7 Expert-Approved Styling and Design Tips From Photographers

A staged living room featuring plants

Sara Liggoria-Tramp

When it comes to asking interior design teams for their insider tips, there’s one member who’s often overlooked: the photographer. But if anyone can visually assess a space, it’s the pro behind the camera! So we spoke with two top interior photographers to ask for their insight on how to style a space for maximum visual impact.

  • 01 of 07

    Create Visual 'Landing Points'

    Living room with lots of sunlight, well curated bookshelves, and a fire in the fireplace

    Miriam Sheridan

    Photographer Miriam Sheridan (@miriamsheridanphotography) told us that when composing a shot, “I want the viewers’ eye to have landing points around the room. You want the eye to travel—to bounce a little bit, not stay too long anywhere, or be blocked by anything.”

    This means that one of Miriam’s biggest priorities is to avoid blank spaces. “If there’s nothing in the middle of the room, the eye has to travel too far. It either lands on a big, vacant space in the middle or drifts to the other side. It unbalances the image.”

    This is why coffee tables aren’t just a key functional item—they also help create a visual landing point. But it’s not enough to just have a coffee table, either. “There needs to be something there, and you need something on the coffee table. It can’t be something too large, because that will have too much gravitas. But you need something on there so the room is balanced and your eye can travel.”

    When decorating your coffee table, think of small items, like trays holding candles or small vases of flowers, or stacks of books.

    A living room without a coffee table and unstaged

    Miriam Sheridan

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  • 02 of 07

    Keep Eyes Off the TV

    Miriam pointed out that it’s not just the areas that are devoid of furniture that can throw off the balance of a room. An area that’s overwhelmed by one specific item can also create an unpleasant aesthetic. 

    “[The TV is] a big, solid, black square that sucks a lot of balance out of a room,” Miriam said. “If you’re walking into a room and the TV is directly opposite, it’s going to be the first thing your eye travels to. It’s not pleasing! It’s sort of a black hole of energy.” While Miriam can work her angles to avoid shooting a room with the television in the center, you can use other tricks for real life. 

    “Do things to break up the shape. Add flowers next to and slightly in front of the TV to break up the shape. Painting the wall behind the TV a dark color also works well, as it softens the look."

    “I love it when people have them on swivel brackets so you can kind of slide it back!”

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  • 03 of 07

    Never Underestimate the Power of Pillows and Throws

    A staged bed with throw pillows and a blanket to enhance the look

    Miriam Sheridan

    As with the TV and coffee table, beds and sofas can also create blank spaces that displease the eye. “People don’t understand how much a difference cushions and a throw can make. Without it, you end up with a big expanse. You need to break up the main surface of the bed [or the sofa].”

    “At the head of the bed, you need something pleasing at the top. Two plain pillows is not very aesthetically zen,” laughed Miriam. “A bunch of cushions makes a big difference! It changes how the whole bed area looks. People pull the duvet up over the pillows, but it extends this expansive nothingness.”

    an unstaged bed

    Miriam Sheridan

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  • 04 of 07

    The Best Accessories Are Alive

    A staged living room featuring plants

    Sara Liggoria-Tramp

    Photographer Sara Liggoria-Tramp (@hellosaratrampinteriors) spoke to us about the power of accessorizing. “Bring in the greens!” she said. “Plants are the second-best styling accessory in any interior stylist or photographers’ tool kit. Branches are naturally sculptural, hanging plants drape with an organic grace few throws can mimic, and the sense of life they bring into a photo is immediate. Keeping flowers and plants in your home will only make it feel better.”

    If you’re not a plant person, then Sara has another suggestion for warming up a room. “What takes the number one spot for styling accessories? A sweet dog or snoozing cat, hands down.”

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  • 05 of 07

    Don't Block the Eye

    Home of Jaclyn Johnson, styled by CJ, designed by Ginny Macdonald

    Sara Liggoria-Tramp

    Sara’s top tip for entering a room is to avoid greeting your guests with the back of a sofa. “There are a few cases where it can work, and sometimes a home doesn't allow for any other layout, but generally walking into a space that isn't immediately cut in half by a piece of furniture is going to make your home feel a lot bigger.”

    This is something Sara’s even incorporated into her own home. “In my living room, we have our sofa pushed up against the front door wall,” she said. “[That way], when you walk in, you get to see the whole layout of the space, rather than having the sofa right in the entryway, facing the fireplace.”

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  • 06 of 07

    Let the Light In

    Living area designed by Jubilee Interiors with a leather ottoman and table in front of a huge mirror and window

    Sara Liggoria-Tramp

    There’s a reason we all love large, expansive windows. Light is the main thing to set the tone for a room. “Allow in as much light as you can,” said Sara. “During the day, that means natural light. 99% of the time I shoot using only natural light, and it helps space feel natural and happy.”

    This doesn’t just apply to her work life, either. “When I'm home, I live kind of the same way,” said Sara. “[I] open up all my window treatments to let in as much natural light as possible. As we've been renovating our home we've tried to find as many opportunities for more natural light as possible, including a skylight in the primary bathroom and a sun tunnel in our primary closet. In the evening lots of cozy lamps, rather than bright overhead lights, makes a space feel cozy and homey."

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  • 07 of 07

    Texture Is Everything

    Kitchen styled by Emily Edith Bowser, designed by Sarah E Zachary

    Sara Liggoria-Tramp

    “I work with a lot of talented stylists when shooting, and we almost always like to include some sort of organic texture in the shot,” said Sara. “That could be a throw on a sofa, a hand towel over a sink ledge, or some branches on a dining table. It helps the space feel lived in, inviting, and warm––even if the design aesthetic is minimal.” 

    “Hot tip: I think styling bedding is the absolute HARDEST thing in interiors. There are people who specialize in it! In my own home, I opt for bedding that looks better [when] wrinkled and textured, like hemp or linen.”

Next time you’re looking to style a room, step back and consider things from a photographer’s perspective.