I have worked hard over the last two years of blogging to improve my styling skills through practise and trial and error. My strength lies in styling interiors to be photographed but there are general styling rules that I have learnt along the way that can be used for any type of styling. I promised after doing my ‘Photo-Styling for Blogs’ talk at blogging conference, Britmums, that I would share the general styling rules I spoke about there and if you missed my first post after my talk with tips for taking photos of your styling then pop over and read that one, too (there’s also a video of me styling a dining table). I used my own photos for my last post to illustrate my tips but I have decided to use some of my favourite Instagrammers photos in this post as there’s the added bonus of finding some fab people to follow for inspiration.
Firstly, I would like to point out that these ‘rules’ are for guidance only and to help one to learn but experimenting is the most effective way of learning, in my opinion. As one grows in confidence all of the rules are there to be broken.
Secondly, these rules can help those who want to style their own home as well as those styling for blog photographs, Instagram and product shots. Also, these general styling rules can be used for styling any type of subject: interiors, food, people, flowers and so on.
Thirdly, you don’t have to use every single rule when styling something; pick and choose the most appropriate rules according to what you are working with.
I hope some of this helps…
1. Get inspired and then go ‘home shopping’
I always begin any styling by leafing through a magazine, perusing my favourite blogs or Instagram. I look for anything that catches my eye, the different objects used and composition that appeals to me. I try to pick up ideas that I like and build on them incorporating my own style.
It’s just not possible to buy a whole new set of props for each bit of styling I do so I will do some ‘home shopping’. I will take a basket around my home and pick up a collection of objects from the different rooms in my home that I can potentially use in my styling. To help me figure out what to collect, I will think about the rules below.
2. Tell a story/create a mood
The first thing that I consider when I begin styling is what story am I trying to tell and/or what mood am I trying to create. It is important to give your styling a sense of reality as this will make it more interesting and more authentic. For example, in the shot below, Rebecca’s story is about her using her new potting bench for the first time as summer approaches. Adding a narrative makes this beautifully styled shot a part of real life and one can relate to it.
3. Think about the angle from which you will photograph your styling
When you are styling anything, have in your mind the angle from which you are going to photograph it. For example, if you are going to photograph your styling from above this could totally change the objects you choose and the composition of the shot: some objects just don’t shine from particular angles. I often use my phone to take a few snaps to work out which angle is best whilst arranging my props.
4. Variety of heights, sizes, textures
When selecting your props think about heights, sizes and textures. In many cases you will want a variety of all three, which will add texture, depth and interest to your styling and will lead the eye around the styling. If everything is the same size and texture your styling could end up looking dull and flat.
5. Group objects in odd numbers (two is the exception)
Subconsciously you probably already do this because grouping things in even numbers can look quite odd. I can’t explain why, or what happens in our brains that means grouping objects in odd numbers is more aesthetically pleasing, but if you try it out at home you will see for yourself. For example, in the shot below there are three vases and even the number of flower stems have been counted out so that they are arranged in odd numbers. When I go to the florist and choose my own flowers, I will always ask for one, two, three, five or seven stems and I will cut them to different heights to help achieve the rule above.
6. Triangle of colours
This is something I have learnt to help me style my own home and it seems to work every time. It is particularly useful when styling a set of shelves. Using a combination of many colours can look amazing but if you don’t have the skill to pass that off, try to pick at least three objects of the same colour (or a tone of). Placing these three objects at three points within your styling to form a triangle can help to bring unity and cohesion. For example, in the shot below, I have used two triangles of colour: the pink vase, pink pillow and pink in the blanket below the bedside table and then the grey lamp, the grey bedlinen and the grey in the blanket. If I had used a different coloured blanket it would have stuck out like a sore thumb and ruined the balance of the look.
7. Layer shot
To draw the eye into your styling it is important to add layers. If everything is at the same level it can look flat and lack interest. By placing something in the foreground (in the shot below, the book), the middle ground (the board with the tea, muffin and flower) and the background (the duvet) the eye is drawn in as well as adding context to your styling, which adds a sense of reality.
8. Objects shouldn’t touch
This is a rule I picked up from the brilliant Ellie Tennant’s styling session at last year’s Blogtacular and I am now acutely aware of it (I think the Britmums audience at my talk thought I was a bit mad as I went on about it quite a lot!). When you are using more than one prop you need to pay close attention to where you place them. The objects should never ‘just touch’; they should either overlap or have a gap between them. You can see in the shot below that all of the vases either overlap or there’s a distinct gap between them (with the one exception of the round vase on the far left that is just touching the tall vase next to it – it doesn’t look or feel right, does it?).
9. Add an unexpected element
To take your styling to the next level, you can think about adding an unexpected element, which is another rule I learnt from Ellie Tennant. It may be some fallen petals from a flower or food that has inexplicably escaped the bowl (;)) you are photographing; anything that breaks the crisp lines of your styling and adds texture. For example, Lucy has lifted this shot of cupcakes by writing Sunday into the icing sugar, which helps to tell the story and adds a layer of interest to the shot.
10. Use negative space
You do not always have to fill the frame when styling a photograph. I love a bit of negative space, which is the space around the subject, not the subject itself. If done well, negative space can form its own shapes and become a point of interest in itself, as well as allowing your subject to shine.
I will do my third and final post in this series in the next couple of weeks and I will focus on taking photos for your blog or Instagram at home and I will give you some quick and cheap ways of creating a ‘home studio’. Don’t forget to have a look at my first post in this series for tips on photographing your styling.
Thanks Katy, I feel really honoured to have my photo included here. I second everything you say, in fact I hope people attending my workshops don’t read this, because they won’t need to come
Ha ha! xx
Great tips Katy, and lovely images to illustrate your points x
Thanks, Jen. Agreed, I love these images; such great people to follow and be inspired by x
I really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for sharing!
No worries, Claire. Hope it’s helpful x
I learned so much about my own photo! Thank you for the tips. I’ll have an eye on all gaps now.