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Still Life A Journey Through Photography


Print and Copyright BitzerGraphic 2013


Still Life A Journey Through Photography

INTRODUCTION On the pages that follow you will be taken on a journey with me on how to design, setup, and photograph a still life. For my subject matter for this project my choice is antique cameras. I assume people would get bored with a book on old cameras and photos. I decided to walk you through my design process of setting up and photographing a still life. There are many different things to think about when setting up a still life. You need to choose a background color, what lighting to use, and where the focal point will be. All of which are topics I will cover in this book.


SELECT A SUBJECT Choosing a topic for your still life is your first step. Your subject need to be something that is interesting to you. If you don’t find interest in your topic, your photos will show it, and the still life will be flat and dull. Next is collecting items, you need 5-7 more if you like. You need to pick different size items to create a great still life.


BACKGROUND Your background can be just about any color you like. I try to make my backdrop two to three times the size of the still life, it will help when you start taking photos. Set your background up on a tabletop or large flat surface against a wall to create a seamless surface. You can use tape or thumbtacks to hold it up. I will be discussing the three colors I use the most Black, Red,, and White.


BACKGROUND White is the most common color used as a backdrop for many reasons. White reflects light back into the still life, helping create shadows and highlights. White is also easy to remove or change during photo editing.

The Red background is what I use for black and white or sepia photos. When you change the red backdrop to black and white or sepia it creates a better tone than other colors I have used in the past.

Black is great for creating a mood within the still life. It absorbs a lot of light and creates a special look. I use Black backdrop for close-ups of my still lifes and when I use a spot light on my layout.


LIGHTING As you began to setup your lighting you also need to decide if you are going to have a vocal point or a point of interest. Do you want the viewer to look at the still life as a whole or is there a place you want the viewers to focus on? I will be using three types of lighting flood, fluorescent and spot. All lighting types have pros and cons about them. Choose what works for you and the look you are going for.


LIGHTING Flood lights are my light of choice for photos of still lifes. They create bold and strong shadows which help bring depth to your photos.

Fluorescent light tends to wash out a still life, causing you to lose most of your shadows. Losing the shadows is fine for when your taking photos of products or samples, but can cause a still life to appear flat and uninteresting.

Spot lights are great for focusing your viewer’s attention to one thing or a specific area in your still life. The downside is most of the remaining still life has little to no light or detail.


CAMERA POSITION Where you place your camera can change the way the viewer see and understand your still life. The three I will cover are wide shots, close-up, and overhead.


CAMERA POSITION Overhead shots can show great shadows & angles. I used this shot to make the old picture the focal point even though there are other items in the shot.

Wide or full shots are harder to have a true focal point unless you change lighting. With the right angle it is possible to keep a viewer’s interest.

I enjoy taking close-up photos the most. You can easily show fine details and really show off pieces of the still life, without rearranging things or moving your lights.


PUT IT ALL TOGETHER Now lets put it all together. Pick your choice of subjects and gather up your items. Create your seamless background. Arrange your pieces so they overlap and create interesting angles and shadows. Set up your lights for still life move them around until you like the shadows they create. Now get out your camera and take some pictures. Have fun and don’t stress.


PUT IT ALL TOGETHER Sepia tone photo, shot at an overhead angle to show interesting angles and shadows. In this photo, there was a red backdrop as I discussed earlier.

This photo was taken with fluorescent lights on against a white backdrop. This picture has nice angles and good detail even though it has very little shadows.

Spot light photo on a black backdrop. Strong lighting on the face of the camera draws the viewer’s eye into the middle of the still life. It also causes the other items to fall into the background.


By: C. Bitzer GR-616 Academy of Art University

Still LIfe -A journey through photography  

A How to of setting up and photographing a still life.