Milleflore Images

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Learning How To Style


The problem with a lot of how-to books and blogs is that you often need to read through a lot of detailed information to get to the interesting how-to part. By that time, you may have become bored or worse, confused, or forgotten why you were interested in the first place.

So let’s just jump straight in and I’ll try and whet your appetite for styling.

Normally I would start with the simplest of layouts to show you how easy it can be, and that would be a very good idea – but instead I am going to show you a complex layout, break it down for you in simple steps – whet your appetite – and then teach you all the boring data and knowledge that goes behind the scenes of good styling.

Sounds like fun? OK, here goes ...

If I threw you into the deep end, would you learn how to swim?

Can You Learn How to Style?

To some, styling just comes naturally. Those lucky people were born with the ‘eye’. But if you’ve gone to all the trouble of reading a blog post on styling, then I am guessing that you are not one of those people.

So, to ask again – can you teach someone who doesn’t have a natural eye for styling and staging how to create great photos with lots of harmony and balance that are pleasing to the eye?

My answer is YES. Why? Because there are 2 types of people (well 3, but more about that later). Those who are primarily logical thinkers, and those who are not. I.e. creative thinkers. And the great part of learning how to create great layouts, is that there is an actual science behind this – and of course that can be learnt. And that knowledge is what graphic designers are taught.

So enough chatting and let’s get down to some fun stuff. Now if you’re a minimalist type of person, you are going to die of fright – or repulsion – from what I am about to show you. But nevertheless, by the time you’ve finished, not only will you know how to create something like this, but you may even like and enjoy it. Here’s hoping.


So here it is ...


Yes, I know. To the untrained, or rather, uninitiated eye, it looks frightening to even attempt something like this. Some may even think it’s a mess. But its not, and not only will I explain to you why, but also show you how to create something like this yourself – if you want to.

But don’t worry, we’ll get back to the basics and some minimalist layouts for you to start with later. After all, simple sells. But so does complex – if its done correctly.

The essential thing to know, however, is it’s all done with proportion and color to create harmony and balance, which is pleasing to the eye. However, without some rules this WOULD be a mess. But instead, its one of the new trends popularized on Instagram.

It’s all done with proportion and color to create harmony and balance that is pleasing to the eye.

But don’t fret too much, if you don’t like this sort of thing, then that’s ok. You won’t have to do this if you don’t want to. It is, however, a great way to demonstrate quickly and simply the rules behind creative design.

Also, its important to note that these types of layouts are useful for conveying the feeling of opulence, luxury, lavishness, grandeur, or busy-ness, and particularly useful for holiday themes, food preparation, or feasts.

So let's deconstruct this into simple steps to see how it all works. 

Proportions + Balance = Harmony

In order to create a design that is pleasing to the eye, we need to create harmony. Harmony is what the viewer's eye subconsciously sees - and that can be easily controlled by creating balance in the layout. 

The simple forumula is: proportions plus balance equals harmony. And fortunately that is where the science, and numbers, come in. 

The first thing to remember, is that one of the most harmonious shapes is the triangle and the most harmonious number is the number, three. And that good styling is all about creating harmony and balance. If you are not 'good' at styling or if you designed something that just doesn't look right, and just know it - then it is simply not harmonious. 

So let's get back to our opulent Valentine breakfast table above and deconstruct that. 



Using Proportions

In creating a lavish design like the table above, the first thing you need to do is create 3 different sized proportions that will provide the basic shapes in your layout and size them as large, medium, and small.

For my Valentine table, I used 2 large plates of food, plus a bunch of red roses as the large proportions, placed roughly in a triangle. Once again the use of the magic number three. These shapes then create your basic framework. 

Next, fill in your spaces with some medium shapes.

In this case, I used the tea cup, the pink serviettes, the honey bowl, and the heart shaped plates filled with jam and fruit. At this stage, you can let go of the number three. You only need it to create the framework.

If you prefer a minimialist design, then you can stop there. If you want the more opulent one, then fill in the spaces evenly with small shapes, such as the rose petals and small pieces of fruit.

And voila! You have your design.

Using Color as a Design Element.

In order to create more harmony in your design, it is important to consider color. And here is where the number three comes in handy again. 

For my Valentine table, I had chosen 3 main colors: red, pink and gold (the golden tones of the honey, waffles, croiossants, and open slices of the peaches). 

If you are still not sure how to use color then there is a simply formula for that as well, and that is the 60-30-10 Rule of Design.

60% of your color palette should include your main dominant color, 30% contains your secondary color, and 10% should be used for your accent color. There are other rules of design, and even the 60-30-10 Rule can be broken, but it is a useful, easy to use, and almost fool-proof model to start off with, especially if you are a beginner.

Flatlays and Overheads

The styling above, is particularly useful for flatlay (knolling) and overhead photography layouts but the basic principles can be applied to any type of staging. There is actually a difference between Flatlays and Overheads, but I will go into that a bit further in future articles.

Flatlays are a great way to display food preparation, holiday activity, travel themes, and anything that shows an array of connected items or activity. You can do simple flatlays where all your items are arranged in neat rows, or complex ones like my Valentine breakfast table above.

You can also subsitute just one main large shape for your framework, instead of the three. In fact any odd number is pleasing to the eye, but using just one or three is the safest when you're starting out. 

So whether you are a logical thinker or a creative one (and by the way, the 3rd type is someone who is blessed with both), then styling should not be a burden to you, as long as you follow the basic principles of design.

In future blogs, I will address other design elements such as Lines, Shapes, Forms, Space, Repetition, and Composition - to complete the full picture. But for now, just knowing proportions and balance can add a lot to improve your layouts.

For more information about color, see my other blogs:

How to Brand Your Website Using Color


The Meanings of Colors


About the Author

 Annie, the owner of Milleflore Images, has been a very successful stock photographer for 8 years, selling over 100,000 stock imagery on one agency alone, and 200,000 plus across all agencies that she contributes to.

Prior to that, Annie had her own graphic design business, which she says has been the perfect background to understanding what type of visual sells best.

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