I’ve been asked to share my thought process for styling a photo shoot, specifically with a piece of furniture, and this post is in response to those requests.  I think styling is something that is hard to teach, because it is an art in itself and is based so much on personal taste.  As I walk you through my thought process on styling this piece, you might like one of my “rejects” better than the one I liked and that’s okay.  I’m hoping that through sharing my thought process, it can help you think through your own process, so when you’re styling shots you can be more intentional with your choices.

The first thing I learned is that I am much happier with my shots when I take my time.  This means putting the camera on the tripod and connecting it to my computer.  This is known as shooting “tethered”.  I used to take a gazillion pictures with the camera and then I would run to my computer, insert the camera card and look over everything to make sure the picture was good.  Then, I would go back to what I was shooting, fix things, take more pictures and repeat.  That was such a pain and a waste of time and I learned that shooting tethered, while it seems fancy and technical, is really simple.

shooting tethered

I just run the cable from my camera to my computer, open Lightroom (the software I use to develop my pictures) and select to start “tethered capture” from the “File” menu.  I still control the aperture, ISO and shutter speed from the camera, but then I press the shutter button on the computer.

This may seem more like a photography tip than a styling tip, but it really is both.  When I can see each image on the screen, I catch things I’m not seeing with my eyes…like the way the bunting is lining up against the horse and how the empty spaces in the picture feel.  I can be much more detailed about my composition, because styling a room, styling a retail space and styling a picture are all different animals and it’s amazing how different things can look in a picture vs. in person.

process of styling | miss mustard seed

I originally styled this buffet for use in a kids room/nursery.  This is the way I set up the shot at first.  I chose the little green chair for a pop of color and to reinforce the idea that this is a kids room/nursery.  The horse was a no-brainer for me.  The colors worked and I like how the whimsical shape of the horse played with the hand painting.  It seemed to make it playful.  I added the white bunting on the wall for some added texture and another layer behind the horse.  I liked this arrangement, but I called Kriste over for a second design opinion.

I usually work alone on shoots, but I have always loved it when I’ve had the chance to work with other stylists and photographers.  Now that I have Kriste, we can corroborate.  And you don’t need a creative assistant to do that.  Just ask for a second opinion from whoever is around.  What they have to offer might surprise you or it might make you even more confident in your own choices.

We decided to add some books to the little chair, hoping it would bring some “life” to the scene.

process of styling | miss mustard seed

The green just didn’t feel right, so we tried some brown books.

process of styling | miss mustard seed

Now they look too dark and just weird.

How about a few accessories…toys and small things?

process of styling | miss mustard seed

I felt like that was just too much going on.  Too forced, I think.

So, we tried a little chalkboard…

process of styling | miss mustard seed

It was kind of cute, but seemed a little random.  We went in an entire different direction and added a large frame in front of the bunting, but behind the horse.

process of styling | miss mustard seed

We could not get the frame down fast enough.  I hated how heavy it was over the light dresser.  Since we weren’t in love with the green chair, we changed things up.  I tried putting a wooden plank chair next to the dresser…

process of styling | miss mustard seed

…and we both really liked how it related to the wood saddle on the horse.  We felt like the floor looked a little empty for a kid’s room.  Kids always have stuff on the floor.  So, we added some books and toys…

process of styling | miss mustard seed

It was almost there, but looks a little too neat.  We spread them out and added a toy cow with the truck and a jar of pencils with the book, so we told more of a story.  A child was playing with the truck and cow and then started working on something else.

process of styling | miss mustard seed

This was the winner.  Sorry, I know the watermark gets in the way of the props on the floor.  Here’s a picture without it…

process of styling | miss mustard seed

Once I take an overall shot, I’ll usually hold the camera and take some details shots.

process of styling | miss mustard seed process of styling | miss mustard seed

process of styling | miss mustard seed

Kriste and I agreed in the last picture that the subject remained the dresser, but there was enough going on around it to “bring it to life.”  Like I said in the beginning, you might see another setup that speaks to you, more.  There isn’t one right choice.  You just have to pick what’s right for your design taste.

This is a lot of information to digest for one post, so I’ll share how we styled the piece as a buffet in another post.  I’ll also include more information on the camera settings.


  1. Angela Wallis

    That was an awesome description for styling. I must say, I thought I was probably going to like a different setting and I really liked the green chair at first but the final picture was perfect!

  2. Joy Jenkins

    Thank you for always sharing so much information. It really says a lot about your character and I appreciate that. I just recently started blogging and I plan to work hard on my photography skills. You are always an inspiration. I hope to make it to Chapel Market so that I can see your work..and many others in person!

    Have an awesome day!

  3. Laura @ Rather Square

    Thanks for these tips! Styling for photo shoots (something I’m always working on for my own blog) is a lot harder than it seems. It’s helpful to see your thought process here.

  4. Debbie Mayfield

    Thank you for sharing these tips. I will now look at styling much differently now. I have just recently started blogging and have so much to learn. Thanks for being such a great teacher.

  5. Heather@ viralupcycle.com

    Thank you Marian. That’s a lot of great information. I usually don’t play around enough with things to get just the right look. Going to try a little harder now. Fantastic information!

  6. Jann from Newton Custom Interiors

    Thanks for the styling tips! I always love to hear everyone else’s thought process for styling. I’m another that doesn’t take enough time to get just the right shot, but I’ll be sure to try a lot of different options next time!

  7. Mary Jane Magoon

    Thank you for the tips. I am most interested in the camera settings that are coming. I love the way you work with your camera. You are so special for sharing.

  8. Lisa at celebrate creativity

    Hi Marian, I’m constantly working to improve my own styling and photography so I really enjoyed seeing your process unfold in this post.

    I love the pale blue dresser and the nursery props and accessories are adorable and perfect.

    Even though I took your paint class at Haven last year, I still haven’t worked up the nerve to tackle a huge furniture project I’ve been putting off for months (but I’m always inspired by your efforts).

    Have a nice day.


  9. Grace

    ” I used to take a gazillion pictures with the camera and then I would run to my computer”. That is the perfect description of my photo process! Wow, great explanation. Now, I won’t feel like I am spending too much time getting the perfect picture since it seems that it just takes time to play around with all the props. So helpful. I really appreciate the information and love the idea of connecting the camera to the laptop. Looking forward to your other post as well.

    Thank you!

  10. Heather

    This is a fantastic process to see in action! Styling is a passion of mine and seeing how individual artists go through the process is great!! (and encouraging!)

    So glad to see that I’m not the only one that changes things a million times 😉

  11. Jenny B.

    It’s really great to see your process. Sometimes when all we get to see is the perfect “after” pictures (not just yours, but in magazines, etc.), it’s easy to assume that the people who did the styling got it right on the first try. It seems much more attainable when we get to see how it really works. 🙂 I love what you ended up with, but I think my favorite is the one with the green chair and the brown books. 🙂

  12. Elizabeth

    Awesome post with some great ideas I will definitely be trying myself 🙂


  13. maggie

    You are so generous to share your styling processes with us. I love the dresser and all of your props!
    I must admit when I first saw the picture on your blog I thought the wall was way too light colored and the dresser was a tad lost there but that’s just me!
    It’s so interesting to see other’s thought process on things like this! Thanks!

  14. Pamela H.

    Love the blue truck and cow !! I am on the hunt now 🙂

  15. Cindy

    You call it styling I call it a vignette. I studied art and painting, I like making a vignette type still life on my furniture surfaces, coffee tables, dressers, mantels, etc… I like stuff, I don’t paint as much with an easel now, I do photography as you do. I take a lot of pics hoping I get a few that work. I think the key is lighting, not just fixing the lighting in Photoshop. Lighting makes all the difference in how much depth or flat an image is. It is fun to play with my stuff create a vignette for holidays or my room theme, with shells, flowers, pottery, or one of my many collections of typewriters. I used to do stage set design in school I think that is where it really started for me.

  16. Heather

    Great post! It was really helpful to see the progression and understand the thought process. Good to know that you have to go through a lot of trial and error too…feel like it always takes so much longer than you think to get the right shot.

  17. Celia R

    Hi, I was wondering what camera you use, I am currently shopping cameras and wanting to compare. Thank you.

    • Sharon

      Cella, if you google “Miss Mustard Seed new camera” you will see a few blog posts that Marian has shared about the camera she is using and settings and other pro tips. Great info.

  18. MaryLisa Noyes

    Styling is definitely an art! Thanks for sharing all the work leading up to your shots we all enjoy on your blog. I know I gravitate to the booths at vintage shows that have stylish displays because the overall apprearence is such a draw. Your layouts are what encouraged me to take on painting projects in my own home. Your talent keeps us all coming back!

  19. Dawn

    Thank you so much for sharing – I struggle with this and enjoyed seeing how you got the “perfect shot”.

  20. Victoria

    What a wonderful post! I really love how you share your experiences. I’m planning to visit the Toronto Home Show tomorrow just to meet you 🙂

  21. Cindy

    I love your rug. Did you stencil it or did you buy it that way? Where did you get it?

  22. Jennifer

    Thank you for both of these styling posts. I would love to see more like this as a regular feature. It’s very interesting and helpful.

  23. Cindy

    That was an amazing lesson! I LOVED how you showed each photo and the thought process behind it. Totally fascinating…. When i started reading i thought the first photo was just perfect. It was surprising to me that in the end I did like the last photo the best. I enjoyed every minute of reading this post!



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


Subscribe today

and receive a FREE e-version of my planning sheets!


Articles by Date


our sponsors

Bliss and Tell Branding Company