Photography Tips: Staging and Composition

I was overwhelmed by your kind response to my first photography tips post: everything you need for gorgeous interior photography.  Thank you!  I am (finally!) continuing the series with the next step: tips for staging and composition.

15 photography tips for staging and composition. Learn how to take gorgeous interior photographs!

For those of you who (like me) like to organize things in your mind, I’m planning to go “in order” of how this process works.  The series will continue as follows:

  • Everything you Need… (photography equipment)
  • Staging and Composition (this post)
  • Lighting
  • Editing in Lightroom
  • Editing in Photoshop

If there are any topics you would be interested in that don’t fall under the above categories, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.  I’m open to expanding the series if you all would find it helpful!  That said, here are my suggestions for staging and composition.

I have 15 suggestions for you today, but in an attempt to make it all easier to remember, I’ve organized them into four general principles – 4 “S”s for you to remember when staging your home for photographs:

1st “S” of Staging: STRAIGHTEN UP
This may sound like a no brainer… No one finds your dirty laundry spilling onto your couch especially inspiring, right?  [Though that’s not to say we don’t all have it from time to time! 😉 ]  But I have found that taking this a few steps further can make a difference:

1. Hide electrical cords

Master Bedroom (bedside2)

2. Empty trash cans (or remove them from the picture)

Office Reveal (close angle)

3. Remove clutter (my desk is rarely this empty 😉 )

eclectic office makeover at #rustic #industrial #classic #chic

2nd “S” of Staging: SIMPLIFY
I have found that as the quality of my photography improves, my need for “stuff” in the picture lessens.  I used to need to fill the entire image with pretty things to look at… But the sharper, crisper, more vibrant images don’t need distractions.

4. Remove extra items from the background (for example, I moved books off the table behind the flowers in this image)

how to paint an accent wall: easy to follow tutorial |

5. Move furniture, if need be, to get a clear shot of ONLY the vignette you intend (for example, I had to move the couch to take this image)

gorgeous neutral living room with blue and turquoise accents: mix of antiques, affordable pieces, and diy ideas |

6. Close doors (unless you are focusing on what is through them, of course)

DIY Tub Shelf (tile and doorway)

3rd “S” of Staging: SQUARE OFF
I know that this is not always possible because of the size and shape of rooms, but I have noticed a huge difference in the aesthetic quality of my images since I started really trying to square off, both vertically as well as horizontally.  Like all of these suggestions, there are obviously times when gorgeous images break these rules, but I try to start with a squared off approach and move from there.  There are also some wonderful editing tools to help you get your images perfectly square; I’ll share those in a future tutorial.

7. Move furniture, if necessary, to face your subject head on (I had to move the couch for this image, too; it wasn’t in the picture, but it wouldn’t allow me to stand directly in front of this table)

gorgeous neutral living room with blue and turquoise accents: mix of antiques, affordable pieces, and diy ideas |

8. Get low so that you are on the same level as your subject (notice how the crib is perfectly square, rather than the birdcage, which is actually closer to eye level when standing?)

step by step EASY tutorial for a gorgeous linen look diy crib skirt from drop cloth |

9. Get creative with your tripod (I had it sitting in the sink in order to take this image)

Step by step tutorial for a gorgeous wooden tub shelf. So easy to make and a perfect gift!

4th “S” of Staging: SUPPLEMENT
This is the fun part: supplementing can take on many forms, but it’s the opportunity to add that final touch to your image.

10. Add layers to your image (sometimes the foreground or background needs a little something!  I shifted the side table with the log slice into the bottom left corner of this image to balance the trunk and tv on the right)

gorgeous neutral living room with blue and turquoise accents: mix of antiques, affordable pieces, and diy ideas |

11. Repeat a color in the background (see how the basket on the armoire balances the accessories from the coffee table?)

Gorgeous, simple gray chalk paint coffee and side table makeover | #diy #paint

12. Shift your furniture or art to better fill the frame (I pushed the tufted ottoman towards the red dresser so that it was no longer centered on the bed for this image, but it filled the frame better)

gorgeous neutral bedroom with a single pop of color |

13. Include a luxury item (the crumpled throw, for example, invites people to relax)

gorgeous neutral living room with blue and turquoise accents: mix of antiques, affordable pieces, and diy ideas |

14. Include a functional prop (much more fun than just telling my reader the shelf is waterproof 😉 )

Step by step tutorial for a gorgeous wooden tub shelf. So easy to make and a perfect gift!

 15. Attempt balance, rather than symmetry (wood knife block and butcher block island… brushed nickel light and stainless stove – far from symmetrical, but creates a soothing balance)

gorgeous classic white kitchen renovation |

As I mentioned, these are suggestions for staging and composing your photos.  For every suggestion above, I can offer at least 5 images that break the rule, like this beautiful picture that is taken at an angle, rather than straight on…

when not to paint furniture |

Or the fact that the 2nd “S” is SIMPLIFY and the 4th is SUPPLEMENT.  I realize that they are a bit contradictory… But that’s kind of the nature of photography.

It’s art.

It’s creative.

It’s subjective.

But I find it wonderfully fascinating and fun.  I hope you do, too.  And I hope these suggestions were helpful to you as you consider your own staging and composition.

Update: Find the next tutorial in the series here.

pin it image

15 photography tips for staging and composition. Learn how to take gorgeous interior photographs!

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  1. DebraShoppeno5 says:

    I love your photography series. Keep them coming!

  2. l’m so excited about this series! I am a new visitor to your site and love your styling. I also couldn’t believe that we live probably about 30-45 minutes from each other. I, too, live in the hill country and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Thanks again for putting the series together. I look forward to your future posts.

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      That’s awesome, Heather! I’ve only been living here about 10 days, but I’m loving every minute of it. :) And I’m so glad you found me! xx

  3. Great tips! You do a beautiful job with your photography. Feels like I’m right there.

  4. Can’t wait to read more, Rachel! These were great tips! I loooove the bokeh in your close-up shots. And I’m totally with you on the getting creative with your tripod one. Yesterday, I had to climb on top of my kitchen counter to get a few shots and had to practically sit on top of my mantel once. The wacky things we do. 😉

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Thanks, so much, Lauren!! You’re so right… sometimes the right shot calls for desperate measures. 😉

  5. I just stumbled across these two posts. I LOVE them! Your pictures are amazing. I love your tips and would love to hear the rest about lighting and editing. I love taking pictures, but when it comes to editing I know nothing. Your house is beautiful. These posts really want me to try taking photos like this. I usually just take pics of my kids. I can see the stress level being much less… 😉

    • Rachel Paxton says:

      Oh Dana, you are so kind! Thank you so much!! I will say, though, that the only thing more stressful than taking pictures of kids is trying to take pictures of your house while your kids run through the room. Ha! 😉

  6. Rachel,
    I am enjoying your photography series so much! Your tips are helping me improve my own blog photography! Thank you so much for the tips. Can’t wait for the next post in the series!

  7. I love this series…great tips…can’t wait to try these! Thank you for sharing!

  8. This is great stuff! I am trying to learn all I can about photography, so this is a big help! Thanks so much for sharing your information!

  9. Such great tips, Rachel…THANK YOU for sharing. You take beautiful photos — truly magazine worthy!

  10. Rachel, you are so talented! All great tips! Thank you for sharing!

  11. These tips are amazing, Rachel! Thank you!!!!

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