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Still Life Photography – Telling a Story

The job of a commercial still life photographer is to sell products. Our images are sales tools that communicate to potential customers and draw people in. How do we do that? By telling a story. Still life photography involves building and photographing carefully created scenes. Sometimes they are plain and simple. But, they may also involve other items or products that help make more sense of the main “hero” product.

Hugo Boss Infinite with sunset seascape background

Advertising images can sometimes look deceptively simple. However, to be really effective, they need careful planning and execution. We need to think what we want to say about the product and brand. We have to be careful to avoid anything that dilutes or distorts that message. This means that every colour used, every object or implied subject in the scene has to be there for a reason. Obviously, packshots are much easier to do! They are only concerned with showing the product clearly. Still life photography takes us further to say more about associated lifestyles and aspirations.

Packshot style product image on white of Boss Infinite men's fragrance

The image above doesn’t really add much for the viewer. Its aim is to let the product be clearly seen, but that is about it. To make an advertising image with the product we need to think about how we can tell a story that relates to the product. This needs to be something that would connect with the target audience. So, for example, is this fragrance aimed more at businessmen, manual workers or teenagers? 

Still life photography of Boss Infinite with cufflinks, tie and shirt

This still life image makes use of a few select items to suggest lifestyle associations. The product is the most prominent aspect of the image, as it should be. We can also see a striped shirt and what can be made out as a tie and cufflinks. They aren’t as obvious as the product. They are just there to play a supporting role. I invite you to spend a moment considering what these additions to the scene add to the story being told. Then, take a look at the next image and see what that says to you. Does it tell a different story? Does it fit in with and expand on the one above? Is your understanding and perception of the brand increasing?

Still life photography of Boss fragrance product with CGI background

Did you notice the limited colour palette in each image? Advertising images use colours carefully as they evoke certain emotions and associations. For example, blues are sometimes associated with business and purple has historically been a colour linked to luxury. Suddenly introducing a bright yellow or red could change the mood and the message completely. Even though the background in the second image is CGI and has only been modelled very simply, it is still pretty recognisable as a cityscape with high rise office buildings. We don’t need everything to even be 100% realistic to get the message across. It can be enough to suggest visual clues to the viewer.

Sun lotion and flip flops on a beach

In this image we can see that the main product is the sun lotion. The scene around it makes us think of the beach on a sunny day. It may surprise you to know that this was shot in the studio on a table on a not so nice day! Although still life photography can of course be done on location, we can still create believable scenes in the studio. The story supports the product and helps us to make rapid connections in our minds. The goal of the manufacturer might be to get us to think of their product the next time it is a sunny day and we think of packing for the beach. By tying up the product with this narrative, we help not only to give the image context but to help it have a longer lasting effect.

Box of luxury chocolates with drink in cocktail glass

In the final image, it is a very minimalist composition. The only real colours are those on the products and packaging. So our eyes are naturally drawn there – particularly to the yellows and reds. The darker feel to the scene perhaps suggests evenings, luxury, elegance, sophistication. Then we see the cocktail glass. Perhaps this suggests something more refined or a special treat? As we piece together the picture we start to get a feel for how the manufacturer wants to position their brand of chocolates. They aren’t something to grab a handful of just because you’re hungry! We are looking at something luxurious and special to be enjoyed.

Still life photography is a little like old still life paintings. It depicts a scene to tell a story. In a commercial setting it is used to tell the brand’s story to help people identify with it and aspire to own the product(s). Sometimes we may do something bold such as a splash. Other times it is a more detailed scene. As a still life photographer, it is my job to get the message across in your advertising images. There are many tools available and we need to choose the right ones.

Photography is a powerful form of communication. Make sure that your products are positioned correctly through images that tell your story to your target audience. If you would like to increase your product sales please get in touch for a no obligation conversation.

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