How To Get Creative With {Still Life} Photography

I'm of the belief that creativity is what happens in the process- you start with a spark, and then take the first step to just start doing, and the really unique, interesting, creative stuff starts to flow from there. So I'm always endlessly fascinated by other creatives and their processes. How do they come up with their ideas? What kinds of things tend to spark their creativity? What do they consider essential to their process?

One of my favorite still-life photographers and creative friends, is Connie Hoole (@MissConnieHoole). She has such an eye for bold, bright colors and absolutely no fear of unusual props. I first met Connie over a year ago and while she was just starting to share her work on social media, I was immediately drawn to her aesthetic. Since then, she's expanded her portfolio with work for clients like Sugarfina, Feel Beauty, and Living Royal.

I tapped her to share some of her tips for exploring and discovering your own still-life style, how she got her start, and what she considers still-life photography essentials! Read on for the scoop...

xx Natasha


Banana Gradient // p/c Connie Hoole

Banana Gradient // p/c Connie Hoole

Almost everything that I’ve learned about still life photography I can credit to my curious nature to the sun, my subjects, and a very large collection of cheap coloured poster paper.

And almost every photograph that I’ve edited I can credit to my basic ability to shoot manual with an old hand-me-down Canon DSLR, my home access to professional lighting equipment, (thanks mum and dad!) and an intermediate knowledge of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

However, all of this will always come second to the simple joy of using my creative mind in a way that allows me to play with my subjects sometimes (okay, almost always) beyond their intended use. After all, that’s exactly how my obsession for still life photography started. 

Here are my tips for starting out and tackling the creative and colourful world of still life:

DISCOVER YOUR STILL LIFE PHOTO STYLE

  • Figuring out who you are as a creative (photographer) is a journey and process of trial and error, but most importantly, a progress.
  • See what’s out there: I use Pinterest to get inspired and generate photography and styling ideas within my skill set. 
  • Know what you like: experiment by trying to recreate aspects of a photograph you admire (with your own twist) until you are comfortable and confident to challenge yourself further.
  • Use the items around you and or within easy and relatively inexpensive reach as your subjects. The grocery store, dollar store, and craft store are all great places to start for creating a mini set and prop collection. 
  • Using food (especially processed food) as a prop is by far one of the most versatile mediums to explore your creative side because it is both extremely malleable and photogenic. Not to mention nostalgic!
  • Add sunlight (also known as hard light) and shoot. This will allow you to understand how shadows change based on the object’s shape, height, and length.
  • Having access to tools like Adobe Lr and Ps are real game changers for taking your work to the next level because you can play beyond the initial capture and easily flood your background with pure digital colour to make your subject really pop. (If you don’t have access to Adobe programs, enlisting the help of an iPhone app {like Snapseed, Afterlight, acolorstory or VSCO} can help enhance your work beyond camera. In moderation of course! A word of advice: leave the filters to Snapchat.)
1989 // p/c Connie Hoole

1989 // p/c Connie Hoole

COLLECT, STUDY (AND FOLLOW) YOUR SECRET CREATIVE CRUSHES

  • Starting out, one of the most important things you can do is your homework. This means broadening your creative horizons to see whom the movers and shakers in the industry are. (Prepare to be fascinated and over-inspired by my personal favorites below.)
  • Build a list of photographers, designers, artists and creatives that inspire you.
  • Explore the work of those whom you admire beyond their IG feed. Read an article or two, scope their online portfolio or website and get to know how they work. (I know it sounds a little crazy but study their craft and photography like an I Spy book!) 
  • Dissect your favorite image: find their light source, look for clues that will allow you to hypothesize on how they might have taken, styled, or contributed to the shot. (Rarely is one person solely responsible for a finished photograph when it comes to the images we see in glossy magazines. They had help from an entire team.)
  • Ask yourself questions: Have you ever entertained the idea that a final image is the result of multiples pieced together? Or that a pattern is the result of one subject arranged in a repetitive order? Concentrate on the highlights and shadows, texture, shape and angles. (I especially like to look at the highlights in reflective objects (like a Christmas ornament) because many times you will see a light box or a face hiding behind a huge camera, and it makes me chuckle. It’s like a secret glimpse into their creative workspace. When a highlight is perfect, you know the photographer is a master at his/her craft.)
  • Some of my favorite creators that helped me discover (and hone) my style are Stephanie Gonot, Adi Goodrich, Justin Fantl, Molly Cranna, Travis Rathbone, Axel Oswith, Adam Voorhes and Robin Finlay. I could go on forever!
Sausage Fest // p/c Connie Hoole

Sausage Fest // p/c Connie Hoole

STARTING OUT / IN THE STUDIO --- DEVELOPING YOUR ARSENAL

Gather your resources. They should be a combination of things you own versus utensils you are willing to make small (and sometimes large) investments in to help you along the way. If you’re me and have little to no self-control, you will want to be making investments all the time. The key is to differentiate between your WANTS and NEEDS. Impulse buys are deadly, people!

CORE NEEDS (What I use routinely when creating new work):

  • A camera + computer to edit (preferably DSLR, but in a pinch, an iPhone will do) 
  • 1-2 sheets white foam core (a stable platform for your backgrounds)
  • A variety of large coloured poster paper
  • Solid coloured wrapping paper rolls, matte
  • Weights (for your paper because: wind)- I reused old balloon weights
  • Blue school tack (when subjects won’t stay)
  • Good old fashioned sunshine, diffused light (hello, clouds!) or electric (stay away from tungsten lamps if experimenting indoors)
  • A variety of interesting subjects/ props 

And what I use when it’s time to go studio-bound because: Raincouver

  • Mini travel tripod
  • Collapsible reflector / silk (a round semi-fabric contraption that is one part tinfoil shiny, one part semi-opaque white lycra)
  • Extra large white poster board to bounce light (in low light situations- also the oldest trick in the book!)
  • An 18% gray card for white balance (only useful for fixing white balance in editing using Lightroom- I hardly ever do this but can drastically help neutralize a ‘warm’ image)
  • Cellophane roll (if you decide to get messy for an easy clean up)
  • Storage containers (for your goodies)
  • Spray paint + painters tape
  • Dollar store knickknacks  (that’s a fun word) 
Recor Meal // p/c Connie Hoole

Recor Meal // p/c Connie Hoole

SERIOUS INVESTMENT PIECES (The major components to my mini home studio):

  • Monolight kit (also known as flash, or strobes, $$$$). I personally invested in professional equipment because of previous work experience / training and found it next to impossible to photograph using natural light in a climate that is primarily rainy and grey Fall – Spring.
  • Light modifiers: soft boxes (for diffused shadows and soft light)
  • Reflector + honeycomb grid (for hard, directional shadows)
  • Adobe CC photography package: Lightroom + Photoshop
  • Boom + anchor weight (allows for light to be securely placed above the subject(s)

FUTURE INVESTMENT PIECES (What I’m planning ahead for in the future for my freelance career path):

  • Full-frame Canon DSLR + lenses (I’d love to own a macro lens!)
  • Backdrop kit + photographic coloured paper rolls, for portrait potential
  • Still life shooting table
  • Photography gels, to change light colour
  • Snoot (A plastic funnel that attaches to a monolight to produce a concentrated hard shadow otherwise known as a spotlight)

Thank you Connie, for this impressive and detailed list!

To see more of Connie's work, you can find her here: