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How to Take Styled Overhead Images

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Wondering how to take styled overhead images for your blog or social media profiles? Here’s how to get gorgeous results with minimal gear! Take your photography to the next level by learning a few simple lighting tricks.

How to take styled overhead images

If you’re at all involved in the blogging world, you’ve probably heard of styled stock photography or seen beautifully styled overhead photography. But what is it? You probably know what a stock photo is; the Internet says that stock photos are “photographs of common places, landmarks, nature, events, or people for commercial design purposes.”

Basically they are just pictures of things. Stock photos can be really good, or they can be really funny and unexplainable. Really, the only difference between stock photos and styled stock photos is that styled stock photos are styled with a certain theme.

Styled stock images are also often shot overhead, meaning from above. You often see items laid out on a neutral surface, table, desk, or bed and shot from overhead. They can be great options to help with branding on your social media profiles, or they can be strategically shot so you can slap an inspirational quote on top of them in Canva. 🙂

how to take styled stock photos

For more related photography posts and tips, check out my posts on how to shoot products and flat lays, my essential tips for photographing interiors, basic photography tools I recommend, and how to take gorgeous, professional-looking overhead images of your baby for monthly milestone photos!

The DIY approach for styled overhead images

If you want to purchase gorgeous, professional styled stock photos to help brand your online presence, there are TONS of options out there. But, if you want to practice styling your own photography, I’m going to give you some great tips on how to use light to make your photos look better.

  • Decide on a backdrop. What will you arrange your items on? Will the color and texture complement your theme? Speaking of…
  • Pick a theme. I looked around my house and gathered a bunch of items that I thought would photograph well. I did two sets of sewing-themed images and two sets of beauty-themed images. All items came from my craft closet or my bathroom.
  • Sort items into complementary colors. The first sewing photo is pink/black/white; the second is gold/yellow/purple/brown. The first beauty image focuses on pinks/blacks/golds, while the second focuses on bright colors like red and purple.
  • Arrange and rearrange to try different layouts. It’s hard to know what will look best until you see the photos on your computer.

Now that you have your items all sorted out, let’s talk about the most important parts, which are lighting and gear. A beautiful theme will look like crap if you don’t light your photo the right way, and there are a few things you need to do that.

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Here’s what I used for my styled images

  • An Ikea Lack side table in Birch Effect—this table comes in a handful of colors, all of which are only $10. You can also just use the floor!
  • Natural light (e.g., a window)
  • Two pieces of white, poster-board-sized foam
  • A reflector (I have this one) (you could also use a third piece of white poster board, but a reflector is best IMO
  • Things to prop your reflector and foam up on (I used a few chairs and stood on one of the chairs to take the photos—see purple socks below).
  • If you’re smart and take photos from overhead regularly, a tripod with an arm…but I didn’t have one when I originally wrote this post. As I update it years later, I gotta say…invest in a tripod with an arm!

And here’s how to set up the lighting for your styled overhead images

My natural light source is our sliding glass door on the right. It was an overcast day, but if you’re working with direct sun, you might want to use a diffuser or a makeshift diffuser (like a piece of sheer white fabric). Place your reflector opposite the natural light source; I had mine leaning up against a chair.

The reflector fills in the shadows by bouncing (or reflecting) light from the window onto the subject. Then, put your two white foam boards on the remaining two sides. I had them each propped up against a chair, and I stood on one of the chairs to take the photos.

(Again, as I update this post, I gotta reiterate that it’s much easier to get a tripod with an arm if you’re planning to do a lot of photography. If not, you can set up your shots on the floor so you don’t have to stand on a chair.)

how to take styled stock photos

You’re probably wondering how much of a difference this setup really makes. Lucky for you, I took before and after photos for each theme. The before (first, darker) photos only have the natural light source on the right; they do not have the reflector or the two foam boards.

The after photos have the natural light source, the reflector, and the two white foam boards. I also brightened them a bit and saturated some of the colors. (Note: I use Adobe Lightroom, but there are plenty of amazing free photo editing apps out there. Snapseed is my favorite for mobile.)

As you can see with these, the lighting makes a huge difference! I’m pretty pleased with how much of an improvement the reflector and two white foam boards made. With a little experimenting, you can take professional-looking styled stock photos for your own blog.

Sewing-Themed: Pinks and Blacks Before and After

how to take styled overhead images before and after lighting set up

Sewing-Themed: Purples, Golds, Yellows Before and After

how to take styled overhead images before and after lighting set up

Beauty-Themed: Pinks and Blacks Before and After

how to take styled overhead images before and after lighting set up

Beauty-Themed: Red and Purple Before and After

how to take styled overhead images before and after lighting set up

Pin my tutorial on how to take styled overhead images!

how to take styled overhead images
how to take styled overhead images
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Sunday 5th of March 2017

This is great! I've been struggling so much with my photos and I've been taking them next to a window, but not with any foam boards or reflectors. I'm going to try this! Thank you.


Wednesday 8th of June 2016

Thank you for the tips! I already do stock photography, but the styled photos are so popular right not that I'm definitely going to give them a try!!

Brittany Merth

Wednesday 8th of June 2016

Hi Amy! I'm so glad you found it helpful!!


Monday 18th of January 2016

What f-stop and ISO did you use?

Brittany Merth

Tuesday 19th of January 2016

Between 5 and 6.3, and the ISO was set at 500 for all photos. I also used a 50mm lens. :)


Thursday 19th of November 2015

Well! This was amazingly helpful! Glad I'm not the only one who goes above and beyond to get a quality photos. Do you think covering something with foil would make a good reflector? Lol. Just a thought. Thanks again I am going to try this out very soon.

Brittany Merth

Tuesday 19th of January 2016

I can't see why not! It might be a pain, though. Reflectors are so cheap, and they fold up nicely.


Friday 17th of April 2015

Great tutorial. I love how clear and crisp your photos are.

Brittany Merth

Friday 17th of April 2015


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