10 Tips For Composing Beautiful Still Life iPhone Photos

Creating a still life composition is harder than it looks. With so few objects, you’d think it would be simple. But if you’re new to this genre of photography, you’ll probably find it takes time and effort to get everything just right. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to compose stunning still life iPhone photos with ease. You’ll discover creative composition techniques to help you arrange your still life subjects, as well as background ideas and lighting tips.

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Peggy Carlaw‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

1. Create A Traditional Still Life Composition

When you think of still life photography, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a traditional still life scene like those you find in classical paintings.

It might be a vase of flowers, a bowl of fruit, or some other collection of objects arranged in a visually pleasing way.

If you want to create a traditional still life, make sure you have a neutral wall or other visually pleasing background behind your subject.

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Kimberly Saxton-Heinrichs‎‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

A traditional still life composition could be something as simple as a few items of fruit placed together in a bowl, like this simple still life of three pears on a plate.

But you can also group different kinds of objects together, such as the vase of sunflowers and pieces of fruit in the photo below.

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Chris Baird – iPhone Photo Masters Student

When choosing objects to group together in a still life, try to make sure they work well together visually.

You could choose objects based on a particular theme, such as summer flowers and fruits, items found in nature during an autumn walk, or different objects that share the same color.

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Kimberly Saxton-Heinrichs‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Or how about a collection of vintage items that you have in your home? When positioned together for a still life, they can work together to create an interesting story.

Don’t be afraid to use unusual items that you wouldn’t normally consider as traditional still life subjects. You can arrange any items in a traditional still life composition.

2. Create A Flat Lay Still Life

For something a little different, a flat lay composition is a great option. This involves arranging your still life subjects on a background of your choice, and then shooting from directly above.

Flat lay compositions tend to look more contemporary than a traditional still life composition.

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Maria Cristina Gonzalez‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

The photo above is a great example of using food and drink to tell a story of a particular moment in your day.

Embellishing the scene with some fabric and flowers softens the composition and adds visual interest that helps to create a certain mood.

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Maria Cristina Gonzalez‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Flat lay compositions are often easier to create than traditional still life setups because you’re only shooting down onto a single surface.

This tends to make it easier to create a pleasing and balanced composition. You can easily move the objects around until you’re happy with the result.

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Luis Fernandez‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Subjects with strong shapes are perfect for flat lay compositions because they stand out so well when captured from above.

Circles are great to work with, for example, plates, bowls, cups, apples, certain flowers, a slice of lemon, etc. But look out for other geometric shapes that you could use in your compositions too.

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Cinder Fukunaga‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

3. Shoot Close-Ups

Another way to capture stunning still life photos is to shoot close-ups. This works particularly well with flower and nature photography.

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Pierre Ouimet‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

The built-in lens of the iPhone is pretty good at focusing on close-up subjects, but make sure you don’t get too close otherwise it won’t be able to focus at all and the subject will appear blurred.

If you want to get really close, you’ll need to use an add-on macro lens such as those from Moment, olloclip or Inmacus.

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Sherry Manners‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

When shooting close-ups, the depth of field will be very shallow. This means that only a small portion of the scene will be in focus, while the rest appears blurred. So always make sure you tap on the part of the subject that you want in focus.

Close-up photography allows you to capture the intricate detail, pattern and texture of your subject. And by filling the entire frame with a flower, you also place emphasis on its beautiful color.

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Jeremy Searle‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

A great way to enhance a close-up still life subject, such as a flower or feather, is to use a fine water spray to add little water droplets onto its surface.

This will add extra visual interest, and when the droplets catch the light they’ll sparkle to add a wonderful jewel-like quality to your photos.

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Kimberly Saxton-Heinrichs‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Another reason to use water droplets is that it can make it appear that your subject was photographed out in nature, after the rain or in the morning dew – rather than in the comfort of your own home!

4. Choose A Suitable Backdrop

Whether you’re shooting traditional still life compositions, flat lays or close-ups, choosing a good backdrop is vital.

You could be photographing the most beautiful object, but if the background is distracting or doesn’t complement the subject, the picture won’t look good.

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Lilya Ejevichkina‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

A plain white background often works really well. It creates a light and airy feel, and doesn’t take any attention away from your subject.

You could use a piece of white card, a white painted wall, or a white table cloth. For a more textured look, try painting some wooden boards with white paint.

If you’re going for a dark and moody atmosphere in your photo, try using a black background which can create a very dramatic still life image.

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Jefri Lay‎‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

The color and texture of the black sandpaper in Jefri’s photo above works particularly well with his chosen subjects.

Wooden backdrops also work well, so if you have a nice wooden table or even a wooden chopping board, be sure to try using these as a background in your still life photos.

Sometimes a vivid colored or patterned background can look good, especially if you want to create a sense of fun or energy in your picture. Just make sure the color complements the subject.

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Chris Baird‎‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

If you’re shooting outdoors, look for interesting walls or flooring that could be used as a backdrop for your still life subjects.

5. Use Natural Light

In most cases, still life photos work best when illuminated with natural daylight. Using artificial light such as a lamp can create unflattering color casts, so this kind of lighting is best avoided.

If you’re shooting outdoors, try to avoid harsh sunlight. If the light is very bright, strong shadows will be cast by your subjects, and it will be difficult to achieve a balanced exposure.

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Chris Baird – iPhone Photo Masters Student

For a softer light, shoot on an overcast day or in a lightly shaded area. Cloudy weather is great for photography because the clouds act as a natural diffuser, softening the sunlight and creating a more flattering light for your subject.

Most still life photography is done indoors, so you’ll need to use window light to illuminate your scene. Having a table set up near a window allows you to easily bathe your subject in natural light.

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Kimberly Saxton-Heinrichs‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

You may need to try out different windows around your home, and shoot at different times of the day, until you find the best kind of light for your photo shoot.

Try to avoid strong sunlight shining through a window as it will create harsh shadows, bright reflections, and make it harder to set exposure correctly.

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Phillipa Frederiksen – iPhone Photo Masters Student

However, soft shadows can actually enhance the scene and bring it to life. So always be aware of the light and shadow play in your photos.

It’s best to use a window with curtains that let some light through. This allows you to close the curtains partially or fully in order to limit the amount of light reaching your subject.

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Karen Morgan‎‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

A handy accessory to have in still life photography is a reflector. This gives you more control over the direction of the light and how the shadows appear in the scene.

For example, you could use a white or silver reflector to bounce the window light back onto the unlit side of the subject, brightening up any dark, shadowed areas.

Or you could use a black reflector to absorb the light and create stronger shadows. This is great for creating a dark and moody still life photo.

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Evelyne Sieber – iPhone Photo Masters Student

You can buy professional photography reflectors, but it’s easy to make your own using a piece of card or board.

You can create different colored reflectors according to your needs. For example, you could use a white piece of card, silver kitchen foil, or a board covered in black fabric.

6. Apply The Rule Of Thirds

Once you have your subject, background and lighting, and you know what kind of still life you want to create, it’s time to start thinking about composition. In other words, how you arrange the elements within the scene.

Of course, as the photographer you have full artistic license over how you choose to compose your picture. But there are certain composition guidelines that will definitely help you create more balanced and pleasing compositions.

The rule of thirds is one such technique. So what exactly is the rule of thirds, and how can you apply it to your still life photography?

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Evelyne Sieber – iPhone Photo Masters Student

The rule of thirds is all about placing your main subject or focal point off-center. To use the rule of thirds, imagine your viewfinder divided into a grid with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines.

In fact, if you turn on the grid in your camera app (Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid), you’ll be able to see these gridlines on the screen as you compose your shot.

Now, rather than positioning your main subject in the center of the frame, try positioning it at one of the intersections where two gridlines meet.

In the photo above, the shell has been placed at the top right intersection of the gridlines. And in the photo below, the center of the large flower has been positioned at the top left intersection.

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Patricia Clewell – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Placing your main subject off-center tends to create a more harmonious composition that feels natural and balanced.

You can even use the rule of thirds in close-up photography. In the photo below, notice how Evelyne has positioned the center of the rose, which is the focal point in this composition, at the top left intersection of the gridlines.

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Evelyne Sieber – iPhone Photo Masters Student

The rule of thirds may not work for every photo, and sometimes breaking the “rule” and placing the subject directly in the center can have a strong impact.

But in most cases, the rule of thirds will create a pleasing composition. If in doubt, start by trying out the rule of thirds, and then you can always make adjustments to the final arrangement of elements.

7. Use The Rule Of Odds

The rule of odds suggests that an odd number of subjects in an image is more interesting and visually pleasing than an even number.

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Chris Baird – iPhone Photo Masters Student

So three subjects tends to work better than four, five subjects work better than six, and so on.

Once you start working with multiple still life subjects, you’ll often find that it’s much easier to arrange an odd number of objects into a pleasing composition.

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Chris Baird – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Again, this “rule” is really just a guideline, and sometimes you might find that an even number of subjects works well (two subjects can often look good together).

But as a starting point, it’s generally best to create your composition with an odd number of subjects.

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Fiona Grose – iPhone Photo Masters Student

8. Create A Gentle Flow

Creating a sense of “flow” is one of best ways to create an engaging composition that really captivates the viewer.

You can use several objects in your scene to create a gentle flow through the image, leading the viewer’s eye from one object to another.

Or it could be the shape or lines of a single subject that leads the eye around the image, like the curves of the leaf in the photo below.

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Evelyne Sieber – iPhone Photo Masters Student

However you create this flow, it’s guaranteed to produce more dynamic and interesting photos because the viewer isn’t just looking at a single point in the picture.

Instead, their eye is drawn around the scene, and this keeps them interested in your photo for longer.

When composing your shot, think about how you could position the objects to create a gentle flow through the scene.

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Chris Baird – iPhone Photo Masters Student

This simple composition of five leaves is very effective. Your eye is naturally drawn from the green leaf at the bottom left, up towards the brown leaf at the top right.

Not only does this create a great composition, but it also tells a story of the different stages that a leaf goes through during autumn.

As well as positioning multiple objects to create a flow through your image, consider using items such as string or ribbon which you can curve and loop gently around the scene.

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Lolly Kakumani – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Lolly even used a string of garden peas in this photo to create a sense of flow from one part of the image to another.

9. Include Negative Space

Negative space refers to the empty space around your subject. Rather than filling the frame with subjects, it’s often a good idea to simplify the scene.

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Deena Berton – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Leaving plenty of negative space helps to make your subject stronger within the composition. With nothing else competing for attention, the viewer’s eye is drawn directly to the subject.

Think about where you’ll place the subject within the space, and consider using the rule thirds to position the subject to one side. The empty space on one side will balance the subject on the other side of the frame.

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Catherine Arnold Dvorak‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Using negative space also tends to create a calmer mood in your still life photos.

While it can be fun to embellish your still life compositions with lots of interesting elements, remember that less is often more.

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Fiona Grose‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

So when you’re setting up your still life scene, try keeping it simple and including lots of empty space around the subject.

Don’t worry that it will be boring. The simplest photos are often the most compelling.

10. Experiment With Shooting Angle

Once you’ve got your still life scene set up just how you want it, with great lighting and composition, it’s time to take your photo.

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Deena Berton‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

But rather than just shooting from one angle, take lots of photos from different perspectives.

These two photos by Deena demonstrate how a simple change in camera angle can make a big difference to the final image.

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Deena Berton‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

Try moving closer to capture more detail. Move further away to capture the subject amongst its surroundings. Shoot from straight on, low down, high up, and from different sides.

It’s probably taken you some time to set up your still life scene, and taking lots of photos from slightly different angles will maximize your chances of getting the perfect shot.

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Luis Fernandez‎ – iPhone Photo Masters Student

As you’re shooting, keep reviewing the photos to get an idea of what’s working and what isn’t. You can then make small adjustments until you get your still life photo just right.

How You Too Can Take iPhone Photos That Everyone Adores

Do you want to start taking incredible still life iPhone photos like these? Join our online iPhone Photo Masters course where you’ll receive in-depth tuition from a different world-class iPhone photographer every single month.

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  • Catherine Arnold Dvorak

    Hi Kate, Thanks so much for including my jewelry photo! I did notice that it is incorrectly credited to another student . . .

    • Hi Catherine. Sorry about that – I’ve updated it with your name now 🙂

    • Catherine Arnold Dvorak

      ???