12 Still Life Photography Mistakes (and what you can learn from them) | Mariya Popandopulo | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

12 Still Life Photography Mistakes (and what you can learn from them)

teacher avatar Mariya Popandopulo, Photographer & Illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Class trailer


    • 2.

      Class project


    • 3.

      Light quality


    • 4.

      Colour casts


    • 5.



    • 6.

      Not-so-beautiful mess


    • 7.

      Mug handle direction


    • 8.

      Objects cut out of the picture


    • 9.

      Cluttered background and surroundings


    • 10.

      Falling horizon


    • 11.

      Missing the focus


    • 12.

      Shiny and glass surfaces


    • 13.

      Distracting packaging


    • 14.



    • 15.

      Class project


  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class


Mistakes are an unavoidable part of learning process. In the photography, before you are comfortable with your camera, before you know the light and composition, you will make some mistakes. But as in any other area, some mistakes in photography are more common than the others, and knowing those, can help you overcome them faster, and, hopefully learn from them. 

In this class I gathered my top 12 mistakes. The ones I encountered most often, while I was learning photography or saw made by others. By the end of this class you will know about most common mistakes and how to deal with them.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Mariya Popandopulo

Photographer & Illustrator


Hi! My name is Mariya and I am photographer and illustrator based in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

I never could quite decide what do I love more - photography or illustrations, so Im doing both =D

I have illustrations portfolio on Behance

My preferred social media currently is Instagram (no surprise here =D)

I also post comics and doodles under Pinks&Roses name

See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Class trailer: Mistakes are an unavoidable part of learning process. In this class, I gather top 12 mistakes when it comes to still life photography. The ones I encountered most often while I was learning or so made by others. Hi. My name is Mariya. I'm a photographer from Almaty, Kazakhstan. This is me, by the way. In the photography before you're comfortable with your camera and before you know the light and the composition, you will make some mistakes. It's okay. In this short class, I will take you through different mistakes most photographers do while learning still life photography. As in any other area, some mistakes are more common than the others. Knowing those can help you overcome them faster and hopefully learn from them. By the end of this class, you will know about most common problems, such as bad light, color cast, reflections, problems associated with shiny and glass surfaces, and many more. In each case, I will show you how to deal with those. This class would be perfect for anyone who is learning photography and wants to learn more. Also this class would be very useful for those who are into food photography, as many examples, I use are pictures of food. Let's start and I will see you in class. 2. Class project: For the class project, we will be working on our mistakes. Before you start the class, I would suggest you take a still life picture of your choice. It can be something simple, like a cup of tea and a sandwich, or a vase with flowers. After you finish this class, go back to your image and examine it. Does it have any issues discussed? If it does, choose just one and take a second picture addressing that problem. You can make as many pictures as you like working for different issues and updating your project. If you are feeling brave enough, you can also post both your final image and your initial image or if you haven't taken an image before the class, you can find a few of your old pictures where this mistake was made as I did in my sample project. 3. Light quality: Okay. I have already talked about light in my another class. I will leave a link in the class projects section. But it is such a crucial part of photography that I have to emphasize it more. Besides, bad light is probably the most common beginner's mistake. These are few of my old pictures, where light quality was far from perfect. Okay, the composition was pretty bad too. Light can be the hardest thing to comprehend. You're supposed to see the light, and given tons of practice, eventually, you will. But the simple truth is, if you want a nice-looking picture, choose your light first. Use reflectors and diffusers to make light more even, more on this in my other class. Find your perfect light place in your flat or house and make it your personal still-life photography station. When it comes to natural light, consider where the light comes from, as it will change the mood and the feel of the picture. Here is a set of examples with side light, front light, and back light. On the first picture, you can see the shadows are on the right. This means, that even though I used reflector on the right, to reflect window light, the initial light source, is of course stronger, hence we get shadows, but not very strong ones. On the second picture, the light comes mostly from the front. Bottom part of the picture is better lit than the top part. You can see that the topping on the pie catches significantly more light than in the picture number one. Here too, I used reflector. But now, it is on the top of the image, to make shadows less noticeable. Generally, I do not use front light much for still-lifes. Finally, picture number three shows the back-lit setup, meaning the light comes from behind the objects. It is very apparent, if you look at the spoon and compare it to other shots. In the number three, spoon is much better lit, almost overexposed. You can see that both side and front light, have more contrast, while back light appears to be more hazy. So when shooting a picture, keep in mind, what look are you going for? With more contrast or more whimsical, hazy one? Another difficulty you may encounter with light is artificial light. I'm not talking here about professional light equipment, I'm talking about the artificial light you have at home; Ceiling lights, lamps, etc. Although it is possible to get decent pictures with such light, for example quite like this one, normally I would recommend avoiding artificial light for still-lifes. My advice is, for natural-colored pictures, use natural light from windows. You can also shoot outdoors. All of these images were taken outside. Okay next, be mindful of mixed light. Like here, I was shooting a picture with window light, but my ceiling lamps were on as well. So you can see that right part of the image is yellow, and the left side has blue tint to it. So save yourself time on trying to rescue this kind of light in post-production, and switch off the artificial light. Now, moving onto color casts. 4. Colour casts: Color casts, my favorite topic when it comes to mistakes, possibly because it took me two years to fully understand this simple problem. Light is reflected, it reflects off various surfaces. Best advice ever given to me by a friend photographer when I asked, "What should I do when green grass affects the color of the face of the model?" I know this is not a still-life example, but it is very much applicable in any kind of photography. So his advice was, move out from the grass. In still life photography, it means avoid or remove anything that can cast unwanted color on your objects. Sometimes you don't even notice the color cast during the shoot, and you'll only see it when you upload pictures to your computer. For example, if you shoot your picture in a bright red t-shirt in a backlight setup, you will get a reddish cast on the object, like on the picture on the left. Just compare it to the picture on the right where I changed t-shirt to neutral gray one. See the difference? Your kitchen has greener walls? Yeah. You guessed it. Your picture will have some green casts or like here, just to show you how much other things can affect the picture. In the image on the right, I put a bright blue kitchen towel and cover the reflector with it. You can clearly see that the right side of this image has distinctive blue color. Here is a solution to this problem. Keep your surroundings as neutral as possible. White, light gray, watch out for surfaces that can reflect light and color back onto your setup like an outfit of a photographer. If you like warm colors like I do, light peach is good as well. Even the sheets on your windows will affect the colors of the picture. Mine are warm and yellowish, which is fine by me. But if they were say blue, I would have a problem. 5. Reflections: Shooting still life means that you will encounter shiny surfaces and those are like little mirrors. They reflect things. So watch out for reflections. Removing any reflection in post-production can be a pain. So you have got to think about it during the shoot. The most common mistake is the reflection of a photographer and his/her big black camera. Like on the image on the left. It looks especially bad in the light and airy pictures. Taking shots of spoons is particularly tricky. So here are a few solutions. First thing, you can try is to substitute your highly reflective objects with less reflective form, like here. If that's not an option, then simple relocation of the object like spoon here can help you avoid catching unwanted reflections. You may also want to try changing angle of the picture or moving the reflective item out of the focus, like in the picture number three. 6. Not-so-beautiful mess: The not-so-beautiful mess. You may have seen those delicious pictures with ingredients scattered all over the place. Maybe spilled flour or sugar or even breadcrumbs. I normally don't do that, but that's because I'm too lazy to clean it up later. Here are a few of my examples. Please do not be mistaken, all that mess is carefully placed and the well-thought. Just throwing a bunch of breadcrumbs here and there will not make your picture look great. Most likely, it will make it look more mess and clutter like here. You can see walnuts scattered on the table. You can also see small bits on the table and some on the plate. They do not really add anything to the picture. So removing them preferably before you take the shot, seems like a good idea. It will make the picture more neat and better composed. If you go with this technique, use it wisely. Remember the rules of composition to arrange the spare bits in a photogenic manner. Remove anything that does not improve upon composition. Another case, is when you don't want a mess, but you have just rearranged your composition and some of the bits and pieces appeared, like here on the picture on the left. This does not look as part of the composition. It looks that I haven't taken time to improve my picture and just took a shot. Solution; if one or two of such things ended up on your final picture, make sure to remove it in post-production. Better yet, be mindful of your picture during the shoot and remove them. 7. Mug handle direction: Mug handle direction. It is not exclusively the mug problem, everything with handles have to point in the direction such as to balance other objects. Let me show you the difference. Picture on the left seems a bit out of balanced as the center is a bit too messy with handle of the cup pointed to the right. However, if we simply turn the handle direction in the opposite side, the picture will look better balanced. Solution, use mug and it's handle to balance the picture. As a general rule, I normally keep the mug handle pointed to the nearest border of the picture. Like in this example. 8. Objects cut out of the picture: Objects cut out of the picture. There is a deliberate, tight crop and then there is a crop way you didn't notice that a little bit of that fork slipped into the short like here. See how that fork on the right looks? It looks out of place. It does not add anything to the composition. Rather it makes the viewer wonder, what is it? Why is it there? Solution. Watch out for details. See your things you can do. Either include more of an object into the picture, like here in the image on the right. You can also remove item completely like in the image number 2, or include item in full as in number 3. 9. Cluttered background and surroundings: Cluttered background and surroundings. Too many objects in the picture and suddenly you don't know where to look? Watch for your surroundings. Sometimes you may find yourself shooting with beautiful light in neutral objects and using a high-level shot, only to discover a big black spot lurking in the background, like here on the left, the object looks much better on the picture on the right, isn't it? These are a few examples, where surroundings either complement or at least do not distract from the main object, this picture, is lit with sunlight coming through the window, and you can also see greens outside, which all contributes to warm and summer image. Second picture is an example of background that does not distract from the object, flowers thinned out beautifully against simple black. On the last image, although you can't really see the background, as it is blurred, you still have the feeling that the image was taken outside on a bright sunny day, so here again, surroundings complement the main object, flowers, and bike. Another thing to keep in mind is your background, a surface, where your items are placed. Let's look at this set of images, in the picture number 1, the background, which is a bright kitchen towel, grabs too much attention, and the items, toast, and cutlery get lost on it. Second image, is an improvement, as wood and tray separates the toast and pepper and makes them stand out against background. But personally, I think the picture will be better off without the towel altogether, like on the image number 3. Here, we clearly see, what is the main subject of the picture? Toast and little sidebar. Instead of using a table surface as a background, I use the newspaper, which adds some interest, yet does not overpower other items. Solution. Always consider your background and surroundings, keep it simple and neutral, especially if you should with a cute lens or phone camera. For more details on background and surroundings, you can also check my other class. 10. Falling horizon: Falling horizon is so tempting in the beginning. Sometimes you may use falling horizon to show how creative you are. I know I did that, like on the picture on the left, or when you can't fit the object in full, as in the picture on the right, or you may even do it unintentionally. Why you should probably avoid tilted horizon, especially in still life photography. First of all, if the horizon is still did quite a lot, like in the picture number 1 here, you will get the feeling that objects are falling from your picture. I almost want to catch that cup before it falls. Secondly, if the tilt was unintentional and just slight like on the picture number 2, then you will see that something is wrong about the picture. Human eyes are more accustomed to straight lines. In a slightly fallen horizon like number 2 here, will look weird and strange, and will distract from your main subject solution. Unless tilted horizon is a part of your creative vision, try not to let horizon fall. If you do, a simple correction post-production will help you out. One more thing to keep in mind. When shooting even at slight side angle like here on the picture on the left, it will be impossible to have a straight horizon, so you may want to shoot directly, like on the picture on the right. 11. Missing the focus: Missing the focus. This problem is particularly noticeable if issued with high aperture values with prime lenses such as 50 millimeters or 85 millimeters, as this kind of lenses tend to blur out everything that is not in focus significantly like here. This example is quite extreme. Usually, the focus is not missed by so much because you can see the problem straight on camera screen. More often, you will miss your focus just slightly and only see it when you upload your images to computer. Things you can do to avoid this kind of mistake. First of all, try single point auto focus on your camera instead of full auto focus. This will give you more control of where your focus should be because you will set a point of focus yourself. Secondly, if you want to shoot a close up, but your camera and lens do not have macro ability, you can take a shot from a distance focusing where you need and then crop an image in post-production, as I did here. See how the image number one looks slightly strange and that is because main object is out of focus. So I took a shot from a distance and cropped it in Lightroom. On the image number three, you can see that main object is now in focus and looks much more pleasing to the eye. 12. Shiny and glass surfaces : Shiny and glass surfaces will often show oily smudges like fingerprints on cutlery or lip marks on the rim of the glass. Or like in this case, some oil from the fish. Removing it in Photoshop is tedious and takes some time. It is better and definitely more time effective to deal with this issue before taking a picture. Keep your hands clean. Have a paper towel nearby to clean any surface that may need it. If however you missed it, then you can clean it up in Photoshop or Lightroom. It may seem like small things like in this example, but it will make you picture much better and more professionally looking. 13. Distracting packaging: Distracting packaging. Sometimes you may be tempted to add some packaging to your image. It may be the pretty box of serial or a jar of jam. One thing about packaging, it is designed to grab buyer's attention. It has to stand out from the competitors, so that the buyer will choose it over other products from a shop shelf. Typically, product in its original package is bright and catchy and have quite a few colors. In addition, various boxes normally would have a lot of texts. Depending on the country you live in, different languages, unless you are advertising a product or this product is absolutely essential to your image. For example, you are taking a shot of ingredients of a dish. To keep image more timeless, I would recommend avoid packaging. If you still want to include some product, like seasoning, in this example, consider how colors work with each other. Image number 1 has too many colors and textures to my taste. Image number 2 is an improvement, the pepper bottle works better with other objects. The third image is an example, how you can swap original packaging for the one that does not have brand or label. One more thing, and it may sound confusing, as this one is purely my preference, and what I think is good and not so good. Some packaging is more photogenic than the other. For example, the jar of jam and the Maple syrup looks pretty good to me to be included in the picture. That is probably because they don't have many colors in them, and their stuff has some retro feel to it, which typically looks good in pictures. On the other hand, the picture on the right shows packages that I would avoid. Maya has too many colors, and way too much information. Whipped cream pack does look okay, but just too contemporary to my taste. 14. Decoration: Finally, we have decoration. Do not underestimate the power of decoration, especially when it comes to food. Some items like porridge may look absolutely blank if you do not arrange some berries on top. Like in this example, the picture on the left looks okay. The colors are good, the light is good. Yet, if we take some time to decorate the settlement, it will make a picture just a bit more complete and interesting. When arranging a picture, think, can be improved with some extra decorations? Like here, literally, a cherry on top makes the pie much more interesting. 15. Class project: We have covered top 12 mistakes that you can encounter while making still-life images. Now, let's do the project. To get you started, out of 12 issues discussed, choose just one. It can be the one that you struggled the most with or you never thought you had, or just something that you found interesting, and to make an image that will address that mistake. For example, if you're constantly struggling with tilted horizon, make an image where horizon will be straight. The more you practice, the more naturally it will become for you to see all the details of the picture before you take the short. I really encourage you to make a project and share it with this super awesome community. As always, have fun.