The Most Important Tools
for Still Life Photographers
Equipment you actually need
Beginner photographers are often advised on hundreds of different types of cameras and lighting. Supposedly, equipment is crucial to product photography and still life.
But almost no-one talks about what is truly important!

The light from Profoto won't help you capture a balancing construction. And the latest Nikon model won't assemble for you a flat lay in the shape of a firefly from autumn leaves.

Let's see which tools will really make our lives easier! And what we need to buy first.
Dina Belenko
Photographer and magician
For your comfort
First of all, get yourself a handy pair of tweezers.
It's best to get dental tweezers because the tips of such bend in a quite convenient way, allowing you to capture tiny details like beads or coffee beans easily.

With their help you can fix a mint leaf on a cake or even create a very complex flat lay with lots of small elements. For example, a silhouette of a bat made out of autumn leaves and small forest berries.

These tweezers are the ones I like the most.

You can buy them
at any medical supply store
For example, these two images
would be impossible to create without a pair of tweezers
Binder Clips
With their help, you can keep backgrounds and reflectors where you need them: take two brackets from a hardware store, fasten them, and you'll get a vertically standing background!

Here you can see how the black flags on the left and right of the scene are attached using this method.

You can also use binder clips to hold mushrooms! And other small things!

Here, paper leaves and DIY fungus are standing straight, held by binders.
They are very helpful when you have something relatively flat without a convenient surface to attach tape to.

Floral foam brick or kenzan
Floral foam bricks are not as good for floristry (here kenzan works way better), as for securing forks, branches, and anything that needs to stand vertically
or at a specific angle within a frame.

They need to be hidden outside of the frame or inside a container, or draped in something, as they are not particularly photogenic.

In contrast, you can leave a kenzan visible because it is very beautiful in its own right. While it is usually hidden in wide ikebana vases, it can also be used for various constructions with pencils and wire.

Additionally, a kenzan is indispensable for compositions in aquariums!
Long needles and pins
The best pins are the ones that are usually used as bases for brooches, because they have stoppers. So, they are much less likely to get lost inside your still life items compared to long felting needles.

These pins are great for securing items like marshmallows, jelly candies, fruits, cookie pieces, and other soft details in balancing structures.

This marmalade construction is quite difficult to arrange without pins)
Small reflectors
And also small black flags.

We often underestimate the ability of a tiiiiiny reflector to improve the image: lift a too dark shadow, add a beautiful sparkle.

You don't even need to buy professional ones!
Just take a golden/silver cake board, attach it to plasticine or a paper clip —
and voila!

Masking tape
I understand that duct tape is an immortal classic, but in our line of work, masking tape is more useful.
It is easy to tear and remove, it does not leave ugly marks, and sometimes you can even leave it inside the scene (in some still lifes it actually adds to the atmosphere).

You can use it to protect a part of an object from painting, attach something lightweight, or tape two sticks together when one is too short.
I think you can take a look at any backstage, and there will always be something attached not with regular tape, but with masking tape because it's more convenient and you can easily torn it off by hand!
Good scissors
Invest in decent scissors! Trimming flower stems and working with paper
using scissors for kids' crafts is a nightmare!

Take good scissors with sharp blades and comfortable handles! Your fingers will thank you!

To bend wire at the desired angle, to fix a pendant, to simply hold small items while you are gluing them together. I'm surprised at how many homes don't have pliers (or even flat-nose pliers!!!).

How do you manage your daily life without them, people?

For balancing constructions
and levitation
Glue dots and silicone tape
The most essential thing in your household!

Glue dots can help you attach a ring to acrylic backdrop, to fix a petal in mid-air, or glue a cinnamon stick to the right side of a cup.

They don't leave marks and are easy to remove, but their hold is relatively firm.
Want to prevent a coffee cup from rolling over when you lay it on its side?
Glue dots are your best friends
Heavy duty silicone tape

Don't just buy any tape, find thick and transparent one. It is often called mirror tape or heavy duty tape. Or even Reusable Adhesive Silicone Tape.

You can cut it into small strips and attach wherever you need with them. Small flover vases? Yes! Porcelain shards? Sure! Leaves and flowers? Yeah, why not!

It also comes off easily without leaving any residue.
Here's what I don't understand - UHU Patafix.
My colleagues often recommend it, but it doesn't stick to ANYTHING for me!

I've tried different colors and brands, but it can't even stick itself to the background. Even my fairy lights fall off the wall with it.

Maybe I have some sort of Patafix curse on me. Maybe I don't have enough patience to work with this thing. But it doesn't work.
If you need to suspend something in the air or support in a vertical position (stems of flowers often need this), wire is almost always a better choice than, say, fishing line or thread.

Wire is more flexible, easier to tie, and it doesn't make objects spin around
that much (which is highly annoying).
Hot glue gun
This one really comes in handy where double sided tape cannot cope. Granted, the glue gun has its flaws. But balancing constructions become far less difficult with it!

The photographer's best friend! Will help with cups, sugar, and anything you like!
What can and can't you glue with a hot glue gun?
TIt's surprising that the most common questions about a glue gun are:
will it damage my cups?
can you clean the glue off dishes?
do you throw away all props after shooting a levitation scene?

No, it won't damage cups,
yes, you can clean it off,
and no, you don't throw away all props.

This type of glue cleans very well from smooth surfaces such as glass, porcelain, and even polished wood.

However, it cannot be easily removed from textiles or textured surfaces like non-polished wood boards. I was disappointed to find out that for a pretty shot a few wooden boxes were ruined, and I had to sacrifice a good linen napkin. But everything smooth and without texture is safe!

You can use chewing gum as a proxy. Can you remove it from a cup? Yes, easily! From a plush toy? No. The same goes for a glue gun.

I glued sugar cubes together with superglue, but the spoon is attached
to a cup
with a glue gun
Knitting needles or plastic rods
If you combine a glue gun with any rigid rods such as knitting needles or wooden skewers, you can create balancing constructions.

My mother knits, so I took her old knitting needles that she doesn't use anymore.
But if you use something that's not round, it will be way more convenient!

Cut some thin plastic stripes about 20-25 centimeters long and 1-1.5 centimeters wide. And voila, you will have your levitation happiness!

You can start with glue dots creating a simple balancing structure,
and then build a monster like this with a real lampbulb!
For special effects
Glass or transparent plastic
The best thing to have around the house!

First of all, it makes levitation photography a breeze.
If you want some of your objects to fly, place them on plastic and shoot from above—the illusion is quite convincing!

Secondly, it's great for capturing stunning product photography! Take a matte glass sheet, place a photo frame with regular glass on top, and add some beautiful flowers. This creates a lovely flower sandwich.
Light it up from underneath, and voila!

Glass from a photo frame will do, but plastic is safer and easier to store.
Remember, that you can use a transparent shelf from your fridge!
Also, rain imitation!
Also, shooting semi-transparent items like beautiful lingerie!
Aroma Sticks (incense)
In the absence of a smoke machine, liquid nitrogen, or dry ice, aroma sticks can come to your rescue. Smoke works wonderfully for mystical, dark, or a bit creepy images, and aroma sticks are the easiest way I know of to get smoke.

They are cheap, easy to find, and relatively safe.

What's important?
  • Properly ventilate the room!
  • Illuminate the smoke from the back to make it visible in the shot!
  • Light a bundle of sticks simultaneously to produce more smoke

Sometimes my students complain that the smoke isn't dense enough. And when I look at their backstage and see that they are only using one stick.
The secret
of silhouettes!
Do you want a fireball? Beautiful sparks? A falling star? A potion of fiery breath?

Sperklers are not just a joy for New Year's Eve, it's magic for every day!

Light them up as a whole. Rip them apart.
Blow on them and make very long tails resembling comets!

Just remember to treat fire with caution.
Catch a falling star!
Here are most of the things I use quite often that make life a little (or a lot) easier for me.
Maybe they will prove themselves useful for you too.
Thanks for reading ^_^

In case you stumbled upon this article by accident, here's my Instagram.
Come to see more magical still life photos with backstages!
Dina Belenko
Photographer and magician
Do you want to learn more?
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