How to Style Overhead Still Life Photos (it’s SO fun!)

still life

It took me a long time to admit that photography is part of my job. UGH! I’m a decorator, a blogger, a writer–but every step of the way it was the photos that helped communicate my message.

In a visual business with an online presence, photography makes or breaks you.

Often, photos are the deciding factor when it comes to someone actually stopping and read what you have to say.

We start the story with the photos and finish the story with our words–if we are lucky enough to get people to stick around long enough actually read our words.

You really cannot overestimate the power of a great photo.

still life close

Is photography part of your message?

If you have a blog, a shop, a product, a service, a book, a belief, a public Instagram account where you hope to reach followers beyond your personal friends and family–pretty much if you have ANYTHING you hope to share on any medium where photos are included, then photography is part of your message too.

One of the types of photos that has high visual impact but also takes the most amount of skill to master is the still life photo– a styled photo from above, also referred to as a “flat lay” “table top” or simply “overhead”.

Still life photos taken from above are such a nice addition to any photography style and they look great on Instagram. They are styled with intention to allow us to focus on a certain object, create curiosity and to begin to tell part of a story–all for the sake of connecting and serving our audience.

In the post below I share 3 important steps to a great still life and a downloadable check list — click the button below to get your checklist now.

how to style still life

You would think it would be easy to create these images–it’s actual still life, nothing is moving. But if you are being intentional you know it’s about much more than taking a non-blurry photo.

It took me YEARS to figure out why my still life photos looked bad, or ‘off’ and today, I’m sharing three tips I incorporate into every still life photo that I take.

For your viewing pleasure, I’ll also share examples of how I used to take photos that went against these tips and it always drove me crazy because I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

I did it all wrong so you don’t have to.   Here’s my first tip…



I used to think lighting could be fixed with a filter, now I know that you can never filter away poor lighting.

poor lighting why, WHY didn’t I wait for better lighting? please forgive me?

Lighting is your everything. I’d rather take a photo of toilet paper in great light, than flowers in horrible light.

So many times in the past I did you, the reader a disservice because I was impatient.  I believed the lie that lighting wasn’t important, and thought I could filter myself out of poor lighting.

You can never filter away poor lighting.

Now, I wait on the light, it is my number ONE tip when it comes to photography of all kinds. And many of us are taking photos with our phone and posting them on Instagram and our websites.

We think because it’s called Instagram, that we must take every photo in the moment and post it instantly. Wrong.

Some photos should be taken in the moment–a child blowing out birthday candles, a bee on a sunflower–but if we are taking time to style a photo to tell an intentional story (like I was trying to do in those three poorly lit photos above) then it’s worth it to take the time to wait on the right light.

style a photo how to

For me, waiting on the light means setting up near filtered sunlight on a sunny day (where I’m near a window but without direct sun) or even a cloudy day that’s not too dark. Natural light will change your photo’s lives. I promise.


Negative Space (white space)


I used to think that I needed to pack every inch of my photos full of stuff, now I realize I need to provide a place for the eye (or eyes if you have two) to rest.

all wrongthese three photos don’t have enough negative space, please, give my eyes a place to rest, they are exhausted!

I get it, we only have a small space to start with when it comes to creating a photo, better make it count and pack everything in, right? Not quite.


 White space is the most valuable thing on the internet today.


White space is the most valuable, noticeable thing in a room, in our schedule and even on the internet.

White space in a photo (or in our lives) is what allows us to see and appreciate everything else. Never underestimate it.

It takes a lot of maturity to allow some white space in your photos, it seems easy, but it’s kind of scary and takes practice to balance white space will filled up space. It’s especially meaningful in these still life photos.

styling secrets

White space is one of the most powerful players in an image to draw attention to the focal point.




I used to think if something were pretty I could just snap a photo and everyone would see it they way I saw it, now I realize it’s worth it to consider how I frame the story I’m hoping to tell.

how not to style a photoclearly lighting is still an issue in these photos, but even if that were better…well, just read below

It took me years to get comfortable going closer to what I was photographing. I’d try to give the big picture, when really, telling just a part of the story would have resulted in a better, more interesting photo and probably made people more curious to read the words that went with the photos.

I’ve learned I don’t have to try to tell the entire story in one image.

Don’t be afraid to allow things to run off the edge of the photo. It’s visually interesting, hints that the photo doesn’t tell the whole story and builds curiosity.

run off the page // styling photos closer

Above is a great example of a pretty close photo, but then next to it I went even closer. Wow, right?

These three tips are my starting point every time to getting a great still life from above.

If you are wondering how to decide what actually goes INTO the photo, I created a little PDF for you to download, kind of like a checklist that is especially helpful if you are in the middle of working on a shot like this and something feels off but you can’t put your finger on it.

I made the PDF with Instagram in mind, because that’s where I share most of my photos these days, and that’s where I see lots of people posting images of still life from above–the other day I had four in a row on my feed!

how to style still life

If you have a book coming out, a product that you create, a service, a story to tell, if you are using interesting photos to help build a community (basically, if you are a person who has a public Instagram account and looks at your following numbers) then you’ll really enjoy this PDF.

>>>click here to download your checklist <<<

HOW TO STYLE STILL LIFE :: yes! this makes it easy


Our Ikea Kitchen (almost 3 years in)


When people find out that we bought our cabinets and counter tops from Ikea they want to know two things: do we like them and would we do it again. I had someone ask just this past week so I thought I’d write a quick post proclaiming my love.

Do we like them? Would we buy them again?

My answer: yes & yes!


Because of the shape of our kitchen, you don’t actually see much of our cabinets unless you are standing right in front of them, plus we only have 10 cabs in our kitchen, so there aren’t a lot to see anyway.

We also have some butcher block counter on the far end of the kitchen, and white quartz on the 10 foot island and next to the stove. I LOVE both counters, the quartz is indestructible, I’m the world’s worst counter top caretaker/best counter top abuser and they still look great.

kitchen 2


kitchen fall

We’ve had our kitchen for almost three years now, I’ve had to replace one drawer front (user error) and they still gave it to us for free because of their 25 year guarantee (or something like that).

Ikea kitchens usually go on sale a few times a year–it’s worth it to buy during the sale. We closed on our house and I had to purchase our kitchen right away (this is the first kitchen I’ve ever planned) but to get the sale it was worth it. Plus, I knew I could return or exchange something if it turned out we ordered the wrong thing.


The only thing I worry about with this kitchen is, I think in the past year or so they changed all their designs AND cabinet sizes, so IF we needed to replace a door now, we’d have to either find an old door on ebay (unlikely I’m guessing) or scramble and get all new doors from a third-party that still fits the older Ikea kitchens.

I think the last kitchen change stayed around for 20 years, so if you buy now that they’ve made the update, you are probably good for a long time.

round dining table

The drawers close perfectly and hold a lot of weight. Which after living in 14 different houses, we’ve learned that many kitchens are not this sturdy. Ikea kitchens are entirely different from their Billy bookcases, their kitchens are highly respected and their cabinet boxes are used in all sorts of homes.

Want different drawer fronts? There are lots of companies who specialize in making door fronts for Ikea cabinets. You can google them, I’m in a hurry this morning. Okay, here’s one.



Thinking about an Ikea kitchen? I’m really happy with ours.


I liked our Ikea kitchen so much I even put one in our little guest house!

More about our kitchen (before & during photos & links to what else we used in the kitchen)

Weekend Links


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