    Thank you for taking us thru the journey. You are an inspiration to your fellow photographers!

  • THE aSTIG @ February 22, 2012 04:18 am

    In my field of photography, I shoot both still life and action shots. I'd say about 85% of the time, I get still shots, and 15% of the time, action shots.

    This is because I shoot Automotive and Motorsports photography for

    So I believe the still automotive shots qualify as large-scale still life yeah?

  • liabot February 22, 2012 04:00 am

    lovely pictures but i knew already your talent

  • Randumb February 22, 2012 03:49 am

    Great shots!! Love every single one!

  • steve slater February 22, 2012 03:33 am

    I love taking still life of flowers.

  • Theresa S. February 22, 2012 03:23 am

    I love these! Like someone else said, they do strike you emotionally.

  • raghavendra February 22, 2012 02:43 am

    I love taking pictures of toys, making it a still life.

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips February 22, 2012 02:15 am

    Best part about shooting still life to boost creativity: The subject can't tell you they think they look fat and ask you to liquify...

  • Jeff February 22, 2012 01:44 am

    Dear Valerie:

    These are very poignant and moving. I am not often emotionally struck by photos, but these are attention grabbers. Thank you for sharing your talents!

  • Mridula February 22, 2012 01:15 am

    Lovely pictures. I have to admit I love clicking things that don't move. Like these boats on the sand.