Make still life photographs that tell your family story

  • A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.

Raise your hand if you are the keeper of stories for your family.

If your hand is up, chances are high that you have a massive photo collection of your family on birthdays, holidays, and milestones.

But how many in your collection feature the place you live out your little story every day? How many make your home the main character? How many display the beauty of what you and your family have built, made, or left behind?

If you’re missing this piece of your family’s puzzle, consider fleshing out your family narrative by incorporating what I call “storytelling still life images” into your routine shooting.

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.

Without realizing it at first, I’ve made the kitchen window a muse. It’s now become a long term project of mine to photograph the window throughout the year.

Some photos depict the scene outside:

Some signal the season by what’s on the counter:

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.
Winter
A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.
Spring

Some bring back a rush of memories for me because of the seasonal light and presence of items I associate with that part of the year:

And still others contain small reminders of my kids’ ages by including their artwork or science experiments:

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.
Summer
A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.
Fall

I photograph my window at the holidays:

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.

And I experiment with light, framing, and lenses (pictured below, macro and wide):

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.
Macro
A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.
Wide

My window is just one example of how storytelling still life images can hold memories and emotions.

However, the possibilities for muses around the house are endless! If you want to try your hand at making some at-home still life images, start with these tips…

1. Find the details.

Look for scenes that include details that denote your current season of life. Sippy cups or sports bottles? Crayon drawings or history reports? Nursery rhymes or the classics?

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.

2. Pay attention to light.

If you find a scene that will be lit by more compelling light in a few hours, take your just-in-case photo now and then come back later and try again.

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.

3. Frame the scene with a story in mind.

Scan the borders of your photo: what are you excluding? Including? Have you chosen the best perspective for the story you are trying to tell?

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.

4. Take it slow.

There’s no rush here: your subject is not going to run away or switch activities. So use the opportunity to focus on purposeful lens choice, careful framing, and intentional exposure.

A storytelling still life image is a naturally occurring scene or object that tells a story and contains no people. I enjoy photographing storytelling still life photos all over my home, but my favorite spot is the kitchen window above the sink.

As storytelling photographers, we accept that there are limitations to how we capture photos starring our family members.

They get to choose what they’re doing and where they’re doing it. And we follow their lead. It’s part of the gig.

But photographing storytelling still life images is a break from those limitations. It satisfies the artist in us and grants us the time and space to use our knowledge of what makes a good photo.

And the best part? You don’t even have to leave the house!

About the Author:

Andrea is a photographer, former elementary school teacher, Click Photo School Instructor, and mom to 2 boys in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA. Andrea has a Click Photo School family storytelling breakout called The Stories that Make Us and a workshop called The Family Story Keeper, in which participants learn to mindfully make family photo stories that will be passed down and become part of a rich shared history.

2 Comments

  1. Christopher Hall Jun 22 2018 at 2:01 am - Reply

    I have seen people use still life in a series of documentary photographs before. Really like the idea of the window though…

    Its a place you would be everyday but probably dont even think about….

  2. Linda Libra Loca Jun 22 2018 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Not that I mind leaving the house, but you have a valid point there: I have a ton of pictures of our family, yet none of our actual home.

    Anne|Linda, Libra, Loca

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