The World of Photography–Chapter Twenty-Five–Still life and product shots

Throughout its long history, still life has taken many forms, from the decorative frescoes of antiquity to the high art of the Renaissance. You’re probably familiar with still life in art—those paintings that depict a bowl of fruit or flowers in a vase. Those are classic examples of a still life. But even when you’re familiar with the concept, you might not know exactly what makes a still life a still life. Traditionally, a still life is a collection of inanimate objects arranged as the subject of a composition. That can include both manmade objects (such as vases, items of clothing, and consumer products) and natural objects (like plants, food, rocks, and shells). Nowadays, a still life can be anything from your latest Instagram latte art to a vase of tulips styled like a Dutch Golden Age painting. 

Creating a beautiful and successful still life image is an impressive feat, but just as painting a bowl of fruit is a good introduction for new painters, still life photography is a wonderful training ground for new photographers. It gives you an opportunity to experiment with light, materials, textures, and subjects in a controlled setting. Whatever your creative vision and artistic goals, still life is a great place to start.

The major advantage offered by still life is the freedom to arrange the objects any way you want. Still life photography follows the same philosophy. A lot of emphasis is put on the arrangement of the items, the lighting, and the framing. That makes it a great genre to experiment with and it can help you become a better photographer.

Still-life capture of a pink analog alarm clock above a pink digital camera
Still-life picture of a coffee cup near a campfire shot with a shallow depth of field
Still-life photo of onions on a mussed tablecloth by an empty whiskey bottle

What makes successful still life photography.

Still life photography encompasses everything that is an inanimate subject in front of a camera. But a successful still life? That’s a little harder to classify. It all comes down to intent and context. Is your message conveyed? Is your composition strong, and does it guide the viewer’s eye through the image? Does your still life convey a narrative? It’s by asking these deeper questions that we can understand whether a photograph is successful.

What is product photography?

Product photography is a form of commercial photography capturing high-quality images of products to display their features and appearance. Some common products that photographers take pictures of include consumer goods, clothing pieces and prepared dishes from restaurants. Businesses use these product photos to advertise their goods, generate brand awareness and increase sales. Product photos may appear on social media, digital platforms, billboards or print materials. 

Still life photography ideas.

When it comes to still life photography, “nothing is moving, and you’re in complete control,” according to experienced photographer and teacher Ben Long. He continues, “It’s a fantastic challenge for your compositional skills because it’s entirely about form and a pleasing arrangement of forms within the frame. The image needs to be well balanced and have an interesting geometric play. Everything that you’re doing in the frame is guiding the viewer’s eye.”

Use still life photography as an opportunity to experiment with the following ideas:

Assortment of glass containers with dried plant stems captured with still-life photography

Composition. First, play with your composition and test different layouts and arrangements of your objects. Consider composition styles like the rule of thirds when composing your still life image. Tweak and adjust your layout as you go to refine your composition skills and identify what makes a photo pleasing.

Trinkets from around the world as still-life photographic art

Subject and materials. Compose your photo with diverse textures and materials. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a handful of random objects from your home or a curated collection of sterling silver candlesticks. Explore how shadows and light reflect off of various surfaces, and see how it affects your final composition.

Still-life image of plant on digital camera optical viewfinder

Different lighting. Experiment with different lighting, both in the studio and in natural light. Avoid shooting with the traditional overhead lights in your home, as light colors will mix and produce odd and unintentional shadows. Different light sources can subtly change the mood and atmosphere of an image.

Woman in a red-checkered shirt taking a still-life picture of denim shirt

Camera angle. Try moving your camera as well, and see how the composition changes. Shoot both with a tripod and with your camera in your hand. You might just find an even better angle of your subject than the one you had in mind. When shooting handheld, make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to avoid camera shake.

Still life photo of an assortment of fresh peaches on a dark background

Focus and depth of field. Experiment with depth of field. Consider focal length, and try using a prime lens or a zoom lens to mix things up. Focusing on one small point rather than having the entire frame in focus can change your composition dramatically. Many cameras are designed to focus on the human face, so try using manual focus instead.

Still-life picture of a professional photographer shooting in his studio

Add motion. While traditionally a still life is just that, “still,” you can add elements of motion to your still life photography. Reach your hand into the shot and move something mid-photo. Or slow down your shutter speed and catch motion blur with a spinning ballerina music box. It’s up to you.

Still life photography isn’t just for beginners. It’s also a place for pros to test new ideas or hone their craft. For photographer Hannah Concannon, “still life has been mostly about experimentation and trying new things, because you never quite know how certain light is going to reflect off of a marble versus a rose.” Keep testing, and continue to improve your skills by getting more experience.

Bunch of pink roses captured in still-life photograph
Marble on top of a feather shot as still-life image

You don’t have to stick with the traditional subjects like fruit in a bowl. There are plenty of great still life photography examples online that use objects you might not have thought of. Just a few ideas include leaves, tools, moldy food, a melting popsicle, and the surface of oil and water. So try to get creative when choosing what objects to use.

Old objects tend to be interesting. The more beat up and worn out they are, the better. These objects often offer interesting textures with their rust, cracked and flaking surfaces, or signs of damage that make you wonder what they’ve been through. So, whether it’s a raggedy pair of boots or a dusty old book, see what interesting old items you have kicking around.

Try creating some flat lay compositions. This style involves arranging objects on a table or other flat surfaces and shooting directly from above. This type of composition can help simplify the process as all of the objects will be on a single plane, and you can position everything exactly where you want it—with no need to worry about gravity.

Try taking some low-key images for moody results. Low key photography involves shooting dark-colored scenes that emphasize the light in specific areas. These shots can also put all of the viewer’s attention on your subject as there will be nothing but pitch black as the background.

Low key images can look like they must have been taken in a professional studio, but you can do it almost anywhere. The trick is to set your camera to use a very fast shutter speed, low ISO settings, and a narrow aperture. This will keep out the ambient light so the only light visible in the final image be from your flash. Try using this technique to shoot some flat lay compositions against a black background and it will look like your subject is floating in a black void.

Black and White Still Life Photography Ideas

More and more photographers are considering black and white still life photography to be a post-production adjustment. Successful black and white photographers will shake their heads. This technique leads to random successes rather than mastery of the medium.

Black and whites are an artform all to themselves. When you remove the color from a composition, other elements fill in the gaps. Contrasts, textures, tones, and shapes all become more imperative.

For the best results, it’s always best to decide to make black and white images from the beginning. It will guide all of the creative choices you then make from the beginning to the end of your project. Here are few great tips for beginners starting out in Black and White Photography.

Get Some Objects Together and Get Started

The range of still life photography.

Still life photography has historically been done in classic photo studios or fine arts classrooms. But cameras are changing, and so is still life photography. Concannon explains, “In the age of Instagram, everyone is a still life photographer. Now still life is all about developing your own style. And so I would say to break the rules!”

Art director and photographer Alex Tan says, “There’s a lot of really interesting still life that’s just found out in neighborhoods, or out in the wild…a lot of time, the things that are most interesting are the things that you don’t see every day.” Found still life is a new approach that can challenge photographers to use the tools at their disposal to craft a stunning photo. This approach can be impromptu — you never know when you’ll spy the perfect found still life.

Traveling is an exciting opportunity to explore and experiment with found still life photography. Focus on the little details you come across in your travels. Or gather small items from your trip, like brochures and train tickets, and make them the subjects of your still life photos later. Honing and clarifying the purpose and intent of your still life is what can make it successful.

Food and product photography are other examples of still life photography. While the purpose of product photos is to document and sell something, the same rules apply: lighting, composition, and depth of field all heavily impact your outcome. Consider taking an experimental approach to photographing products as well. Light your products from odd angles or crop in on the label unexpectedly. It could result in a stunning composition.

Hone Your Photography Skills with Still Life

Different Types of Still Life Photography

Still life photography encompasses a variety of subcategories. Here are just a few of them:

Tabletop Photography

Tabletop photography is the most common type of still life. It’s what most people think of when they hear about still life photography. This category is all about shooting objects that are small enough to fit on a table. The objects can be anything the photographer desires, as long as they’re inanimate.

Product Photography

Another example is product photography. Since it involves shooting inanimate objects, it can be considered as a type of still life. However, where the two categories differ is that with product photography, the main goal is to show off a product.

These photos usually focus on providing a clear image of the product without distractions. In contrast, still life shots are usually more artistically driven and offer more opportunities to be creative.

Food Photography

Food photography is another subcategory of still life that is closely related to product photography. Often, the main goal is to depict food in an attractive way. However, when compared to product photography, food photography often also involves setting the scene by arranging other food items and tableware around the subject.

Found Object Photography

Photos of found object art can be considered another branch of still life, although found object art also usually involves modifying an object or placing it in an unusual context. For example, check out this series of photos that use cheeseburgers in interesting ways.

Another example is this photo series where the photographer used common food items and balloons to create surreal and thought-provoking images. While they do fall under the umbrella of still life, they also go a step further to make viewers think about the subject in a different way.flower-still-life-photography-guide

Still Life Photography Equipment

Another benefit of still life photography is it doesn’t take much to get started. If you’re going to try it out for the first time, your studio can be just a table by a window.

Since the arrangement of objects is an important part of still life shots, you can begin experimenting with arrangements using your existing equipment. There’s no need for a top-of-the-line camera for that!

But when you want to start capturing professional-looking still life photos, that’s where the need for some new gear may come in. The most important of which is lighting equipment.

Still Life Photography Lighting

Lighting is of particular importance in still life photography. When your subject is an ordinary object, lighting is one of the best ways you can create a mood or add interest to your photos.

Light Reflectors

Light reflectors are one of the most affordable and easiest ways to start taking better photos. A simple light reflector will let your start manipulating the natural light in your scene, without the need for additional lighting equipment. Whether you are trying to soften some shadows, better illuminate the subject, or highlight the textures in your composition, light reflectors can help.

They are also pretty easy to get your hands on. For example, this 5-in-1 collapsible light reflector is available for about $20 and includes white, silver, gold, translucent, and black surfaces. Alternatively, if you are seeking a DIY solution, you can easily make your own reflectors using tinfoil and cardboard.

Speedlights and Strobes

A speedlight or strobe is the next piece of equipment you’ll want to look into. By having an off-camera flash or strobe to light the scene, you won’t have to rely on natural light from a window. Instead, you’ll have more freedom to light your subject from any angle. In addition, a powerful light source like a speedlight or strobe will give your photos a more professional look and let you create interesting effects such as low-key photography (see more about low-key photography in the “Still Life Photography Ideas” section).

A speedlight (sometimes called a flashgun or hot shoe flash) is a great place to start. They are more affordable than strobes and will be more than enough for most still life photographers’ needs.

Strobes are more expensive but offer a few more features. They will enable you to adjust the light’s intensity by tweaking their settings and they typically have a built-in modeling light that will help you figure out where to place the strobe to get the desired effect.


Softboxes are another important piece of lighting equipment. Whether you choose a speedlight or strobe, you should consider picking up a softbox for shots where you want to avoid harsh shadows. Softboxes can diffuse the light from your flash or strobe into a soft and even light.

They also greatly reduce spill light and help with directing your light in exactly the way you want. For more information on softboxes and how to choose the right one for your needs, check out this introduction to softboxes.

Lenses for Still Life Photography

You don’t need a wide assortment of expensive lenses for still life photography, but it’s good to have a couple of quality lenses to choose from. One thing to keep in mind is you probably won’t need any wide angle lenses. That’s because in still life photography, the subjects usually don’t take up much space. So if you’re shooting with too wide of a view, you’re going to capture a lot of unnecessary space that you’ll probably want to crop out.

Besides that, here are a couple of other tips for choosing still life photography lenses.

Close up and macro lenses will help you get creative with the perspective in your still lifes. By offering low minimum-focus distances, they’ll let you get as close to your subject as you want, which results in more interesting compositions.

Telephoto lenses are a great choice for still life photography. For one, the narrow angle of view offered by telephoto lenses will help you properly fill the frame with your subject. Secondly, the extremely shallow depth of field will let you create a very specific point of focus, such as focusing on a particular part of your subject.

For example, let’s say you’re shooting a classic still life of a bouquet of flowers in a vase. With a telephoto lens, you could choose a particular flower as the focal point and have other flowers out of focus. In this way, a telephoto lens gives you more options to experiment with your still life compositions and achieve interesting effects.books-still-life-photography

Cameras for Still Life Photography

Still life photography isn’t very demanding when it comes to your choice of cameras. When compared to just about any other type of photography, still life offers more control over the scene. For instance, you’ll probably be shooting indoors and be able to take your time setting up the scene and adjusting the lighting.

That means there’s no need to invest in a top-tier camera that boasts features like heavy duty weatherproofing, rapid continuous shooting modes, or the ability to handle challenging lighting situations.

Cropped Sensor Cameras

While cameras with full-frame sensors are usually preferable, this is less important in still life photography. That’s because one of the major downsides of cropped sensor cameras is how they affect the focal length of lenses.

For instance, a 50mm lens used on a cropped sensor camera will behave more like an 80mm lens—your shots won’t be a wide as they would be on a full frame sensor camera. But since the subjects in still life photography typically aren’t wide, this is less of a problem. And since cropped sensor cameras are more affordable, they can offer a good choice for still life photographers on a budget.

Tips from professionals.

Before you start your foray into the world of still life photography, consider these tips from industry professionals:

1. Don’t waste time.

 “If you spend an hour or two taking one still life photo and it’s good enough to move on, then you should usually listen to yourself in that moment,” Tan says. “Because a lot of people could get to 80 percent within that first hour and get something that they’re happy with but that’s not perfect. Then a lot of people will spend the next four hours working on that extra 20 percent just to make it perfect.” No photographer will ever be truly perfect, but through practice and experimentation, you can improve your skills and get better all the time.

2. Fuel your creativity. 

Long adds, “Challenge your compositional skills. If you need inspiration, go back to looking at other work. Go dig through magazines. Inspiration is all around us, so don’t forget to use the resources at your disposal to explore new still life ideas. Even seasonal holidays like Christmas could be the perfect excuse to try something new.”

3. Get the right tools. 

“One thing that totally changed my still life photography was shooting objects on a velvet background,” Concannon says. “Not crushed velvet, but real black, blue, or red velvet. What that material does is it absorbs light, so you can put your still life subject in direct sunlight, but you won’t see the shadows on the velvet.” Keep experimenting; you might find unexpected tricks that can elevate your still life photography.

Still life photography encompasses many styles — whether it’s a classic subject shot in a studio and reminiscent of Renaissance still life paintings, or a grainy image of an abandoned shoe found on the sidewalk. Be intentional with your choices, and still life can be a breeding ground for beautiful photographs and creative ideas. All that’s left is for you to get started. 

Many businesses use product photography to capture high-quality images of the goods they produce. If you’re an advertiser or photographer, you may shoot professional product photos for businesses to use in advertisements or on e-commerce platforms to help consumers visualize products and increase sales. Understanding how to take high-quality product photos may benefit the company you work for and your job performance. 

4. Plan‌ the shoots

Take the time to plan for your photoshoot before you arrive to make sure you’re prepared to take excellent photos. Create a list of specific products you’re required to photograph and the equipment you need to bring. You may also list the props you intend to use and the locations you plan to visit.

Many photographers create a shot list to ensure they capture all the necessary photos and angles for each item. A shot list is a checklist of the individual photos you plan to take. Reference your shot list throughout the photoshoot to increase your efficiency.

Plan out your shoot. Still life photography offers lots of freedom, and if you don’t have a plan it can be easy to lose direction. So it’s worthwhile to spend a little time planning out the type of image you’re aiming for and brainstorming some still life photography ideas. Think about the objects you’re going to use, some different ways you can arrange them, what type of lighting you’ll use, and what mood you want to achieve.

If you plan on shooting next to a window, choose a window that isn’t exposed to direct sunlight. Otherwise, the light will be too harsh.

You’ll get the best natural light on overcast days as the light will be soft and even. But if you’re trying to shoot on a bright day and find the light is too harsh, you can hang a sheer white curtain in front of the window as a makeshift diffuser.

When choosing objects to use in a shot, try to pick things that work together visually. For instance, if one of the objects is an antique, keep that theme consistent by only including other old-fashioned items. Also consider using items with complementary colors, or items that are related in some way (such as a book and reading glasses).

5. Gain inspiration from similar brands

Research similar brands or products you can use as inspiration for the piece. Pay attention to the color scheme, lighting, location, camera angle and product position of these photos to help you replicate them. You can use these details to further develop your shot list.

Many product photographers also create a mood board for each photoshoot using images that inspire them. Save the photos you find from different brands and use them to create a collage that visually shows the style you hope to achieve through your photography. There are many digital collage-building tools you may use to build your mood board. Use a search engine to research collage-building tools and choose the one that works best for you.

6. Select high-quality camera equipment

Professional photographers know choosing the right tools is essential to producing the best images. Consider the tools you have for the shoot. You may choose to use a smartphone with a high-quality camera or a digital camera, such as a DSLR. If you select a digital camera, you may choose which lenses to use for different shots. Here are some tips to help you choose a camera lens:

Choose a prime lens instead of a zoom lens to produce sharper images.

Use a lens with a shutter speed of f/4 or below to capture images in dark settings and create a blurred background effect while keeping the product in focus.

Consider using a macro lens for close-up images to highlight the product’s fine details.

Choose a lens with a shorter focal length, such as a 50mm or a 35mm lens, to capture better close-up images of the products.

Another item that greatly improves your mobility around the shoot is a remote shutter release. You don’t need anything fancy. If you look online, you are sure to find many inexpensive options for most DSLR models. Newer cameras with built-in wifi may have apps that will allow for remote control from your smartphone. In general, these work great, but sometimes the simpler and quicker to set up option is better. Technology can be finicky, so if you find that your remote app is problematic, a corded old-school remote shutter release will probably fix the problem just fine.

7. Choose the right location

Consider how your client plans to use your product photos to determine an appropriate location for your photoshoot. If the client wishes to use the photos to list their product on a large e-commerce platform, a simple white background in a studio might be an appropriate choice.

If the client would like to use the photos for social media posts or print advertisements, you may have more creative freedom to experiment with different locations and backgrounds. Visualize where a customer or consumer may use the product to help you develop ideas for the location of your photoshoot. Many photographers try to replicate a real-life setting or scenario to provide viewers with context. This can help potential customers or consumers see themselves using the product, which may increase sales.

8. Ensure there’s proper lighting

Using the correct lighting when you capture your photos can improve their overall quality and make editing your images easier. It can also help you convey a particular tone or replicate a specific style. Depending on the product you’re photographing, the purpose of the photos and the publication platforms, you may decide to use either natural lighting or studio lighting. Here are some considerations to review for each lighting style:

Natural lighting: Select natural lighting for food products, individuals and clothing pieces because it may provide a softer and more realistic look to the images. You may also use different natural lighting to convey different messages through your photography, such as a cloudy day to convey melancholy themes.

Studio lighting: Consider using studio lighting for products people typically use indoors, products with a lot of small details or products for e-commerce platforms. You can use a wide variety of artificial lights in the studio to capture the desired images, including key lights, fill lights, hair lights, background lights and camera-mounted flashes.

Lighting from the side tends to result in more interesting shots than lighting the subject head-on. It will help bring out the textures in your subject. Also, side lighting can create a bright focal point on one side of the image that helps lead the viewer’s eye through your composition.

One of the great things about shooting still lifes is the ability to rearrange things to your liking. Yes, you can move the fruit around in the bowl. But far more importantly, you can spend all day perfecting the light.

For starters, try using the light to direct the viewer’s eyes through the image. Light sources that appear from the left tend to make the viewer’s eyes walk through the picture like they’re reading a book. If the shadows are too harsh, add another light source or diffuse the one you’ve already got.

Light also can accentuate textures in your image. Changing the angle of your light source can lead to dramatic changes in the mood and appearance of the picture. The moral? Take your time. The trial and error phase is half the fun!

Light has many qualities that the photographer can control, and the unique opportunity provided by shooting still life pictures gives us the perfect opportunity to practice. Use reflectors for more light and added color.

A 5-in-1 reflector and diffuser kit is a must-have item. These fold up small for your camera bag, but they offer many options for nearly every photo shoot. For still lifes, you can use colored reflectors to fill shadows or direct light. Reflector sets usually come with gold, silver, white, black, and a diffuser.

9. Use a tripod

Many photographers use tripods for product photography to increase the clarity and quality of their images. Tripods make it easy to stabilize your camera and capture consistent images if you are photographing multiple products at once. You can also use a tripod to reduce motion blur, which may allow you to decrease your camera sensitivity, shoot at lower shutter speeds and increase image quality.

10. Stage the product

Use simple props to stage the product and increase its visual appeal to provide context for the viewers. For example, if you’re photographing a bottle of iced peppermint coffee, you might incorporate coffee beans or peppermint candies into your image to convey the beverage’s flavor profile. Limit your use of props to ensure the focus remains on the product. You can coordinate props with a specific color scheme or use ones that convey a particular emotion to enhance your images.

11. Remain attentive to white balance

Photographers use the white balance settings on their cameras to control how colors look in different lighting types. Color temperatures range from cool, which has a blue tint, to warm, which has an orange tint. You can use the settings on your camera to set your white balance so your photos appear more natural. Research how to adjust the white balance settings on your specific camera for the best results. Here are some of the white balance settings you may have on your camera:








12. Shoot for the edit

When you photograph your images, be aware of the edits you may make in post-production to achieve the desired outcome. Then, consider the changes you can make to the environment, lighting or product to minimize post-production edits. For example, if the first few photos you capture appear underexposed on your camera screen, adjust your lighting or camera settings to ensure you capture photos that are exposed properly.

13. Experiment with different angles

Photographers typically capture images of each product from multiple angles to increase the option varieties for their clients. This can increase the likelihood of client satisfaction with the final product photos. Shooting from different angles can help you select the best photos to edit. Some angles you can experiment with during your next product photoshoot include:

High angle: You can capture a high angle image by tilting your camera down to face the subject. Use this camera angle to include the product’s surroundings.

Eye-level angle: Hold your camera at eye level without tilting it to capture a natural and familiar-looking product image.

Low angle: Capture a low-angle image by tilting your camera up to face the subject. Use this camera angle to create a sense of depth and intensity or to capture the sky in the background.

Overhead shot:  Use an overhead shot by positioning the camera directly above the product to create a flattering product flat lay. You may use a c-stand to mount your camera in place if you plan to take multiple overhead shots at once.

14. Pay attention to reflections and shadows

Pay attention to how the lighting hits the product to create reflections and shadows. If a product has a shiny surface, consider what may appear in its reflection. To do this, adjust the light’s intensity and position to create a well-lit image. Many photographers choose to diffuse light with a filter or bounce the light off another surface to create an evenly exposed image.

15. Choosing backgrounds

The first big choice you get to make after you’ve picked your subject is your background. Since still life photos are often of a small area, the background can be anything you like. The small space allows you the option to create something quickly and easily, be it from scratch or something else repurposed. Wood pieces, wallpaper, linens, painted canvas, and drop cloths all make great backgrounds. You can use things that are already there, like a rustic wood table or a painted wall, or you can create them from scratch.

Whether or not you are making your background from scratch, try to use neutral colors. Remember, the background should be in the back of the image, not distracting the subject. Colors should coordinate and go well with the overall subject and theme of the photo. Whatever it is, it can’t be distracting. When in doubt, choose a neutral colored background, like an off-white or beige, and add more colorful elements to the image by using props or lighting.

If you want to make sure no attention is taken away from the subject, you can always go the plain white route and use some white cardboard or a tablecloth as the backdrop for your still lifes. On the other hand, if you want to get creative, there are a lot of possibilities.

For instance, using painted canvas as your backdrop can add some flair with some nice texture and color. However, the last thing you want in still life photography is a distracting background.

So the trick is to stick with neutral or subtle colors that won’t overpower the subject. For that reason, white, greys, black, and browns work well.

16. Incorporate color theory

The color theory explains how humans perceive color and how to combine different colors to balance an image or evoke viewers’ emotions.Many photographers incorporate color theory into their product photography to highlight a specific idea or characteristic that may resonate with consumers. Research color theory to help you create color combinations that are visually appealing to viewers.

17. Enroll in a basic photo editing class

Enroll in a basic photo editing class to learn how to use professional photo editing software. Developing your skills as a photo editor can help you create professional and artistic images. Some techniques you can learn include how to adjust the saturation and vibrancy of an image, how to retouch fine details and how to sharpen an image to increase clarity.

Research different photo editing classes to take online or at a local educational institution. You can also find videos online or purchase books about photo editing techniques to help you improve your skill set.

18. Retouch your images

Once you capture your images, import them into a photo editing software to retouch the image and manually remove imperfections. This can help you improve the quality of your photos and create a more polished look. Some areas you can retouch include color correction, exposure and image clarity. You may also remove unwanted details, such as stray hairs or dust specks, during this time.

19. Props

Many still-life photographers enjoy using photography props to make their photos pop. Perhaps the prop adds something to the story that the image tells, making the image more cohesive and meaningful. Or perhaps the color of a prop brings out a subtle color in the subject.

The point is that props are another thing for the photographer to use creatively. Vintage items and things with a lot of unique character are obvious choices. Flowers are common props that can accentuate the photo or be the center of attention.

The critical point is to think about the image as a whole. The entire composition should be a cohesive and meaningful presentation of an idea. Don’t just add a random flower, pick a flower whose color and texture match the rest of the image. 

Still Life Photography

Reflective items can make wonderful subjects and props, but they can also make the photographer’s life harder. Shiny things reflect everything nearby, including things you don’t want them to. Your lights, your camera, and yourself are likely to make unexpected cameos in your final image. Take the extra time to move your items around to avoid future problems.

One solution is Krylon’s Dulling Spray. This spray paint is clear but it reduces reflections on shiny objects. It’s worth finding a can for those times when you just can’t get the reflection right.

You can also remove distracting or accidental elements in post-processing. It’s nearly always easier to get it right in the studio or at the shoot, but if you missed a little something, you can clear it up with the cloning tool. But be warned, reflections are one of the harder elements to duplicate realistically after the fact.

20. It’s All About Your Attitude

For some photographers, especially beginners, still life images conjure ideas of high school art class and homework assignments. Yes, still life composition is commonly an assignment given by photography instructors. But there’s a good reason for that. No other form of photography is as accessible to everyone, and no other form of the art forces the photographer to take complete responsibility for every element. Mastering still lifes makes you a better photographer.

But that’s just the beginning of the story. Spend a few minutes looking online at some of the fantastic art coming from photographers all over the world. It doesn’t take long to find inspiration, and once you start, the creative juices are sure to flow.

21. Paint the Image

It’s helpful to think of still life images like a painting more than a photograph. Most people, though hopefully not many photographers, consider a photograph as something that is taken in a fraction of a second. But everyone knows that paintings take time to create. Everyone appreciates that painters have control of exactly what they put on their blank canvas. And that is the essence of still life photography.

Tips for Still Life Photography

22. Take Your Time

Capturing the image may take a fraction of a second, but take your time! Think about the artistic elements of the image. Take time to consider the lighting you’d like, to look at what other artists have done, to rearrange the objects, to add and remove props, and to fuss and tinker with every other element in your composition.

How much time is too much time? You can take as long as you like. It’s your vision, and if it takes you years to master the image you want to create, so be it.

23. Low-Key versus High-Key Lighting

Don’t box yourself into one look. Photographers, like all artists, can get into ruts. A great way to mix things up is to shoot the same scene as both a high-key and a low-key photo.

Low-key images are deeply contrasted and maybe even moody. Use low-key lighting for unique looks. With one light source and a fast shutter speed, you can make objects seem to float on black backgrounds. Quick shutter speed, low ISO, and high f-stop can all be used to the same effect. Low-key lighting works great in black and white images. It’s also a great way to emphasize textures, shapes, and forms.

Alternatively, high-key images are bright and evenly lit. Shadows are softer, and the light is usually diffused nicely. High-key images tend to emphasize color and detail

Types of product photography

Here are some various types of product photography shots to consider planning:

Individual: An individual shot is a common shot in product photography, usually portrayed on a white background. This means there is only a single object in the frame to focus on the features and details of the product, usually for a magazine or a brand’s product page.

Group: A group shot is placing several objects, often related to each other, within the shot’s frame. Use this shot for products that may come in kits or bundles that customers purchase together frequently.

Scale: A scale shot allows you to show the relative size of a product by placing the product among other items. For example, if you’re selling a candle, you might place the candle on a coffee table around books or other living room objects for the customer to interpret the candle’s size.

Lifestyle: A lifestyle shot is showing the product performing its dedicated action. For example, if a brand sells running shoes, you may photograph a model wearing the shoes on a run.

Detail: A detailed shot allows you to showcase the product’s materials. Brands often display this photograph on product pages for the customer to understand a product’s intricate details and material patterns before purchasing it.

Package: A package shot displays the product inside and beside the packaging it comes in to the customer. This allows the brand to showcase its packaging and share details about it, such as if it’s environmentally friendly.

Post-Production Knows No Bounds

If there are no rules for still life compositions, post-production is no place to start imposing them. Your editing routine is entirely up to you. Many photography purists do as little as possible, while others reform the entire composition digitally. To the end that still lifes are works of fine art more akin to paintings than to photography, this technique makes perfect sense. Not only will it help you choose your best body of work, by displaying, selecting, and organizing your photos based on their date, location, categories, etc, but some of the software featured in this article, also allows you to share photos directly on social media.


The internet is brimming with interesting still-life photography ideas and useful tips for improving still-life photography techniques. Just peruse any photography site or publication, and you’ll see everything from black and white still lifes to futuristic digital creations. For creative artists, the classroom bowl of fruit still life photography is just the first stepping stone.

Whatever the stage of your career, your portfolio website will always be the center of all your marketing strategies to grow your creative business. It is a great way to build your presence in the market. With clients continually looking for creatives who provide specific services, having a presence online will bring you to the forefront and help more customers discover you. 

Resources, “15 Product Photography Tips for Improved Photoshoots.” By Indeed Editorial Staff;, “Still life photography for beginners.” Alex Tan, Ben Long, Sarah Aagesen and Hannah Concannon;, “12 Great Tips to Master Still Life Photography.” By Kriti Sahay;