What’s one area you want to improve on this year? Mine is really simple and I talked about it last week: I want to get better at taking photos, especially still lifes and flat lays.
These compositions are a chance to tell a visual story. They’re an accessible way of sharing things I’m into while producing content for my blog and social accounts. Also, like many of you, I sit behind a computer all day so any chance I have to step away and get the creative juices flowing is an added bonus.
The thing is, my life is already packed with a lot of commitments and I am short on time for personal projects. But, instead of using that as an excuse, I started a project last year called Still Life Friday. Every Friday, I would set aside 15 minutes to share a new still life composition on Instagram, hashtagging it with #stilllifefriday.
Looking back, not every composition was amazing and I missed a week here and there. But overall, it accomplished the goal I had hoped for: to get better at working with what I already had around me, just for fun, without the pressure of client expectations.
What I’ve learned along the way is that when you keep goals bite-sized and focused, it’s more likely that you’ll follow through with them. There’s a reason why I set up Still Life Friday and not Still Life Daily: I wanted to give myself the highest possible chance for success.
Today, we’re going to focus on 10 tips you can use to step up your still life compositions:
1. Pinpoint Your Style
It’s always easier to create an amazing composition if you can focus in on what you’re naturally drawn to. What gets you excited? If you need some ideas, follow some new accounts. I personally like MaeMae & Co., ban.do, Charli Burrowes, flatlays and flatlayforever. I’ve been collecting screenshots of ideas and keep them in a folder for when I’m feeling uninspired.
2. Get Consistent with Lighting and Surfaces
I take most of my photos during the morning to afternoon in my office, when the light is the brightest and least shadowy. I never use a flash, instead choosing a natural light source next to a window. For surfaces, I use my white glossy desktop or black or white tagboard when I need a larger area. You can pick this up at art supply and dollar stores.
3. Tell a Story
It’s always better if your still life has a focal point to build off of. What do you really want to share? Are you reading a book or magazine that’s inspiring you? Maybe you can add in glasses, a journal and your favorite pen. Did you just buy a new shade of lipstick? Add in a mirror, your compact and a fashion editorial with a makeup look you love. Did you just buy a rad pair of shoes? Lay them out alongside your ideal outfit.
4. Include a Natural Element
Still lifes feel more alive when you follow this tip. I tend to add plants like succulents or fresh cut flowers to most of my compositions. Crystals, sand, stones and leaves also work.
5. Add Some Shine
A little bling catches the eye. I am really big on brass accents right now for a subtle shine. I often use a brass pen, vases, scissors or clips to add warmth to my cool toned compositions. Mirrors, glitter paper, shiny gemstones and jewelry also work.
6. Focus on Color and Texture
One of the easiest ways to give your compositions a consistent appearance is to use objects in the same colors and textures. I focus on mostly black and white with plenty of dashes of green on my personal account. For texture, I stick with marble and brass. These create an on-brand look.
7. Keep It Simple
Less objects can actually be more compelling. Always place your favorite object first and build around it. White space allows the objects to breathe. I think of this step like a gallery wall. If you walk into a gallery and the walls are painted a dark color and crammed with artwork placed too close together, it’s visually overwhelming. If you instead walk into a space with artwork placed with plenty of distance between each piece on clean, white walls, there’s a better chance of you being able to focus on the details.
8. Include Items You Love
I buy very little for my office space but what I do invest in has to be really special and work double duty. I have a wire inspiration board with copper clips I use to pin up new ideas that also doubles as a backdrop. I have a Moroccan pompom covered basket I use in a lot of Branch photos that also holds my extra chargers and cords. I have a collection of Chad Wys prints that cover my walls and often make their way into compositions. Surrounding yourself with items that you enjoy means that you’ll have more to pull from when putting together a photo.
9. Shoot In Bulk
If I create a composition I really like, I’ll shoot it, switch out a few key items, shoot again and get a few variations. These batched images are great to roll out when I’m having a slow content day or need something to stand in with a quote or story I want to share. They save time and since they were shot in the same lighting and style, they’ll be more consistent.
10. Set it Up
Have tools on-hand that can step in and give you the best results. Sometimes I use colorful washi tape to secure photos while also adding a pop of color. Sticky tack is great for holding round objects in place like pens and lipstick. Antibacterial wipes are perfect for quickly wiping down a surface so you can avoid bits of dirt and dust. Also, decide whether you’re going to use your phone or a camera — I personally use the Samsung NX500 for every photo I take because it’s higher quality. After I’ve taken a photo, I use the built-in wifi to email the photo to myself and edit with a combination of Color Story and VSCO.
I hope these tips help you take better still lifes and flat lays. Let me know if you have any questions or tips to add in the comments!
P.S. I try to post at least one new still life per week — if you’d like to follow along, my account is here.