Ever wondered how to professionally style a photo shoot for fashion and other creative brands? In this post, I give you a behind the scenes look at life as a stylist, essential tools and tricks of the trade! No matter whether you’re a blogger, content creator or brand owner, I’m sure these tips will be a huge help!
As a creative business owner, you might find that you require professional styling skills (to some extent) for different activities in your business. If you have a clothing store, own a photography business, a make-up artist, a magazine editor, or work in personal branding then you might find these tips incredibly useful! When you’re in control of how somebody appears or is perceived physically, you run the risk of unveiling a whole host of insecurities and unsatisfied feelings. Of course, it can and should work the opposite way – but this is the risk you take and it is something you must understand before launching yourself into projects where you don’t allow your clients to be completely open with you.
I’m a professional and qualified fashion stylist. There’s a common misconception that us stylists tend to dress up our clients in strange, eccentric garments and end up looking the same as all the other styling clients. This is the mark of an unprofessional stylist and the same applies to other creatives in other fields.
There are a lot of fabulous tips and tricks that you don’t tend to learn unless you’ve worked on the set of a photo shoot or worked in editorial styling for magazines and catalogues, etc. But I’m going to share with you some of the must-know tips for styling a professional photo shoot, whether it’s for a product catalogue you might be putting together, a photography shoot, content creation, a big event, or whatever else.
Choosing the Right Backdrop or Setting for Your Photos
As a stylist, one of my favourite parts of my work is choosing the backdrop or setting for campaigns and photo shoots! This is the part where you can really let your imagination run wild. Sometimes it looks good to match the theme of whatever it is you’re photographing with the background/setting. Other times, contrasting images work really well to create a completely unique pieces of work.
For e.g. if you were photographing a court scene for your legal business, you would want to choose a background or setting that resembles a court room or something to represent the legal system.
On the other hand, if you were photographing a bikini from your clothing line, you could choose a magnificent looking beach to get people in the holiday mood, or you could set the photo shoot in a snowy destination (or use a snowy backdrop) to create stylish, attention-grabbing images.
Styled photography gives you the option to tell and sell a story. No matter what it is that you sell or are photographing, think about how you can change the setting/background to something completely different. You could photograph something that typically belongs indoors in your kitchen, wardrobe or bathroom on a beach in the sand, with a sea backdrop, in the grass, in the woods, in a park, at the gym, in the office, etc.
When taking photos, I’d recommend allocating yourself a chunk of time so that you can explore different creative ideas and consequently produce stunning content without feeling pressured by time.
Creating a Prop Kit
A couple of years ago I was asked by a new fashion blogger who was just starting out, how much it cost to set up and run a fashion blog. She wasn’t just talking about website hosting and the typical stuff you need to run a blog. She was talking about how much you should invest in designer clothes and accessories so that you can create the right pictures to be a fashion blogger. I was shocked at this and reassured her that it takes a lot more than creating the same kind of visuals as everyone else to succeed in this industry.
You should never spend out money on products that you can’t afford/don’t want or need just to create the perfect photo for your blog or social media. What you can do and what I find to be an excellent way of creating engaging images is to build your own prop kit. This is something we do on professional shoots too but with different types of props. As a stylist on a shoot, I would have a set of props, such as a trilby hat, some statement costume jewellery, an umbrella, maybe a table, or a book shelf that can be used to set the scene for the photo shoot. When creating flatlays and other images for our blogs and social media, we can instantly improve the appearance of our images with a few simple, small and inexpensive props.
A few months ago I went out to the local crafts shop to purchase some new props to add to my flatlays. I didn’t spend above £10 and I came back with a variety of lovely props to add to my pictures. I found some artificial leaves, some wicker balls, artificial cherries, rose petals, synthetic flowers and some pretty beads. Because these are small and serve no other purpose other than to make the pictures look pretty, I can pack them away and keep them clean and well maintained until I next need to use them. They allow me to differentiate my photos and mix and match different textures, which is really important in photography.
I’m sure you are aware just how effective branding is for a business. The idea of maintaining a certain style in your business, both through terms of language used and imagery published. The same applies when you put together a photo shoot. If you’re conducting a photo shoot over the course of a few hours, a few days or longer, you will need to ensure that you can easily pick up from where you left off. This is really important when you’re styling film or TV material, or when doing a themed photo shoot. Obviously if you were filming a scene of a film over the course of a few days, you would need to make sure that the characters wore the exact same clothing and their hair/make-up looked the same as they did the day before.
Another situation in which you might need to pay attention to wardrobe/setting consistency is when you’re shooting photos of products you wish to sell. If you’re photographing different shades of make-up, clothing, paint etc. where it’s important that the exact colour is portrayed accurately, it’s a good idea to make a note of the exact conditions (angle, lighting, props, backdrop, etc.) in which you photographed your products previously. You can also use these notes and compare to see which backdrop, what lighting and under which circumstances the photos look best. Guaranteeing continuity in pictures is simple, just take notes and even a couple of quick snaps of the equipment and photo subject before packing up work for the day and then use these to set up your shoot when you next resume the project.
SOS Styling Kit
An SOS styling kit is an essential for anybody who is responsible for making sure their client and/or their hair, make-up, clothes look presentable at all times during an event. Wardrobe malfunctions can occur at any given moment and of course, they always seem to happen at the worse possible moment. This is why an emergency styling kit is a vital piece of kit to have in order to fix the issue to the best of your ability in the least amount of time. No matter whether somebody has smudged their make-up, ripped their clothing, scuffed their shoes, or the weather has turned…here’s the kit to fix it:
- Wet wipes: these fix just about anything from smudged make-up, minor clothing stains, dust on footwear/bags/garments, and they’re even great for polishing up scuffed shoes.
- Transparent anorak cape: these are what I always recommend to my bride clients – especially those getting married in the UK! You can prepare for most things but you can’t control the weather. An anorak is about the last think you want to be wearing when underneath you’re wearing such stunning attire. However, those cheap, £1 transparent raincoats (those big huge cape-type) are an absolute saviour should the heavens open! You can easily wrap it around your whole outfit and avoid getting wet and your outfit ruined!
- Mini sewing kit: For sewing on buttons, sewing rips, etc. But only add this to your kit if you can actually sew!
- Safety pins: excellent for adjusting long straps and for quickly fixing other items.
- Garment guards: pads that you can place in clothing, such as under the arms to prevent sweat patches from becoming visible on a garment. These are useful if you are a professional photographer and want to prevent your client from feeling embarrassed, or perhaps if you run a clothing company and/or lease out clothing.
- Lint roller
- Garment bags
- Nail file
Professional Photographers: Prepare a Client Questionnaire
I know so many extremely talented photographers who often become disappointed when they hear their clients say that they weren’t entirely happy with their professional photo shoot. While most people are always happy with the quality of the images, they complain that their skin looks strange or the angle isn’t flattering. Years ago, professional photographers were seen as the only people who know anything about photography. Nowadays, what with most people owning their own Smartphones, taking their own selfies and frequently using editing tools to improve their own images, most of us already have an idea of how we like to look when we’re photographed. No matter whether you love or loathe the fact, even many teenagers know their “good angles” from their less flattering and their editing skills are fantastic! This doesn’t mean to say that the photographer’s job is no longer required.
Instead, you need to incorporate your creativity and professionalism and incorporate it with what the client wants from you. It’s the same for professional stylists. Although it can first seem strange to question your clients on what they want you to do for them when you’re the one with the knowledge and expertise on the subject, what you’re actually doing is helping to produce better quality results. I’d recommend that you put together a questionnaire for your clients, asking them about their likes, dislikes, any “problem areas” that they’d like to conceal. It’s not always possible to spend hours getting to know our clients because time is money, but preparing a questionnaire and sending it to them beforehand allows you to gain a good understanding of each individual client prior to working with them.