Do you find yourself stopping mid-scroll on Instagram to take a moment and admire the creativity behind an eye-catching photo? I do! Puzzlegram is full of beautifully styled photos and we reached out to one of our favorite puzzle accounts, @montypuzzles, to understand what goes into styling a puzzle pic! We are so grateful she walked us through her process step by step with one of our new 1000 piece puzzles: Shabu Frenzy.
Hey there - I’m Monty, a Pacific Northwest newcomer, cat mom, and hobby collector. I love combining my passion for puzzles with my other hobby, photography. I hope to one day incorporate yet a third hobby to my puzzle pictures - perhaps a custom embroidery of the puzzle image!
1. Find good lighting
My first step is always good lighting. If you are blessed with good natural sunlight, position your puzzle by the window during day time. Alternatively, for artificial lighting, you should find at least two good light sources (e.g., desk lamp, ring light stand, etc.).
As seen in the diagram below, position the two light sources as two corners of a triangle in relation to yourself (the third corner) and place the puzzle in the center of the triangle. Finding the best lighting might take a bit of trial and error - I often shift the positioning of both light sources to get the right set up. For example, it could be a very flat obtuse triangle or an acute triangle.
I also try not to shine direct sunlight or artificial light on the puzzle to avoid reflective glare and harsh shadows. When I am ready to take the picture, I stand on the other side of the puzzle to prevent blocking the light and creating unwanted shadows.
2. Pick a background
The second step is to pick a background for your photo - typically one that fits within your color scheme and is not distracting. A few examples of good backgrounds are kitchen countertops, wooden tables, bedspreads, or even colored poster boards. Take a look at the examples below.
While dark wood works well for some puzzles, Shabu Frenzy has colorful pastel tones that work better with a pink background. The wood grain also draws attention away from the puzzle, which should be the focal point! For this reason, I chose to style this picture with a pink backdrop from Ink and Elm. You could also use double-sided photo papers on Amazon for much cheaper. Examples of other colors that could work well with this puzzle include pastel yellow and baby blue.
Props & Shoot
3. Create a mood board
I collect and lay out props that fit within my color theme. For Shabu Frenzy, I went for props that are colorful and/or have pastel hints. You might not use all of the props you collect and might potentially add other props you did not initially collect but this is an important “mood board” step to help figure out what props work best.
4. Style your picture
When arranging props, there are a few important things to keep in mind: 1) height, 2) texture, 3) scale or balance, and 4) injecting “life” into the picture. Pick and arrange props of varying height (e.g., the plant is much taller than the puzzle, which is flat) to add dimension. Similarly, different textures (e.g., the fur rug) also add interest.
Scale and balance are closely related. In the pictures below, I swapped out the large plant for three small succulents in the top right corner. The left picture is more visually appealing because the scale of the large plant balances out the size of the puzzle box in the bottom left corner, whereas the right picture is unbalanced.
5. Add “life”
How do I inject “life” into a picture? By capturing a photo that appears to be mid-action. The photo below on the left is clean - some may prefer this but to me, it lacks “life.” On the right, I scattered the gummies and some of the puzzle pieces to create the illusion that the photo was captured mid-action. Another way to inject “life” could be to stick your hand into the photo (e.g., picking up the coffee cup or touching the puzzle pieces).
There are also lots of rules out there, like the rule of thirds, to guide you in arranging your props; dig deeper on the web if you’re interested in learning more about photo composition!
6. Finetune the color and lighting
First, I use the Lightroom app to finetune the color and light of the photos. There are lots of tutorials out there so I won’t go into detail. But, I especially like the “Curve” feature in the “Light” tab and the “Mix” feature in the “Color” tab. Then, I sometimes use different preset filters on the VSCO app. And to finish it off, I use Apple’s built-in photo app for last minute editing.
Photo editing can make a big difference. Especially when you shoot under suboptimal lighting conditions - like I did! Take a look at the photos below to see the drastic difference (please note that I also slightly reframed and tilted the final photo):
Shooting photos for my Instagram can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours. It depends on how much finagling I need to do to get the right lighting, angles, props, etc. For my overhead shots, I usually lay my puzzle and props on the ground and take the photos standing on top of a chair.
I also take a bunch of photos from different angles such as, 45 degrees from the ground and close-ups. That way, I can go back to select what I like most. For instance, I took the close-up below to show off the beautiful details in Shabu Frenzy.
So that’s all folks, I hope it was helpful. Keep in mind that I am just dishing out general advice on what works for me. Everyone has different aesthetics and sometimes, going against conventional guidelines actually makes for a more interesting photo.
Experiment, find what works for you, and have fun!
To wrap up this blog post, we want to give a HUGE thank you to @montypuzzles for sharing the creativity and thought process behind this stunning photograph of Shabu Frenzy.
Will you be using any of these tips and tricks for your future puzzle pictures? Do you have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below and tag @puzzlesensei in your styled pictures to be featured on our IG!