Skip to main content
How to choose items to photograph for a still life photo.

Still Life ExamplesStill life photography can sometimes be seen as an ancient, lost art, but you see still life photography everywhere today. Whether you are trying to sell your own homemade items (like at or looking for a specific still life stock photography website (like still life images are still widely used in marketing and advertising.

For our purposes, let’s start with some basics. First, you need to choose some items to photograph. No…they do not have to be a bowl of fruit and a vase of flowers! Not that it’s bad, I just want you to be willing to stretch yourself and to know that still life photography can branch away from what might be considered “traditional”. 

Choosing Subjects

You want to choose items that tell a story. They should be related in some way. One tip to help you choose a song or a book title and find items that would illustrate said title. Another tip might be to walk around your house and choose related items, such as a bible, a pen, and an old lamp. Or you could look for sentimental items, like items that belonged to your grandparents. You should also avoid reflective objects when you are starting out, as they can be hard to work with.

In the example to the left, I have chosen to center my items based on the song "Turn! Turn! Turn!" by the Byrds. The song is about the passing of time, so I used items that were/are used by my children, me, my mother, and my grandparents.

Choosing a Background

Your background should be SIMPLE so that all of the attention can be given to the subjects of your still life. If you use a cloth background, be sure to iron it, nothing drags the attention away more than a wrinkly mess behind your subjects. It is also usually a good idea to choose a muted color for the background, again, so that we don’t steal the attention away from the subjects.

Choosing a Location

You can take a still life image anywhere, but we will talk about 3 general locations that you can take pictures. First, remember that natural light from last week? Well, we aren’t going to forget it anytime soon. You can take your items outside and place them in a location that makes sense for them, for example: if you brought tools for your subject, you might place them on a workbench. Whether or not you put them in the sun depends on whether or not you want that hard or soft light. 

Another location would be that natural light next to a window. Again, you could go for hard or soft light. You could set these items on a side table and have a wall as your background, or you could construct a lightbox with white walls so that you can have a completely white background. (more on constructing a light box in the still life photography unit)

Lastly, you could decide to completely control your light by placing your items under studio lights in a completely dark room, which actually isn’t as hard as you might think. All you need is a lamp and a reflector (again, more on this technique in the still life photography unit)

So gather up some items and shoot yourself some still lives! Just remember, look for related items, simple background, and complimentary lighting locations.


This Week’s Photo Assignment

Take 3 good pictures of your still life objects using 3 different lighting situations: Outside (either in the sun or in the shade), inside next to a window, and in a darker area with one studio light. To get more information on these three lighting situations, see the PowerPoint on still life photography (LINK). If you feel proud of your pictures, choose your best shot and post it to Instagram with #DigitalArtTeacher. Take at least 10 photos for each subject.