Style Pin 02- Lessons in Styling

Today’s styling lesson is all about composition.

When I got my first “real job,” before I was a stylist, I worked as a Visual Merchandising manager at a now defunct store – Gimbels. You may remember it from the movie “Elf.” I had a super talented staff, they were all older and more experienced and I cannot tell you how much these people taught me, things that I’ve carried through my styling career to this day.

One of my team members was Rick Krueger. I will never forget him. He had a big mustache and wore plaid shirts. Rick looked like one of the Village People, but of course a lot of people looked like the Village People back then. It was the 80’s after all.

What Rick taught me was how to compose a cosmetic case in the cosmetics department. It seemed simple enough, but what Rick said to me was that the most important thing was the understanding of basic composition and working small was a good way to start. I find that using small boxes and bottles is the best lesson in composition. It was a lesson I would never forget and still use to this day. Good photography and styling are all about great composition.

For this week’s styling lesson I want you to take objects like bottles and small boxes or plates and vases and move them around your set until you find the set up that pleases the eye of the camera the most. Take lots and lost of photos!

Remember when moving small objects on set, move them ever so slightly. A little movement goes a long way.

This weeks style photos: Why I love this styling below? The composition is very simple, balanced and pleasing. There is lots of void space (see style pin #01) and edited propping.

The first shot is a down shot and the second is a cross angle shot. Play with your depth of field (this means one object in focus the others blurred). Again take tons of photos.

The first photo is a down shot – the florals are in focus and the rest of the table is not. Notice the balance of the objects/composition and the scale.


The second photo is a cross angle shot – this is a balanced composition with an off center point of interest against the mirror. Play with where you place the camera. Take lots of photos.


Think simple: One of the hardest things to achieve in styling is simplicity and a pleasing composition. What I suggest is that you pick like items, gather them on a tray and play with a pleasing composition. Sometimes working small is an easy way to play with composition.

What the Camera sees: What the human eye sees and what the camera sees are very different. It took me about a year to see like a camera when I first started styling. It’s not just about great props and great surfaces. Eventually seeing like a camera will become a motor-skill. For me after 20 years plus of styling I no longer think about what looks great for the camera on set I just set everything up instinctually. If you practice long enough you will too. You will start placing props on set with less hesitation and you’ll just put everything in the right place first time out, with a few minor adjustments once the camera is put in place. In this case… the more you practice the better and quicker you’ll get.

Mimic: The best composition exercise and one I give my new assists to do, is to literally copy styling they like. The photographs above are easy to replicate, so try it.

Study composition: If you want to style better and never went to art/design school, pick up a book and read about composition. Knowing the basics will help translate good styling composition to your work. The Art of the Photograph is a great book to start with.

Practice and let me hear how you do. Until next week xx

Don’t forget to follow me on pinterest.

photo: rue magazine styled by me

photo: matchbook magazine 

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