Styling Tips

(Visit here for a NEW TIP every month!)

Coffee for the Crew...Has there ever been a location photo shoot without coffee? And the stylist or stylist assistant running out for coffees? To simplify the "Starbucks run," try bringing the Traveler to the shoot and avoid all those ventis, mochas, whipped cream preferences, etc. It's plain and simple but for about $12 you can bring the coffee, cups, sweeteners, cream, the works... It's best to order ahead for a quick run en route to the shoot.

It's time to start thinking about taxes again! As the new year begins, gather your receipts from 2012 expenses, prepare for that accounting process, and then set it all aside for a few weeks while you organize your datebook (virtual or otherwise) for the new year.

And read chapter 14 of "Starting Your Career as a Photo Stylist" to update your business plan and goals.

New School Clothing Rack, from home and bedding stylist Sallie LeBlanc: I have a tip for other stylists. If you are doing a shoot on location, try this awesome clothes rack that folds up. This thing has been a life saver for me, as I get to ditch the wobbly rolling rack! (From Susan: While you can't beat the traditional rolling rack for moving garments and supplies around on location, this is a good alternative for those shoots when you are staying in one place.)

Using Color and Patterns in Prop Styling for Food Photography. There is no "bad" color or pattern to avoid but keep in mind that the food is usually supposed to be the star. That is why you see the use of so many neutral colors/patterns such as white, off white, soft greys, and browns. The softer patterns and neutrals allow the food to "pop" and act to frame the food without overpowering it. A bold pattern or color can add excitement to a picture and bring more visual interest--sometimes a bold color is used to emphasize or draw out that same color that may be in the food--for example: a hint of a bright purple cloth might work well in a shot that has a purple food ingredient in it.
Styling Tip courtesy of Debbie Wahl, instructor of Food Styling 101

Keeping track of invoices. File a copy of your client invoices and expenses in a special folder. This "Invoices" folder should be kept where you can regularly check on your unpaid invoices. You can keep track of what is owed to you and on what date, and follow up when it becomes past due. When your check is recieved, staple the stub to your copy and file that in another "Paid" folder for your accounting records.(From "Starting Your Career as a Photo Stylist")

The ability to offer production services in addition to styling can greatly expand your work possibilities. This can include location scouting, acquiring permits, local crew, model castings, and production RVs. When you can offer one-stop-service to an out-of-town client or a busy photographer your value increases. And be sure to estimate the number of pre-productions days you'll need for these services. (From "Starting Your Career as a Photo Stylist")

Respect your client's timeline. Clients have first access to images from a shoot, especially when it's a "new product launch." Don't accidentally reveal the marketing plan by posting the photos on Facebook or your portfolio. Double check the dates and follow up with an email to request images at the right (respectful) time. They'll appreciate your professionalism!


Over-the-door hooks are a convenient alternative to rolling racks. A few of these inexpensive gadgets can be added to your kit for those shoots when a rack isn't planned for. You may not be expecting to dress talent - or may not have our own rolling rack. But a hook can positioned easily to store wardrobe. Or one can be placed in the dressing room/bathroom to encourage models to rehang the garments. Starting at $1 they should not be overlooked! Another option: Ask the photographer if you can borrow a C-stand to use for wardrobe.


Susan McDaniel, author of "How to Style a Bed," shares this tip: If there is a flange on a pillow or ruffle that needs to stand up, use metal pumbers tape at the back. If, however, your ruffles are lace, have eyelets or are sheer, it may help to use packing tape, as it is clear and will help give it some support. I have also used straight pins to hold up crocheted trims. Just weave it through the crochet until it pokes into the pillow. You may have to use a lot of pins to create the look you are after.

Save samples of all of your styling work. You won't be able to get them back if you let go of a catalog or magazine with your styling work in it. Even though the product, presentation, or even the photography may not be up to par, the tear sheet has value. Of course, it's better if you can request a digital file of the image from the photographer and have it professionally printed. I realized the importance of old samples when re-assembling my portfolio for an athletic wear client and was able to go through related work samples in a new way. In the worst case you can compare your earlier projects to see how far your styling has come.

Collect tabletop surfaces for your styled shots. Having an assortment of surfaces on hand can inspire the perfect still llife shot. You can have birch veneer plywood cut to 4'x4' sections and use various shades of acrylic wood stain on each side. Also keep your eyes open for old doors, pieces of metal, or other worn surfaces that might work. If you don't have room to store these, a photographer you like to work with may be glad to keep them in the studio. Get creative and plan ahead with your surfaces!

Check out, a network for the fashion styling industry! If you are a fashion or wardrobe stylist, check out free or affordable listings. Post your profile and images and be found by specialty or geographically.

If you work in several styling specialties (such as fashion, home, and prop styling) you'll have lots of different styling tools you don't use for every job. Invest in clear plastic tubs for storing the tools used for different types of projects so you can bring just the right ones along. No need to bring a mini-vacuum cleaner on a wardrobe shoot but you're going to need it for styling a living room!

For do-it-yourself photographers on a budget. Purchase reflective windshield screens to use as reflectors on location. These affordable and collapsible devices are a good alternative to expensive photography equipment and can be used in the same way! (This tip courtesy of Pete Romfh, co-author of "Style It & Shoot It Workbook.")

Paint Brushes for Dusting Keep a couple of soft artist's paint brushes in your kit for cleaning small areas of the set. A medium size and a small one will help you reach into the tiniest areas without disturbing the styling. Moistening the tip may help.

Shelf Liner on a Bowl I have a cool tip....just worked on a food set where the prop bowl was the perfect size, but had a slight dip in it. The layout called for several longer slices of toasted French bread to line the rim of the bowl. But, because of the dip in the bowl, they kept sliding into the product. We then cut tiny pices of "Grip-It" shelf liner to fit neatly underneath the bread to keep it into position. No sticky mess, easily cleanable as well as reuseable! Thanks to Beth Reiners, prop stylist for this tip. 10/12/11


Autumn Leaves This is your chance to gather autumn leaves for those Fall 2012 shoots that take place next spring or summer. Bundle them into a big plastic bag (clear is best so you remember what's in there) and save them for the right time. They work wonderfully when mixed with some colorful artificial leaves to create that crisp fall mood - when it's really hot outside! (This was our first styling tip from October 2010, time to bring it out again!) 9/26/11

Keter Brand Toolboxes Search for a functional toolkit - with wheels - from Keter. The website provides a large selection of toolboxes with multi-level compartments. Visit the site to see where they are sold in your area. See the selection. 9/12/11


Pre-Threaded Needles Buy a mini-sewing kit with pre-threaded needles for wardrobe and fashion styling. That would be a whole lot easier for quick repairs in the middle of a shoot. Imagine trying to thread a needle in a hurry on location! The repair will be hard enough. (Hope you never need to use them, but better to have them on hand, just in case!) 8/29/11

Craft Your Own Tools Look for tools that can help you from art stores, restaurant supply stores and hardware stores. My favourite malleable and disposable reflectors are the shiny reflective lids on BBQ roast duck takeaway containers. Don’t be afraid to use and craft your own tools that fit your budget. Tip courtesy of Winnie P. Ma, Food Photographer, Read the entire article. 8/22/11

Gardeners' Kneeling Pads If you are styling in a photo studio, you may find yourself on your knees on a concrete floor. Affordable foam kneeling pads can protect your knees and are easy to move out of the way when you're back up on your feet. Buy these at a builders supply or gardening store. An alternative can be knee pads for the times you are up and down frequently, say, if you are working with children. There are comfortable, colorful versions on the market now. 8/15/11

Learn to Sew! If you do any styling with garments whether on models or off-figure, knowledge of how they are constructed is so valuable! You'll know why a seam puckers and why there is so much fabric to tuck behind a pair of pants. Take a class at a community college, adult education program, or at a fabric store to learn the basics. (Plus sewing is fun!) 8/8/11

Stock up on Summer Props Local stores now feature Summer Items. This is your chance to stock up on all those beach balls, floaties, rafts, Hawaiian leis, flip flops, and other summer props that you'll need next year for summer shoots. If you live in a cold climate, these items will be impossible to find next January so stock up them when you can. (This tip is a reprint from April - we don't want you to miss this chance to buy those summer props now.) 8/1/11


Nervous about an Upcoming Food Styling Job? Buy a copy of Delores Custer's book, "Food Styling."
Your questions are bound to be answered in this comprehensive guide to the industry. Use it as a reference guide for future food styling challenges. (Read the review on my blog The Invisible Stylist.) 7/25/11

Clips for Wardrobe
To make clothing fit the talent there are lots of options. Usually clothespins and safety pins are used. Plastic clothespins are good, wood ones can snag the garment. Also search for various clips at office supply stores and other shops. But... test them at home before taking them on location, some will catch the fabric in the mechanism. This would cause an awkward moment on the set. 7/18/11

Denture Adhesive!
Use a clear denture cream, like Fixodent, to hold food in place. Although the denture cream is not as strong as super glue, it makes a great quick fix when attaching greens to strawberries or stems on cherries. Also can be used to secure a straw or garnish in a beverage. Courtesy of Debbie Wahl, food stylist, 7/11/11

Aluminum Tape
I don't leave home without aluminum tape in my kit. This is originally intended for connecting air conditioning ducts. It can be found in any home building center. (Be careful that you don't buy a metal-colored plastic tape, which is not the same.) I use it when I style bedding, especially to support the flanges around a pillow sham or make a draped edge curl just the way I want. The beauty of the metal is that it can be molded to whatever shape you need. There are thousands of additional ways I have found to use it. Just a caution: Be careful when you crumple it up. It is metal and can cut you, like a paper cut. Also, do not use to tape something to drywall. It will peel the paint right off (learned this the hard way.) And for recycling, I give it to the photographer's assistant to make reflective cards. Just press on a piece of foamcore. Courtesy of Susan McDaniel, bedding stylist, 7/5/11


Christmas Decorations
Now that summer is here it's time to think about Christmas (photo shoots, that is)! If you need holiday decorations for a catalog shoot, search out those year-round Christmas stores. Most cities have at least one - or you can search for trimmings online. Artificial trees these days are marvelous and look like the real thing, with branches that you can arrange. Plus you'll find lights, ornaments, garlands, and gift wrap. 6/27/11

Working with Pins
I use pins for a lot of fine tuning on the set... not just when I work with fabric. I made an old fashioned tailor's wrist pin cushion with a Velcro strap. I put it on first thing when I enter the studio and even forget to take it off at night sometimes. I keep certain pins in the same places on the pin cushion so I can grab what I need without even looking. I'd be lost without it! Tip from Trisha Hassler, Tabletop Styling instructor and professional product stylist, 6/20/11

Creating Condensation Droplets
For condensation on glass or moisture beads that will stay--spray with a mixture of equal parts water and glycerin. Keep a small spray bottle in your kit with this mixture. This is equally useful for food stylists and product stylists alike. Tip from Debbie Wahl, Food Styling 101 instructor and professional food stylist, 6/13/11

Styling Borrowed Shoes
Have you ever had to rent shoes for a shoot and wondered how to take care of them without damaging or scuffing the bottom? Who wants to get stuck with an expensive pair of shoes for a model or artist that wears size 10 while you wear size 7? The best solution for this is contact paper; yes, the same contact paper you line your kitchen drawers with. You can buy the it at any home improvement store - use clear for lighter and darker shoe bottoms and for a black shoe bottom you can buy it in black. Contact paper gives the illusion that it is part of the shoe plus when you take it off it leaves no residue, allowing you to use the shoes damage-free. Tip from Kim Maxwell, Fashion Styling 101 instructor and professional stylist, 6/6/11


Styling Fresh Strawberries
Treat the greens on strawberries with a very light rub of Vaseline to keep them green--do this just before placing on set. Tip from Debbie Wahl, Food Styling 101 instructor and professional food stylist, 5/30/11

Furniture Touch-up Markers
A valuable addition to your styling kit, no matter what your styling specialty. These markers come in a set of several wood-tones to quickly touch up flaws on tables or backgrounds on set. Also handy if shooting on location in a home. There can be found in craft sores or variety stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond. 5/23/11

Keep a File of Tear Sheets When you're looking through magazines and catalogs and see something that inspires you, tear it out! These examples are called tears or swipes (you're "swiping" ideas and inspirations). You can label them with a post-it note and refer to them when looking for a creative idea for a shoot. Be sure to pull tears beyond your comfort zone and in other specialties, like food, still-life, props, fashion, lifestyle. 5/16/11

Colored Safety Pins An alternative to shiny safety pins is now on the market. Purchase a package of black and white pins to blend in better with the garments the model is wearing. Even pink pins are available, a benefit for breast cancer awareness, though not as useful. Look in fabric/craft stores for these pins. 5/9/11


Bring a First Aid Kit An important item to remember as the stylist on a shoot is a First Aid Kit. There's always the possiblity of a minor injury on location and you can come through at the critical moment if you have remembered a small kit including antiseptic and bandaids. You can purchase a simple kit - or assemble your own in a zip-lock bag. 4/25/11

Stock up on Summer Props Soon the seasonal items in stores will feature Summer Items. This is your chance to stock up on all those beach balls, floaties, rafts, Hawaiian leis, flip flops, and other summer props that you'll need next year for summer shoots. If you live in a cold climate, these items will impossible to find next January so stock up them when you can. 4/18/11

Steam the Edges of Garments When steaming garments for wardrobe shoots, the rule of thumb is to eliminate those iron creases at the side of sleeves. Softening this this fold makes it much less of a focal point in the shot. Do this by pulling gently on the bottom of the sleeve and running the steamer head sideways down the outer side of the sleeve. Also be sure to steam out the sides of garments where they get flattened; use the steamer head inside if you can. 4/11/11

Behind-the-Scenes Photos Remember to take some behind-the-scenes photos on your styling projects. These are always fun and useful, especially if you have a blog or a Facebook page - starting the conversation about what you do. You could ask the photographer's assistant to shoot some of you in action. (Be sure to ask permission from the photographer and any crew members shown before publishing them.) A photo of you working could be perfect for your Web site too! 4/3/11


Thank You Notes How about sending a good old-fashioned thank you note to the art director and photographer at the end of each styling job? In this era of email communication, it's a surprise to receive a hand-addressed envelope in your mailbox! You can make notecards with your styling images easily using an Avery template and print it at home - or order a batch from an affordable online printer. (Be sure to include your contact info and Web site!) 3/28/11

Google Yourself Search for yourself online to see how well your self-promotion is working. Using key words that a client might use, like "wardrobe stylist, Milwaukee" see if they would find you. Try all the words and phrases you can think of, as well as possible misspellings. By entering your name you might find that someone has blogged about you or listed you as the stylist on some portfolio samples. And don't forget to Google yourself every few months to see what's new. 3/21/11

Back Up Your Data Since my laptop is in for refurbishing this week I'm thinking about computer data. Mine is on a back-up hard drive so it can always be accessed - and never lost! Keep your client records, portfolio images, and invoices on the backup drive instead of the hard drive. 3/14/11

Another Tax Suggestion Continuing education relevant to your current profession (such as our courses) may be a valuable tax deduction. (Do confirm these deductions with your tax professional, though, as I am not a tax advisor.) 3/7/11


More Tax Deductions Other items that MAY be tax deductible if you run your own styling business: Classes and workshops, magazines and books, items purchased for test shoots, cell phone, portion of your home used exclusively for business. (Do confirm these deductions with your tax professional, though, as I am not a tax advisor.) 2/21/11

Record Your Mileage Keep track of miles driven for business in a small datebook in your car. The 2010 rate for deductions was 50 cents per mile; 2011 will be 51 cents. Check to keep up on current rates. This mileage can be, and should be, billed to your client for miles driven in search of props or wardrobe. It can cost you $5 worth of fuel and "wear and tear" on your vehicle for a 10 mile trip! Note that you will be billing for mileage in your client agreement. 2/14/11

Wonder Weights These dressmakers' weights for patterns are small but heavy, covered in a slip-resistant white coating. They also make a great addition to your styling kit. They are useful in product styling as weights for holding objects in place or as a subtle lifter for items in a tabletop set. 2/7/11


Shop for blank journals to use as book props. Bookstores have a great selection of blank books that can look atractive - and generic - for use in tabletop or room sets. Also look inside the flyleaf of hard-cover books to find the right color of bound book with little decoration, just a title on the spine. 1/31/11

Learn how to put up a rolling rack. Watch my YouTube video to learn how to put up a rolling rack - by yourself! It's humiliating to be in the middle of the process and have the crossbar hit you on the head. Learn the parts to use and the ones to watch out for. If you can do it alone, you can easily put one up with a helper and look like a pro. 1/25/11

Wood Blocks for Product Styling I find it’s great to have tiny wood chunks and an assortment of medium blocks in my toolkit. I like to have matching groups of 4 blocks in case something like a chair or table being used as a prop needs to be lifted evenly. These blocks are best made by you or someone you know with a saw. I have collected end cuts or begged lumber from friends who are working on a wood project over the years and this way you help them by taking their scraps. Courtesy of Trisha Hassler, Instructor of Tabletop Styling 1/17/11

First Aid Kit Be sure to bring along a first aid kit when styling on location. You are likely to be the only member of the crew who thinks of this! The kit can be as simple as the cheapest ones available at the drug store, including a few bandages, some antiseptic, and aspirin. Or it can be a more thorough first aid kit. There's always the possibility of a minor injury on the set - plus you'll be perceived as the crew member who thinks of everything! Remember to re-stock any supplies you use. 1/10/11

Visit the MAC counter! Talk to a MAC consultant to select a couple of the most common shades of "Studio Fix" powder/makeup. When there is no makeup artist on hand and you need to touch up a model this will come in handy. Find two tones that will work on the most skin tones. While you're there, ask if they can provide you with a professional discount for stylists. 1/3/11


Save Your Work Samples! Keep a file of samples of all the styling work you've done. Even though it might not be good enough for your portfolio, an example of a certain still life, sports shot, or food propping may be relevant for a certain client in year or more. You never know! 12/20/10

Sewing Kits! If you find yourself staying at a luxury hotel this holiday, you may be able to find a tiny sewing kit among the amenities. These are perfect additions to your styling kit. Some of them even come with pre-threaded needles. 12/13/10

Swizzle Sticks Keep your eyes open for unique ones to have on hand. This is a great time of year in specialty gift shops, since it's entertaining season. You can also find other cool beverage props. Look for ice cube trays that make different-shaped ice, cocktail picks or skewers, unique cocktail napkins, etc. as well as swizzle sticks. I like to have some of these small things in my tool closet--as a prop stylist may not be able to find them at other times of the year. Courtesy of Lisa Golden Schroeder, instructor of Everyday Food Styling. 12/6/10


Stock up on Holiday Props If you have the space for storing, this is a great time to stock up on holiday props, gift, wrap, and ribbons for those shoots next summer. The selection of life-like garlands, generic stockings, gold, red, or blue wrapping paper, and subtle ornaments is at its best now. 11/29/10

Mock Up Editorials Consider collaborating with a Graphic Designer for your next test shoot, along with a photographer. The designer can create a magazine-quality layout that will enhance your portfolio. By the way, it's OK to tell art directors it was a mock-up test shoot - it shows even more talent, creativity, and initiative to arrange a more complex project! 11/22/10

Get those last fall leaves. (If it's too late where you are, you might have to save this tip for next year.) Have a great week, go collect a few leaves, and press them...spray with matte finish polyurethane... store carefully in a box loosely layered with tissue. (Check for bugs!!) They will come in handy some day when you need to do "Fall" in April! Courtesy of Trisha Hassler, instructor of Tabletop Styling, 11/15/10

Sharing Knowledge The sharing of knowledge is a two way street - so share back. None of us know everything there is to know... I have found that I have shared tips with those more experienced than myself and they have learned from me, and I have had people with little or no experience share tips with me that I had never thought about and I ended up learning from them as well. Courtesy of student Kelly Cline 11/8/10

Networking Join APA and ASMP to network, meet photographers, and learn more about the photography industry. APA, American Photographic Artists, and ASMP, American Society of Media Photographers have local chapters throughout the US and hold informative meetings for all professionals in the photo industry. 11/2/2010


Portfolio Websites used to be difficult and expensive to set up. Now it's easier to upload your images with a portfolio site service like Web Photo Master. I used them for my new site and received a helpful business consultation from Betz in addition to a beautiful, hosted site. (By the way, I am not signed up for commissions from referrals.) 10/25/10

Prop Books Check inside the the protective cover of a hardback book to see what color the real cloth cover of a book is; this will help you decide if it is generic - or colorful - enough to work as a prop. Or when using a hard-cover book as a prop, use art paper or brown kraft paper to make a neutral outer cover. 10/18/10

Repaginate your Portfolio Refresh your portfolio - or prepare for a new client by repaginating the images in your portfolio. If you have removable pages it's easier but even if you don't, remove all your images, lay them out on your floor in two-page spreads. See how the images flow and flatter the opposite page. Try placing a full page photo next to a cropped image with a white border. You can change the order for a new look or a specific client (like a sports catalog or a beverage company). It's easy to keep your portfolio the way it but a fresh presentation will excite even you! 10/11/10

Autumn Leaves This is your chance to gather autumn leaves for those Fall 2011 shoots that take place next spring or summer. Bundle them into a big plastic bag (clear is best so you remember what's in there) and save them for the right time. They work wonderfully when mixed with some colorful artificial leaves to create that crisp fall mood - when it's really hot outside! 10/4/10

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