So how do you stage a still life photo? The answer is…well, there is no one answer, it’s entirely up to your imagination! But okay, I’m guessing you clicked on this article because you want some tips and some ideas. First, let’s understand there are two main types of still life photography, staged and organic. These are not official terms, but rather the way I like to think of it. Staged still life photography is when you manipulate objects to create a scene. Organic still life photography is any object you stumble upon (e.g. “candy wrapper on a park bench”) that happened either naturally, or as the result of a third-party, or in other words, a scene that you do not manipulate yourself.
For the purpose of this article, we are talking about staged still life, which is probably the type of still life photography people are most familiar with, as we’ve all seen the classic staples of still life photography like the fruit bowl, or the coffee mug, etc. And in this article, I’m not going to walk you through all the steps to create a final scene, because as I said, the possibilities are endless. What I will do is tell you how I created the still life photo below titled: The Cycling Profile
In the above photo, my featured still life subject is a “cycling” sculpture I keep in my den. Every time I looked at this sculpture it begged to be photographed, so tonight I decided it was time to do so. The location of this still life photo shoot was my kitchen, with the kitchen table serving as the base of operations. The backdrop you see behind the sculpture is a 24″x36″ framed abstract art picture hanging on the kitchen wall. The backlighting is a combination of a pendant lamp hanging over the kitchen table and a LED flashlight. The pendant also serves as an overhead light. The flashlight also creates the foggy atmosphere emanating from the lower right corner of the photo because I purposely had it aimed in the direction of the camera lens. The goal with both lights was to effectively light the edges of the sculpture to separate it from the background. Oh, and that light reflection you see directly behind the sculpture, that’s a reflection of the pendant lamp off the glass of the abstract art.
For this still life photo shoot I used a Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor DX 18-300mm VR lens at a focal length of 195mm and a 1 second shutter speed. Obviously with that slow a shutter speed, I chose to use my tripod. As for aperture, I chose to go wide open (f / 5.6) for two reasons. One, I wanted the background to be as soft as possible so that the sculpture would “pop” off the photo, and two, because I wanted to create a sense of motion in this “still” life photo. Lucky for me, the sculpture itself does most of the work in creating a sense of motion, but I also think the narrow depth of field adds to the illusion by having the back-end of the sculpture slightly out of focus. And I purposely angled the sculpture in such a way that also aided in the illusion.
So that’s it! I simply took a household object, put it on my kitchen table, turned on the light over that table, and added another off camera light using a flashlight. So what do you think of the final product? Does it create a sense of motion in an otherwise stationary object? What would you have done differently? I’d love to hear your thoughts.