Styling and Shooting: Five Things I’ve Learned

October 17, 2012

I’m constantly experimenting with photo styling as I continue on this blog journey, and I absorb inspiration from all sorts of places, from magazines, food stylists, prop stylists, Pinterest too.  One of the things I’m always looking to improve is my photography.  I’ve come a long way since the beginning of this blog in 2009 but I think I still have a way to go, I aim high!

When I look at the portfolios of professional stylists, I’m always so impressed and inspired, and when I’ve had the opportunity to work or converse with them, I try to learn a thing or two from their many talents.  Here are five tips I’ve learned in the past year when it comes to styling and photographing a project, scene, recipe, or room.

Shoot from Above.   Taking a picture of a scene from a bird’s eye view is one additional angle to consider when taking pictures of your latest tablescape, project, or recipe.  This can be complicated for larger scenes because you need a lens that can capture all of the subject matter and the advantage of height above it, and it doesn’t work with everything, but it’s a great trick to keep in the back of your mind when you’re taking pictures from the side, think about snapping a picture from a high above angle too.

charcuterie agent bauer

Agent Bauer

halloween tablescape courtney for dabble

Halloween tablescape for Dabble Magazine

picnic scene the marionhousebook

The Marion House Book


Bring the Bokeh.   I learned from stylist Matthew Mead that a 50 mm lens with a low aperture setting is a really great tool for achieving bokeh, that desirable blur (technically referred to as shallow depth of field) when the main object is in focus and the background or foreground is not.

matthew mead holiday setting

image by Matthew Mead

mango oat muffins

The Kitchn

You can purchase a 1.8 50mm lens for both Nikon and Canon for under $150 and it is a worthy investment for beautiful closeups!  Simply set your aperture to 2.0 or below and watch the magic happen.

Keep it Simple.   We all love Paul Lowe of Sweet Paul!  He said some words in our spotlight interview that stay with me to this day.  “Keep it simple, don’t overthink things, and go with your gut feeling.  Think a simple background and few props. Remember what’s important in the shot.”

sweet paul dip dye styling

Sweet Paul Dip Dye

simple white vessels on mantel

Laura Flippen Photography

Allowing the project, craft, recipe, or group of objects to shine in a simple setting is a no fail approach to great styling.  Less is more!

Practice the Rule of Thirds.   You’ve heard that old photography Rule of Thirds trick time and again but the technique rings true.   Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid on your image, either when you’re shooting or when you’re cropping.  Place the main object on one of the four intersecting points or along one of the four lines that dissect, and you’ll end up with a more dynamic shot.  Off center looks best!

adore magazine paintbrushes

Adore Magazine June/July 2011

posie gets cozy bday cake

Posie Gets Cozy

Include Something Living.   I’ve been practicing the ‘include something living’ ever since I picked up this tip from last year’s Better Homes & Gardens shoot.  Often it’s something as simple as a vase of flowers on a table or a bowl of fruit, sometimes my kids become part of the scene and who can resist a cute dog?

Kids and pets and botanical objects from nature make the image or scene come alive.  It shouldn’t be forced, but instead a natural part of the narrative.  Ever notice how all shelter magazines have fresh flowers or plants in just about every room shot?  Copy that!

wisteria table


small entry mudroom bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

Those are my latest observations and tips for better styling and photography for bloggers and nonbloggers too.   Do you have any tips to share you’ve learned along the way, or stylists or photographers that inspire you?


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