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What is Still Life Photography?
“Still Life” photography refers to the act of photographing anything that doesn’t move. This can include any inanimate object you may have lying around the house, but can also include flowers and food. Unlike your children, still life stays, still.
Still life also doesn’t talk back, cry, scream, whine or run away if it doesn’t want to be photographed. Thus the reason it makes the perfect subject in which to practice your photography skills. After a little practice with still life, you can quickly apply your skills towards your children.
With that in mind, here are four things we learned when we took some time off from photographing our children, and photographed still life instead.
1. It really is all about the light
Have you ever walked into your kitchen and immediately reached for your camera as the morning rays hit the edge of a bowl on the counter? That morning sun could have just as easily been pouring over your child’s finger tips as they ate breakfast. However, when you stop worrying about capturing your kids in action, you’ll be more aware of the light.
Great photography has EVERYTHING to do with the light.
If you’re not sure where to find the best light in your home, think about where you spend the majority of your time. Chances are that you are also shooting in that area of your house quite frequently. Spend a day monitoring the light in that room. Identify where the light hits over the course of the day. Spend another day wandering the house and observe the light.
You may find that while you spend all your time in the living room, that the front room of your house (the one that no one goes into) actually has the best light. Knowing this, take one of your kid’s toys or any beautiful object you may have lying around, and spend some time photographing it at various times throughout the day around the house. You might even experiment with white board, reflectors or sheer curtains to see how the light can change or bend to work with your subject.
By knowing what you’re working with, you’ll be better able to coordinate “photo ops” with the light. It may also mean that you purposely “play” in the room with the incredible light to get the shot you want.
2. Having a Connection is Important
When we are photographing our kids, sometimes we can be too quick to hit the shutter without considering the feeling behind the image. Of course you can take cute pictures of your children simply for the sake of cuteness, but what if there could be something more?
Photographing still life allows us the time to feel and interpret what is happening before factoring in technical details or rules. This is not to suggest that you start photographing still life just to say you did it.
Consider your style. What do you enjoy? What colors are you drawn to? How do the things in your home make you feel? Now look through your photo archives. Do your photos evoke the same emotion? Or do they express different feelings?
When we went through this exercise, we found that in many cases, our still life images evoked a wide range of emotions ranging from playfulness to depression. Typically, these same emotions are felt when you first see the image through your viewfinder. Your final image is simply an artistic expression of your first impression.
Therefore, make a connection with your subject and you will appreciate photography so much more than you already do. As it relates to still life, consider why you are photographing the subject. Does it have sentimental value to you or are you trying to send a message to your viewer?
Now take that concept and apply it towards your kids or any other subject matter. Don’t allow the camera to create a barrier between you and your subject, because having a connection is important.
3. Change Your Perspective
When photographing children, it is commonly suggested that you get on the child’s level to get the best shots (instead of standing from a distance or above the child). However, you can often get stuck in a rut if you continue to photograph the same subject matter, unless you take a step back and consider what you’re doing.
One of the things we love about still life photography, is the opportunity to dramatically alter your photo’s composition by simply changing your perspective. Here’s a few ideas that can easily be practiced with still life and then applied to shots of your kids.
- Shoot straight up (try a wide angle lens)
- Get down low
- Shoot at an angle (just be careful of any horizontal lines in your background)
- Exaggerate features (this works especially well with landmarks or well-known subjects)
- Right/Left/Top/Bottom Alignments
Don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit with still life photography. You can take the same small subject and move it around your house or take it on the road. You can shoot at various times and use a variety of perspectives. Your little experiment will only create muscle memory that will come in handy when you turn the camera on your little ones again.
4. Create the Mood
If you’re anything like us, your mind is constantly racing with creative ideas that are just waiting to be implemented. Sometimes it’s a specific prop, other times, it’s an outfit or location. Whatever the case, if your vision includes your children, good luck.
However, when working with still life, you have the opportunity to contemplate the mood you want your image to have; and then build the background and any supporting props to enhance that mood.
Once you’re on the “editing floor,” you can further create your vision by how you choose to process your photo.
See, still life isn’t that much different than photographing your children. With a little practice and a few goals in mind, you are sure to improve your skills and potentially become a stronger photographer than you ever imagined. Just keep at it!
Photo Credit: Ashley Sisk