Happy Friday folks! Today I’m doing a blog post swap with my friend Michelle from The Classy Simple Life. In this post, Michelle shares some awesome ideas on how to style and take photos for your blog. All photos in this post are taken by her.
If you’d like to learn some tips on how to follow up with clients, check out my guest post over on her site.
You’ve just launched your biz and you’re ready to get your blog going, but panic strikes. How are you going to make it look beautiful and unique to compete with all the other blogs out there? You’re not a photographer or an interior decorator (or maybe you are), so how the heck are you going to get beautifully styled photos for your blog?
Here’s the tricky thing: simply because you want to improve your blogging and photography skills for your blog does not mean you want to turn that into your business. All you want is to have styled photos that match your brand and appeal to your ideal client. After all, you’re no pro photographer and have no desire to be.
But who knows, maybe you’ll want to be a pro photographer someday.
If you’re just starting a blog for your business and getting into snapping some styled shots, it can be intimidating and overwhelming. The challenge is, you know your brand, you have a vision for your photography and you want that to happen NOW.
But, as with anything in life, it’s a learning process and you’ll have to take some time to learn through a bit of trial and error. With a limited budget and little knowledge of photography, you’re going to have to use the “fake it till you make it” saying as your blog photography mantra.
There’s been many an instance that simply scrolling through my Insta feed has sent me into a panic. Why? Well, I want a marble table and light, airy, white walls too. Put plainly, I wanted to buy every piece of minimalist furniture, marble tables, and beautifully crafted stationery to style my photos with. But not everyone has all of that! Or a fancy house or condo. I didn’t realize that with a little creativity and ingenuity, I could create the images I envisioned without redecorating or spending gobs of money I didn’t have.
Without all those expensive props and a fancy home, how are you supposed to take styled shots for your blog? How do you “fake it till you make it?”
Well, fear not! I’m here to help with a few tricks that I’ve used for affordable props and stellar styling on my journey to full-time blogger and entrepreneur.
Finding Affordable Props
Boards + Cutting Boards
All of the photos I create for my blog and Instagram with a marble background are thanks to a marble pastry board from Crate & Barrel. When making the decision to spend the $70 CDN on it, I asked myself would I use this to make pastry AND for a photo prop. The answer was an excited YES! I love to bake and take photos, so it was worth it to spend the money. Most of the boards I use for photography ALWAYS serve a dual purpose. In other words, they’re items I would use around the house for the everyday that also saves me money and reduces clutter.
Now, what if you don’t have $70 and what if you don’t need a marble pastry board (which is very heavy BTW)? Well, Amazon is your friend! They have self-adhesive films that look like marble, wood, weathered wood and many more patterns for around $30 CDN.
Magazines + Books
Using magazines and books allows for versatility and is probably the easiest way to dress up any shot. I collect photography coffee table books and fashion inspired books, so I always have one book or other at the ready. I also allow myself one magazine subscription to minimalist magazine Kinfolk. To theme your shots, choose a book or magazine that would fit in with what you’re blogging about or the specific post topic. Don’t have extra cash to buy books and magazines? Not to worry – do as I do and head to the local library to grab a pile of books and magazines to shoot.
Who doesn’t love stationery? I’m hooked on pretty journals, planners, pens and the like. Almost any stationery product will work for blog shots, especially lifestyle and business photography. I usually hit up Staples, Amazon and Indigo for lower cost stationery. For fancier and slightly more expensive items, I head to Anthropologie, Hadron Epoch, and Sugar Paper.
Don’t forget the most important stationery – your business cards, postcards and stickers can all be used in photos too.
Foam Board + Coloured Paper
Another great idea for DIY budget backgrounds is foam boards and coloured paper. I use a trifold presentation board I picked up from Michael’s. It doubles as a backdrop and a light reflector! You can also grab scrapbook paper, rolls of coloured paper, and fine art papers from craft shops like Michael’s or art stores like DeSerres. Both of these are a treasure trove for low- cost props.
Throws, Blankets + Fabric
Looking to add some texture to your photos? Add a fluffy throw or blanket into your shot. My faves are a wool blanket from Ikea and a Polar throw from Structube. Bed sheets can also be used as backdrops – either lay flat or hang on a wall using painters tape.
If you don’t have blankets or throws handy, try using different fabrics or even clothing from your wardrobe. Items that work well are sweaters, jackets and yes, even your pretty lingerie.
Artificial Flowers + Leaves
I would love real live flowers for my blog photography every day but there are several challenges when it comes to sourcing them. They’re usually expensive and depending on the season, you may not be able to find the specific flower you’re looking for.
Ikea is a great source for palm leaves and branches.
Michael’s is perfect for artificial flowers of all types and colours.
And, when all else fails, grab a few succulents from Ikea or a local garden store and plant them in teacups for low-cost greenery.
Candles + Lights
Everyone has at least a few candles, am I right? And they don’t have to be the uber fancy Diptyque ones either – unless of course, that’s your thing. I splurged on one Diptyque candle and the rest, well, are from Ikea. If you’ve burned the candles, give ‘em a quick wipe to remove any black soot before shooting.
Lights can also add magic to your photos – which fits in especially well for autumn or winter themed shots. I personally love Indigo’s line of outdoor patio lights and tiny strings of LED lights. Throw ‘em in a glass vase and voila, instant magic.
Furniture + Tech
Want to add warmth or a certain aesthetic to your photos? Stools, desks, tables, and office chairs can be used both in photos and as backgrounds for flat lay photos.
Tech is perfect to add to any shot. Your laptop, phone and headphones can all be used to style a shot.
When all else fails, raid your home. There’s always something photo-worthy lurking and if you use it on the regular, it adds personality to your shots.
Items to consider:
Coffee mugs and teacups
Glasses + Wine glasses (I have an antique set I love)
Wine bottles (if that’s your thing)
Trays and platters
Eyeglasses + Sunglasses
Clocks, watches and jewelry
You’ve sourced your budget photo props, now what? How should you style them?
Most bloggers in the blogosphere use a technique called the flat lay. It’s essentially creating a visual story on a flat surface. It can be accomplished in many ways – the toss, the organized, the straight lines, off the edge, the focal item and more.
The Toss – basically you’re tossing everything onto your background as if you’re using them. Think of your desk when you toss things on it. Or, choose a focal item and toss some leaves, paper clips, push-pins or other items around it.
The Organized – organize all items in the shot based on a theme.
The Straight lines – we’re talking symmetry here. Consider lining up items in straight lines or on angles.
Off the edge – here’s where you get a little crazy. Not everything has to be in the photo frame. You can accomplish this either when you take the photo or by cropping in closer after.
The Focal item – choose a central ‘focal’ item to be the central theme of your photo. Add only a few other small items but play them down.
Tips for stellar styling with an impact:
Stay on brand. If there was only one tip, it would be this one. Every item you choose and the colour you choose reflects your branding.
Think seasons. You blog about holidays and events throughout the year right? Well, when choosing props, consider the seasons and organize your props in a similar manner.
Choose props that make sense. While you may want to throw a fave prop into every photo, consider styling your photos around a central theme or through visual storytelling.
Try different perspectives. Make a mess first, snap a few photos, then organize it all symmetrically and snap another few photos. What appeals to you more – what fits your theme or what fits your overall branding?
Don’t forget you! Sometimes a shot is so much better when you’re in it. Now, if you’re like me, you may not always want your face in it, so a shot of your hand doing something or holding your focal item works just as well.
If you’re looking for more ideas Pinterest, Instagram, and fellow bloggers can all offer inspiration. But be careful with this! While imitating is good in the beginning for finding your style, it’s not good to continue imitating. You could be called out on social for being a copycat.
When it comes to finding affordable photo props, take a look around your home first before spending money. You’d be surprised at all the items you have lying around. If you do buy a few knick-knacks or stationery specifically for your photos, I’d suggest having a box or plastic storage container to store them all in. That way, they’re in one place at the ready and you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged.
And don’t go crazy. It’s easy to go to a flea market, or online to Etsy and spend a ton of money on props. Simple is always better.
So you see, styling your photos can be affordable and not require you to have a designer worthy home or condo to live in. It can be really fun and a great way to let your personality shine through into your business.
Michelle Summerfield is a photographer, freelance writer, and minimalist blogger at TheClassySimpleLife. What began as a corporate layoff in 2015 morphed into a freelance writing and photography career. She enjoys helping creative women live simpler lives and find healing through her writing.