Are you looking for a spark of inspiration for your still life photography ideas? Feel like you’ve tried everything, and there’s nothing left to discover with still life subjects?
Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. There is no universal recipe for getting inspired. But every still life photographer has a set of tricks and go-to ideas to kickstart the process.
10 Easy and Fun Still Life Photography Ideas
Here are 10 creative still life photography ideas to try at home. These still life photo examples are simple but versatile. And they don’t need any complicated gear or rare props. Surely one of them is exactly what you are looking for.
1. Play With Still Life Shapes and Metaphors
A metaphor is a powerful tool in a photographer’s hands. Even if you’re not looking too closely, you can still find unusual connections between inanimate objects. And these will help you make beautiful pictures.
All you have to do is compare dissimilar subjects with one detail in common. That could be their color, shape, or any other formal resemblance.
For example, a globe is round. So is a CD. So you could shoot a CD in a wooden frame with an Earth motif and say that the world is full of music. This is a very helpful process when you’re thinking of minimalist still life photography.
Find a mundane object that reminds you of something more interesting. And make this visible in your still life setup.
Let’s get back to round objects. Oranges are round. What else is round? Bicycle wheels, the moon, headphones, cups, vinyl records, tennis balls, targets, and camera lenses. Also, balloons.
Why not turn some oranges and lemons into a bunch of balloons? (See the food flay lay example below.) For this transformation, you need some string. For other key details, you can draw them with a marker right on a backdrop or cut them out from paper.
2. Create Fun Text for Still Life Photos
Photos always have to say something. And sometimes, they can do it literally! Here, dimensional typography comes into play! Beautiful text can be made from flowers, confetti, chocolate, wire, stationery clips, and spices!
The easiest way to get started is to find objects similar to letters and united by one theme. Pick a theme like sweets, flowers, outer space, toys, autumn, you name it. That’s what your new alphabet will be made of now!
A cookie with a bite is for “C,” and a spiral of a peeled orange zest is for” S.” Write “Y” with carefully poured mustard. Use two crossed flower stems to form an “X.” Create a “W” from a broken slinky and make a specific button stitch for “Z.”
Make a list of possible objects and find corresponding letters. Then, you’re ready to write something witty and funny.
Another way to play with words is to create a text template. Print the text you want to use and cut it out from a sheet of paper with an X-Acto knife.
Next, fill the template with granular material like sugar, sprinkles, or confetti. Then, carefully remove the template with tweezers and photograph the letters.
Create a message for caffeine lovers with coffee beans. Offer another waffle with letters made from syrup. Or write something “spicy” with letters made from chili pepper.
3. Arrange Fun Still Life Patterns
Patterns always look good. Something is soothing about rows of alternating objects. And it’s the best way to make an impressive photo with limited props.
Pick a theme like sweets, fruits, leaves, embroidery tools, ceramics, accessories, or anything you like. Collect your objects, and set your camera on a tabletop tripod. Arrange a composition, starting with bigger items and moving to smaller details. Take a shot from above, and voila!
The most important thing here is to keep your items similar and organized but not boring. I have a sweet tooth, so naturally, I used a pattern of sweets, coffee cups, and cookies in the image above.
Сookies in a checkerboard pattern make a boring picture. But add some lemon zest here, a chocolate swoosh there, and a couple of star anise to fill empty spaces. Now, your pattern is pleasant to look at.
Also, avoid monotone patterns and colors! Don’t be afraid to break the pattern’s rhythm and experiment with different colors. That’s what keeps the “music” interesting.
4. Make an Object Like Coffee Your Still Life’s “Hero”
One of my favorite creative exercises is choosing one object and creating at least 15 sketches with it as the main “hero.” Yeah, I know it may sound hard and even tedious. But it’s pretty fun.
The key is finding an object with wide narrative opportunities. For me, this object is always a cup of coffee.
You may want to show the workspace of an absent-minded artist who has put brushes and pencils in their espresso. Or you can create an imaginative scene of blimps or zeppelins flying through steam rising above hot coffee. Or have coffee cups competing with cinnamon sticks in a game of tic-tac-toe.
Look at a coffee cup and try to brainstorm at least 15 stories about it. You’ll be surprised at how swiftly your imagination can work once you give it some fuel.
Take your time, and spend five minutes (have a countdown!) on each thought. Write every idea down without criticizing it. And don’t be afraid to sketch something silly.
5. Tell a Story About People With Still Life
Objects can tell us a lot about their owners. This is especially true if you don’t look for random items but for tools of their trade.
For me, desktops look not only intriguing but magnificent. All these interesting objects belong to an artist, a ceramist, a silversmith, an embroiderer, or a writer. All the details make these tabletops come alive!
You can ask your friend with an interesting profession or hobby for permission to photograph their workplace. (Don’t miss the chance to include their hands in the frame!). Or you can try to recreate something more unusual by yourself.
What would a workplace of a botanist look like? A cartographer? A retired pirate, a witch, your favorite character, like Hermione Granger?
Which items would they keep? Would their tables look neat or be a complete mess? Which objects are essential to their profession, and which are just cute little details?
Answer these questions, pick an appropriate background, and tell your person’s story. You can include a busy backdrop, a blurry background, a neutral background, or whatever background you fancy.
6. Include Chalk Drawings in Still Life Images
Combining a flat drawing with real objects is always a great trick. You can create a new reality for ordinary objects by transforming them with a couple of chalk lines. Turn one theme into another or even create a whole new environment!
You only need chalk and a chalkboard, 0r marker and dry-erase board, and a sketch. I’m absolutely helpless at drawing, so I always find extremely simple subjects. I can’t draw a cupcake or a space shuttle, but I can draw a fiery comet tail to create an outer space scene.
If you’re drawing with regular chalk, keep it wet. Don’t use dry chalk. Dip it in water before drawing. At first, the lines will look a bit faded, but let them dry.
The drawing will dry bright white, and the lines look more uniform. Drawing with wet chalk is much easier. You can also draw on a wet board if you prefer.
Spend 20 minutes on sketches. Draw jam-making supplies around fresh berries, measure angles for making ice cream, or make a tea-making scene. Simple objects like mint, lemon slices, and cinnamon can spark your imagination.
7. Get Creative With Flower Photography
Flowers are a perfect subject for still life photography. It’s practically impossible to have flowers in the frame and get a dull image… especially if it includes a story you want to tell.
Say your character is a writer working on a sweet, romantic novel. Get a bunch of pink flowers, arrange them around a typewriter, and add some pencils and crumpled balls of paper.
Or your hero may be a young botanist collecting field flowers for their first herbarium. If so, photograph a neat, orderly flat lay with flower labels and gardening scissors.
Or perhaps your character is a daydreamer who’s drying fern leaves between the pages of a fantasy book. In that case, shoot something light and airy with high-key lighting.
You can also encase flowers in ice cubes. (Perfect for hot summers!) Or dip them in acrylic paint of matching color and shoot falling drops of liquid.
You can even get a little destructive and paint flowers with metallic spray paint. (Use gold for a Midas reference, like in the photo below!) Or why not drown them in water? (Wait for bubbles to form on the surface.)
Let your imagination run wild! With such a beautiful subject as flowers, there’s practically no chance for error.
8. Make Playful Still Life Food Photos
Food photography is wide and versatile enough to talk about for days without stopping to draw a breath. Often, to take a good shot, you must be a cook or a food stylist—or at least work with one. But there’s no need for that if you’re shooting raw ingredients.
You can break down your favorite meal and show how it’s made. For instance, make a pie chart from your breakfast cereal. Have one big “slice” for oatmeal, a smaller one for berries, and a skinnier one for a pinch of vanilla.
Or take it a step further and photograph a comprehensive recipe. Arrange a flat lay composition with ingredients, paper notes, or stickers with instructions.
Another way to approach it is to fantasize about how easy cooking could be with magic! You can avoid all that fuss of cutting, roasting, sauteing, and blanching with one spell or one pentagram!
I can’t bake a proper doughnut to save my life. But I can imagine how I summon a tasty chocolate doughnut with the help of a “transfiguration seal.” (I used a chalk drawing inspired by the Full Metal Alchemist graphic novel series.)
Food is one of the most promising themes in developing still life photography ideas. And, if you’re struggling with ideas, just look at your plate at meal times!
9. Create Retro 8-bit Video Game Scenes
Remember old 8-bit video games? I’m very fond of them, so the idea of making them real was a fascinating process! Take something resembling a pixel (a simple sugar cube works perfectly).
Recreate a scene from Space Invaders or Pac-Man (like the one below). Make it a fight, not for completing a level, but for your lunch, dinner, or after-lunch snack! Remember your favorite 8-bit game and bring it to life—even if it will destroy your breakfast!
You don’t need to build an entire screen pixel by pixel. But note the key elements and ensure you have them in your scene. Sometimes, just one element, like one four-square geometric shape, will do the trick.
My friend told me that the traditional name for the Tetris playing field is called the “well,” “matrix,” or the “glass.” My mind immediately thought of Tetris tiles falling in a real-world scene.
Later, I transformed this image into a small series. It was made up of Tetris figures falling into teacups, creating beautiful splashes. I’m always interested in people’s take on this! So please share yours in the comments.
10. Build a Tiny World Still Life
What’s the best thing about still life photography and still life images? It’s all about world-building and reality-warping. There are so many tiny worlds full of petite adventures hiding in plain sight.
Picture a conventional still life scene and populate it with tiny people. They could be building a treehouse on a cactus, stealing cookies with a UFO, or sailing the length of a bowl of soup.
Ideas for beautiful images are endless! Place a paper silhouette of a lighthouse in a lit jar with liquid nitrogen vapor. Add a compass, seashells, and a globe, and you create a mysterious, nautical scene.
Spill some ink, borrow a couple of police cars from your child or little brother, and add an obligatory yellow tape with POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. Then, you have a crime scene!
Put teepees you made from paper and twigs on a table with glass jars full of fauna and flowers with books about Native American tribes. Then light a tiny bonfire with a match, for “smoke rising in the dark sky,” and take a picture.
Imagine your own tiny world. Make it come alive in it and tell its stories. For more tips and advice, read our macro photography article!
Conclusion: Still Life Photography Ideas
Like any list of ideas, our list of still life photography ideas is useful only if you try to do something with your photography work. Just making a mental note of, “Oh, that’s really cool, I should try it sometime,” won’t work.
But drawing a sketch, arranging a composition, and taking great photos will work. So, choose one idea you like best and transform it to match your vision, style, skills, and props. Plan the shooting and then actually do it.
Have fun, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes! That’s how we learn. Want to learn more about how to make your photos stand out? Why not check out our Creative Photography Cookbook?