Still Life on a Budget

As I’ve said before, I used to work full time as a product photographer, and still life photography has always been something that I’ve been keen on. My current setup is a camping table in the window of my studio. Don’t believe me? I photographed it earlier this week for an article I’m writing.

The marble effect background and the plaster effect wall are actually made by Photo Boards. They are lightweight boards with photorealistic surfaces that I use in almost all of my still life and product photography. I’ve got at least a dozen!

They’re set up on top of a camping table. Nothing fancy I’m afraid, no expensive “proper” product photography tables here!

You can also paint your own backdrops. If you’re interested in having a go at that, I wrote a tutorial at Digital Photography School.

Some people will tell you that you need all kinds of expensive props and gadgets to pursue still life or product photography, but it’s just not the case. Here is me using my portfolio book stood up to block some of the light from hitting the red bunch of berries so that I could shoot from above.

I control the light primarily using the curtain that you can see pulled across in the background. Sometimes I also add a reflector or some kind (usually either a piece of white foam core or a mirror depending on the effect I want).

The truth is, after I left my job in e-commerce product photography I just wanted to return to a simpler way of working. I didn’t want to have to mess around with “technical stuff” just to take a photo, so I changed my style to reflect this simpler approach – and I think that my work is now stronger than it’s ever been.

But even when I was working in the agency studio we kept things simple. We didn’t use endless gadgets to get the results that sold millions of pounds of products around the world, we kept it simple with versatile mini-studios (often with five or six of us working at stations in the same room, or even more).

– Four lights with softboxes (because we did white background stuff mostly)
Cinefoil
– A table
– A half-size paper backdrop (or get a full size one and saw it in half)
– Clear perspex sheet (for reflections)
– A couple of A3 black cards (duck tape two together to make a “V” flat)
– A couple of A3 white foamboards (tape them together too)
– A scientific retort stand or two (the type that hold test tubes with the solid metal base – I’m using one to support the background in the shots above).
– Relevant mannequin or display equipment for the job

Now that gear list is for shooting white background e-commerce shots, but I want to emphasis that you just don’t need much. You don’t need all the fancy gadgets that people are trying to sell you to shoot still life.

Image result for don mccullin still life
Still life photograph by Don McCullin

And if you’re in any doubt, know that Don McCullin shoots the most incredible still life photos in his garden with no fancy equipment at all. Just beautiful natural light and an incredible talent for composition.


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