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Still life photography (‘nature morte’ in French) can be defined very broadly as the photographing of any inanimate object. This sounds like an easy option compared to, say, sports photography, and in some ways it is but the art lies in the arranging of the subjects and the use of light to take an attractive picture, or one which brings a new understanding of the chosen items. The challenge of still life photography is to give the viewer of your picture a new insight into the subject of the photograph by showing it in a new light (literally!), linking it with different or unexpected other objects, or using unexpected angles or extreme close-ups, to make the viewer see things as if for the first time.

For this genre of photography you will need a good quality tripod, and a “studio” where you have a table or other place to arrange your subjects (which you may need to leave there for more than one session) with different levels and backgrounds, and where you can control the light.

Photography and art
Some still life photographers like to refer back to the history of still life painting, either by recreating well-known examples of these works of art, or by changing them to provide a modern take on the subject, which may be ironic or just different in some way. The great era of still life painting was in the 17th century, when it became very popular with northern European painters such Dutch and Flemish artists. They tried to recreate on their canvasses accurately and in detail what they saw in the arranged objects, and sometimes these Renaissance artists inserted symbols into their still life paintings, so that the pictures could be “read” almost like a written text (for example a skull as a reminder of mortality, or the colour blue as a symbol of the Virgin Mary).

Possible subjects
The French term quoted above, nature morte, gives a clue to some of the traditional subjects of this kind of art and photography:

Dead animals, leaves, plants, fruit,
Household items like plates, cups, knives, wine bottles, water jugs,
Bread and other foods such as cakes or cooked meats,
Lighted candles or lanterns, or other sources of light,
Flower arrangements, fresh, dying or dead (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is in this tradition),
Architectural features such as doors and windows, gargoyles and other decorative masonry,
Colours and textures, e.g. tree bark, interesting rock formations,
Seeds, berries, shells and other objects found in nature, such as twigs and fir-cones.

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