Behind the Scenes: A New Column!

before and after // styling tips for DIY projects

Hope you had a nice, long weekend! I’m back today with a new column!

Over the years, I’ve created a lot of DIY projects. And I do mean A LOT (over 100 DIYs last year alone). While creating those projects, I am always mindful of what the end product is going to look like – paying close attention to the styling and photography for the finished DIY, as well as the step by step instructions. And there is a good reason for this.

Projects that have thoughtful styling, purposeful placement, and strong photography do better on social media and in the blogosphere (in general) than ones that don’t. Of course the project idea itself is important. But let’s face it, sites like Pinterest aren’t just for sharing clever ideas, they’re for sharing beautiful imagery.

So…with that in mind, I am starting a new column today dedicated to tips and tricks to make your DIYs look even more awesome. Every so often, I’ll be showing you some behind the scenes photos of a recent project, and then I’ll break it down into helpful tips for making your DIY projects look as great as they can be.

The first behind the scenes look is of this cupcake topper project I created for Momtastic. Ready to jump in?

setup near a window to make the most of the light in a room

Here are today’s tips…

1. Explore different setups: When I’m shooting something indoors, I like to set up next to the double windows in my office. I have a long table that I can use as a prep surface and switch out backdrops super easily. As you can see in the photo above, my table is setup perpendicular to the window. This particular setup works great for me, but I can also shoot with my back to the windows onto the opposite wall when I need something further away, like the photos from this post (and this one, which was shot by Sarah Eddy).

You’ll also see in this photo, that I’m using a canvas as the standing backdrop and it is being held up by vases filled with flowers (from a previous shoot). How very professional of me. Hehe.

behind the scenes setup

2. Invest in backdrops and backgrounds: If I lived in New York and had a prop house like this at my disposal, I could literal rent a different (and totally awesome) backdrop/ background every day of the week. BUT I don’t live in a city that has prop houses, so I make do with what I can get my hands on.

Mat boards in different colors (like light grey and cream) work pretty well. Here are a couple of examples of projects I’ve used the grey for, so you can see what it looks like in photos: one // two.

I also use a marble slab / cutting board for a lot of food related shoots. Works great, but man, is it heavy!

3. Work with what you have: Don’t forget about the supplies and materials that you used to create your DIY project. In this case, that would be Fruit Loops and pipe cleaners. They make great props in the finished shots and help tell the story without having to explain it in words.

styling tips and tricks

4. More is more: Whether it’s a cupcake or a couch, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that when it comes to styling, more is more. That doesn’t mean that you have to stuff each frame from floor to ceiling with objects/ materials. But it does mean having more than one option, in case things aren’t working out, can be a very good thing.

So if you’re working with cupcakes and only need to photograph one, have three or four on hand in case you drop one or the icing is messed up on one, etc. Or if you’re shooting DIY plaster votives, for example, make 15 and then choose the best 5 or 10 from the bunch to photograph.

I realize that’s not always convenient to do, but if you have the time it’s worth it to create those kinds of options for yourself. I promise it will result in better looking projects and styled photographs in the end.

messy behind the scenes

5. It’s going to get messy: The above photo is real life. It’s a total mess and it’s how that table looks at the end of nearly every day. It’s not perfectly styled. It’s not even remotely organized, but it works for me.

At the time this was shot, I had piled up pipe cleaners, flowers, an empty bowl, sheets of paper (from a failed project), an iron, some of the bags from that mylar hearts project I did a couple of weeks ago. There is even an empty Coke Zero bottle in there. It’s not glamorous. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of glamorous, but you’d never know from the finished photos. And that’s really all that matters.

6. Vary your angles: I keep a ladder in my workspace so that I can get multiple angles (especially for the above shots) without having to balance on my tip toes on top of a chair. Not that I haven’t done that a zillion times, but having a ladder gives me more flexibility in how far up I can go and saves me the trouble of having to pull a chair in.

what it looks like behind the scenes

Still have questions? Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.

And if you’re looking for more ways to create beautifully styled, share-worthy tutorials, check out my Skillshare class, The How To on How Tos: Creating Compelling Tutorials for your Blog.

57 comments | Click here to reply

Great post! I don’t do diy’s much but I can def use these tips in my online shop

Alisha @ The Alisha Nicole

omg omg i was looking for information like this. so glad you decided to start this new series. thank you! i’ll be reading intently!


Thanks so much for these great tips!


I loved this post! Keep them coming 🙂


Thank you for sharing your tidbits of photography advice/ideas on “Behind the Scenes”! I hope to see more of these 🙂

Annie @


I love these types of posts! It’s so fun to see behind the scenes!

Kevin | Thou Swell

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your photography process! I am trying to learn better ways to shoot my DIY’s, and this helps a lot. I need to get my hands on some colored matte backgrounds…!

Allison Katelyn @ Http://

Allison Katelyn

Love this post! I am always looking for tips and tricks! Hope this series becomes/stays regular!


This series is going to be so RAD.

Chelsea Foy

I loved this!
If it’s ok, I’ll share a linkt to your new column on my Sunday morning post (it’s a round up of interesting thing I find around).
Thank you!


Thank you so much for this! I struggle sometimes with how to set up to take pictures of my projects…this makes it a little easier! ~Lisa

Lisa @ Practically Perfect Home

I absolutely love this series idea and can’t wait to see more posts. I have a food blog, which is slightly different than DIY projects but I think most, if not all, of your tips will still apply. Thank you!

Katie @ 24 Carrot Life

This is such a fantastic tutorial! I often wondered what materials people used for their white backdrops (are their houses just perfect for photography???) — and since I always have canvases lying around, this was perfect!


Wow, this is a great series! Thanks for showing us the magic behind the magic 🙂


Glad you’re in the Skillshare class, Arielle. And I’m happy to recommend a prop house. My favorite is this one: . You can browse some of their items online, but I’d recommend going in so you can see the full selection. They have a pretty descent size space that is packed with goodies (lots of tableware and accessories, artwork scattered throughout, tons of cutting boards, and an entire room dedicated to surfaces/backdrops). It’s great.


Hi! I actually just started your skill share course yesterday! I wanted to ask, because I do live in New York, what prop houses do you recommend? I’m new here and still learning what’s available. Thanks!

Arielle casa

Thanks for sharing these tips, they´re really useful. Can´t wait to see the next behind the scenes post 🙂


Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks!! Lovely to see how you make your photo’s 🙂

Denise Beckand

Great idea for a column! Even your disorganized behind the scenes photos look great. I use a vase or bowl to hold up my background too- and it always falls at some point without fail ruining my perfect shot. DIY photography can be challenging- but it’s great when you get that beautiful shot!


I love that even your behind the scenes shots are still totally styled and lovely–like the pretty vase and flowers to do the dirty work holding up your backdrop! 🙂

Great column to help us remember all the great tips you’ve taught us in the Skillshare course 😉

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