What is a Photo Stylist?

Cassie L. Damewood

A photo stylist is the person who sets the scenes for commercial photographers to enhance the subjects of pictures. He may work in a studio, outdoors, in homes or offices—anywhere a photographer can be found, a photo stylist is frequently on the set of the shoot as well. His job may be on the staff of a magazine, mail order company or Internet shopping site. Many photo stylists find freelance work more satisfying as it allows them to choose projects in a wide scope of genres and with a variety of photographic subjects and locations.

A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, likely prepared by a photo stylist who specializes in food.
A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, likely prepared by a photo stylist who specializes in food.

While many photo stylists decorate sets for a diverse clientele, a considerable number specialize in one area, such as food or fashion. This career choice may be based on industry demand or the opportunities available in the stylist’s geographic location. An area of specialization is also often favored based on the stylist’s success in set dressing for a particular genre, a talent that may emerge as the photo stylist’s career develops.

Photo stylists may work for magazines.
Photo stylists may work for magazines.

The fashion magazine industry is generally considered the field in which photo stylists are in the greatest demand. These magazines normally employ the largest number of photo stylists, as magazines tend to have a great need for professionally created moods and tones for photo shoots. Acclaimed photographers sometimes bring a photo stylist of their choice to job sites based on past success with their work.

A photo stylist will set the scene for a commercial photo shoot.
A photo stylist will set the scene for a commercial photo shoot.

Publications that focus on food also frequently employ photo stylists. In this industry, photo stylists often work closely with food stylists, who generally create mouth-watering food presentations through artistic vision coupled with science and technology. The food stylist normally concentrates on the subject of the photograph with the goal of making it look appealing while the photo stylist embellishes the background to add to the drama and impact of the shot.

Photo stylists may set the tone for models during a shoot.
Photo stylists may set the tone for models during a shoot.

Before arriving on the set of a shoot, a photo stylist ordinarily confers with the photographer to determine the ambiance desired by the client. He often brings props and objects from his own inventory for the project. In some cases, he borrows or rents applicable items to ensure the success of the photo session.

Use of side lighting and shallow depth of field are common in portrait photography.
Use of side lighting and shallow depth of field are common in portrait photography.

Exemplary organizational skills are normally required to be successful in this position. A photo stylist is typically required to schedule and reschedule shoots based on client and photographer preferences, so the efficient management of his calendar is important. Since he frequently has items on loan and rent from several associates and vendors, it is important he keep the related records current and orderly.

Some photo stylists focus on taking pictures of people and objects in outdoor settings.
Some photo stylists focus on taking pictures of people and objects in outdoor settings.

There are generally no educational requirements for this job. A significant number of photo stylists have experience in photography, art or other visual mediums. Similar to others in artistic professions, a photo stylist traditionally has a portfolio of his most memorable and successful work for presentation to potential employers.

Photo stylists might take pictures with a certain theme or tone in mind.
Photo stylists might take pictures with a certain theme or tone in mind.
Photo stylists may work with a variety of subjects, including animals.
Photo stylists may work with a variety of subjects, including animals.

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Discussion Comments

anon985162

A good way to find a job in styling (based on my own experience) is to email commercial studios and ask for a stylist position.

It helps to have an art and design background, some studio experience (e.g., artist's assistant) or anything relating to set design. Good luck!

lapsed

@softener - You could probably work your way up by offering to volunteer on sets if given the opportunity. Like the article says though, you'd need some kind of experience in photography or art but I don't think that simply means personal experience, but rather professional experience.

There are schools that offer courses that could give you a leg up. They might not necessarily be called photo styling courses but they're certainly related to the type of job it sounds like you'd be doing; I've seen courses on Visual Merchandising and Fashion Styling and Coordination, both of which I think would be useful.

softener

If there's no educational requirements for this job, how do you break into the industry? I can't ever recall seeing a job advertisement listed for a photo stylist.

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