Tutorial: Still Life Photography

Natural lighting

Lighting can be as simple as the subjects, support and background.

Use the light from a window, making sure any room lighting is turned off. Position the table and the subject so that the light illuminates one side of the subject and then shoot from directly in front of it.

Pepper, © Claus Bay Eriksen 2010, Canon EOS 400D

The effect of the light will depend on the size of the room and its surfaces. If the walls and ceiling are white, a lot of the window light will bounce around the room and illuminate the side of the subject away from the window. In larger or darker rooms the sides of the subject away from the window will be more in shadow.

Some still life subjects look good with a strong contrast between the light (highlight) and dark (shadow) areas. However, if the contrast is too great, you can lighten the shadows with a reflector. Simply rest a sheet of white card against some books near the shadow side of the subject. Light from the window will be reflected from the card into the shadows. Alter the distance between the card and the subject to control the amount of reflected light reaching the shadows.

The advantage of a small table for still life photography is that you can move it around for different lighting effects. Rotate the table so that the light from the window is falling more on the front of the subject. This should do away with the need for a reflector. Experiment with different positions for the table – what works for one subject might not be ideal for another.

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Still Life Photography
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