In the past when I have set up still life photo shoots, there were several objects I looked specifically look for within my compositions.
Using Recognizable Objects
First, I liked to have recognizable objects, such as common household items or goods. In the Marywood photography studio, we have a variety of props to choose from on our Prop Wall, from hats, to wine glasses, to sponges, and even a skull. I typically like to pick items that seem to go together in some way, or objects that are very random and different from each other in a very clear way. This helps establish either unity, or a comparison being made, both of which can contribute to storytelling.
Using a Variety of Textures
One of the other things I look for in objects for a still life is a variety of textures. During a recent photo shoot I did with some leftover citrus I had from my work with Illumia Skin Care, I added some glass vases and wine glasses. The smooth, but sometimes bumpy texture of some of the glass objects added a contrast between the skin and insides of the oranges and grapefruit, creating a more interesting dynamic. This, coupled with the type of cloth I chose to use as a tablecloth to set the items on, created a nice wide range in textures.
Using a Variety of Heights
When setting up the still life, it is important to have objects varying in height. This helps the eyes move through the photo from one object to the next, and can allow the photographer to put emphasis on different objects, and create an overall more interesting and engaging composition. This can be achieved by using a mixture of small to large objects, or by creating different levels of platforms to rest your objects on.
Using a Texture and Pattern Intentionally
It is also important to not have an overwhelming amount of texture, where things start to compete with one another for attention in your photo. The above image has too much texture with the added lace taking away the ability to see some of the flowers and a vase. This is why it is very important to find a balance in your textures, so one does not overpower the other, especially textures with busy patterns. If I were to re-shoot this still life, I would move the lace draping, or remove it completely, and let the collection of objects speak more for themselves. In the below photo however, I think the lace still ads to the composition, and since it is blurred a bit by the lower aperture of the photo, it is less busy and distracting. Always take into consideration how your aperture might affect textures and patterns in your photos, and be aware of how this can hurt, or in the case of this photo, help you.