Styling your images allows you to convey a message to your audience, to evoke emotion and tell a story.
Creating content can be tough especially for small business owners. You may not have a large studio with tons of tools and props and equipment but that doesn’t meant you can’t create beautiful imagery that tells your brand story. I know it’s easy to get caught up in Instagram and scroll through beautifully curated feeds and wish yours looked just like theirs. Instead of trying to look like someone else, you can create content across all of your digital platforms that are YOU and YOUR BRAND and will resonate with your audience. Styling your photos is an important element to creating great content. Unless you’re on a mountain top somewhere beautiful and you have the best view ever where any photo looks magical, you’re going to have to put in some thought and planning into your photos -- you’re going to have to style them. Just a few simple tweaks can really be a game changer when it comes to creating content for your business or brand.
Styling isn’t just about having a bunch of pretty things grouped together or having a good looking model put on some nice clothes. Your goal is to convey a message to your audience, to evoke emotion, right? So your photographs have to tell a story in order to do that. Ask yourself what message you’re trying to relay to your audience from this set of photographs. What story are you trying to tell them? Remember that your content always has to be relatable to your audience. In the beginning there’s going to be some trial and error but that’s a great way to learn 1) what the heck you’re doing and 2) what your audience likes to see. Read on to get some tips on how to style your content for different types of photos.
I didn’t know if I should start with food or cocktails because I love both. But I’m currently writing this with hungry tummy grumbles so let’s start off with food. One of the most important things to keep in mind for any photo is lighting. Write this down - LIGHTING IS KEY! Now that you know that, let's get back to the food part. Nothing gets people more excited than culinary cuisine. I’ll admit, Instagram has been a game changer when it comes to food photography. One of my favorite accounts is @whatsgabycooking. Her food is not only delicious but it’s styled beautifully. (Geez, you can really tell I’m hungry right now, can’t you?!) Another important element is the surface you’re shooting on. You want to have consistency with your content and to stay on brand, so have a rotation of a few surfaces that you like. Erickson Woodworks has incredibly beautiful surfaces that they custom make in different sizes. But if you’re on a budget, you can use marble contact paper on a wood board, counter tops or even a white board. When you’re shooting food content, your images don’t have to only show off the dish. Add in other elements like flowers, ingredients, cooking tools/utensils. Don’t be afraid to play around with your food too (in this photo I broke apart the croissant and some of the crispy flakey goodness of it’s layers and sprinkled them on the plate. It looks much better than a plain croissant. I added in a small bowl of berries for color and because it pairs well with the pastry and completes the visual story). f you’re shooting brownies or cookies or doughnuts, stack them, take a bite out of one of them, think about how you think the photo would appeal to your audience. Playing with height and texture is great for adding dimension to your images as well.
Cocktail styling is very similar to food styling. You'll want to make sure you have a great surface or background that compliments the cocktail. When shooting cocktails keep in mind your color palette and use the ingredients and tools to style around the cocktail. Whatever vessel you're pouring the cocktail in should compliment the drink as well. In the photo above, Dan from The Whaling Club made Palomas. He told me ahead of time what ingredients he was using, what color the cocktails would be and what type of glass they'd be served in. So I bought flowers that were in the same color scheme, brought citrus leaves, and a simple linen cloth to place under the drink. We cut up different sizes of citrus -- wedges and wheels and used those to style around the glass along with the flowers. We kept it simple because we wanted to highlight the focal point of the photo which was the Paloma Cocktail.
CLOTHING & ACCESSORIES STYLING
When shooting clothing and accessories you don’t always have to get the entire look from head to toe in your photo. Think about the outfit and find key pieces to highlight. Here you’ll get some really great detailed shots of a bag or jewelry or intricate buttons and unique prints. Before you’re ready to take that shot, make sure your background will compliment your photo. Just like having a great surface for food photography, you need a great background for fashion photography. Here’s where having a color palette comes into play again -- if you can, find a background that’s similar to the outfit’s color palette or something simple that will really highlight the look or even a place that helps tell the story of your product. In the photo above our theme was fall apparel in a beach town known for it's sailing. Notice the blanket placement and how it compliments the model's outfit (the print against the sweater's cable knit texture). We're showing you a lifestyle through this image -- cozying up on a Sunday sail, relaxing and taking in the beautiful view in a great outfit!
FLAT LAY STYLING
People love objects strategically arranged and shot from above or at a slight angle. It's a thing, it's a flat lay and there's a method to styling them. Choose a theme, a color palette, (make sure you have good lighting) a surface and grab your objects. If you’re a food blogger it could be ingredients and products/tools used in the kitchen, if you’re a beauty expert it can be beauty products and cosmetics. Make sure you bring more props than you need. You’ll likely play around with different items and swap them in and out before you get the perfect placement. Your props should be different sizes, textures, and height because that will always make for a more visually stimulating photo. Arrange your objects in a way that tells a story (see there's a theme here people -- you're always telling a visual STORY). What matters is the presentation and highlighting your hero piece. You'll want to create distance between you and your set-up once you're ready to take the photo. Bring a step ladder or something to stand on -- just don't fall, okay?
STYLING A GROUP PHOTO
When you're working with more than one model, you're still going to need to follow all of the guidelines with lighting, background, and especially color palettes. For the kids swim shoot we did in the above photo, I kept in mind my client's aesthetic (from branding, to color schemes, and their audience) when choosing the location, the backgrounds in that particular location, and the swimsuit colors. I made sure that all of the colors complimented each other and stayed within the more neutral tones. We were conveying a message here -- a fun, summer hanging by the pool with friends in these adorable swimsuits. I didn't want loud colored pool floats or accessories; I knew those would take away from the story. I kept it simple and this was one of the most engaged photos for my client (the adorable kids helped of course).
My biggest piece of advice is to have fun with it. If you have any questions or need help with your styling, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org!