Working with a professional food photographer and art director is quite a different dynamic than creating images on your own. As a freelance photo stylist, I am initially hired by the photographer based on the work he or she has seen in my portfolio. The first shoot together can have some anticipation between both the photographer & myself as a stylist. Some projects are very cut and dry, where the props and backgrounds are specifically outlined by the advertising agency or client, and then I’m pretty much gathering a selection within the parameters of what is requested. With styling experience, good prop sources, and a full understanding of the layout, these are easier projects with which to start a photographer‐stylist relationship. It is more challenging when a shoot offers creative freedom. Then I have to find the balance between the vision of the photographer and my own interpretation. On paid assignment, I always will follow the lead of the shooter and start with trying to interpret their vision. Beyond that, I expand my prop selections to bring in some of my own style and ideas. A strong working relationship between a photographer and their prop stylist is one of great synergy and trust, a true meeting of creative minds, and an ability to draw from each other and build on a combination of both talents.
Within the course of a week, I may find myself working with several photographers at various studios. That means different personalities, different studio procedures, different styles to account for when selecting the props. As a photo stylist, you first need to have a strong sense of who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and develop a visual style that is the foundation for all your assignments. And then you have to be ready to bend, and channel your talents to what your photographer is requesting of you. Without this self confidence your work fails to thrive.
The majority of my assignments are for advertising, ranging from national ads to sales brochures, recipe books, retail packaging, and a great amount of recipe photography for website usage. The amount of actual direction I get from the photographer and art director varies greatly. National ads are probably the most highly orchestrated productions, because of the great visibility and expense involved in placing these images in the public eye. There is a full creative team that presents us with a layout for direction, and by the time we receive it the concept has been approved by the client. They have a pretty concise idea of the feel the props and lighting should convey. We may have 2‐3 pre‐production meetings on a single ad, and I often have to shoot the prop selections so the client & agency can approve before the actual shoot day. Large ad agencies like to have lots of prop options to choose from. It can be quite a process! Packaging photography is also tightly controlled by the agency creative team. Propping is minimal, but the art director will be looking at the configuration of the bowl or plate and paying close attention to the shape and proportion of the vessel holding the food product. I may be given a layout with a white bowl of cereal, but know I have to get 20‐30 bowls of various heights, widths, pottery thicknesses, shades of white, shape configuration. It is that critical. Great packaging images equal great sales, it has to be right. Recipes for website usage usually have more creative freedom. With those projects, a client usually has a look based on their customer profile, and we use that as a guideline for creative direction.
Even though photo styling is profession, it is still my art. Most of the photographers, art directors, and food stylists I work with feel the same way. It is truly amazing when you get a great team together on a food set. It’s nothing short of magic. Most bloggers will have to start doing it all on their own, but that is excellent groundwork to sharing your responsibilities with someone further down the line, and devoting your personal time & talents to where your passion really lies.