Tips for styling a photoshoot

Let me begin by saying that styling is not your average 9-to-5-run-of-the-mill kind of job. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done. When you’re not in the studio, you’re constantly on the go preparing for your next styling project. When the shoot date arrives, it can be very stressful and chaotic, especially if there is a lot to get through. But having the chance to make a client’s vision come to life while being able to express your creativity can be very rewarding. If you’re considering a career in styling or just wondering what goes into creating fashion magic, read on for what I’ve learnt thus far on my journey to becoming a stylist.

1. Be a quick-thinking, problem-solving genius
An ill-fitting garment, a shoe lace that is out of place, a missing button, impromptu coffee runs, clients dropping in on the set unexpectedly, even a nosebleed can send you reeling when the clock is ticking. A stylist is responsible for fixing these things on set so preparation is key as well as the ability to handle whatever comes your way. I’m an introvert so this attitude doesn’t come easy to me. But I’m learning to be prepared for anything and everything and I know I can achieve this in my own quiet way.

2. The devil is in the details
To say you need eagle-eyed attention to detail is an understatement. Everything is visual, and the client depends on you to actualise their vision. That means that from clothing options and model composition to hair and makeup, you need to have a clear, scripted plan for what you want to get out of the day. Perfection is the goal, so no pressure right?

You will need to work closely with the creative team to help conceptualise a shoot. This is one of the exciting and more creative aspects of the job. To do that you have to have an up-to-date knowledge of what’s hot and happening in the fashion world.

A stylist has a fair amount of preparation to do before the shoot day. Whether it is organising the rail run through, booking the photographer, models and studio and sourcing product and props, make sure to plan very well in advance. This process can take weeks to organise.

When you’re preparing the shoot, you’ll do lots of research for the styling, hair and makeup and even the lighting to get the right mood for the feature. Share your ideas with everyone on the set, so they know what you want to achieve. When you plan properly, the day will run smoothly (give or take a few spanners) leaving you enough time to get even more creative.

3. Know your stuff
In the beginning, I was involved in sourcing product from fashion houses and assisting on set. Fashion was a big part of my life so I was thrilled to be a part of that environment, learning as much as I could. Up until that point, it was really just a hobby that perhaps bordered on the obsessive. Part of my job is to stay updated on key fashion trends across the world and to translate that for a South African market. My ‘fashion-unconscious’ (as they refer to themselves…  sorry guys you said it first) teammates rely on my love of fashion to keep them in the know. That means reading magazines, following leading fashion personalities, experimenting with my own personal style and having a good working knowledge of what is happening in the world from current affairs to food, and décor to technology.

4. Get kitted out
Gradually I’ve developed a stylist’s kit that consists of my portable steamer, sewing kit and a hoarder’s collection of safety pins and clips. Recently I purchased my very own clothing rail. #Progress! Make sure that you can disassemble and assemble your clothing rail by yourself and safely too. On my first attempt, my rail fell over and hit someone on the head. We all start somewhere, right? Other things in my bag of tricks are hairspray, flat irons for hair (can also be used to iron shirt collars #lifehack), a blow-dryer (to dry out water marks), stain remover, masking tape for the underside of shoes, and extra hangers. As I grow in my career, I’m sure my kit bag will too.

5. Admin nightmares
Just when you think everything went well and you’re feeling pleased with yourself, you lose or misplace a slip. This has happened to me a few times, and it was very stressful. Thankfully, I haven’t had to replace or pay for anything expensive. But to avoid the stomach-curdling nausea that washes over you when you think you’ve lost a slip or ruined a shoe, take special care to keep all your slips in a separate pouch and return everything to the store or showroom in pristine condition. My face-saving backup trick is to take pics of all my slips and send them to my colleague.

6. The outdoor plan
If you’re shooting outdoors, scout a few locations way before your planned shoot date, so you can compare available light at a particular time of day and the textures, structures and colours of the area and how that works with your concept. Check the weather regularly too so you can include a weather day if you need to.

Photoshoots can be tricky to manage, but it can also be a thrilling experience to work with and learn from the experienced stylists, makeup artists, photographers and art directors that work on our many projects. And when you see the end product of all your hard work, with a thumbs up from the client, it’s an amazing feeling. I know I wouldn’t want to do anything else.