Today I'm sharing my number one piece of advice for creating beautiful, inviting photos that stand out from the rest. Ready? Stop trying to make everything so perfect. In fact, do the opposite. If you want to create a photo that's eye catching and memorable and scroll-stopping, you need to make it messy and give it a "lived-in" feel.
So often many of us get caught up in staging an absolutely perfect shot and then taking an absolutely perfect photo with nothing out of place. There's a time and place for that look, but a lot of the time, all you get is a boring picture. It may be pretty, but there's nothing memorable about it. Nothing that draws the viewer in or creates an experience for them. When I stage my spaces for pictures, I always try to make sure something in the frame is imperfect. Don't get me wrong, there's definitely an art to making things look perfectly imperfect, but if you can master that skill, it'll instantly elevate your photos.
Getting a good messy look instead of just a messy look may take a little practice at first so here are a few of my go-to ways to create "messy" pictures.
My favorite shots and my most popular pictures always have a "lived-in" feel. What does that mean? It means there's some kind of evidence in the photo that someone has been through and disturbed that perfectly styled space and left their mark. A few examples of this can be a coffee mug left on a table, a throw pillow or blanket not quite in place, a bag or pair of shoes left out, a dish towel next to the sink instead of nicely hung up, or even a literal mess left behind. This last one is a little easier to include in images of food like crumbs next to a bitten cookie, sprinkled flour around dough, etc. The overall photo still needs to look beautiful, but something about the shot needs to be different to catch the viewer's eye.
It's one thing to talk about this method, but let me show you a few examples of "messy" photos that I think work well. Some are more subtle than others, but they are all lived -in".
We'll start with an easy one. I strategically dripped hot chocolate down the side of my mug creating a messy, yet cozy feel. I wouldn't say the photo is strong overall (it's one of my earlier posts), but I still love the look and will totally recreate it next winter.
This is one of my most popular posts on Instagram to date. Yes, the flowers and the cat are pretty cute on their own, but I think there's something about the cat being on a table filled with clutter. The flower arrangement is very loose and unstructured and there's a towel draped over the sink in the back. This photo is full of clutter and chaos and is beautiful because of it.
When styling my entryway, I always try to make up a story to go along with it. Did I just come back from the farmer's market? Did kids just get home from school and dump their bags? I try to scatter "props" around the shot that convey my story. This was taken in the fall so I wanted to fill it with fall colors and cozy fall fashion. My plaid coat is hung up, but just barely in shot. My bag and scarf are color coordinated and both hung a little askew. And my boots are carefully tucked under the bench where I would set them in real life. They all work together to make this space look more real.
Food shots are super easy to make messy. You can have a bite missing from something, some scattered crumbs, or even a little bit of burnt food like the tortilla below. Anything to convey texture, temperature, or flavor will make it a better shot.
I love anything vintage so a lot of my decor has signs of age and ware. Rather than hide these defects, I try to show them off. The spine on this little green book is barely hanging in there, but I think that makes it look even more interesting and shows that it's a piece with a past.
You will probably never see a straight or perfectly tucked blanket in any of my photos. Especially if it's a throw. There's a bit of a learning curve to styling a throw blanket so it. looks good, but it's worth the time and. practice to master because it will always make your spaces look ten times cozier.
Books are a great way to add a little interest and undone-ness to a space. You can stack them any way and let them fall wherever they like and they'll always look beautiful and cozy. I try to make. sure some of my books are leaning or scattered when I style them. This bookcase is a great example of lots of different ways to style books. My favorites are the extras at the very top.
You may decide this isn't for you. Maybe your look is more structured and stylized and that's totally fine. That may be what works best for you. In my experience and in my opinion, having something out of place in a photo or perfectly imperfect stands out. It catches the brain's attention and makes it stop and say "wait, that doesn't go there" or "wait, that's not quite right". And the longer someone stops on that photo and looks at it and thinks about it, the more likely they are to remember it.
The "Science" Behind It
If you ever watched America's Next Top Model back in the day, you'll know the conventionally pretty or traditionally beautiful people aren't who they look for. They search for models who are pretty and a little weird, or strange, or different. The people whose eyes are too far apart, whose jawlines are more masculine, who have a very identifying feature like a tooth gap, mole, or a ton of freckles. Because these models make people stop and look and think longer and whatever product they're promoting will get more attention. Yeah, the fashion industry is different than the home decor industry. But hey, if it works for them, maybe it'll work for you too.