Today we shall discuss some of the most common mistakes I encounter when looking at still-life photographs. The last few weeks I’ve been photographing a series of hero images for a cosmetics brand. During this project i’ve used a variety of different styles,settings and subjects. The online community and those following my work have approached me for advice, criticism and comment on their work. I realise most of my tutorials and behind-the-scene videos have given viewers some ideas and insights into how to set up and shoot still-life.

Thus, I’ve decided to highlight the most common issues I have seen, as well as, my recommendation on how to overcome it.

We can break it up into two categories, namely, composition and lighting. The first one, composition, focuses on the contrast in the composition of the final image. This seems to be a common and recurring issue in the photographs I have reviewed.

As a very basic example, in the video I have taken a stick and drawn circles in the sand. In the middle lays a perfectly geometrical object. This creates contrast in the two items. I highly encourage you to work with different shapes and sizes to find a perfect pair. Even different colours can have a huge difference on the result.

Onto the second issue at hand, the lighting. A large trend in the photographs seems to be a flat light shining straight onto the subject. I often encounter setups where lighting is coming from every angle, resulting in a subject void of any shadows. It kills the creativity and depth cast by shadows. Shadows are probably as important as the light. Strive to find a balance between the two. In the video, you can notice the results achieved from shadows and how pleasing and vibrant the image is.

The key takeaways are: pay more attention to the details in the subject and background and how they pair; and don’t drown out the image with lighting. I look forward to seeing improvements in composition and the use of shadows in your still-life photographs. Keep shooting!

Nail polish in sand waves
Creative still life photography of nail polish in sand waves

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