Photography Styling Challenge: Wall Vignette

Since I got my new camera, I have pretty much just been reveling in the far superior images I’ve been able to produce. My point-and-shoot served my well for a long time, but I am so relieved to have finally made the jump to DSLR.

A recent photo from the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Rochmond using my new DSLR.

That said, head hanging in shame, I haven’t really departed much from shooting in Automatic/no flash mode. And I know so very, very little about photography. And I know just as much about styling (i.e. practically nothing).

So when Anjana at At the Corner of Happy and Harried invited me to take part in her monthly photography and styling challenge, I jumped at the chance. Here are the rules for each month. And here are the other participants so check out what they did too:

Redesigned by M
My Food Tapestry
At the Corner of Happy and Harried
A Woven Life (new to the challenge like me!)

Most of the time when I take photos, I’m in a pretty big rush. I’m usually mid-project or mid-recipe and as long as the photo I’m taking conveys the instructions properly for completing the project, I’m usually satisfied. However, there are times when I’m doing a big makeover (like in the office or in the kitchen) when I’d love to style things up a little prettier and take my time to get the perfect magazine-worthy shot. Unfortunately, I nearly always come up short.

But you never get better if you never practice right? So this month the challenge participants are styling and photographing a “wall vignette”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but since the interpretation is left to the photographer (WHEW!) I decided to just jump in and get started.

To get some inspiration, I started with my recent pins on Pinterest. I decided to pull a pin that I liked and try to recreate the look (sort of) using my own items. And since I just painted my very own bentwood chair, I decided to try this image from Carla and Jack Fahden’s sneak peek at Design*Sponge.

The elements I identified here are: a brightly colored chair, a vanity or little desk, a quirky stuffed toy, a small mirror on a stand, a larger wall mirror in the same shape, a contrasting color lamp and a framed simple piece of art.

I also identified several stages to the project that I think I can reasonably follow when I want to take this sort of carefully styled, carefully photographed image in the future: 1) clear the decks (take out everything currently in the frame and then add things back one at a time), 2) clean (dust is not your friend when you’re shooting high res, 3) set up your tripod and camera before you start styling.

I basically took four stabs at this project. The first was shot in Automatic/no flash mode just so I could see the difference between that and subsequent attempts.

I’m basically happy with the composition here. I think I captured all the elements of the inspiration photo as well as I could have managed with the objects I had on hand. That said, it’s way too dark, the photo is crooked, the cable line can be seen in the lower right corner and, oh look! There’s my head. Ha!

For the second photo, I used the remote instead of trying to manually push the button on the camera and I switched it over to Manual mode.

I also learned how to set my ISO to 6400, which is as high as it will go on my camera. The photo still came out, grainy, dark, and worse still, blue (not the chair, though that is really blue–the overall tone of the photograph). Since we’re not allowed color correction, level correction, brightness adjustments or any other Photoshop meddling in this challenge other than cropping, I couldn’t fix this photo, though if I were blogging it for a normal post, I could fix at least some of what is wrong here. Plus you can still see the cable line in the lower right corner. Oops.

For the third photo, I changed out my 18-55mm kit lens (which was letting me get the wider angle that mimicked my inspiration photo) for my 50mm lens, which I knew would do better with the low light. This has a fixed aperture of f1.8 and I kept the ISO at 6400.

This is more like it, though being able to color correct this photo would be awesome. A friend who has shot with both Nikon and Canon cameras says that Nikons skew blue and Canons skew red so I’m not surprised by the blueness, though before the next challenge I will look into methods for correcting this.

Finally, I switched out the blue chair for my bentwood chair, which better represented the look of the inspiration photo and wouldn’t be quite so solidly blue. I was finding the back of the chair a bit much in the photo above, even though the saturation was a better match for the orange pompom trim of the lamp.

And there we have it: our winner. It’s cropped a little closer than the inspiration photo because I was bumping up against the back wall of the room I was shooting in and I didn’t have a couple of the elements of the original photo, but for my first challenge, I’m surprised it isn’t totally dismal.

Here’s what I learned this time around:

1) How to prep for the photo shoot.
2) How to set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture on my Nikon D3200.

So what do you think? How close did I get to the styling and quality of the original photo? I’d really welcome any critiques or tips as I go about learning my way around the new camera!

This is a post from Pies and Puggles. Republishing this article in full or in part is a violation of copyright law. And it isn’t nice. © 2010-2013, all rights reserved.

0 thoughts on “Photography Styling Challenge: Wall Vignette

  1. Hey Allison!
    Welcome to the challenge.
    I really love that you showed your progression in the photographs and talked about what you did/didn't do and would like to have done. I also like that you used an inspiration photo, that can always help when styling. I like that you switched your objects over in order to get the shot right and I think it was the right move with the chair. My only comment is that it's a shame the mirror is so overexposed at the bottom but you do still get the candle reflection in there which is good. I am no expert but I'm guessing it's hard to photograph mirrors. I would have maybe swapped it out for a painting/picture instead and see how that looked.
    Great job though you clearly have some great natural daylight in your house! Look forward to seeing you again next month! 🙂

  2. Thanks, Ginny! I wondered that about the mirror and wanted to switch it out for a smaller one, but the only other one I have was way too small. I should have probably tried it with a picture though. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Great vignette, Alison! Great to have you on board.
    Mirrors are so hard to photograph. I have the same comment as Ginny about the mirror being over-exposed and photos turning on a blue hue.
    Did you try resting the mirror on the table as well, layering it behind the framed quote? I wonder how the light would have bounced off it then? Just a thought.
    – Anjana.

  4. Great work! I love that you included your process and played so much with your camera. I've not explored my camera's functions very much either. I love the painted chair back as well! I am really impressed with how well you photographed the mirror. And I love that you provided a photo of your head in the shot! It's nice to see this final photo unravel organically.

    Also, this is Nicole from a Woven life at, no matter how many times I've signed in to comment as a wordpress user, it either posts me as anonymous or as Nicole Farr from my Google account, so I give up beating the dead horse.Cheers.

  5. Hi Alison! Welcome, welcome, welcome! I'm so glad you could join us for this Challenge and I am very impressed with your first submission! Your final image is stellar – I had been wondering throughout the progression of your images when you were going to sub in the bentwood chair for the blue one! I agree that the overexposure in the mirror detracts from what would have been a perfect image. I do like the subtle repetition of the cross pattern in the lamp and the drapery pattern in the mirror reflection. And if you were looking to carry the orange again in the image, what about adding it in the candle or the candle holder or replacing the figurine with an orange accessory? Just something very subtle so your eye reverts back to it somehow. Oh hey, just had a thought about the window overexposure… it's kind of weird, but did you consider covering the window up with a diffuser or a darker material to reduce the glare? Just the window itself so the drapery will still be visible. I've actually shot some pretty good images with almost all the lights blocked out (strange, huh?). I just set my DSLR to P mode and adjust the exposure levels higher, fix it on a tripod and then just press. My linen closet in this post was shot almost in complete darkness (the after photos): Anyway, something to play around with. Great work! Looking forward to seeing how you interpret "Morning." ~M.

  6. I didn't try that. I was trying copy the original photo as closely as possible, but given the suggestions I've gotten, I think in the future I can free myself to be more flexible. Thanks so much for stopping by and giving me your feedback! This challenge is so helpful.

  7. Oh, good call on blocking out the window! I have some black fabric that I could have used. I'll try that next time since it's a perpetual problem for me. I have mirrors in almost every room (not on purpose–some of them are built-in) so keeping them from getting blown out is an almost daily struggle.

    I can't wait for next month! I might even get started on it early. This is just the push I needed to figure out my camera. Thanks so much for providing the opportunity!

  8. Hi Alison. You've done a very neat job here. I like the way you explained all your progressions, your settings etc. I'm just wondering would a smaller photo frame in a darker shade have helped in the overall picture? Just thinking out aloud.
    For my post: I misread the styling bit for the theme, and shot all my clicks on different walls. Ah! but i would like to try again, nevertheless. 🙂

    It's great to have you on board. Thanks for stopping by mine.

  9. Thanks so much! It was my first time so I wasn't quite sure what was expected either. Next time I'll do it all a little differently, changing up accessories more. Now that I've got some of my camera setting figured out, I can try to have a little more fun with the styling!

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