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Behind the scenes – a ‘quick and easy’ shoot

As most of you know, we shoot a lot of original content here. Sometimes it’s in real situations – like makeovers or my house, etc, but these days because of social media we set up a lot of shots in scenarios that don’t really exist. Lies. The Internet is all lies.

Food52 emailed us and asked us to style this beautiful planter by Pigeon Toe Ceramics for them and since we love Food52, PigeonToe and challenges we said ‘sure’. You can grab the planter HERE. 

I was like – yeah, we can just throw it together real fast. Of course, I ended up spending like $60 on succulents to put in said planter (I went to the most overpriced nursery in the world in Pasadena). I didn’t want to just do a mediocre shot on white, so we had to actually put in effort.


But few things can really just be ‘thrown together’, and we knew that for social media we wanted it to feel kinda aspirational, but there wasn’t really a budget to paint a wall or go shopping. So by using what we already had in the studio, we ‘threw it together’, which means that we completely set up a fake scenario full of precarious props that at any moment could fall and kill you.

On the left is what it actually looked like in our studio and on the right is the final photo:


Click through to see more of this very life threatening situation.

We already had all the plants and the other vessels?props/blanket, we just had to compose it all together in a the perfect square shot.


A lot of ‘playing’ goes into each shot as you can see here (and this is only like 1/2 of the troubleshooting that we did.)


Life looks effortless, folks, but it ain’t. It’s way more fun (and dangerous and expensive and time-consuming) than that. Head to Food52 to see how a few other people styled and shot it. Also please note that the rope is held in place by brass rods – nice job,  Pigeon Toe, nice job. Thanks for my free planter 🙂

*Art directed/written by me, styled by Brady Tolbert and shot by Jessica Isaac. 

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7 years ago

Thank you SO MUCH for this! I feel like an idiot whenever I’ve spent 2 hours shuffling plants and books around thinking “what would Emily do?”

Glad to see you don’t just throw things and have them land in a photo-perfect heap (like I thought you did). Lots of love!

7 years ago

This is a great behindthescenes post; thx to all! And that turtle gets around, doesn’t he?!!!

Love, love, love that planter and all those $60 succulents! I had to laugh reading this, because it’s not unlike our little set up we shared yesterday (gif and all!):

Not only do I just LOVE your writing style and design sense in general, but this behind the scenes look makes you (and your team) seem even more approachable and “real.” It’s totally cool with shooting (and admiring) aspirational photos as long as we all recognize that a lot of perspiration goes into most of them. Thanks for copping to it – it just makes me admire you even more!

PS – The world’s strongest turtle might also be the wold’s cutest. I think I need him at my house!

7 years ago

Ha. Thanks!!! And that turtle is from Target. Charlie is obsessed with it as one of his favorite words to say is ‘turtle’. xx

7 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing this post! I love it! While deep in my heart I knew you didn’t have a magic design wand, it’s nice to actually see your process and all your hard work.

7 years ago

Love this. It is so reassuring to know that not everything that looks picture perfect, is, in fact, picture perfect. In the time of blogging and Pinterest, I can break out in hives that our one year new to us house (4th house we’ve owned in the 3rd state we’ve lived in) is not quite picture perfect.

7 years ago

Haha fun sneak peak!

7 years ago

Just need to send some love to the world’s strongest turtle. Great post.

7 years ago

So appreciate this! I am always inspired by what you and your team create. I learn so much from your “behind the scene” posts. Thanks for sharing your process!!!

7 years ago

Those are great looking succulents and a fun behind the scene look which is one of my favorite things.

7 years ago

Kudos to that turtle holdin’ down the fort! I pinned the final shot as soon as I saw it, so thanks for composing it 🙂

7 years ago

Looked at all the other designed pots. Oh, Emily you are the bomb! No contest! I know it wasn’t a contest and the others were OK but did not hold a candle to yours.
Thanks for all your great posts. Everyone is WORTH IT!

7 years ago

Authentic! Brilliant! Beautiful! Seeing the process behind the finished pic is SO inspiring. I’m curious to know how you anotated the picture?

7 years ago

I keep thinking I’ll try succulents, but don’t know how to balance different shapes and textures. Obviously, free-flow is better. Love what you did.

7 years ago

Fun to see how it all really works. Thanks for sharing.

7 years ago

Seriously, you guys are the best. I LOVE LOVE the behind the scenes posts! We all suspect the internet is full of lies, but then we question ourselves. This is all very much how I end up doing vignettes at my house (um, with less *danger*,though). Thank you for the gif because now I can prove to my husband I’m not crazy!

7 years ago

Well done Emily (and team)! Your post brings to mind one of my favorite quotes on design “The urge for simplicity is the complexity of design”. Sometimes it is all the background work that makes a piece look as good as it does. Thanks for sharing.

7 years ago

Try Present Perfect in Pasadena. I got a decent sized, healthy fiddle leaf fig for a very, very reasonable price.

7 years ago
Reply to  LK

Thank you LK!! I have been looking for an inexpensive fiddle leaf for ages! I purchased 3 from Ikea at different times and they all died within a month, even though I was so careful and read a million things on what to do to keep them alive.

And thank you Emily for this post. It had me cracking up and as always I absolutely loved your styling (even if it wasn’t real life).

7 years ago

I never knew I could love a post about a planter photo this much. Thanks to you and your team! Hilarious (and yet informative)!

7 years ago

Thank you, thank you! It’s so nice to know that everything that looks beautiful in pictures is not so functional…it takes a lot of the pressure off of needing to look like the “aspirational” pictures in real life, because that’s a fantasy life and not a real life anyone is living. If you didn’t share these behind the scenes pictures, I would zoom out from this picture in my mind in a huge, gorgeous, effortless home in which a beautiful,well-traveled woman lives, who never gets tired and stressed and magically keeps plants alive always. Although this is the effect you’re going for (and something that I like to see, don’t get me wrong!), it’s really comforting to know how much actual work goes into it so I don’t need to feel inadequate that it’s not just effortlessly happening to me, and if you zoom out, it’s not a real house or life that someone is living. Thanks for keeping it real!

7 years ago

This is so insightful and fun. Thank you, Emily, as always!

Lindsay P
7 years ago

love seeing the behind the scenes stuff! more please. 🙂

7 years ago

I love seeing your behind the scenes posts! It really puts things in perspective for me.


7 years ago

Thanks for this. I really enjoy behind the scenes posts. I checked out how the others styled this and couldn’t help wondering what they had it hanging from 🙂

7 years ago

Ok, this is hilarious. Thanks!

7 years ago

This post wins the internet for today for me! I love the peek into the styling/shooting process, and the humor in the post. Great job!

7 years ago

Emily, you write the coolest posts! haha I really enjoyed reading this and I love that world’s strongest turtle..

7 years ago

I LOVE that y’all pull back the curtain on the blog “crafted” reality!

Susie Q.
7 years ago

I may have to pin that picture of Brady…he’s lookin’ hawt!

7 years ago

This post just gave me even more reasons to love you and your team. Most of us know that what we see on blogs/social media isn’t what life really looks like, but not all of us show what it really looks like – you doing that speaks volumes about y’all, and in the best way possible.

Josh – The Kentucky Gent

7 years ago

Wait. All those succulents for only 60 bucks? Dang, I wish.
Hilarious and awesome post:)

7 years ago

Ok, there are a million comments, so you’ll probably not even get to mine… BUT. I so loved this post! I created an entire series to my behind the scene craziness (the REAL delineate) because I love sharing what is beyond my perfect little setup photos. Thanks for keeping it real, love it.

7 years ago

3rding (4thing) the love for the world’s strongest turtle, for him alone I’m so happy to see the behind the scenes. Did anyone else think Terry Pratchett?

7 years ago

love this post!

7 years ago

Aha! I’ve been wondering if you were doing some of the quick styled shoots at home b/c of that wood flooring–it is extra pieces left over from your house, right? That makes so much more sense now! [crazy hung-up on details here]. Love the background info as always! Funny stuff. 🙂

7 years ago

all your hard work and staging paid off, It’s a lovely little white lie.

7 years ago

I absolutely love that you share the behind the scenes truths about styling and interiors you shoot and don’t just make it all about the glamorous final product (altho it is of course, always glamorous and beautiful !) And I especially love your sense of humor … laughed out loud at this post today – thank you !

7 years ago

Just have to break my silence to echo what everyone else has said – THANK YOU so much for sharing this! We put so much pressure on ourselves these days to lead an “Instagram worthy” life when things are never really as composed as they look. I often get all MacGuyver with my shots and also wonder, “gee, I sure don’t feel like a pro doing this.” So nice to have some insight.

7 years ago

Thanks so much for this. It’s such a relief to know that even the experts go through the staging and the tweaking and the head scratching and the extra props to get that great shot, that it doesn’t just magically happen for you when you get to a certain stage! And congrats to you all for sharing that – and for surviving those times you really just want to kick it all and go do something else, when that one particular prop just won’t catch the light the way you want it to or when the other one falls down a hundred times.

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