Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year from Photo Styling Workshops

Happy 2009 from all of us at! Let's toast to a wonderful, peaceful new year. We are developing new courses on Prop Styling and Floral Styling. Our techniques course for food stylists "Everyday Food Styling" (with video demonstrations!) is scheduled for January 27. And we'll be offering our 2nd Food Styling and Photography 3-day workshop Sun, Surf & Food Style II in San Diego February 20-22! Visit our site for more information, to register, or to sign up for our mailing list. We all wish you a Happy New Year!

Champagne photo by Bruce Weller, food styling by Debbie Wahl

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving Turkeys

This is my favorite week of the year, when Thanksgiving, my birthday, and my wedding anniversary all occur in a week with good food and people just being together. Thinking of this holiday, I always see the steam that builds on the inside of windows and smell the aroma of the baking turkey. (And then there are the stuffing, the baked sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, arrays of side vegetables, pumpkin pie, pecan pie... )

Last night going to sleep I was thinking about turkeys, the number of them that will be cooked in the United States and beyond this week, the turkeys that have been created months ago for all the magazine stories, and the gorgeous ones presented on every culinary magazine cover. It was like counting sheep.

My favorite cover was the Gourmet cover two years ago of a cooked turkey in a roasting pan on a vintage kitchen stove. At the 2007 International Conference on Food Styling & Photography in Boston I had the opportunity to hear the Gourmet staffers who created that cover and it was such a thrill. The conference will be held again this June and I look forward to more inspiring presenters and to meeting many more of you who have been students of Food Styling 101.

I hope no matter where you are that you have a peaceful and happy week with plenty of good food.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Stylish Blog

I am kind of new to this blog obsession but have been subscribing to one I love to look at. It is the blog of Susan Connor AKA "Hey Suzy" who sells paper items on I don't know how she discovers and displays such beautiful things, so often! I discovered the blog through her article on PROP STYLING. I had wondered how the vendors of hand-made items on Etsy produce such great images.

Through some research, particularly through "Black Heart Bunny", a styling student of mine who does delightfully macabre silkscreens, I found out more about The Storque. The Storque is a resource for Etsy members and Suzy's article is a great little resource for stylists - and vendors of their own products - to gather ideas about props used for images.These are just the type of creative people for whom we offer Style It & Shoot It, our online course designed for non-professional photographers who want to photograph - and style - their own products.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Understanding Model Agency Rates

This week I recieved an inquiry from Natalie Fletcher, a former student in Producing Photo Shoots. PSW instructors love it when students keep coming back to ask pertinent questions - then we know they are continuing to develop their careers!

"I took your producing class last year; I really enjoyed the class. I am refreshing my estimating skills and have a question for you regarding modeling agency rates. For example, an agent mentions their rates for a 2 hour minimum ($150/hr.), one year print and web ($1,200), and a 20% agency fee. Is the model making the $300 and the $1,200 or just the $300? If so, the only profit the agency is making is the 20% from the usage?

"I also have seen an agency mention a 20% agency fee with the 2 hr. minimum in addition to a 20% agency fee with the usage. Is that common or more rare?"

Here is my answer to Natalie: Generally agencies charge 20% to their clients for any booking they do, including the hourly rate and additional usage fees. This is paid in addition to the model's fees. This is the income for the agency, for overhead, expenses, and profit. It is also a motivation for the agent to negotiate a good rate for the talent, as their percentage increases, especially when the talent does a commercial or ad with long usage and more residuals. The talent benefits obviously when this is well-negotiated, plus they don't have to deal with the negotiations. The client prefers when they can negotiate a smaller fee of course, but they also want to be fair.

When the talent is less experienced and recognizable it is possible to agree to a lower rate but sometimes the successful face is what is best for the campaign. And therefore, worth it.

In addition, the agency takes a 20% fee from the talent's rate. So you can calculate that the model will be recieving $240 of the $300 and $960 of the $1,200. The agency recieves in total 40% of the amount that is agreed for the model. Be sure that you or the client representative who will sign the model's voucher understands the conditions so they can be written into the form. Sometimes the talent are not aware of these conditions but the producer is. This serves as a legal agreement between the client and agency. Be sure a copy is provided to the client or photographer.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Ice Cream Styling Emergency

We had an order recently for Lisa Golden Schroeder's e-booklet, “Working with Real (and Faux) Ice Cream and Frozen Desserts.” Product stylist Jennifer Hoon was in a panic because she found out that she needed to style ICE CREAM the following day. We rushed the PDF of the 18-page booklet to her. Plus Lisa emailed the following advice to nervous Jen:

Critical issues for you tomorrow:
1. Is the product being held now in a freezer (preferably a chest freezer, as a standing freezer loses a lot of its cold when the door opens and closes) that is at a good tempering temperature for it? Tempering depends on the amount of butterfat in the ice cream--so the lower the fat content, the colder the freezer can be. Very high fat ice cream (like super-premium brands--Haagen-Dazs, Ben & Jerry's, other very high end products) need slightly warmer tempering (about 5 degrees F).

2. Have you ordered enough dry ice? And have a styro or other separate cooler to hold it? Don't put it in the regular freezer. Be sure to get some dry ice pellets that are easy to crush (use a canvas bag or towel, with a hammer--wear gloves, too)--this is great to use for keeping scoops cold and putting into a strainer to hold over styled scoops/desserts under camera.

3. Stay calm and don't let anyone rattle you. You know what you need to do, so even if you're nervous or worried, don't let anyone see that (:-)) Good luck--do let us know how things go!! Hopefully, if this is just a small job that needs a few scoops, you can just go for it. Best, Lisa

Well, we were happy to know that Jennifer survived her ice cream shoot just fine! And she wrote us this follow-up note:

"The ice cream was a prop so I didn't have to worry about using the real thing. I used the recipe for faux ice cream composed of ready made frosting and confectioners sugar. The results looked very realistic. I was sooo relieved when it turned out. I brought it to my boyfriend to show him the happy results and he was convinced I was bringing him ice cream. He was quite disappointed to find out it was inedible. Most importantly, the client was very happy with the look. Thanks for getting the booklet to me in my day before the shoot panic. All my best, Jen"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Photo Styling and the Economy

Being in this industry for several decades, I have seen ups and downs and the effect the economy has on the creation of commercial photographs. When postal rates or paper costs increase the catalog industry is rapidly affected. In an effort to save money in tough economic times, advertisers cut print budgets and produce fewer images. They may use more stock photographs or squeak by without a stylist.

I found this editorial opinion in the August 2008 issue of Multi-Channel Merchant, formerly Catalog Age magazine, a trade publication for the catalog/web-marketing indusry. Written by Laura L. Hamblen, an independent stylist, it reflects the feelings of many of us. I was unable to find Laura in a Web search and I hope she doesn't mind my acolades for expressing her viewpoint so well.

She writes, "As a photo stylist, I have been affected by the current economy, along with most of my colleagues in the visual field. The 'bean counters' behind many catalogs are cutting the very people who are the interface between the company and its customers."Many are opting to hire people who cost less and have little experience to handle the presentation of their product, so photographs are not as striking and informative as they might be. After seeing the result, one might wonder why a customer might spend, say, $80 on a mid-priced catalog product that looks no better than the $10 offering at the local discount store. The answer is that in most circumstances, they won't.

"An experienced, talented stylist, photographer and crew will know a brand's customer and how to visually attract that customer to purchase. Understanding how to illustrate all of the product's unique qualities in an attractive and consistent fashion will typically enhance sales. And higher sales should more than offset the cost of hiring seasoned professionals."Many companies will blame their downturn in sales on the economy without thinking about the consequences of cutting the professionals who produce the images of their products. And this will make a difficult economic climate for catalogs decidedly worse."

Well said, Laura. What is YOUR opnion on the current economy's effect on stylists - and vice-versa? Please add to this POST.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Best of Students' Work

As part of their course work, Photo Styling Workshops students create numerous photos. Some of their very best can be viewed in our Gallery. Congratulations to these students!

This image, Chocolate Chip Cookies, was created by Kimberly Siciliano in Debbie Wahl's Food Styling 101 course which began on May 27, 2008. See more great examples!