5 Tips for Shooting Still Life Photography


Once you master the art of still life photography, you can apply those technical skills to so many other types of photography. Being a fantastic still life photographer can open a lot of new opportunities to expand into commercially.  Whether you are shooting restaurants, hotels, or storefronts- knowing the skills of a still life photographer will allow you to capture stronger product shots. Shutterstock Custom assigns a wide variety of product-hero assignments to our contributors, and the photographers that receive these assignments show an excellent understanding of shooting still life content.

Here are a few tips to get you started on still life photography, including some tips directly from our fantastic contributors. Time to take your product-shooting skills to the next level!


Educate yourself on light and lighting

While a set of expensive studio lights aren’t necessarily in everyone’s budget, learning how to shoot in varied types of light is pivotal to shooting still life photography. A favorite of most still life photographers is a natural muted light that doesn't produce shadows or glare on your subject. If you don’t have access to natural light you can create alternatives using household or basic products.

Use standard table lamps to start, testing out the positioning of the subject. For example, side and back lighting will add visual interest, shadows and depth versus shooting an object straight on. There are also basic studio kits you can get, such as this one from B&H that retails for under $125USD.

Photographer Nitzan Rubin on lighting:

“I am a huge fan of natural light. It is my best friend when shooting. I believe it compliments the subject (food, in my case) the most, and brings out all the textures and colors. Soft diffused window light is definitely ideal, but don't be afraid of harsh sunlight, sometimes it gives the photos a kick you didn't think about before!


Work your angles

Don’t let a camera and tripod stop you from getting creative. Play around with different perspectives while you are on shoot by switching up your angles and heights. If you take every single photograph from the same point of view, chances are you are going to be disappointed with the end result. Changing your perspective allows you to create a collection of images that are inspiring to both you and your audience. 

Photographer Morgan Terlouw on angles:

"Especially for product photography, I often find myself looking for the "pretty" shot or the funky angles but what's really needed is an image that invites the viewer in. I've found that if I shoot from the perspective of a participant in the scene, the images become much more compelling."

Invest in backdrops

Having an awesome backdrop for your subject matter will play a pivotal role in how impactful your photographs will be. A plain, painted white slab of wood, or a large sheet of colored paper are great to get you started. Marble slabs or concrete from your local hardware store are also great backdrops to have on hand.

When you’re deciding what backdrop to use, think of contrasting subjects. If you have a neutral product such as soap, do you want it monochrome with a tan wall in the back, or do you want it to pop against a black, slate textured piece of tile? Your individual photography style will help dictate the direction you'd like your still photography to take. 

Compose your photographs

How you compose and style your still life photograph plays an essential part in creating inspiring work. If you are using props, consider the rule of thirds and apply that to your shoot to create a varied composition. If you are simply shooting a product on it’s own, keep any extras to a minimum and focus on your product and the backdrop you've selected.

“I'm especially guilty of hovering over a place setting or getting stuck in a product layout that just feels flat and lifeless. What I've found helpful is to take a step back, let the arrangement sit for a bit, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. If it still feels off, I start taking away items. Often less is more.”

-Photographer and Shutterstock Custom Contributor, Morgan Terluow

Get inspired by other art forms

If you feel like you’re getting into a creative rut on shoot, take a step back and find some inspiration. A favourite of ours? Visit an art gallery, a pottery studio, or any other type of art that could spark new light into your work. Studying other art mediums will allow you to re-focus on the technical aspect of setting up a composition, help with your styling, or bring a color back into your work you may have forgotten.

We hope these tips help spur your creativity, and maybe open a whole new genre of photography to your portfolio.  For more tips on shooting still life and food photography, check out this article featuring tips from photographer Marcella DiLondaro of Hey Modest Marce.

If you are a current Shutterstock Custom contributor, you can add 'Product' to your categories by including still photography samples into your portfolio or website and submitting your Shutterstock Custom profile for re-review.

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