I am often asked how I became an interior stylist and what exactly does the job involve?
It’s a very big misconception that a stylist is merely paid to shop for a living and be up to speed with all the latest interior trends. All though this is an integral part of the job, there is much more to it than shopping. There is a lot of blood sweat and tears that go into creating a room shot and if you think it’s the job for you and want to know a bit more about it and how to break into the industry, read on.
When I first thought about becoming a stylist, I’ll admit I didn’t really know an awful lot about the job apart from that it looked like the best job in the world, creating amazing room sets and interior shots all day long. I bought the only book I could find on the subject, which was “Photo Styling” by Susan Linnet Cox, still available on Amazon, but this was long before blogs and instagram existed and although the book was useful, it would have been great to have different points of view from other stylists working in the industry.
I have read some great, insightful blog posts since I became a stylist, by other professional stylists and bloggers, such as Sophie Robinson, one of the judges on the Great Interior Design Challenge, Maxine Brady who has worked on many magazines and home make over TV shows and Sarah Akwisombe, she of the amazing No Bull Blog school. I thought when I read these posts, how useful they would have been to me back when I was studying and dreaming of being a stylist? Also as my daughter only has 1 more year at High school and is soon going to have to decide on her career path of choice, I though the more information that’s out there, for her and her peers to read, the better. I’m all for sharing knowledge and skills with anybody but particularly with a younger generation. So I thought I’d write an insight from what I’ve learned along the way, just in case anyone else out there finds it helpful?
So do you need a professional qualification to become a stylist, I’m often asked?
Well definitely not, but if you have one or are thinking of studying for a creative qualification it will certainly open doors. Most stylists I have worked along side have a degree or some creative background in fine art, photography or textile design. My degree is in Interior Design and it certainly helped having this in order for people to take me seriously and be prepared to meet me and let me show them my portfolio, when I was starting out.
If you don’t have a creative qualification though, don’t worry, it’s as much about having a good portfolio and contacts than anything, that will get you through the door and into your first assisting job. If you’re wondering how to build a portfolio if you haven’t worked on a professional shoot, start creating your own scenarios and vignettes at home and photographing them to build up a good context of work and show your style. Improve your camera skills, if you need to, and always use natural light to take your shots.I went on a short 10 week night school course to learn basic SLR skills and this all helps to show case your talents. There are now lots of short one day Instagram photography courses that will teach you styling techniques such as the Makelight courses run by Emily Quinton
Network and make contacts.
This is far easier than when I started out, when I literally had to cold call studios or go to organised networking events (cringe!) Now with instagram and blogging, connecting with like minded people and other creatives has never been easier, so monopolise on that? Build yourself a profile. Start writing a blog about your design related interests and arrange to meet up with other creatives through Instagram meet ups or just dm people you admire on that platform and ask if they want to meet for coffee and pick their brains. Most people in this industry are very sociable and love meeting people they have a common interest with. I got my first break assisting just by asking other stylists if I could come and shadow them on jobs whilst I was working in a props hire warehouse. Not all of them will say yes and sometimes it’s difficult to say yes when you’re working on a big shoot for a large brand, as the health and safety rules of the studio, doesn’t always allow, but many will help if they can.
Do your homework.
Study other shots you like in books and magazines and break down what it is you like about the shot. Is it the colour combination used, the textures, a particular flower the stylist has used that makes the shot? Sometimes it’s the space left within the shot and how that effects the balance of the items within it? Start using Pinterest & pinning favourite images for inspiration. Follow other stylists blogs and their Instagram feeds. Some of my favourite stylists on Instagram are Emily Henson, Hans Blomquist, Sania Pell,Pella Hedeby but there are many more, too many to name and you’ll find your own favourites?
Image above Pella Hedeby
Images above Hans Blomquist
Image by Sania Pell for Cox & Cox
Don’t be too proud to work for little or no money at first
Be prepared, at first, to work for free if you have to, assisting stylists. This really helped me to learn some skills without being too stressed that I was expected to know what I was doing straight away. It also really built up my networking contacts as well. My first paid job came from meeting a photographer when our house was used as a location for a shoot and I chatted to her about breaking into the industry. Never be too proud to work for free, it’s all adding to your portfolio and building your confidence.
There’s no I in team
One of the biggest myths, that I quickly realised, is that the finished shot is all the work of the stylist. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a big team responsible for the shot starting first and foremost, with the client and art director who will brief you on their idea for the shoot, to the photographer and set builder who are all vital to the quality of the finished shot. A great shot is a combination of all these people but ultimately it’s the client who approves the shot and makes the final decisions.
Geographical location plays a part
Most of the work that I do living in the North of England, is commercial photography for brands. If you decide you want to work on magazine and editorial shoots, you will have to be prepared to commute to London where nearly all of that type of work is.
Commercial photography isn’t as creative as editorial but it is a skill in itself. Making the product, which isn’t always what you would choose yourself, look good, is much harder than it sounds. Often you will be given a tonne of product that all has to be seen in the shot and this is where your creative skills will really come into play.
Quite often the product will be something quite basic, like the radiator in this shot that I styled. It’s important to elevate the item without overshadowing it with too many props. The product has to be the hero of the shot otherwise the client won’t be happy. So it’s often about less is more and again a skill that has to be learnt.
Organisational skills are as important as creativity
Being organised and a good communicator and being able to work within tight budgets are all main skill sets that you will need. Also being pretty frugal with your budget is a skill you will need. I was recently given a very large budget to spend over 150 shots which meant creating a spread sheet and keeping every receipt I had and ensuring the spread sheet and the receipts balanced at the end. Each prop bought had to earn it’s keep by me making sure it could be used across several shots in a different way. The budget might have seemed large but over the amount of shots I had to use it for, it was only just over £160 per shot, so creative management and being able to visualise a large amount of shots over different room sets, is all part of the job. Are you still interested in becoming a stylist???
This shot below was part of a series of shots taken on location and all shot within a day. Everything that was needed, from the flowers to the candle sticks, to the rug and the curtains in the room, all had to be transported from Manchester to Lincolnshire and ready and waiting in the location house, first thing in the morning when we arrived to start the shoot. It is often the job of the stylist to make sure the logistics of this work and you will often be responsible for organising the transportation of everything you need. At the end of the shoot everything has to be packed away and the house restored to how it was when you arrived, so that it is vital that as one shot is being taken by the photographer, the stylist is prepping another, to keep the wheels in motion and to ensure everything is captured in the time scale you have. If the location house is only available until 5.00pm and the light outside is fading you need to ensure that the client gets every shot they have asked for.
Many commercial shots involve models and often the stylist will be responsible for booking the models through an agency and meeting and greeting them and keeping them happy during the shoot. This is essential especially when working with young children and babies to ensure that the client gets as many shots as possible. Sometimes a baby can be on set for over an hour until the client and the photographer are happy that they have the shot in the bag. So patience and sociability are important skills for a stylist.
Last but certainly not least, I have often been asked by other stylists embarking on their careers what is essential kit to take on a shoot. The list is exhaustive but I will go through the essentials for your tool box, in another blog to follow about the day in the life of a stylist. I’ll also cover mood boards and set design, so keep tuned if you think it’s of interest to you.
What I will say to close this post, is the job of a stylist is not often boring. You are always working with different teams of people, in different locations and with different product. Every job is different and there is never two days the same and. If you’ve got the type of character that can work under your own steam, come up with ideas on the spot and communicate effectively with a wide range of people, it could be the job for you?
*All other images are my own