15 Tips For Photo Stylists Working With Photographers

Jul 13, 2023

Ways to Make a Photographer Love You ~  Don’t all us Photo Stylists want to know the ways! Move Love = More Work.  Every Photographer, of course, is different.  Different disciplines of photography, levels of experience and preferences. Some will be very open in their expectations, some may not.  This is why when I first begin to work with any photographer, I have a conversation with them about their preferences and thoughts of Stylists on set/location.  

Photographers along with creative directors and art directors are our teammates on assignments and we all work collaboratively for the common goal ~ creating beautiful, inspiring images. (That "sell" the products and services of our clients.) Here are a few guidelines for working with photographers and establishing a great relationship with them

I once did a series with Photographers on the 3 things that they look for in a Stylist.  All of them focused more on the type of stylists they were looking for in terms of aesthetic and style. None of them got into the preferences & “set behavior” of Stylists. I get it ~ they don’t want to insult anyone.  But, you know I’m about telling you the “real deal” ;) here.  I'll get into it!  Afterall, that the mission of our business ~ to organize, prepare and protect you and your photo styling business.

Also, they may feel comfortable, at some point, talking with you about how they feel about their Photo Assistant or Second Shooter and what “bugs them”.  Really listen to that conversation, while they may not be telling you so you know too (and maybe not really realizing they are doing it) they are talking to you.

While, some may seem really obvious, you would be surprised to know I see these below points all the time when I hire Assistant, Junior of even long-time colleague, career Stylists.

Have Pre-Shoot Conversation with Photographer.  Before you work with Photographer on set, talk to them about their preferences of you going into the shot to fix a styling element.  This needs to be communicated.  You don’t want to just go into the set while they are shooting ~ you could ruin a shot.  Ask them their preference . . . maybe say “going in” to signal them or “can I go in”?.  They want you to fix whatever needs to be fixed.  They are not always looking for those things.  They rely on you, the stylist, for that.  Don’t be shy ~ you may need to fix styling along the way.  You (& Photographer) do not  want to see final images with styling mistakes.

Arrive Early to Set Up.  Never be late!  (If you are late, never, never, arrive with a coffee and your phone in your hand)  This just says . . . getting my coffee is more important that this job and I don’t respect the client, the team and your time.

Read Call Sheet and Creative Brief. Read everything about the shoot through and through before shoot. You do not want to miss any detail. Read Call Sheet, Creative Brief and review every email sent. You don't want to miss something that you need to get for shoot ~ that would hold up the shoot.  No detail on the Brief is a "maybe we need it" - consider it a "must have" for the shoot, actually, it's alway great for you to over prepare.

Don’t Drink or Eat on Set.  (Clothing, textiles, seamless paper can be damaged with food/drink.) Accidents happen . . . What if you spilled coffee on garment that is being photographed? What happens is: set is shut down (or the photographer has to do more post production work to "correct" the mistake, IF possible.) and the team stops work.  Time = Money.  You don’t want to be the Stylist that stopped the shoot from food or drink being spilled.

Be Respectful/Careful of Photo Equipment Don’t Touch Photographers Equipment.  (It’s expensive and at times, rented for the shoot)

Don’t Step on the Seamless Paper with your Shoes!  (I always have a couple of pairs of socks and disposable “booties” in my styling kit.)  Same goes for any flooring.  I was in studio on set one time where a Stylist was styling an interior shot with a beautiful black lacquer floor.  She had booties on ~ but she walking on and off set (into the dust and dirty studio)  which of course transferred onto the floor (the camera can see that dust and dirt)  That's the point of wearing the booties.  If you go off set, have a disposable pair of booties in your pocket so you can slip them on before you go back on floor.

Be Mindful of (& Positive with) your Conversations with Photographers Client. (The photographer’s client oftentimes go to photo shoot) Don’t ask for more work from their client or be critical of anything on set. Or don't ever contact a Photographer's client directly - for anything! (without permission)

Don’t Embarrass Photographer in Front of their Client.  Be discrete with commenting or discussing concerns or problems. If you see something “wrong”, or have a concern or comment, take the photographer aside to speak with them, never in front of a client. If you have been hired by photographer, you may be working for their client, so be respectful and polite. While, of course the Art Director, Creative Director, Photographer and you, the Stylist, are all a collaborative team ~ your opinion, talent, and eye matters ~ you still want to be respectful.   Talk to them discretely off set if you have something to say.  You are their teammate and styling “advisor”.  They will appreciate your being discrete.  Also, just make sure it is very important.

Build in Extra Time in Case Shoot Goes Late.  They don’t want to hear from the Stylist . . . “I have to go now”!  You are a important part of the process. You need to be on set. You don't want to be the "clock watcher" Photo Stylist that starts to wrap up 30 minutes before wrap time and make a "mad dash" to the door.  (Remember also that if you are hired directly from the Photographer, you are working, in essence, for them. They want everything to go smoothly because they want to continue to booked and get work from their client. ANYTHING that the Photo Stylist may do can reflect poorly on the Photographer.

Don’t Share a Behind the Scenes (or any image) Without their Permission.  While we as Stylists love to think the image is ours too (it is ;) !) Photographers do own copyright. (Client hired you to style images for their business. They need to release the photo.)  It’s not ours to share. Get your tearsheets and permission when released and then post and put on your website.

Don’t Filter or Crop a Photographers Image. The only time I do this is when I do a collaborative personal styled shoot where we all (Photographer approves) agree to use images for marketing purpose or for our websites.  I may crop and put a text overlay on these ~ because it was intended and approved that I can freely use images for my business marketing.

Don't Ask Photographer to Replicate or Copy an Image. 
Don’t show a photographer a Pinterest image or any image and say “lets do this”.  A photographer is an artist with a desire to create their own original images.  You are asking them to “copy” another photographer.  While I know it’s been said . . . “nothing is original anymore” ~ try to be original.  You, as a stylist, should not want to copy another stylist either.

Don’t Ask Photographer to Correct Something in “Post”. 
It’s a stylists job to get it as perfect as it can be ~ and not to rely on post.  You become a valuable, “booked again” Photo Stylist when you take pride and care in styling ~ not taking a “easy way out”.  I have styled 12 lamps in one product shot where I “hid” every cord to the outlets ~ because creative director wanted the lamps lit. (Without asking the photographer if the cords can be hidden by post.)

Learn Basics of Photography. 
When new and just starting out ~ you need to have some basic knowledge of photography and terms and continue to learn. We have Glossary in our
 Free Resource Library. I would spend some time and consult with a photographer before going to your first assignment.  (Not the photographer you are working with)  Remember that the photographer you are working with is working for the client and would not be able to talk and teach you during assignment.  (I would invest in you photo styling career by getting some photography lessons.  Stylists spend alot of time on the "fun" tasks of styling ~ looking at inspiration, color boards, shopping ~ but to be a stand out, booked again Photo Stylist ~ you have to educate yourself on the business of styling.  Go where the photographers go, read what they read, take their courses and workshops.  (In addition to this ~ I also read the business magazines (& sites like Ad Age) MORE (or as much) than I read the style magazines.

Read What Photographers Read

Here are a few of my favorites:

Photo District News
How to Photograph


Continue Your Education on Photography and Styling.  Take classes,  attend workshops, do personal projects and test shoots, and go to conventions and industry events ~ keep educating yourself and learning about the industry and trends.

Bonnie ~

Image Credit |  Jamie Bannon



FREE Business of Photo Styling Guides to help with your Styling Business! Check them our in our Resource Library.


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