Research: Basic Studio Lighting Setups & Techniques – Still life

Within this area of research, I intend to highlight basic lighting setups and techniques for still life subjects in studio environment.

This is a subject matter within the studio that I feel more confident about than portraiture. However, I would like to start thinking about broadening my experimental (art) or marketable (commercial) directions within my still life approach. Therefore amongst a few extracts of research relating to standard compositions and lighting techniques, I have also started to look at more definitive aspects such as experimenting with perspective and creating professional pack shot for product photography.

From this, I have been able to de-construct various core aspects to consider within future still life/pack shot images.

The still life photographers’ guide to lighting: 4 techniques, 4 different effects

 | Photography Tips | 30/01/2013 11:29am

Still life photographers often tell us that lighting their scenes is the biggest challenge they face. In fact, lighting is one of the most common photography problems in any genre. In this tutorial, Ali Jennings of our testing team singles out 4 foolproof still life photography lighting techniques that you can use anywhere.

Each still life lighting technique shows you how to adequately light some of the most common subjects for still life photographers: flowers, fruit, images for eBay and stock photos. Follow these techniques and you’ll be well ahead of other still life photographers!

The still life photographers' guide to lighting: 4 techniques, 4 different effects

The key to successful tabletop studio photography is the lighting, and how you use it to create different effects, without spending a fortune on equipment.

We’ll use a variety of different simple light sources – window light, a pocket torch, and a pair of common-or-garden desk lamps to cut down on the additional kit needed.

But you will also benefit from a few extras – such as some fabric and paper for the backdrops, and a reflector and a light tent for creating a more even lighting for some of our close-up set-ups.

So, find a bit of free time and clear some space, and have a go at our four still life photography ideas in the comfort of your own home.  But first, let’s take a look at some….

Essential gear for still life photographers

Essential gear for still life photographers: desk lamp

01 Desk lamp
A small lamp with a flexible head, such as an anglepoise, lets you direct the light, so is ideal choice for small home studio projects. Using two adds foreground and background lighting and boost other lighting on dull days.

Essential gear for still life photographers: black velvet

02 Black velvet
This fabric has the amazing ability to absorb light, so when lit correctly it looks as though a subject is literally floating in black. Buy a couple of metres at a material shop, but make sure you don’t buy the crushed sort!

Essential gear for still life photographers: torch

03 Torch
Light painting is a quick, easy way to manipulate the light in exactly the way you want. A small powerful torch, such as a Maglite, can directed as needed, and with a focusable beam it gives you creative control.

Essential gear for still life photographers: white paper

04 A2 paper
An inexpensive and easy solution for creating backdrops, as well as being cheap and readily available from all art stores. When you make your selection, a paper with a matte and subtly textured finish will help to avoid reflections.

Essential gear for still life photographers: light tent

05 Light tent
The advantage to these simple translucent structures is they create even lighting for product photography using nothing but natural light from a window, and cut out reflections. A Hama light tent costs as little as £30/$45.

Essential gear for still life photographers: reflector

06 Reflector
Even with diffused light shadows can be a real issue, but with a small reflector these problems can easily be resolved. For still life projects look for one with both silver or white surfaces. This Lastolite Trigrip costs £55/$70.

The still life photographer’s guide to lighting flowers

The still life photographer's guide to lighting flowers

Place the vase of flowers close to a wall but leave enough space to position a lamp to create the backlighting.

On the wall, tape a piece of A2-size coloured paper that complements the flowers, and make sure it covers the full frame of what you see through the viewfinder.

Now place the first lamp behind the flowers pointing up and slightly towards the paper. For the main lighting place the second lamp in front of the flowers just off to one side.

Kit needed
■ Kit lens (18-105mm) ■ 2 x desk lamps ■ 1 sheet of A2 coloured paper ■ Remote release

The still life photographer's guide to lighting flowers: setup

Two angle poise lamps will provide all the light you need for this simple set up.

With small apertures and long exposure times there are two essential pieces of kit that will help you to capture pin-sharp images every time.

The first is a remote release. These can cost as little as £10 and enable you to fire the shutter without touching the camera and introducing shake.

The second is a tripod. Any tripod will do, but the more solid it is the better!

The still life photographer’s guide to lighting fruit for high impact

The still life photographer's guide to lighting fruit for high impact

Position a length of black velvet cloth over a box, making sure you have a good amount of length in the foreground to place the fruit on, so that once composed the subject will be surrounded by black.

Position the fruit in the middle of the cloth. We want the lighting in the room to be as dark as possible, so the only light shining on the fruit is that produced by the torch.

Use thin paper (a cupcake case is ideal) to diffuse the light; this will reduce reflection on the skin.

Kit needed
■ Kit lens (18-105mm) ■ Black velvet ■ Maglite ■ Thin paper ■ Tripod ■ Shutter release

The still life photographer's guide to lighting fruit for high impact: setup

A torch provides strongly focused light; diffusing it will stop highlights being too harsh

If your camera has the Mirror Lock-up feature, switch it on. It’s usually positioned on the dial under the mode dial. If not, using Live Mode when shooting will lock the mirror up, helping to avoid small vibrations that can be caused when shooting.

The still life photographer’s guide to lighting stock photos

The still life photographer's guide to lighting stock photos

First set up by a window, and then tape a piece of white paper to a box to create a curve, creating a seamless backdrop. Arrange the crayons so that once framed they will be surrounded by white.

Check how the lighting falls on the crayons. You want the lighting to be as even as possible – if the crayons are casting shadows, a reflector can be used to help reduce the shadow effect.

If you don’t have a reflector then a simple sheet of white paper will do.

Kit needed
■ 40mm macro lens ■ Sheet of white A2 paper ■ Remote release ■ Reflector ■ Tripod

The still life photographer's guide to lighting stock photos: setup

The reflector helps remove harsh shadows, keeping the lighting nice and even

Highlight burnout can be an issue, so use the camera’s preview to check the exposure. This process is different according to your camera’s make and model.

On most Nikon DSLRs, for instance, click up on the control dial to rotate through the different views until you see the one that displays the image information, histogram and highlight mask. If any areas of the image are flashing, reduce the exposure slightly to help recover highlights.–photo-8278

10 Tips to Get Started with Still Life Photography

By ,3 Dec 2011

There aren’t many photographic practices that date back further than still life photography. When photography originated, it was necessary for exposures to be quite long, so photographing static objects was the ideal subject matter. However, as the technology developed, the fascination for capturing still life has remained and is still one of the most viable photographic professions today.

At the top end, it is an extremely lucrative business, as magazines, catalogues and websites all require product shots. There are many advantages to working with still life that are often underestimated, so hopefully you’ll be able to see it’s scope for creativity and get started with taking some shots yourself!

1. Getting Started

Contrary to common perceptions, you don’t need a studio or a fancy location to make a start with still life photography. You can begin by simply using a space at home, such as a table placed by a window, along with a simple backdrop and utilizing a couple of lamps.

It varies greatly to landscape or portrait photography, in which you are provided with the subject matter, for example, a stunning mountain scene or a model, which come with a huge amount of variables, but the creative content is there in front of you. With still life photography, there are far less variables, you, as the photographer have complete control over the situation, including the subject matter, but you need to think extremely creatively in order to capture it in an interesting and engaging way.

Photo by apwizard

2. Choosing the subject

What you photograph is completely up to you. Have a search around the house to see if you can find something simple but interesting to start with. Please don’t feel like you have to take photos of fruit or flowers just because everyone else does, think outside the box without being overly ambitious.

If, when you’re out and about, something catches your eye, take it home with you (don’t steal it!) or make a note of it so as to remember to try photographing it in a still life context. Try to avoid reflective surfaces such as glass and metal to begin with, as they will be extremely difficult with regards to lighting. Once you’ve mastered the single object shots, try mixing it up, combine objects of contrasting shape, colour, texture and see what you can come up with.

Photo by whereisyourmind

3. Lighting

Lighting doesn’t have to be expensive, I know certainly for me that a set of studio lights aren’t really within my budget, so for still life shoots I need to utilize all the light I can get my hands one. Remember that you have full control over the shoot, so if you want, find a room in which you can block out all natural light by using shutters or curtains, this way you will have complete control over the light upon your subject.

Using standard lamps can work extremely well if used effectively. Be sure to try multiple positioning set ups, not all light has to come from the front of the object, side and back lighting will add interest, shadows and depth to the shot. Alternatively, choose a room that is well lit via a window, and use this to your advantage. The natural light from one side will comprehensively light your subject and you can compliment this with a lamp or reflector.

Photo by brtsergio

4. Tripods and Angles

Depending on your lighting situation, you may or may not need to use a tripod and shutter release. I would recommend using these as they will allow you to observe and work with your subject matter. This set up will also allow you to use slightly longer shutter speeds than usual to ensure a small aperture allowing the image to be in focus front to back, if you so choose.

However, please don’t let a static camera stifle your creativity, it quickly gets forgotten that your camera has been sat in the same position for the whole shoot. Be sure to vary the angles and heights at which you are shooting. Otherwise, before you know it, you’ll have a whole collection of shots all take from the same point with little or know variation. Mix it up a bit. Try shooting at the level of the subject or try a bird’s eye view, looking down onto the subject, but be careful if you are moving around not to cast any shadows on your subject!

Photo by yjhsu

5. Get the backdrop right

Having a suitable backdrop for your subject matter will play a crucial role in the overall success of your shots. It’s best to keep it nice and simple, so it doesn’t interfere with your subject. A plain painted wall or a large sheet of white or plain colored paper would be ideal.

Think about how your choice of background contrasts the subject, do you want a neutral background, or are there tones that may work in complimenting the shades within your subject. For smaller objects, you may not need a backdrop as such, but instead require a surface to place the items on, for which something like black velvet is ideal, as it absorbs light and looks like a solid black surface.

Photo by darktechsystem

6. Composing the shot

The compositional element of your still life work is an absolutely crucial part of ensuring that your work is engaging and unique. Consider the rule of thirds, how can that be applied to your shoot to create a strong composition. Ensure there are no distractions within the frame, just the subject and the backdrop.

Be sure to vary the composition of the subject matter through the shoot and think outside the box. Where are you leading the eye within the image? Are you utilizing negative space or might it work to try and fill the frame? Engage with the subject, what are its defining features? What is it used for? Are you able to put it into context or does it work as a stand alone subject?

Photo by lindenbaum

7. Taking all day over it

I often find that my mentality surrounding a shoot is dependent on the reason for the shoot. So if I am simply taking photos for pleasure or for myself (as opposed to being assigned work by somebody else), I will be less stringent with ensuring that all the aspects of the shoot are as well executed as they can be. This is obviously a bad habit that am aiming to shed, but when it comes to still life photography, there is no reason not to get it right. You have as much time as you need to do a good job!

Unlike a landscape shoot, the light isn’t rapidly changing and unlike a portrait, you’re subject isn’t going to get bored of keeping still for long periods of time. Take advantage of this, set up your subject, lighting, backdrop and camera, try a few shots, then move things around a bit and have another go. If you get to a point where you feel like things aren’t going quite right, you can just leave everything set up, make yourself a cup of tea and come back to it refreshed later on.

Another advantage is that there’s no excuse not to have clean and sharp images, take time to get the lighting and focus just right. If you can get your hands on one, a macro lens will be ideal for this sort of work, however, if not, try selecting macro mode on your camera to give you the best chance of capturing the close up detail in your subject.

Photo by vamedia

8. Inspired by the masters

If you’re struggling with the lighting, composing or structuring of your shots, then you need to find some inspiration, and where better to look than to the original still life masterpieces of years gone by. Have a search online for renaissance still life artists and observe the elements of the pieces.

Studying these paintings will help you to think about form, shades and how the colors work together and will hopefully give you a few ideas on how you can shape your photography work to form strong and engaging images.

Photo by layos

9. Now it’s your turn!

Now it’s time for you to have a go yourself. Find a quiet day in your schedule and set aside some time to practice. Try setting up your camera and backdrop by a suitably light spot next to a window and get snapping!

Once you’ve mastered the basics, try getting creative, experiment with camera angles, lighting angles and alternative light sources such as candles and lamps. You could even try getting creative with apertures and use a f/1.8 prime lens to achieve an artistic shallow focus. However, if you take one thing from this tutorial, let it be this: still life photography does not have to be of fruit and flowers! So find some unique and inspiring subject matter that gets you excited and start shooting!

Photo by apwizard

10. Making a living?

There is plenty of demand for still life photography, particularly now that it is so simple for photographers to provide images for stock photography libraries, that are accessed by magazines, business publications and for online content. Once you’ve got your shots, don’t be afraid to share them online, you could even try using Envato’s PhotoDune stock photography service. So each time you set up a shoot, work as if you are on assignment, you never know, your still life work might even make you a few bucks along the way!

Photo by gfpeck


Watch this photography tutorial video to learn photography technique of forced perspective.

Article By Sasha Gitin Video By Robert Grant

Wish you could take gorgeous photos? now you can! see our Review of a New Educational Resource – Tools and Techniques for Creative Photography – eBook


Visual illusion is a tremendous tool in the hands of an artist. When she creates something that is not aligned with reality such process of creation rewards the artist with a sublime feeling of being a unique creator. Reality itself is a relative term. Our perceptions about the world around us are based on points of reference that we create for ourselves. Points of perspective, in our society are based on religion, constitution, laws of science and our personal set of beliefs. Discord of these points is what generally creates unrest in the world. It’s often impossible for two individuals to agree if each one is looking at the same thing from two different points of view.


In photography, perspective is a constant variable that becomes a universal point of reference for all spectators.Altering the perception of a vanishing point creates a dual perspective. Dual perspective is a fourth dimension that can set its own rules upon the universe within the image.
forced perspective
Photo by Robert Grant

When I look at Robert’s image, the unity of two perspectives allows distinctive subjects to create harmony and balance within the space, while complementing each other.


Forced perspective often is used in architecture and landscaping to create desired illusion of space. Greeks made their columns narrower towards the top to create an illusion of a greater height. In cinematography and theater force perspective is often used in making the set to create a feeling of vast space.
Adelbert Ames Jr. Was An American Scientist and artist who dedicated much of his life exploring the philosophy of perception. He is most known for constructing the Ames Room, the Ames window.



1. Place your camera on a tripod.

2. Use a wide angle lens. Wide angle lens visually expands perspective remember that telephoto lenses force perspective to compress (See our tutorial on perspective compression) Using the wide angle lens is not mandatory to create forced perspective, but using wide angle will make it much easier.

3. Use adequate f-stop to ensure that depth of field is deep enough to maintain subjects in focus (f/16, or f/22).

4. Use Aperture priority or manual mode to make sure the camera will not change your f-stop automatically.

5. Alter the shape of the surface or any other element within your composition to create an illusion of perspective.

6. Keep some elements real (in our sample we used a geometric shape; human mind subconsciously gives priority to a square over trapezoid when it comes to judgment which shape is more real). Everything is relative only to a point of perspective. If you never wake up from your dream how would you know it wasn’t real? If your intention is to force perspective to create an illusion of size then use two subjects that are universally recognized.


What other examples of forced perspective photography have you seen? (you can post links in comments). What do you think about reality itself is it something subjective or objective?


Create a Visual Illusion in your image using Forced Perspective. Use “Share your shot” feature in comments box to post it here.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Photography | June 19th 2013

Setting up your eCommerce site? You’re definitely going to need some captivating photos to present what you offer. Ideally, you should get a professional photographer to perform that well-calculated magic. However, if you’re working on a tight budget, or if you just happen to like photography, you can always pick up a camera and give it a go yourself. Follow the tips below and make the most out of your photo shoot.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Get Lots of Light

Natural light works best for any type of photo and should be used whenever possible. Typically, shooting your photos during the day will grant the best results. What matters is not only the quantity of the light, but the uniformity of distribution as well.

Hard shadow vs. soft shadow- Hard shadows are created when the size of the light source is small compared to the size of the subject. Conversely, soft shadows are created when the size of the light source is larger than the subject. For your needs you want to aim for soft shadow.

As demonstrated in the example below, the more diffused the light is, the better its spread on the object you photograph and the more smooth and whole its appearance.  To avoid a hard shadow, use a flash diffuser. A flash diffuser can be created by taking a white tape or a white plastic bag and attaching it to the flash of the camera. In turn, the light will be distributed in a softer, more even way in all parts of the object, rather than be centered in one spot.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

White Background – Create the Infinity Curve

Often in product photography, a clean white background looks best since it creates a focus on the object itself. The “Infinity Curve” enables photographers to shoot products against an endless white background that reveals no horizon in the back, only a clean and pleasant view. To create this type of background, place a piece of white paper or fabric and bend it to create a curve. Your product will be the center of the photo and the only item to capture the viewer’s attention.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Find the Unusual Point of View

No one knows your products better than you. However, nothing is better than a product photo shoot to bring out special features of your product that may surprise even you. As you take photos, go for unusual angles, get close ups and look for unique points of view. Tell a story with the images you capture, while you accentuate particular angles. You never know what angle will end up revealing the most impressive or attractive tale, so test different options.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Use a Tripod and a Timer

As you take a picture, even the slightest vibration or movement can cause motion blur. Moreover, the closer you get to an object the more obvious the motion blur becomes. A tripod will assure you remain stable as you take the photo. Even an inexpensive tripod will make a big difference in the sharpness of your images. Additionally, you can use the camera’s built-in timer to minimize camera shake and maximize accuracy.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Sense of Scale

Some products may not be easily recognizable by viewers. This is where giving a sense of scale can be very helpful. If you include an item in the image that people are familiar with, it can really help to visualize the size of the product. For example, if the product is a miniature doll, you could place an object like a standard sized pencil next to it, and give people a sense of scale.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Show the Product in its Natural Environment

Take pictures of your product next to an item that will help people relate to it in real life. Moreover, the use of props can help to bring out certain features in the photo. For example, if you take a picture of a watch, show it on someone’s wrist. If you are selling a coffee table book, take a shot of the opened book on an actual table with a small fruit bowl next to it. If you are selling jewelry or clothing, having at least one picture of your product on a model is great. Potential buyers will get an idea of how the item will look on them and also, it could show the type of target audience you’re aiming for.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

We Sell this Shirt in Red, Green and Grey

You may offer a particular item in a selection of colors. In this case, don’t spare any visual details, bare it all in the photo! On many site images, people display a single item and then write under it “also available in blue and green”. A set of photos showing the variety of colors will make the product look richer and more attractive. Don’t just tell them about it, let people see for themselves.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Don’t Delete from Camera

Don’t get tempted to make quick verdicts about your pictures when you review them on the camera. Be patient and wait until you download the photos to your computer. Images look very different on a bigger screen and this is the way to decide which photos make the cut and which will move on to photo-heaven.

Taking a Detailed Photo? Use the “Flower” Setting

Most cameras have a “close-up” setting that you switch it to when you are taking a closer than standard photo. The “flower” setting is really called “Macro” and it appears on most cameras as a tulip-like icon. This is often used when your subject is a small item like a piece of jewelry or a flower. The result is a narrow depth of field and a different perspective.

10 Tips for Effective Product Photography

Pro tip- If you’d like to take a picture of something very small, and even the “macro” feature is not enough, use an extension tube – it gives a focus for the tiny details. The extension tube is typically a tool used by photography pros but as you advance with your photo shoots you may find yourself developing an appetite for advanced tools and other photo instruments.

 Editing Is Important

Taking a shot is often just the beginning, next comes the editing and the touch ups. As you prepare images for your site, make sure they are approximately the same size. Choose 1-3 different sizes from large to medium and small. Edit your photos to fit one of the pre-selected sizes so that you won’t have too much variation.

You don’t have to be a web designer or even computer savvy for this one, just upload your pictures into any photo editing software, and get to business. Things like cropping and color correction can make a world of difference in a photo. You can also use the Aviary image editor directly on the Wix editor and make your photos really shine.

Like my similar research of portraiture, this has allowed me to gain a sense of professional studio practice and how to achieve more successful still life photography for personal and commercial purposes. The distinction with still life is the importance of subtle features that can massively influence the viewing of the image.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the choice of colour and the application of it (hue & saturation) can generate certain psychological associations, a tool which is utilised heavily within marketing and advertising.
Even slight readjustments in the angle and scale upon which we frame the object(s) can produce very different results for better or worse depend upon the intended outcome.
I found that this was especially relevant when developing images of food photography. The intended images must do more than demonstrate distinct or abstract shape and sleekness like pack shot of non-consumable products. It must encourage the viewer the find the food appetising something that once again is massively impact by colour coding.
Again, we find that there is a lot more to consider when aiming to confront still life subjects. I believe that this area of research has refined my knowledge and encouraged me to reflect upon studio practice as as whole.

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