Is Still Life Alive?

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: aug 2010; revised: mar 2018; readers past month: 802

Still life scenes have been popular among artists that draw or paint. However, I haven’t seen much done by photographers. I’m wondering why. I have some thoughts about this, but would like to know the thoughts of others about this topic.

Still life pictures are commonly produced by artists when they’re first learning to draw and paint. It doesn’t seem to be a training aide for new photographers, though. I guess since it’s easy to take a photograph of anything, new photographers start by taking photos of people and landscapes. A new painter wouldn’t generally begin by painting people or even landscapes: that’s too challenging at the start. Instead, they learn by drawing still life settings containing books, glasses, and other semi-geometrical objects, to learn about light and shadowing. In time they take on bowls of fruit and vases of flowers. Perhaps when new photographers decide to learn seriously about photography, they should do still life photos to be able to learn about light and shadows and exposure in a controlled setting.

A Couple of Still Life Photos

Bowl of Oranges

Antique Wooden Hand Tools

Beyond using still life photography as a learning method, I’m wondering why it is that I don’t see much of it as an art form. Maybe experienced photographers find it boring. But even advanced painters will sometimes create still life paintings. There’s something meditative about a still life. But maybe it does not appeal to many people. They may think it seems silly and unchallenging to photograph a book. I don’t think so.

Below is a still life photo I took in trying to resolve some problems I was having with my Canon P when I first got it. It was helpful for me to learn how to use my new camera. It was shot with a Voigtlander 50mm lens. As for exposure, the shutter was at 1/125 of a second, the ISO at 100, and aperture at 16.