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Styling the Perfect Shot…


I wish I could say I designed every house in the book – like this one by Noah Riley, but I didn’t. It begs the question “what did you do then?” So I figured I’d start breaking down the styling process, showing how it looked when we arrived that morning, and what it takes to pull off the perfect shot – meanwhile you’ll get some peeks into the book and some behind the scenes.

First off I had help – I hired one of my best friend’s who also happens to be one of the best stylists, Scott Horne, to help style the book. Why, you might ask? Because I needed another set of eyes and another set of hands to keep up with the book as well as everything else that was happening – the blog, design clients, partnerships, etc. Flowers had to be purchased in the morning at 6am, things had to be schlepped and organized and cleaned, etc, and I just needed a pro who had done it a million times to handle all that stuff and take a first stab at shots.

Generally how it went was that Scott and I would scout the location together, make a list of potential things we would need and what we would shoot, then we would both prep/shop, and the day of the shoot he would do the flower market, the schlepping, etc, and load in and I’d show up about an hour later after the annoying stuff was done. Then he would typically take the first stab at the final shot while I worked on my computer and I would tweak/change depending on what I wanted to say about the shot and what I knew I was going to write about. I guess you could say I art directed it, but co-styling it is probably accurate, too. Overall he was there for about 80% of the shots (he was booked on other projects during the two months).

Once the camera is up we start taking shots and typically all these shots before the final get totally trashed, but I asked David (the amazing photographer) to keep all of the process shots so I could put together these posts.


We choose the angles together, he starts tweaking the lights and we get to work on the styling. For this one we didn’t want a ton of “stuff, ” we just wanted to 1.) create a sense of a person and 2.) add some texture and soft colors. This wasn’t going to be the time to bring in crazy colors or patterns, just a few tones to liven it up.


For every shot we move stuff around constantly – making sure that it feels balanced and that the composition is pleasing to the eye with enough negative space to keep it feeling calm. In this case we added the green (in the plants and sandals), the soft blue (the vase and the tea towel) and the yellow/gold (the pears, pot and gold planter).


Rooms always seem more inviting when there is a sense that a person was just there – when things aren’t so perfect, so we did two options to show you – one (above) that is totally clean and less staged and one (below, which was chosen as the final version) of the kitchen more styled out as if a person was just there. The above photo is more of a straight shot – styled but less “staged.”

And this below photo is the more ‘styled’ shot. You’ll notice the book open with a mug next to it, the stools slightly askew and fruit being cut near the sink.


Sometimes the adding of personal stuff can get kinda annoying, visually. Like when there are 9 glasses of rose poured, half eaten donuts, etc. You have to be kinda careful with it so it doesn’t look too forced or “try-hard.”


It may not seem like a huge difference but it’s the difference between a messy shot, a boring shot and then what it turned out to be – a really pretty styled shot. More of that GORGEOUS kitchen in the book – it’s one of my favorites. Nice job Noah Riley 🙂

*Photos by David Tsay for our book! Styling by Scott Horne. 

Find out where you can pre-order your copy of Styled here. Want more about the book? Check out our blog posts: Book Cover and Title Options | Styled…The Real Cover

Fin Mark


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I love your line, “Rooms always seem more inviting when there is a sense that a person was just there.” Never thought of it that way. Brilliant!


I enjoy your blog so much but have never commented until now. Thank you for all the terrific content. But I have to tell you…you have misused the phrase “beg the question.” You meant to say “makes one ask the question.” (To beg the question is to engage in circular argument, where your reasons are identical to your conclusion.) Big difference!


Kelly is totally right! It’s not really a matter of grammar but of logic. If someone is ‘begging the question’ then he or she is using invalid reasoning. I can see why the phrase get misused the way it does though.


I’m intrigued! Can someone give me a concrete example?


Jess, I was intrigued too, so I was curious about finding an easy-to-understand example of the correct and incorrect way to use the phrase. I found this great article that explains it well, with concrete examples:


Emily, don’t keep using “begs the question” the wrong way due to habit, because for people who know how to use the phrase correctly, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I am new to your blog (and reallly like it), and the minute I read that line it confused me since it was misused. The expression signals a different line of thinking than where you went with your commentary. Love your style post!

What’s so great about this article and the gif is it shows how much work really goes into something like a shoot. All the pictures floating around the internet that look effortless truly take time to make perfect. Plus your work is always wonderful and Noah Riley designed a beautiful space.

Jess |

What’s great about this article and the gif is it shows how much work really goes into something like a shoot. All the pictures floating around the internet that look effortless truly take time to make perfect. Plus your work is always wonderful and Noah Riley designed a beautiful space.

Jess |

Amy Carter

So pretty. Can’t wait for the book to come out! It’s on my Amazon wishlist 🙂

I have a design/style question: We are getting ready to renovate our kitchen. Originally I wanted white cabinets, white/gray countertops, subway tile backsplash, but now I’m thinking about doing a warm wood cabinet… at least for the lowers. I know wood cabinets can be dated, so how can I make it look fresh and modern? Any tips?

I love, love, love it that you blog about the behind-the-scenes-things. It’s always super interesting, and the more often I read things like that – with you explaining your reasoning – that I find myself looking much harder and closer at rooms/houses/pictures I like, and actually working out what it is I like about it.
It’s not only interesting, it’s also very helpful, and not only in decorating! Taking a better look at things is always good.
Thank you, Emily! 🙂

Plus, of course, the GIFs! Love them.


Yes, I also like the before shots of styling because they help me really identify which items have the biggest impact for getting the look I would want.

I can’t wait for the book!

We’re in the process of decorating our home, and I’ve been taking pictures of the process to put on my blog, these are all great tips as I head into styling our dinning room this week!


Love this behind-the-scenes look and reasoning! Thanks so much for sharing!

I never would have thought to disrupt the chairs like that, but you’re right.. definitely takes the shot to a whole other level.

Josh | The Kentucky Gent


This post reminded me of something Orlando once said about you and why you’re so successful at styling shots. It was something like, “You know why Emily’s so good at styling? She does it until her fingers bleed.”

Haha, typical Orlando, but I will tell you that I’ve thought of that comment probably a hundred times as I struggle to become an expert in my own field. It reminds me that greatness and success and a final product of which you are so very proud — all those things are never just handed to you. It’s time served.

Not sure where I was going with this comment? Congrats on the book, Emily, and on beautiful shots such as this! You make it look easy, but we know it is the product of thousands of hours of very hard work.

This is super interesting. Photographing rooms in our home that we have renovated / decorated is always the hardest part. I’m always trying to get that perfect shot, but can’t get it quite right. Thanks for the pointers.

-Mackenzie @

This is so beautiful! And I love the GIF of everything moving around 🙂

It’s so helpful to see how you work…and also such a good reminder that even in every day life, just getting rid of a bunch of the clutter, and paying attention to plants + texture, has the potential to transform the room you already have! And it’s also helpful to know that even a pro like you doesn’t do it 100% alone!

Luscious + Intuitive Eating |

I’m not a designer, I’m a professor, but I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how to style shots because I have a few Airbnbs (a guesthouse and a cabin) that essentially depend on good photographs to get bookings. What I struggle with is the balance between getting that good first impression while creating a space that is comfortable and practical because I find that the two are often at odds with each other. I guess this also applies to creating kid-friendly spaces. The struggle is real.


Do you have a source for those amazing light fixtures?


This is a fun post! You have an awesome job. Also want to say that’s a really pretty kitchen! Do you think that’s a Corian countertop in white? What do you think about Corian? Would it be weird to mix corian and soapstone? Soapstone on the wall side, corian on the island?


I can see it really takes a village to get these beautiful photos and I appreciate you letting us in on it. Thank you. I didn’t even know the sandals were there until you pointed it out. Ha.

Loved that you included this styling process into a blog post. Always so fascinating to me.

xo, Sarah


This was like playing an ultimate ‘find the 10 items that are different in these two photos’ while sitting in a waiting room. So enjoy the behind the scene explanation and look. I’m hoping your book gets shipped out like just released movies so it arrives on the exact day it is released….


Do you take a different approach when styling and photographing dark rooms? We just painted our living room a super dark teal that almost looks black at night. The room doesn’t get much natural light, so we decided to embrace it as a dark and moody room. I think it looks cool in person, but when I photograph the room, it looks terrible and drab. I’m sure professional photographers can work their magic, but I wondered if you had any stylist tricks up your sleeve for making a dark room look great.

Can’t wait for your book!

lynnie Gill

Hi Em, hello from downunder, congrats on the book, just pre-ordered from Amazon (cant order from Target US here in Oz), and all the best with the coming of # 2..x


This kind of stuff rocks my world – thank you! I’d love more posts like this please.

Prashanti Lyree-jo Vodanovich

Hi Emily… I love have you give us a behind the scenes view…. It doesn’t make me want strangle myself quite so much with my dust collecting cords knowing that you folk edit them out of the final shot. Thanks for keeping it real xx

Lisa H.

I feel like an idiot because every time I look at the opening and closing shots my brain simply screams at me, “But the stool is not straight!!!” Order and straight lines make me happy, but the picture is beautiful.

I LOVE that kitchen, and the styled shot is pretty awesome! It reminds me of my kitchen back in Arizona, which I miss dearly. I love a white kitchen. I may move back out West just to have my kitchen again.

Analog House

Donna T.

The stools are driving me crazy! Must.line.up.all.the.things.


I love that island! What is that made of?

perfect solution with Simplicity. A smart work with table. You can add more values with adding antiques for example

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