Still life photography is one of the longest enduring genres of the medium. Learn the secrets of keeping this style vibrant and modern with these tips from ten experienced still life photographers.

The still life is one of the oldest photographic genres in existence. It was a natural choice for early photographers in the 19th century, who took many of their cues from painting and who were often limited to stationary objects by long exposure times. But while photographic still lifes have endured throughout the last century and a half, they’ve also changed drastically.

Consider, for instance, the somber black and white photographs of André Kertész in the 1920s, then skip forward to William Eggleston and his colorful, vernacular stills in the 1970s. From there, move towards Martin Parr, who, in the 1990s, photographed objects with a bold and dizzying flash. Finally, a quick trip through the Instagram archives will reveal this generation’s obsession with minimal, pastel arrangements. These works of art are as distant from one another as night and day, and yet they all belong in the same genre. They’re all still lifes.

We reached out to ten photographers of all backgrounds, ranging from former painters to social media influencers, and we asked them what it means to take still lifes in 2018. Below, they offer their best tips.

1. “Play with colors, shadows, and saturation. Do what you like, and do it with inspiration.”

Katya Havok

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Do What You Like

Image by Katya Havok. Gear: Canon 7D Mark II camera, Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens. Settings: Focal length 23mm; exposure 1/60sec; f5; ISO 320.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In this case, I just thought, “What if I dye my toast?” After this image, I started to paint ordinary objects in unusual colors.

Pictured: [1] Katya Havok. [2] Katya Havok.

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

Be on trend. To create a modern still life, you need to know the year’s fashionable colors, the stylish trends in the magazines, and innovations in clothing, accessories, and entertainment. Don’t fear new things. Don’t be afraid of crazy ideas. Play with colors, shadows, and saturation. Do what you like, and do it with inspiration.

2. “The objects should be unified and connected to one another. Let your imagination run wild.”

Nailia Schwarz

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Unified and Connected

Image by Nailia Schwarz . Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF24-10 f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/50 sec; f4.0; ISO 125.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I had beautiful sunflowers and a beautiful vintage milk jug, and I wanted to add a few pumpkins to make an autumnal still life. But then my cat jumped onto the table and just made himself comfortable next to the flowers. I thought, “What should I do?” I just took the picture, and everything worked together perfectly. By the way, my cats do this often.

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Think About What You Want to Say

Image by Nailia Schwarz.

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

One should pay particular attention to light and colors. The objects should be unified and connected to one another. Let your imagination run wild. Think about what you want to say and what is important for you as a photographer, whether it’s colors, shapes, content, or light.

3. “Always think of a concept first, and try to find the best and the simplest way to illustrate it.”

Fisher Photostudio

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Think Conceptually

Image by Fisher Photostudio. Gear: Sony a7R camera, Zeiss Loxia 2/35 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f5.6; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

The idea for this photo came into my mind when I thought about “night owls,” or people who tend to stay up late. Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world, and it helps people stay fresh and awake. Conceptual and creative ideas always come first in my work. You can follow me on Instagram for more.

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Illustrate Your Concepts

Image by Fisher Photostudio.

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

I actually don’t use any tricks, and I always use just one light source. I think the main thing is being creative. Creativity is the foundation of still life photography. Always think of a concept first, and try to find the best and the simplest way to illustrate it. Color can be part of the concept and create the atmosphere of the whole composition. Use your imagination; it is limitless.

4. “Use your camera in everyday life. Train yourself to see compositions and color schemes.”

123object

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Focus on Composition and Color Schemes

Image by 123object. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2,8 Macro IS USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; f13; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I took this picture to illustrate a makeup concept. The idea was to show cosmetics in a colorful, bright, and positive way. With cosmetics, my imagination is free to build any composition I want. I can build backgrounds, frames, or borders using diagonal, horizontal, and vertical lines.

Pictured: [1] 123object. [2] 123object. [3] 123object.

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

You have to practice your skills all the time. Use your camera in everyday life. Train yourself to see compositions and color schemes. Visit museums and exhibitions to train your vision. Remember that photography is art, but you also have to think about commercial productivity. Think fast, build compositions fast, edit fast, upload fast, and you will see results fast.

5. “Do what you really enjoy and find a way to get it out into the world. Experiment and play with your creativity.”

Laviart (Lasma Vitolina)

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Do What You Enjoy

Image by Laviart (Lasma Vitolina). Gear: Canon EOS 550D camera, Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; exposure 1/30 sec; f/3.5; ISO 500.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This was the first floral mandala I ever made after a plant hunt around my neighborhood in Malta. I quite liked the process and the outcome, so I kept making them. Each mandala design is unique and original, depending on what natural materials I have gathered that day. Once a mandala is complete, I document it in a photograph, thus capturing the fleeting beauty of the moment.

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Play with Your Creativity

Image by Laviart (Lasma Vitolina).

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

Do what you really enjoy and find a way to get it out into the world. Experiment and play with your creativity. You don’t always need fancy equipment to get good results.

6. “Try to combine the creative idea with the composition, and reinforce it with an interesting lighting scheme.”

Indigo Club (Evgenij Pavlovich)

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Embrace Unexpected Solutions

Image by Indigo Club (Evgenij Pavlovich). Gear: Nikon D850 camera, Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens. Settings: Focal length 135mm; exposure 1/250 sec; f11; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In this shot, I wanted to show the usual pineapple and coconut in a non-standard, creative, and bright color scheme. I added green leaves to the coconut to make it fun. I picked up sunlight with sharp shadows and a yellow background to simulate a warm summer mood. By enhancing the colors, I added a pop art style in post-processing.

Pictured: [1] Indigo Club (Evgenij Pavlovich). [2] Indigo Club (Evgenij Pavlovich).

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

In order to create something fresh and interesting, you need to know what people want and do the opposite. This is a joke, but very often, it brings unexpected solutions that become popular. Find kind and creative friends. Accumulate items that will come in handy in the future. Try to use simple but stylish items. Experiment a lot.

Try to combine the creative idea with the composition, and reinforce it with an interesting lighting scheme. Work in different directions and styles to expand your creative space. Do not forget to rest and relax to clear your mind and look at your work with fresh eyes.

7. “It’s better to be minimalistic rather than using many different colors in one picture.”

Flaffy (Elena Merenkova)

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Develop Your Eye

Image by Flaffy (Elena Merenkova). Gear: Canon 5d mark II camera, Sigma 50mm F1.4 lens. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/125 sec; f7.1; ISO 250.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I made this photo for the autumn season. Warm colors and low contrast make the picture look cozy. The object selection (red leaves, a blanket, etc.) helps to create that autumn atmosphere.

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Try Out Minimalism

Image by Flaffy (Elena Merenkova).

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

Think twice before you decide to use a particular object in your composition. Try to pick only good looking, stylish objects. Be careful with colors. It’s better to be minimalistic rather than using many different colors in one picture. Develop your eye by looking at works by the masters, and try to create something new.

8. “I rarely use artificial light. I try to use natural light every time.”

Igor Sirbu

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Utilize Natural Lighting

Image by Igor Sirbu. Gear: Canon 30D camera. Settings: Focal length 50mm; exposure 1/2 sec; f8; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Not one season passes without my shooting a still life with sunflowers.

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Look for Inspiration Everywhere

Image by Igor Sirbu.

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

Look at life through the lens. If light, colors, or shapes give you the impetus to create, don’t pass up that opportunity. Draw inspiration from nature and from painters like Rembrandt. I rarely use artificial light. I try to use natural light every time. And last but not least, remember your tripod. It’s a necessary accessory for still life photography.

9. “I develop a concept, think through all the smallest details, and choose and create objects for the shoot.”

Ksenjavka (KSU-KSU Studio)

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Develop Your Concept

Image by Ksenjavka (KSU-KSU Studio). Gear: Canon EOS 6D camera, 135mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f13; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Last year, my team and I created and shot a small project called “Beauty Color Box,” a synthesis of several elements of creativity: paper craft, illustration, makeup, and photography. I am very inspired by the work of British designer Jessica Walsh, and in this project, I took a cue from her. Preparation for the shoot lasted about a week. During this period, my studio team and I drew illustrations. We cut out geometric shapes and backgrounds from a cardboard box. I retouch most of my photos myself. In this photo, I deliberately discolored the skin tone of the hand so that it would look a bit doll-like, and I saturated the colors of the figures in the background. The combinations of colors and shapes were important in this frame.

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Prepare Every Detail

Image by Ksenjavka (KSU-KSU Studio).

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

I like to take on projects holistically. I develop a concept, think through all the smallest details, and choose and create objects for the shoot. I think that in 2018, photographers should pay attention to minimalism and skeuomorphs. I’m also inspired by the Bauhaus School.

10. “Always look for new ideas and fresh perspectives, even on the most common subjects.”

Peiling Lee

10 Photographers on Taking Fresh and Modern Still Life Photos — Seek Fresh Perspective

Image by Peiling Lee. Gear: Canon 5Dmark II camera, 50mm lens. Settings: Exposure 1/10 sec; f9; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I noticed festive still life images were in-demand, but not many were shot in a trendy way. Therefore this idea came about: I took a traditional subject (the Mid-Autumn Festival) and added a modern, trendy touch and a fresh point of view.

Pictured: [1] Peiling Lee. [2] Peiling Lee.

What tips would you give to other photographers who want to create modern still lifes?

After deciding on the subject, spend some time researching the latest in design and styling trends prior to collecting your props. Always look for new ideas and fresh perspectives, even on the most common subjects. Right now, flat lay is still on trend, and rustic, moody, low-key styling and clean, minimalist, high-key styling are both very popular.

Top Image by 123object.