Still Life Photography - An Organic Process


First things first, I just want to say Hi and welcome you to Red Town Photography.  I’m Redski

This is my very first blog and I am slightly nervous, but also very excited.  You are more than welcome to make comments below.

I want to talk about the process I used to create this latest image of mine.  

Tribal Wasteland

Tribal Wasteland

For me, with creative still life projects, it’s never a simple process of knowing exactly what I want from the composition and lighting beforehand.  

For Product photography, it is best to pre-plan the image, from a storyboard, a lighting diagram, to the final set-up. Forrest Tanaka takes you through an excellent tutorial from planning to execution of a great Product photography shot of a Pen on a dark reflective table in his Youtube video.  

Product Photography: Planning, Setup, Shoot, Post Processing, to Publishing - Forrest Tanaka

However for some of my creative work, I like to improvise and see what arises organically. I change the composition and the lighting as I view the shot with the camera in Live View, tethered to the PC. After many shots, everything comes together and I get a shot that I am satisfied with.  I can apply this to many of the unusual Still Life photographs I shoot.

When I am thinking of my next project, I might stumble on something that grabs my eye, such as the Tribal Medicine Man, (which I bought from a Charity store). I take him home and I think for few minutes to what might look good and after a while a theme registers in my mind:

Fire - burning behind the guy, perhaps….I doubt I could use a fire as a backdrop and not burn down the studio, but nevertheless something rough and dangerous looking.

Darkness - Well he’s a pretty formidable looking character so a dark backdrop maybe?  

Camera Perspective - I want to shoot from low down because I want to have the viewer looking up at the imposing figure.

I then buy and rummage at home for additional props before the shoot, like the skulls, rocks, stones and the brown fibre paper background.      

Generally the props work together; however sometimes when I am crafting a scene, I’ll throw a prop out.  It’s got to be right.


With the ‘Tribal Wasteland’ shot, there is much rearranging of props as I look at the screen.  I love using the Rule of Thirds and Leading Lines in creating a good composition.  Everything has to look like it has a purpose.  If a skull is pointed in the wrong way, in the wrong place, then it’s going to stand out.

If the camera is moved slightly further back than a previous shot, giving me to much background in the foreground then the Medicine Man is not going to have the correct impact. If the Grid Spot spills onto the other side of his face, then he wont look scary enough.

Everything has to look like it WASN’T put there. If objects to look out of place or accidental, then they will stand out and then the image is not going to be aesthetically pleasing to me, or the viewer. If objects stand out in creative and beautiful still life photography, then I think about what the Photographer is trying to do and I am not immersed in the image.

The image has to flow.


So after many shots, basking and sweating under the warm glow of my lighting equipment, the image has grown away from the concept that originally formulated in my mind.  My impulsive purchasing, (I always am) at a local gift shop with the skulls, also saw to that, as did selecting a background from my stash and using the rocks in different angles and positions that were not in my photo at the start of the process.  The only aspects that made its way from thought to website was the Man looking imposing. The shadows in the lighting.  The fire & darkness was fortunately realised with post processing.  The amazing wonders of Lightroom & Photoshop.

I am not saying I don’t think planning a Product or Still Life Photography shot is a bad idea.  I think that knowing exactly what you are going to shoot and planning it is essential.  Especially if you are working with clients.  However I think it is challenging and exciting to allow the shot to evolve, and as a photographer, trust in your skills in composition and lighting to take you on a creative journey.