styling tips | for photo

Marian ParsonsPhotography, Running a Business14 Comments

Welcome to the third and final part of this “styling tips” series!

If you missed the first two parts and want to catch up, the links are below…

styling tips | for home

styling tips | for retail

In this part, we’ll talk about styling for photography.  This is the one that I do most.  I think even when I’m styling for retail or in my house, I’m thinking about how photogenic it will be!  I think, when you are a photography enthusiast, professional or amateur, you start to see most things through the lens of a camera.

Photo-styling is a pretty broad topic, but I’ll focus on the kind of styling I do, which is to show a product, a project “beauty shot”/vignette, or a room.

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PRODUCTS

Ideally, I would like to style every piece I’m selling in the online shop to show how beautiful it can look in a home and give the piece some context.  If you can say it in a picture, you don’t have to say it in the description.

“Wouldn’t this footed ironstone bowl be just amazing in your kitchen, filled with fruit?”

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Why, yes it would!  And I don’t even have to imagine it, because I can see it in the picture!

See how that works?  It’s a much more powerful way to display a product as opposed to just photographing the item by itself.

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That is the main reason I take the time to style the furniture pieces I work on or find.  Not only does it give me fun pictures to write about on the blog, but it shows customers the potential in each piece.

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Tips on styling products:

  • As they say, “Keep the main thing, the main thing.”  It’s easy to let a picture get too busy with the “supporting cast” members, but remember that you’re trying to showcase a specific item and you want it to be clear what that item is.  You can do that with the camera focus, editing (the way the picture is cropped), or simply by how you position the accessories.
  • The styling should compliment the product, not distract from it.
  • It is a good idea to take at least one picture of the product by itself, so it’s clear which item you’re listing and, specifically with antiques, you can show the details, features, imperfections, etc.

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PROJECT/VIGNETTE

When I first started shooting tablescapes and projects for HGTV and magazines, I styled the spaces and then took pictures of them.  I wasn’t considering how they looked once they were a flat image.  I learned after doing a few shoots that things looked a lot different in a picture than they did in real life.  A table that looked pretty and well-decorated, looked unfinished, almost sparse.

So, I started adding more and more layers and visual interest to fill the space of the photo.

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In person, these tables look overdone and aren’t very practical.  They just look amazing in photographs.  It’s sort of like the model who’s taped into a dress.  It looks fantastic.  Just don’t move.

When it comes to photo styling, you can be impractical.  It can be all about the looks.  Like the nuts surrounding a pie.  In real life, you’ll knock the nuts all over the place when you’re trying to cut the pie, but it adds this beautiful ring of texture for the photo.

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A tablescape or vignette can still be composed of simple elements, but there needs to be enough visual interest to keep the eye traveling around the photo.

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Pay attention to how items line up with one another, what you can actually see in a photo and what you can’t.  Sometimes props put in the distance become blob-like clutter.  Sometimes items will line up or overlap one another, making it look like one, strange object.  All of the little details matter much more when it’s being photographed, because you study it in a way you don’t when you see it in person.

And I have found that some things look better in person and others look better in photographs.  It often surprises me!

Tips for styling  projects/vignettes…

  • These are the kind of pictures you can take over the top.  Add lots of layers and stuff, but be intentional about each piece that’s added.  It’s a good idea to even take pictures as you add and remove things to see what works best.
  • Tell a story, if applicable.  The story might be a table that is set, ready for a dinner party.  Or mid-dinner party or even someone setting up the dinner party.  You can have as much or as little action as you want.  I work on a lot of my photoshoots by myself, so I don’t usually have “action” shots. I try to tell a story with the objects I select for the shoot.  The accessories set the style, mood, season, etc.
  • As I said, it’s okay to be impractical, but to a point.  If the point is to share an idea for a project or vignette, you want to make sure it is realistic to repeat in a real home setting.  Using the pie/nut ring as an example, that could be done in a real home, but you might remove the nuts before cutting the pie. They are edible and don’t pose a problem.  If I showed a cake with a German glass glitter topper, it would look beautiful, but it isn’t practical or safe to repeat in a home setting.  Glass glitter is made of shards of glass and, if even one fell into the cake, that would pose a problem.  So, be whimsical and push it to the edge, but if you’re sharing the project/decorating idea/vignette to repeat, keep it within certain parameters.

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ROOMS

Styling a room for a picture is also very different from styling it to live in.  Furniture can be placed in an entirely awkward place, just because it reads better in the photo, but it looks strange in the whole context of the room.

And, as we talked about with styling a room for real life, lots of little things just look like clutter.

When I photographed my parent’s bedroom, I removed all of the personal pictures and nick-knacks off the dresser and just added a few simple, pretty pieces that would photograph well.

I also added a feather comforter folded under the quilt at the end of the bed, to give it a lot of loft and make it look comfy.

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I’ve also learned that fabrics/bedding either need to be intentionally relaxed, like a rumply, half-made bed, or perfect, like ironed sheets and tucked-in blankets.  Otherwise, your eye catches each little wrinkle and crooked pillow case.  I am not a perfectionist, but I have to make myself be one when I’m photographing fabrics and bedding.

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Tips for styling for a room shoot…

  • Look at the photo corner to corner to make sure that something isn’t in the photo that shouldn’t be.  I actually found a goldfish cracker under a chair in a picture I took for my book!  I had to edit it out after the fact, because I didn’t notice it at the time.  Now, if I’m doing an important shoot, I will shoot tethered to my computer, so the picture goes directly to my computer screen and I can examine it before I move on to the next shoot.  That way, I can check for photo-bombing snack crackers as well as focus, perspective, composition, etc.
  • Add some life with flowers, plants, food, pets and people.  You’re taking a three dimensional room and turning it into a flat image, so adding some life to it quite simply brings the image to life.  Look through a home decor magazine and you’ll see this again and again.
  • Make sure the accessories make sense.  This is an issue of personal taste, but it is funny when someone styles rain boots next to a bed (Do you put them on right when you wake up?) or a hodgepodge of totally unrelated foods on a kitchen counter.  Remember you’re telling a story with each accessory you add to the scene, whether you intend to or not, so tell a story that makes sense.

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As I stated when I addressed styling a home, it’s all comes down to personal taste and these are just my tips and opinions.  The awesome thing about styling is that you can develop your own design eye and find a look that fits you!  Especially if you have an online business, being unique in the way you style your photographs can set you apart just as much as the items you make or curate.

And, with digital photography, you can take as many pictures as you want (and it may take thousands), until you find what works best for you.

Happy styling!

styling tips | for photo

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14 Comments on “styling tips | for photo”

  1. HaHa I actually recently did a post on my blog where my three year old daughter had her rubber boots by her bed! The funny thing is she really does put them on in the morning, since we live on a little farm and feeding the animals breakfast requires protection from the ferocious chiggers. However, I agree with everything you said. It was a great post for an blogger/designer like me! Thanks for the great tips!

    1. LOL…well, yes. In that case, totally appropriate! 🙂 It reflects your real life, so it’s perfect.

  2. Great post. I certainly can learn much from this post. I do repurposing of objects and sometimes I just photograph them all alone… out in the desert. I need to incorporate other items as well and tell a story. Thanks for all your great tips Marian.

  3. I always look forward to your photography posts! While I mostly photograph jewelry for my Etsy shop, some of the ideas still apply, especially the “telling a story” part. Thank you for sharing your tips!

  4. Thank you Marion for this post. I never thought to set my photo up as if I’m telling a story. Plus the information on layering a photo is ummm…. Mind blowing for me. Why didn’t I think of these ideas as I’ve been struggling to get good photos of the pieces I make. Thank you so much! I’ve been following your blog for a short time 6 months but I never miss a post. I tell my husband that for vacation I just want to come hang out at your studio and help you with projects for a week. He thinks I’m crazy. He also thinks I’m crazy to drive around town without music playing on the radio. But when you have little people to take care of Silence can be wonderful!!
    Thanks again,
    Christy in Maine

  5. I am a new subscriber and I have been addicted to your blog lately! I was wondering, what type of camera you use?

  6. Thanks for helping me to understand why I enjoy your photography so much! You have great ideas about styling and I love your fun dialogue. You are a blessing!

  7. Very instructive and useful post, Marian. I’ve been photographing for years and I think every one of your points is an important one. When I am photographing family events I try to make sure that the bottle of ginger ale is not in the picture of my grandson and his first birthday cake. My dear family sometimes gets impatient with my insistence on clearing things away! Just take the picture, Mom! But, if I ignore the extraneous objects, I know I will be very dissatisfied with the resulting image.

    Thanks for all the reminders!

  8. So, that’s why my “posterity photos’ of the beautiful Thanksgiving dinner or birthday cake I made look so…boring! I haven’t properly styled them!

    Just because I’m feeling impish…you said that you once had to edit out a rogue goldfish cracker from a shoot for your book; you then commented right after that to “Add some life…with food…”. Wasn’t that what you achieved with the goldfish cracker (wink)?

    Seriously, these are great tips. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.

  9. Marian: Love the post and love your photography. I was wondering if in another post you could tell us how and what you use to edit the photo’s. Are there any special tricks. Thanks so much

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