The most important element of taking a good still life photograph is the subject. This may sound logical, but Charles Nucci, who has been still life photographers all his life, has regularly come across people who show up with absolutely no idea of what they want to photograph, knowing only that they want to do it. Just like a still life painting, this type of photography takes a lot of planning!
What Should You Shoot
The beauty of still life photography is that you can shoot whatever you want, and whenever you want as well. But you have to decide what you want to shoot and what you’re hoping to achieve with your picture, so that you can plan everything else. No matter what object you pick up, it will have something of beauty. Perhaps it’s the color, perhaps it’s the shap, perhaps it’s what it does, and so on. You need to find out what it is about your subject that is interesting, and that will be your focus.
A good exercise is to pick up whatever object is nearest to you right now. That could be a feather from a cushion next to you, a dog hair, a piece of fluff, a pencil, a cup, or anything else. More than likely, it won’t be an object of extreme beauty. The exercise is to study the object and find out what makes it special and how you could highlight that with lighting and backgrounds.
Key to a good photograph is that it properly frames your subject. So let’s say that, as part of your exercise, you have picked up a coin. Test its different angles out, both of its sides, whether you can balance it, and so on. Positioning it in different places, such as on a table, against a wall, next to the stem of a flower. It is all about experimenting and finding something that works and that highlights what you believe makes your subject so interesting.
By completing this exercise, you will have done two important things. The first is the identification of a subject and what makes it beautiful. The second is that you have positioned it during which part of the exercise you should have noticed that different surfaces create different effects. That coin looked very different on a floral-patterned cushion, as what it did on a plank of wood, didn’t it? A really fun way to hone your surface skills a little bit more, is to use a reflective one, which will instantly teach you about the third most important thing: lighting.
Reflective surfaces are incredibly hard to work with, because of their reflective nature. This means light can go in any direction, depending on how you allow it to hit it. What a reflective, and particularly a mirrored, surface also does, is teach you about different angles. Things look very different when shot from above as what they do from the side or full on.
Repeat this exercise several times with different objects, and you will be well on your way to becoming as good as the likes of Charles Nucci.