A basic set-up for still-life photography is relatively simple to create. Position a small table in a location where suitable lighting can be arranged. If natural light is to be used, try to find a place where two windows deliver light from different directions. A corner, with windows positioned at right-angles and furnished with thick curtains, is ideal but a single window will suffice. Try to avoid harsh direct sunlight. If the sky is clear, the best natural light is found close to north-facing windows. Those facing east provide good light in the afternoons, and west-facing windows can be used in the mornings. If necessary use net curtains or other diffusing material to soften the light. Overcast conditions allow more or less any window to be used as the light is naturally diffused and soft.
If artificial light is to be set up, a darkened room is appropriate but make sure sufficient room is available for two or three lighting stands. Try also to allow sufficient space to back-light subjects as this can be very effective. The source used can be well to one side of the subject although directed at the side furthest from the camera to produce attractive edge highlights etc. It is also useful to have a hand-held light meter, and a flash meter if strobes are to be used. A couple of white card reflectors may also be required although these do not have to be large.
The horizontal surface on which the subjects are arranged, typically a table top, should be covered with appropriate fabric or other material such as paper. Indeed, the same fabric can often be used to cover the table top and the background, giving a uniform and unobtrusive transition to the backdrop. In some instances it can be rewarding to use a highly reflective surface, such as a clean sheet of glass or even a mirror, to add interesting and colourful reflections to an image.
Suitable backgrounds are generally required on two sides of the set-up although one side may suffice for some subjects. A wall can be used as a background in some instances. Backgrounds can be created from cardboard sheets fixed together at right-angles and covered in fabric of an appropriate colour. It is important that the fabric should be free of creases. The backgrounds should obviously rise well above the intended subjects to obtain a uniform and unobtrusive backdrop for the subject.
The camera must be positioned on a stable tripod and equipped with a remote shutter release of some sort to prevent movement. Ideally, use a prime lens having a focal length between 50mm and 135mm (for 35mm or DSLR format). Macro (or Nikon Micro) lenses that can be focused for close-up work are particularly useful. A macro lens is strictly one that features a 1:1 reproduction ratio - ie it can be used to record a life-size image. However, many lens manufacturers use the "macro" description for lesser reproduction ratios such as 1:2 or half life size.