5 Still Life Lighting Tips for Breathtaking Photos

Did you know that lighting is the most important element in still life photography?

It’s true. Lighting adds ambiance, provides context, stimulates interest and helps create dynamic shots – so if you can learn how to do still life lighting like an expert, then you’ll be on your way. good way to capture exceptional images.

That’s where this article comes in handy. I share my top five lighting tips for great still life photos; by the time you’re done reading, you’ll be ready to light your photos like a pro (and get great results every time!).

Let’s dive into it.

1. Use directional lighting

The best still life photos tend to feature a lot of texture…

…and if you want to bring out the texture, then side light is the way to go. In other words, position your light source off to the side so that part of your still life scene is brightly lit while the other part has obvious shadows.

still life illuminating nectarines in a bowl with a pitcher
Side lighting produces thick shadows.

Note that you can create directional lighting using studio lights (e.g. flashes or strobes) Where with natural light from the window. Personally, I prefer studio lighting, as it gives much better control over the end result, but window lighting can still work (and many great still life shooters only use window light ).

Now, side light encompasses a whole host of different lighting angles, so I encourage you to experiment until you get the images you’re looking for. If you position your lighting setup to hit the scene from a 90 degree angle – in other words, you’re aiming true sidelight – the result will be dark, moody and high contrast. (For reference, the image displayed above was taken with a lighting angle close to 90 degrees.)

But if you position your lighting setup so it hits the scene at 45 degrees, you’ll get a combination of texture, three-dimensionality, and detail, more like this:

table still life arrangement

No option is better than the other; it all depends on your goals!

2. Be sure to use modifiers

Whether you’re shooting with window light or artificial light, modifiers are a must.

Modifiers go between the light source and the subject, and they (usually) broadcast light for a flattering effect.

If you’re using window light, just take a white cloth – like a sheet – and drape it over the entire window pane. (If you’re shooting on a cloudy day or the sun is shining at an oblique angle, you may not need a modifier, but I encourage you to have one on hand just in case.)

If you’re using artificial light, there are several modifiers to choose from, including:

octabox modifier illuminating a product
Octaboxes are a great way to soften the light!

My recommendation? Start with a decent sized softbox. This will give you a good combination of spread and control, making it easy to get the effects you want. Over time, you can grow your collection of modifiers and experiment with other options, but a single softbox can be incredibly versatile and you can definitely use it to achieve pro-level results.

3. Don’t be afraid to add a reflector (or a second light)

Every still life lighting setup should beginning with a single light source. Position that first light, take a test shot and see what you think.

If you like the result, that’s great, and you can continue to work on the scene from there.

However, if you find that the dark side of the scene – the part that is in shadow – is a bit too dark, then you might want to consider using a reflector or a second light (also called fill light).

Reflectors are much easier to handle (and cheaper too!), so they’re a good place to start. Simply place a reflector in front of the main light source, on the other side of the stage. Take another test shot; if you want more detail, move the reflector closer to your still life objects. And if you want less detail (i.e. more shadows), move the reflector away from objects. Make sense ?

still life photography lighting vases and berries
If you want a softer effect, a reflector is a handy tool.

Note that reflectors come in different sizes and colors, so you should spend time experimenting with different options whenever possible. However, if you can’t afford multiple reflectors (or prefer to keep your kit as simple as possible), I recommend getting a large white reflector, which will come in handy in a wide variety of situations.

You also have the option of using another light – i.e. a fill light – instead of a reflector. Accent lights offer more control, but they are also more difficult to use. You’ll have to adjust the brightness level until you get the desired result, which can involve lots of adjustments and test shots.

And whatever you do: make sure the power of the fill light is lower than the power of the main light source. You don’t want to create shadows on the other side of the stage!

4. Pay attention to the background

The best still life photos feature a background that complements the main subject. It could be:

  • A solid white wall
  • A textured wall
  • One color curtain
violin, flowers and oranges on a table

Whatever background you choose, make sure it adds to the scene and doesn’t distract. (Including a distracting background is one of the easiest ways to ruin a still life!)

You also need to pay close attention to how light and background interact. If you are using a fabric background, be careful of the ripples; these will become particularly evident if you are working with heavy side light.

It might be worth doing a test or two before you start. If you find the background seems a little too bright, consider moving the still life scene and light a few feet forward and/or putting the light more to one side. On the other hand, if the background is unpleasantly dark, do the opposite: move the configuration towards the background and/or move the light so that it hits the background more directly.

fruits and vegetables on a table still life photography lighting

5. Watch your camera angles

My final still life lighting tip is simple:

Be sure to choose the correct camera angles to achieve the desired effect.

still life photography lighting arrangement with skull and fruit

It may not look like it, but the position of your camera can drastically change the lighting scenario. For example, if you place your camera directly in front of the scene but then turn off your light to the side, the final image will have strong sidelight. However, if you movement place your camera away from the light source, you’ll end up with a backlight, and if you move your camera so that it’s next to the light source, you’ll end up with a direct front light instead.

still life photography lighting glass and pitcher on white
This image was lit from behind the cup and pitcher. Yet the high angle of the camera shot backlight in position light.

Experiment a lot, and over time you’ll get a feel for the effects of different lighting and camera angles. I also encourage you to experiment with new angles in hopes of achieving creative compositions; In my experience, the most interesting photos give a unique perspective to an ordinary scene!

Still Life Lighting Tips: Final Words

Now that you’ve finished this article, you know all about lighting your still life scenes – and you’re ready to capture some of them. surprising your own pictures.

Try different lighting angles. Try different backdrops. Practice with a reflector. Soon you’ll be an absolute still life Master!

Which of these still life lighting tips do you plan to use first? How will you light your scenes? Share your opinion in the comments below!

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