Tag Archives: style lesson

Food Styling Before and After :: Pasta

Everyone loves pasta, honestly it’s one of the easiest and one of most difficult things to style on photo shoots. When it comes to a macaroni and cheese, sheesh that’s a tough one on set. The cheese sets up quickly and it’s just hard to make it look appetizing. Pasta has great texture in photographs, but sometimes the toppings are overwhelming and become the focus of the photograph and not in the good way.

The exact same thing applies to pasta at home or at a dinner party. The vessel you choose to serve pasta in is the most important element in making pasta look delicious. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to a party and the pasta comes out looking, well pale, overdressed and unappetizing.

Here are a few stylist tricks to remember next time pasta is on the menu.

1. Before :: Macaroni and Cheese. We love Mac&Cheese! However… how can something so yummy looks so un-yummy?


After :: Forget the glass casserole, in fact I don’t even own one. Stylist tip *FOOD DOES NOT LOOK PRETTY FROM THE SIDE WHEN BAKED PERIOD! Instead, think about something earthy to present your Mac&Cheese in. An iron skillet is perfect! I own lots of iron skillets in all sizes. Not only are they great looking, great to bake in, but they make awesome presentation vessels. I love making corn bread, pulling the baked bread out of the skillet, slicing it, then laying it back into the same skillet lined with some parchment paper. Voila! A super homey and appetizing presentation.* this was a pretty cover shot for Southern Living I styled a couple years ago. I still think it’s so yummy looking. It’s one of my favorites. *Stylist Tip* the cute little linen tea towel under the skillet elevates the Mac&Cheese just perfectly. A subtle touch like this can make the food look special on the table.


2. Before :: Pesto Pasta


After :: I love using glasses in unexpected ways. Pesto pasta is pretty, so seeing all the bits of basil in the clear glass is great, plus it’s easy to serve. I love these brandy sifters. They are the perfect size for 1 serving. Think of all your tableware in different ways. Glasses can be used for more than just drinks.


3. Before :: Seafood Pasta


After :: Styling tip * Always think about the bowl or platter you’re serving a dish in. Here the scallop edged bowl really makes a difference. It’s a nod to the sea, it looks a bit like a sea shell. You will never go wrong with a seafood presentation if you introduce the sea in some form. Even the serving spoon looks like something you would find along the beach.


4. Before :: Pasta with Zucchini, although this dish looks great, it could look so much better! Always think about the vessel, if the dish looks bland, then jazz it up with a fantastic bowl or platter.


After :: This bowl is magnificent! It’s an antique French handpainted bowl, one of my favorites in my collection. I have never seen another one like it. The pasta looks amazing because of the vessel.


I hope that this has helped you look at how you serve your pasta dishes. The key is to always think about the vessel options you have. It’s very important especially with something like pasta, to bring out the cool props.

If you’re interested in learning more about food styling check out my workshop June 7th. Hope to see you there, it’s always a super fun day of learning, sharing, creating and of course eating.

Photo credit: Jennifer Davick, Lauren Rubinstein, Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyen

Zucchini and Seafood Pasta Dishes from my cookbook Picture Perfect Parties


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Style Lesson : How to Style Shelves


As a stylist, part of my job is to walk into a location and make some sense of the accessories on the shelves of the homeowner. If you’re interested in a career in Interior Styling, then this lesson will be of interest to you.

First things first: When I’m hired by an editorial publication I am sent a shot list and snap shots of the location that I’ll be styling. It works the same with every editor, every magazine.

The editor will give me their suggestions of coloration, and even decorating style, then it’s my responsibility as the stylist to bring it all together. In other words the styling of shelves is a combination of what a homeowner owns and props that I bring. That’s the big secret. Even when an interior designer styles their own location they usually beef up the props for the camera.

A big tip is to edit edit edit. As you have learned from previous lessons, less is more in the eye of the camera. Think about the composition as a whole (see composition styling lesson here).

Here are a few examples to help you visualize the shelf styling lesson:


Shelf Units: this homeowner had some great pieces. I brought all of the white pieces to anchor the shelf presentation. Hanging a piece of artwork directly on the shelves adds a nice layering effect. The pops of color in this case are yellow and red. Look at the shelving units in the totality of the space. The eye should glide over the shelves not dart from piece to piece.


Built ins: In this shelf scenario we wanted to feature the beautiful photos of the family. Notice the photos are all black and white framed in black frames. I only used a few accessories to keep the eyes on the photos. I wound up with a very slick modern and zen result. Sometimes styling should be pared down and quiet.


Low Shelves: Kitchen shelves are always a challenge when I go on location, especially lower shelves like these. I brought the baskets, cookbook, bowls, vintage salt and pepper shakers and the homeowner had the pitcher. When I arrived to this gorgeous kitchen, the homeowner had books just thrown on the shelves. I cleaned them up for the camera and broke up the composition with pops of bright books and decorative picnic baskets. Again very little usually does the trick, edit edit edit!


High Shelves: This sweet kitchen had very high shelves. If the shelves were not styled with bold color and important pieces, they would simply “fly away” and not act as a anchor for the room. I put the heavier piece on the bottom to literally weigh it down. I brought everything but the cake stand and pink box. In this case the homeowner had no idea how to make these shelves proportional to the kitchen.

* One quick and fun thing from the Kitchen Styling Lesson #03, can you spot the magic triangle in these photos? Fun right. Now you’re thinking like a photo stylist.

Hope this lesson has helped you, please feel free to ask me any questions. Good luck styling up shelves. xx

Photo 1: Lauren Rubinstein

Photos 2&3: Rob Brinson

Photo 4: Edmund Barr

Photo 5: Emily Followill

Styling by: Me

All images from Meredith Publications

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Style Lesson: How to style an outdoor space


As most of you know I have been styling interiors for more than 20 years, however sometimes my jobs take me outdoors. This is the time of year those jobs start coming in. I love styling outdoors, but there are a few hard and fast rules you might want to keep in mind when styling outside. The exterior photographs are often as important as the interior shots in an editorial feature and for a designer’s portfolio as well. Designers out there… pay attention.

Styling the exterior is often one of the toughest propping decisions I deal with on a shoot. There is a balance that needs to be achieved and that balance can tip with just a minor misstep. The outdoors is a big big place and it’s without boundaries. If you’ve ever designed a garden then you know this is true. With this in mind, it’s important to look at the scale of the exterior architecture, as well as the coloration and what you want to enhance in the photograph. One of the most important things to remember is that you must create boundaries for the eye in the photograph.


1. Know when to shoot: let the sun be your guide. We usually photograph the exterior at dawn or dusk, depending on the position of the sun. You never want direct sunlight on the house. Diffused soft light is ideal.


2. Create boundaries: use potted plants to anchor the structure. Avoid using a lot of small colorful plants. Think substantial, but not too large. When thinking of scale and proportion, remember it’s about the house and not the plants or accessories. You don’t want to create boundaries that detract from the main feature. As I say over and over again, less is more. Edit, edit, edit. Anchoring the structure with potted plants creates a boundary for the eye in a photograph, it’s a way to draw the eye to the house in a subtle way. This is your prop’s most important function, remember that.


3. Don’t over accessorize: use accessories that make sense. Stay away from using too many throws or blankets, pillows, lanterns or candles, elk horns, wine glasses, you get the picture. I have seen way too many outdoor shots with too much going on. Before you know it, the back porch starts to look like the patio accessories department at the Home Depot.


4. Remember the Magic Triangle: In the case of outdoor styling this is a great trick to keep everything in balance. Your triangle will give you a starting point in an environment that can be overwhelming.

Even for entertaining stories it’s so important to make it look real, readable, and edited. Keep this in mind next time you start propping an outdoor setting.

Please feel free to send me any questions or comments and thanks for stopping by.

Photo 1: Rob Brinson

Photo 2: Anthony Masterson

Photo 3: Reed Davis

Photo 4: Lauren Rubinstein

Styling By: Annette Joseph for Meredith publications

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Style Lesson – How to Organize Props

First things first… when you build a prop stash, you need to make sure you shop like a stylist. Pick props that are basic as well as pick props that are unique. You should have a complete color wheel of fabrics and napkins to coordinate with plates and bowls of all sizes and colors. I keep buying white and natural napkins, which I do not need! Don’t be like me! Shop for what you don’t have and when you see napkins to add to your collection, grab them. My message here is don’t keep buying the same napkins (or props) over and over again. Once you start to seriously collect your prop inventory you will find that storage is key. It’s important that everything is easy to access and most important is that you see everything displayed clearly. Pay attention to this tip! The numero uno rule of being a professional stylist is to be efficient and organized.

*(I will never forget looking into an (ex) assistant’s van and seeing everything thrown into the back and all over the backseat like it was garbage, when in fact they were  gorgeous props. Message here? Be organized… even in the backseat of your van, treat every prop like it’s a treasure, because it is!)

Utilize amazing storage! Having a great place to pull from when you need accessories to style a room or to prop a recipe is key. I use metro fixtures which are available online or from the container store. They are sturdy and affordable. I also use vintage bakers racks. As long as you have a centralized location for your prop stash, you’re in business.

For example: here is a great collection of unique props. Store them all together, in a safe location on your shelves. Here’s another tip: use them a couple of times and then trade them with another stylist or antique dealer. I keep the ones that are so special I will never come across them again and rent them to other stylists. Having a unique vintage scale is a must, old pitchers and a stash on vintage bake goods. Store these items together. When thinking about organizing, store like with like. In other words, I store all my galvanized props together, and plates stacked by color and size. Think like a retail store and create color stories and stories by material.


Storing fabric: I think airtight see-through boxes are an easy solution. I stack the boxes on shelves and they are organized by color. Because I can see through the boxes I know which color napkins to pull down for a shoot. (*Remember to air them out regularly to prevent mold and mildew and wash them after every use.) A dresser will work as well for this kind of storage just make sure to colorize your napkins and tablecloths and remnants.


Here’s how I organize my prop stash: I have shelves in my garage and I merchandise my shelves neatly by color and material. I also purge regularly. Just like styling a photograph, it’s important to edit your props as well. I try not to use a prop more than twice, you’d be surprised how many people notice when you use the same prop over and over again. You don’t want to be that photo stylist, you’re a pro.

My prop room looks like this:


I store all my flatware in a filing cabinet, with narrow drawers Like this one from the Container Store.


I like to store trays and surfaces stacked in a rack and store small things in jars and vases.


Remember you are spending lots of money on your things (even if you’re shopping flea markets… it adds up!), so take good care of your prop stash. Let me know if you have any organizational questions in the comments below, and I will be happy to answer them. Happy Shopping and Propping! xx

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