Monday, September 22, 2014

Photo Styling

Do your photos tell a story? Do you know your own photography style? Whether shooting photos with a DSLR Camera or with your iPhone, styling is not the work of a camera, it's up to you to give your photos a voice. How?

Today, I'll share my Photo Styling Basics with techniques and elements I've learned or use for photo styling to make your photos sing.

Make pink whales swim. Dive with me into photo styling below!

Let's go make a splash together ...

I'm thrilled to talk styling and to be a part of a photography series today: "Rockin' Art Moms" Make Better Blog Photos: Tips for Creating Memorable and Pin-Able Photos brought to you by the Rockin' Art Moms.

Let's start with basic tricks

There truly are some handy little tricks that anyone can use. These tricks save you time and trouble when you are trying to photograph a fly away bow, ribbons that won't stay in place, flimsy paper invitation that you want to stand "just so" for a photo. You'd be surprised.

Styling Aids | Adhesives:  Poster Tack , 1/2" + 1/4 " width Double-sided Tape, Masking and/or Washi Tape, Transparent Tape.

1. Example 1: styling with Beaded Gift Wrap
This is a very simple project. Simple elements. No extras added other than the elements that already belong there but, when you pay a little extra attention to these detail I think a photo can begin to speak or tell a story of it's own. Sometimes a little extra help is needed and these are a few nudges that really come in handy.

- Pull out tack and you can create an animal parade, whales in love and literally make a dolphin dance, transforming an ordinary package into a story.
- Tack will hold objects into place, while you shoot.
- I like to style photos by using objects creatively or from another perspective to amplify a project or idea. Doing this can bring about another character and set up an environment in your photos.
- Since this is a kids wrap, amping up playful details is an effective way to communicate the purpose of the project (It's gift wrap for kids).

Trick: Use tack to move objects around and hold them in place. (Beaded Gift Wrap)

2. Example 2: Ice Skate Pom Poms + Double-Sided Tape | Masking Tape Balls
- Double-sided tape holds ribbons, bows and loose elements into place when you are setting up a photo shoot.
- For styling, include elements of the party and overlap them with one another. By showing the Ice Skating Tag, next to the pompoms,  the idea that these pompoms have a functions are reinforced and a mood is set: These aren't ordinary pompoms. These are Ice Skating Birthday Party Pompoms!
- Believe it or not, making a wadded ball of masking tape as a prop, behind the card in order to support and angle it, works great for managing angles. You can have more control over where each piece sits, with sticky, removable support.  This tape can be squished to the correct size, moved around while sticking well to surfaces but, not leaving a permanent mark behind.
- Making a ball of tape is perfect because you can shape it 3-dimensionally and it can also adhere to multi-surfaces. The ball of masking tape is obscured by the card, but, I was able to bend the front of the card forward and keep the bow on top of the card.

To further explore posts with these imagines, just click: 
Beaded Gift Wrap


2. Natural Backdrops  (as styling tools)
Pay attention to texture, color and environment.  There are some things that can be helpful to think about:

- Identify a background that will amp up your visual and express what you are trying to convey with your photos.
- Identify a background that can be identified back to you
- Find items in your surroundings that will provide a good base, light and surface.
- This flat railing has natural light but, at sun set it is both diffused lighting (blocked by trees) and is hit with beautiful light repeatedly. (here)
- This exposed rock is a patch on our lawn and it feels very typical to Sweden. (here)
- The barefoot, photo, with our daughter carrying Rhubarb Drink ties in props that are French to our local Swedish surroundings.  The combination makes an inviting, casual, picnic feeling that is inviting and accessible. 
- Colors: The rhubarb post along with the rhubarb color of my daughter's sun dress; warm tones of the rock, the juice and the cop perish metal work harmoniously together.
Dear September" | Beach Scene: The above scene worked perfectly to say good-bye to Summer. The girls, at the beach, were faded in the background and in the foreground, a tuft of green, Summer grass. This was framed as a reference to show that at this very moment, it was still summer. 
NATURAL LIGHT: Get to know your surroundings and the effect of light.

Flower  | Ice Lantern | Jumping in LeavesColored Ice | 

I'm a painter and think that the more you are aware of light, the more you will be able to use it in your photos. Thinking about the light where you live in one particular place, at a certain time, both on the east and to the west can provide interesting insight to your styling:

On the western part of my house, I have a white railing and a forest.
On the eastern side of my house, I have natural wood railings and a vista.
Both sides bring very different properties to photos and I use them in styling.

- This Ice lanterns was shot at dusk, on the western side of our property.
- These Ice lanterns were lit with tea lights.
- Styling of these meant moving them so that they would have a solid background.
- I chose the white to create a stronger feeling of snow and winter white.
- I shot them very level to create a larger presence and to have their silhouette against the dark cover of the trees.
- The dark trees + the the sky without strong light created a perfect dramatic, elegant backdrop.

AFTERNOON LIGHT IN THE EAST:  (Jumping in Leaves | Colored Ice | | Jumping in Leaves ) 
- Our house is high up on a hill and from this angle, we have a vista of light and I use this light for effect and as a styling tool. 
- Imagines can be haloed in light.
- Dusk gives a spectrum of color that otherwise isn't there.
- This Colored Ice photo was taken at the same time of the day as the above lanterns and you can see how different these look from one another.
Use light as a styling tool. 

To further explore posts with these imagines, just click: 
Western Dusk: Ice lanterns  
Eastern Dusk: Jumping in Leaves | Colored Ice | | Jumping in Leaves 

Props are very personal.

These make a difference and are a very easy way to express yourself. Through the use of props you can change a setting dramatically. Some like to keep an inventory on hand. Whether you have a stash or you use what you have on hand, it is these small details that make a photo your own and give it character.  I actually like to use items from the project as my extras. These elements can be left over paper scraps, glitter that's missed it's mark, a beautiful pencil you keep notes with --- elements that are right there in front of you. I occasionally buy an item that I intend to keep just for me, but, I've noticed that if I don't have a purpose for it and use it, it will get relegated to a back drawer. I do know some who keep a special shelf with these items handy and I think that's a great idea.

The Shadow Puppet Theater is actually styling for cookies that are "Shadow Box Cookies." I wanted to combine the traditional toy shadow box theatre with the unexpected cookie idea. To me, the link between a cookie on a stick is very natural but, maybe not obvious to thought so when creating your visual language, tell a story.

Center: Bike License Plate Project

Bike License Plate Project
Left on their own, these bike license plates could be difficult to understand how you use them or that they're fun. They need the type of styling that sets up a purpose also invites you in. When we were making these, I could just imagine kids on training wheels, with license plates they'd made themselves; crepe paper streaming behind them and used what I had at hand, to set up a feeling.

 Styling with setting: 
-  When the saw the saddle of this vintage bike at my family's summer home and also, the full feeling this bike evoked, I knew this was the bike to use. 
- The shade from trees on a warm, summer day, on the bike felt like the perfect invitation.
- To give the post a round feeling, I wanted both the ambiance of the bike and a few shots of actual license plates to easily grasp the project.

I always think of an apple present (here | herehere | here ) and this year, strayed to pears, too. Pears felt playful, along side a traditional apple.

Pencils are long, horizontal and cumbersome to photograph so I made the canister to change their balance.  It, too, reflected the same fruit theme and I like using it's hand made quality.

- Props give function.  The canister is easy to imagine used as storage and the light blue notebook could have just been closed after drawing or writing. It's a favorite journal that re-appears in my photos.

- Humor. Use it. (or the expression that's appropriate for you photos and message.) I like shooting an inanimate object like it's a thing of beauty but, throwing in a twist with styling. The pencils don't need eyes but, adding them gave me more to work with. The bunny isn't a part of this post, but on the other hand, it was an earlier post and is made similarly to these new pompom pencils.  I think it's fun to weave in earlier projects in unexpected ways. You don't have to be familiar with the earlier project but the small difference might send your readers looking for more. 

Bouquet for a Soiree (Tulip Bouquet)
There were flowers that I was using later in the day but, thought, as the kids were heading out the door that they'd make a good blog post. Those hands are actually my children's hands, although the image is elegant evening.  I had one of them my don fancy gloves and a fancy jacket, even though it was all far over-sized but, this styling made a far stronger statement than if I had photographed the flowers lying on the table.

Props that define you or set up your image:
Do you live by the beach or in the mountains? Add seashell, sand or shoot a product when you are there.   In the city or country? Use props and backgrounds to set up the atmosphere that you want.

To further explore posts with these imagines, just click: 
Shadow Puppet Theater   | Shadow Puppet Cookies
Bike License Plate Project 

Backdrop: Paper, fabric and other backgrounds.
- Simply place coloured paper, in the color desired, behind your object when photographing to chance the mood, depth and setting. 
- Choose simple paper or fabric under your objects or on the wall
- Choose a sheet of origami paper to set a floral ambiance.
- Make your own wallpaper
- Use a piece of wood, a few loose tiles, or wallpaper sample in place of a location.
- Choose a length of fabric that matches the mood you are trying to create:
- For French or English Countryside: exm: Liberty Prints
- For Modern Scandinavian: exm: Marrimeko Fabric or IKEA has lots of inexpensive, bold, designs.
- Denim breakfast table with linen and vintage bowel for a willowday recipe for Granola.

Necklaces on dark background
- A single piece of black cotton fabric was placed under the jewellery.

Marzipan Eggs:
- A sweater was styled as background for a soft, warm, gray background for an Easter Craft.

Solid Color:
Blue background created with one piece of blue tissue paper taped to the wall behind the area where I was shooting. 

Here, using the same white wall and area, I cut black, paper, circles and taped them to the wall.

Backdrops with Drawings: 
Do you recognise the pink whale below? This is what the actual tissue paper looked like. I drew on crepe paper with chalk and shot the photo from above to create the Swimming Whale image.

Hands vs silver platter styling. Enough said, right?

To further explore posts with these imagines, just click: 
Crepe Paper | Beaded Gift Wrap
Natural Wood | Wild Weavings
Denim | Granola
Gray Sweater | Marzipan Surprise Egg
Paper Polka Dots taped as a wall treatment | Bat Lantern
Traditional Swedish Red Doors / Tiny Wreaths
Black Fabric | Wrapped Necklaces in the Big + Small Project
Wall with stylings (twine and washi tape) Paper Apple Cups
Tell a story with your product/project: alphabet muffins

STYLING WITH EXPRESSION: Add Feeling and Personality

I share everyday creativity from our family on willowday; but, shy away from showing a lot of intimate portraits of my children. This is personal, but, for me, I'm most comfortable sharing "a feeling of" the kids, rather than a "line-up" of them while at the same time, want photos that are identifiably "willowday."

I like the challenge of finding a visual thread in the action, in the juxtaposition of people, things and events and find the story with  my lens.  When I started this blog, my husband used to tease me that I only shared "torsos" and that eventually I'd have to share, at least, arms and legs or people would be quickly fed up!  It's ironic that I fell in love with photography because of the faces of my children (and, yes, at home, I could wallpaper the house from ceiling to floor with their images); however, now, it's the essence of a moment, an interaction, a walk or a talk that I hope to capture.  I'll continue to learn about  my camera and be a student of photography for a long time.

Style through play: 
Working with children: 
Before I talk about the styling of photos, I can also share that although, of course, it happens that I ask the kids to pose, (Confession. they all know my favorite spot, my favourite smiles, and my favorite light: all are amazingly effective) but, I much prefer to snap a spontaneous little picture here, a little picture there;  while in conversation, on a walk, etc and it is in those photos that a story unfolds.

Styling through everyday play -
Our daughter is a gymnast and is often on the hands so this felt like a perfect way to share this project. Our son is often playing and on the move. I just followed him for a few minutes around the house and loved what I snapped of him in his new tee.
(or here)

Styling through action/movement:
Take shots of movement and atmosphere of an event. 
Party: - I wanted photos that were an invitation to come have fun for the Secret Agent Party + the labyrinth. What better way to say party and to introduce a game and invite you! I also wanted to share details.

Exploration of Sweden: Ulriksdal.gardens: baskets, summer clothing, details of the kids during this morning.

Product/ Project: A glitter collar
The materials of the object themselves along with a romantic, tulle,  skirt felt like the perfect pairing.
- This is a straight forward tutorial to make an easy, practical collar. I wanted the collar and instructions to be very easy but to show that the idea of wearing it could be more and filled with dance or dreams.
- Showing the collar on someone moving, too, was also an important way to emphasise that this was a dressy collar but that wearing it didn't mean that you'd have to be stiff which is expressed through movement.

Easiest Valentines Ice:
I wanted a visual that made it feel inviting but, one that show showed the simplicity of the project.

To further explore posts with these imagines, just click: 
Wild Weavings
Spray Paint Tee Shirts
Secret Agent Party
Good Bye to Summer |here|  or | here| 
Glitter collar
Wrapped Necklaces in the Big + Small Project
Easiest Valentines Ice

Last, I'll close by bringing it all together:

1. Ask yourself:
What do you want your photos to say and let that be your guide as you choose setting, background, lighting, props and composition.

 I'll end with a few photos from a post called Wild Weavings who's pictorial stylings speaks without words:

The photos and styling answer:
1. What the project is about.
2. What materials are needed.
3. The process.
4. Who's making it and that it's nature inspired.

There is so much more to discuss but, I hope this gets you off to a solid, styling, start! Do you have any special tricks that you use yourself?

I want to end with the most important tip of all: Have fun! Have fun. Have fun.  I'd be so happy to hear from you and as always, love to see what you do with this information. I look forward to meeting you back here again, soon!

Willowday wishes!

Learn  more:
The Rockin’ Art Moms (RAMs) are 16 mom bloggers who believe in the power of creativity as a necessary part of family life! Make Better Blog Photos was developed in response to a question we hear often: “How did you take such a great picture?” We decided to show you how! Each RAM participating in the series will be speaking about a different photo related topic.


  1. Wow Gina. There is so much truly valuable information here. I never knew about the masking tape and double sided tape tricks! It seems so obvious now that some of these styled pics need a little help. Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge. And I love the little whale and that whole color story. I feel like I have so many more tools in my toolbox with this incredible series. Your photos are gorgeous. Thank you for sharing them!

  2. Amazing! I learned so much and I love the poetic aspect you bring to photos and styling. You have given me so much inspiration!

  3. Super super valuable. One of the most helpful blog posts ever. I am indebted, Willowday.

    1. That is too kind but, I hope you can find something to take and make your own! Thank you.

  4. wow! What an amazing amount of information! I am learning so much! thank you!

    1. Kate - you make my day! I can't wait to see what you do with it in your already well styled way!

  5. Love it Gina! Brilliant idea with the whale on the crepe paper with chalk - just brilliant!

    1. Thank you so much, Melissa! I'd love to see what you do with it, too.

  6. Thank you so much for this great post!! So many great ideas here!

    1. Claire, thank you so much for taking the time to comment -- and to see your work! Best wishes with this!

  7. Wow! This post is amazing! I love all the tips and I'm totally going to try and improve my photos from now on. Thanks a million for sharing! ❤

    1. Oh, this is so kind! thank you so much!


Thank you!