Can you use some help with your still life photography? Like many of us, your hobbies probably extend beyond photography. Craftworks, in particular, is one of the many favourite pastimes of those of us here at Digital Camera World, but taking pictures of your creations sometimes can be tricky. From lighting to composition, there are all sorts of factors to consider when taking still life photography. Our tutorial below will show you how to master all these elements without having to splash out on additional kit or expensive lights, so you can start taking better still life photography today.
While it’s common to think that you need a full studio set-up to take control of the lighting of still life photography subjects at home, it’s amazing what you can achieve with just a few simple accessories and techniques. The trick is to take control of the lighting that you have available, so that you can achieve more predictable results. Your equipment needn’t be expensive, and with a little ingenuity it’s possible to get pro results without spending anything at all.
Jewelry, in particular, offers some of the most rewarding crafting photos. Armed with some card and cloth to use as backdrops, a few props and a few simple accessories, you too can make your crafting photos of jewelry really sparkle.
Basic Lighting Techniques for Still Life Photography
Shooting small, reflective subjects in your crafting photos will test the lighting skills of most photographers, so you will firstly want to minimise reflections in your images.
Here, we’ve started by placing a blue bracelet on a white-card background and exploring how we can control the lighting using reflectors and diffusers. We positioned the background and subject with a window to the right (see above). The sun is on the opposite side of the house, so the light from this window is soft and diffused, not harsh and direct.
With the camera set to manual focus and exposure, we focused on the front edge of the bracelet, shooting at ¼sec and f/11, as recommended by the camera. At these settings the image is under-exposed, as the white background has fooled the camera’s meter, so we increased the shutter speed to ½sec.
Finally, there are two easy ways of controlling the shadows: placing a diffuser between the bracelet and the window, and placing a silver reflector just to the left of the subject.
Here you can see that with soft, indirect window light, the bracelet has cast a large, dark shadow.
Covering the light with a diffuser has removed the shadow, revealing detail in the subject.
Using a reflector to bounce light back onto the subject has produced the best compromise
Still life photography: how to choose a background for crafting photos
Plain, simple backgrounds often work best for still life photography – particularly with the jewelry we’re shooting, as you want to show off your subject. The background should be free of any distractions. With this in mind, we’ve used some large sheets of coloured card, and also a piece of black synthetic velvet.
Starting with the red card, which contrasts nicely with one of the green bracelets we’re photography, we shot using the same window light as before – again with a reflector to fill in the shadows. This produces a bright, striking image, but we decided that the strong colours take attention away from the bracelet.
Changing the coloured card for the black velvet changes the look and feel of the images completely. Now, it’s the jewellery that takes centre stage, rather than the background. However, being synthetic, the black velvet does have a slight sheen, which causes the light to reflect and can spoil the effect.
This meant we needed to work a little more on the lighting. Using a diffuser placed over the whole subject, the reflections on the cloth are minimised. We’ve used a small hand-held torch, shone through the reflector, to light the front of the subject and provide a striking catch-light. This set-up produces a simple yet elegant image that concentrates all of the viewer’s attention on the jewellery.
Still life photography: using props and surfaces in your crafting photos
While using single-coloured backgrounds is perfect for many shots, we decided to inject some extra interest into this still life by exploring how we can use different props and surfaces. We started by using some patterned pebbles on a bright red background.
It’s instantly clear that the brightly coloured background is distracting, so we decided to use a wooden tabletop instead.
After a few more frames we decided to add some extra rocks into the background to balance out the image. Once we were happy with the set-up, we used a reflector to bounce some light back onto the front of the bracelet for a slick finish.
We then turned our attention to photographing necklaces. To do this we used a sheet of white Perspex. After positioning the necklace and camera, we were able to concentrate on the lighting. Direct light creates reflections on the beads and the Perspex, so we positioned a diffuser above the necklace and shined a torch through it to light the subject.
Using a combination of the black background, reflective surface and simple lighting, we were able to produce a simple, but classic, jewelry shot.