Favorite Tools for Project Styling

By Kate Riley April 16, 2015

Today I thought I’d share a continuation of the article I wrote a few years ago about what I’ve learned for better styling and shooting over the years with a list of my favorite things that I use to photograph my projects and fabrics. I don’t have a team of photographers or assistants, I just trust my instincts and work with what I’ve got.

I’m certainly no expert but I’ve learned some tricks from respected stylists that I’ve worked with, and I’ve gathered some tools over the years to assist me. For me, the focus is always to keep it simple and let the thing that you’re featuring take the spotlight. Here is my list of favorites for project styling!

The All White Backdrop. I use a legless IKEA tabletop for up close shots of smaller items and I’ve stored it in a closet for years. I lay it on the floor and photograph from above. You can find a similar one for six bucks here and it’s great for photographing supplies or in progress or final shots.

zazzle products on white tabletop

notebooks etc available here

sparkle confetti garland

sparkle confetti garland


Natural Light. I always take pictures in daylight when I know I’ll have good natural light coming through the window and I use my DSLR camera adjusted with manual settings (see my list of photography supplies below.) Find that spot in your house that gives you good natural light and set up a little makeshift tabletop or booth but if you’re limited, Brittany has a tutorial for setting up a mini light studio in a convenient spot.

I bought an IKEA loveseat for use upstairs in the studio above our garage and also for fabric styling because you can’t beat a white sofa under a window.

white sofa splatter pillows

 splatter with pick up sticks fabrics


Textured or Patterned Backdrops. A large marble slab or wood cutting board is awesome for food styling, I’ve used my whitewashed trunk and weathered gray stained table as a textured background too.

peonies tea towels

 peonies fabric tea towels

holiday gift tags on white trunk

holiday gift tags

You can also use panels of tongue and groove or beadboard (sold at Lowe’s) or in this shot of black and white fabric pillows, I’ve used just two unrolled strips of white brick wallpaper next to each other on the wall and floor and the pillows are sitting on a spray painted but not yet upholstered hand me down chair.

black and white pillows

When I toured the BHG studios last year, they had prop storage closets (of course they’re a major magazine!) but they also had a separate section of faux backdrops for styling. Here are two faux backgrounds you can buy to fake a textured backdrop for yourself but an online search turns up so many more.

faux paper backgrounds

faux wood / faux white brick 


Shapely Containers. I keep my eye open for containers to use for styling including baskets, bowls, something to add a little texture or pattern and I reuse them a lot. HomeGoods is a great source, also World Market, IKEA, thrift or antique stores, flea markets, wherever you spy something sculptural to add to the story.

basket with fabrics

zippered ipad cover

zippered ipad cover


Something Natural. It’s nice to have something botanical or natural in your project shot so your image doesn’t feel stale. Herbs or fruit with recipes, fresh flowers, a succulent or little green plant with DIY project or room shots. The presence of something organic breathes life into an image. Whenever I know I’m taking a picture of a DIY project, you can bet I’ll be making a trip to Trader Joes for flowers!

diy bone inlay inspired tray

bone inlay inspired tray

tulips on white dresser fret wallpaper

fret wallpaper

zippered dewdrop pillow

zippered pillow cover


The Great Outdoors. Whenever possible I look outside around my home or in my neighborhood for an opportunity to capture a beauty shot. Foggy days are the best to avoid shadows or take images during the magic hour before sunset or after sunrise (here’s another article about better outdoor photography.)

navy peonies fabric tote bag

 striped pillows tree bench


My Photography Tools: I’ve written about the 3 main lenses I use, but I upgraded my camera body to a Nikon D7100 last year. I don’t often use fancy reflectors but I do have this collapsible reflector disc. I bought this ProMaster Featherweight tripod a few years ago but only use it for large room shots or when my light is limited and I need to slow down the shutter speed to allow more light into the lens. I also tweak photos if necessary with with Photoshop Elements to boost contrast or reduce saturation. I’ve used Lightroom in the past but prefer PE since I’m more proficient at it.

A note on watermarking. Some magazines add theirs (House Beautiful, Elle Decor) some don’t (BHG) and some bloggers do it some don’t but I choose most of the time to add my watermark especially to the final beauty shots. I’ve seen my images pop up everywhere and without credit but I believe the watermark helps people trace the source when the image comes up especially on Pinterest. But that’s a personal choice.

That’s the inside scoop on the things I use to photograph my projects and fabrics!


  1. Hi Kate! Thank you for this awesomely informative post! I will definitely put some of these ideas to good use. We’re starting up a maker’s shop soon…would love to have you come on by when it launches. I’ll keep you posted!


  2. Thanks for this post, as someone just starting out I love seeing how successful bloggers go about their business. You’ve got some excellent photography skills!


  3. I recently bought a DSLR to photograph my jewelry. I always appreciate tips like yours, because it is so easy to fall into a rut where you wind up taking the same kind of pics again and again, because it’s the safe choice! I look forward to using some of your tips and exploring new backgrounds!

  4. Thanks for a great tutorial! I love how you style your photos, and you make it seem really do-able for the casual photographer. How would you recommend photographing clothes? I have a grand idea in my head for announcing my pregnancy: a “family portrait” (without the people) using one of my husband’s t-shirts, one of mine, and a baby onesie (it’s more meaningful than it sounds), but I can’t seem to make the photo work like it does in my head! Any tips?

  5. Great article! Thank you for so much information. I frequently have to photograph products for my website and also have a collection of props and back-ground drops, however, I never thought about using the wallpaper strips (white brick) for a textured background. Brilliant! Thank you for all of the great tips.

  6. These are such great tips. I guess I haven’t put much thought into having a few backgrounds I can just store away. I totally need to do that. I’m so excited you showed the pillows in the basket. I am photographing and debuting my line of coastal pillows this weekend and I just picked up a weathered basket that I just plopped down in my garage. I now know what it is going to be used for! Thanks for the great inspiration!
    Question: I bought the tripod and have the Nikon. Do you think it is needed to invest in the remote? Do you use the remote when you shoot?

  7. This was so helpful and informative! Beautiful images as always. Now I’m inspired to go and “play” with backgrounds and things today. Have a great week! =)

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