How to become a photographic interior stylist
When people ask me what I do, I see the confusion flicker in their eyes when I say interior styling. "Like an interior designer?" is a usual response, to which I reply "Kind of, but not at all". And then I break it down by saying that I team up with photographers to create images of interiors and objects.
I don't take the photos but I do bend over backwards to make sure the scene is camera-ready, corralling objects, humans, florals, food, pets and whatever else needs to be included in the shot. A stylist's work begins well before shoot day, sourcing and planning the elements for each scene. This could mean ordering and picking up furniture, artwork, decor and so on, and it usually involves a trip to the supermarket or the flower market at the crack of dawn. Studio sets may need to be prepped (hello paintbrush, hello drill) or the stylist may have to scour the internet and travel afar to find that special thing the client or art director has requested. What's that? You want a dozen emu eggs for the shoot? I can find those for you, no problem.
Shoot days are hectic; you need to be strong, physically and mentally, to survive and thrive on a shoot. Agility and problem-solving abilities are highly valued, as is an organised approach (scatter brains need not apply).
All the exertion is worth it when you finally cast eyes on an image that you have contributed to, and you love what you see. A photographic stylist's work is published in print or online, and the purpose for the images vary. The images could be used to illustrate a story (in the case of editorial work for a magazine) or to promote or sell a produce or service (advertising, portfolio or catalogue styling). It's thrilling to know many eyes will be seeing your work.
If you want in on this crazy world of styling but don't know where to start, I've listed six things you might want to consider to boost your photographic styling journey...
1. DRINK IN THE RESEARCH AND THE INSPIRATION
Stay on top of new brands, the latest talent, and all the other goings-on in the interior styling world. Familiarise yourself with current trends and the latest products available in stores. You don't have to be a slave to trends personally but knowing the buzziest of the buzzy brands and the 'in' folks will strengthen your connection to the industry; it will also keep you abreast of potential job opportunities. Strike up a conversation with a local photographer whose work you like, and see if they are interested in doing a test shoot with you. Again, it's about being aware of who is out there.
Instagram is a great source for this kind of information, as are websites like The Design Files or Homes to Love. Hit the pavement and indulge in some window shopping- get to know the design and homeware stores near you. Don't forget magazines! Try Architectural Digest, Elle Decor and Living Etc, for international coverage, and the Aussie big title go-to's are Vogue Living, Inside Out, Home Beautiful, Country Style, Real Living, House & Garden and Belle.
When it comes to inspiration hunting, boy oh boy, where to start! My personal favourites are publications like Apartamento, the stunning national park that I live in, and conceptual fashion shoots. I love the written word, especially humorous personal essays by David Sedaris, and I am that person who keeps trailing off the plot of a movie because I am more interested in the set design and costumes. Inspiration is a completely personal thing, so there is no point in me telling you where to look. The one thing I can say is: search beyond the interior design industry for those shining moments that pull your attention and spark something within you. You will find your own unique aesthetic sooner if you travel off the beaten path in your inspiration hunts. Embrace it!
2. PUT YOUR INSTAGRAM TO WORK
Use social media to showcase your passion for all things styling. As someone who has hired assistants, juniors and interns, I can tell you that potential employers will check out your creative presence online. I definitely do!
The cameras on our phones are pretty darn good these days, so decent shots are achievable even if you aren't working with a photographer. Put aside a few hours to create scenes to shoot in your own home and have a play. Whether you capture a small scale vignette on your coffee table or you completely overhaul a room (everyone loves a before and after!), documenting your creations is the first step to developing a professional portfolio. It shows you are a dedicated creative who is self-motivated.
Posting inspiration shots created by others is a great way to showcase your aesthetic but make sure you credit the shots appropriately. Follow creatives you admire and don't be scared to comment and interact with them. Opportunities will pop up when you least expect it but you have to be in the game to win.
3. GET MOBILE
Have a current driver's license and access to a reliable car. It's kind of crucial.
To be honest, I didn't have a car for the few months I worked as a full-time stylist and it made it really tricky to get things done quickly. I was working with Temple & Webster at the time so I had the convenience of working out of the T&W studio every day, where props and samples would be sent to us, but I knew life would be easier for me (and my workmates) if I had a car. A stylist, after all, is a glorified courier!
4. CONSIDER VISUAL MERCHANDISING
You would be surprised by the number of stylists I know who started their career in visual merchandising. It makes total sense, as both occupations are about curating the atmosphere and conjuring compositions that draw the eye. If you are finding it hard to get a leg up into the world of styling for photography, detouring slightly into visual merchandising may scratch that creative itch and give you a solid skill base.
One extremely valuable tip: do you best to get crisp and clear shots of your visual merchandising work. Take it from me, a VM'er from way back who didn't take the time to document my work properly, you'll be kicking yourself in the future if you rush the shots or forget to take them altogether.
5. ENQUIRE ABOUT WORK EXPERIENCE AND INTERNSHIPS
I know, I know, it shouldn't be this way, and I don't support people who take advantage of others BUT working as an unpaid intern for a short amount of time can help you get that foot firmly wedged in the door.
You will gain insight into how different stylists work, and it will give you the chance to observe a variety of shoot types. For instance, the way a studio shoot runs is very different to a shoot that occurs in someone's home. And an outdoor location shoot is filled with a whole other set of variables that need navigating! By assisting on a range of shoots, you will expand your network and position yourself as a valuable candidate for future (paid) opportunities. Most stylists will list their email address on their website - send them a (short) intro email and an expression of your interest in assisting them.
My advice on how to impress the team on the shoot day? Pay attention at all times (keep your phone in your bag!), don't overstep the line and most importantly, be organised, neat, punctual and polite.
Which brings me to my final point...
6. BE A NICE PERSON
Being a decent human will take you far in the world of styling. From retailers and brands that loan you their product, through to the photographers and art directors with which you will work so closely, becoming an in-demand stylist relies on your ability to build positive relationships. You don't have to be BFF's with everyone but a friendly, professional approach to your work counts for a lot. If you can deliver quality work while also being a team player, your awesome reputation will result in lots of bookings and rewarding days on set.