Q&A with Kara Nash Designs: Photo Styling 101

When it comes to styling photos, tables or events, we’ll be the first to tell you its harder than it looks! The fabrics, decorative pieces, florals and more must all come together to form a cohesive look. Luckily, we have an awesome mother-daughter duo, Kara Nash Designs, who help us design some of the tablescapes you see on Kate Aspen. So we decided to ask them to share some of their best kept secrets of styling.

Rustic Tablescape | Styling 101 | Kate Aspen


Photo Styling 101

Q: What does your process look like when you get on set?

A: We start by setting up the large components of the environment, like the backdrop and floral arrangements. Next, we come in with the place settings like china, napkins, and flatware. Finally, we arrange and display the products in a way that both makes sense with the overall tablescape and highlights the products themselves. For example, we may group favors together on a tray to give them more of a visual impact. After setting up the overall display, we have to make sure everything is just right and all the products are visible. Sometimes a table will look great in person, but the design doesn’t translate as well in a photo. The photographer will take a few test shots, and we will look at his monitor to see what needs to be tweaked. This could be moving or swapping out a prop, adjusting the height of something to make it look more balanced, or repositioning a product so it’s in the best light.

Q: What kind of prep goes into styling?

A: We approach styling for a photoshoot a lot like we would style an event, but the difference is we are more focused on showcasing the products and making sure they don’t get lost in the environment. They key is to keep things visually interesting but still clean and uncluttered. So we consider that when we’re coming up with the design. Before shoot-day, we will make the flower arrangements, any backdrop components, and gather up the table items we plan to use. If we’re not drawing from our own inventory, we may have also done some shopping for linens, dishes, or food items. We prepare a lot beforehand, but we also need to be ready to make adjustments when it comes time to set up and shoot.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from for each of your styled shoots?

A: Sometimes I have no idea where our crazy ideas come from! But we do generally draw a lot of inspiration from art and nature. Sometimes Heather, my mom, will look at a fallen tree and say “Look at these curves and twists! I want to do an arrangement with those lines!” I also pay attention to the interiors of stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. We’re always open to inspiration throughout our everyday activities and looking for ways we can translate what see into a backdrop or tablescape.

Q: What skills do you think are essential to styling?

A: It’s obvious to say that you need to have a sense of design and an artistic eye, but I think a super important skill is the ability to edit and curate. It’s easy to throw a lot of pretty things down because you have them, but just because you have a lot of great ideas doesn’t mean you have to use them all at once! A few well placed details are much more visually impactful than a mess of pretty props. Curate, Curate, Curate.

Q: Are there any props or products you suggest stylists should keep on hand?

A: Definitely spray paint or chalk paint. It’s amazing the new life that a coat of paint can give! It’s good to have a variety of tableware in your inventory, but if you can’t have a full china cabinet, start with some versatile neutral colors. Pretty fabric is also a great thing to have on hand, because it can become a backdrop, table runner, or even be cut up into napkins.

Q: Do you have any secret shopping spots?

A: We actually do a lot of “shopping” in our own houses! When I have something coming up, I walk through my house and see what props and accessories I can use. I’m also lucky to have a grandmother who has a massive china collection, so we raid her house a lot too! Other than that, you can find a lot of neat things at shops like Homegoods and World Market, as well as thrift shops and craft stores.

Q: What advice can you give people wanting to learn the art of styling?

A: Start by experimenting in your own home! Set up some tablescapes and photograph them, playing around with the placement of all the elements. Study the photos and pay attention to texture, layers, and balance. Don’t make it too busy, and focus on what looks good in photos. Research other catalogs and websites to see how their products have been styled.

Are you interested in photo styling? Which of these tips did you find to be the most helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

Happy Styling!