Styling is one of the essential elements of any fashion brand. It governs how your clothes look in your store and helps ensure they stand out. So a kit full of valuable tools is essential.
A successful photo shoot doesn't just happen by itself. Perhaps there are times when everything lines up, and an impromptu photoshoot happens. But that is often the exception.
From my experience, much planning goes into a successful photo shoot. Whether you are doing a family, newborn, or portrait shoot, formal, informal, indoors or outdoors, styled or casual shoots, there are common factors crucial to its success. Here are some essential things to consider when styling a photo shoot.
Styling is a partnership—a partnership between the photographer and the stylist. If you are ever asked to style a photoshoot, some fundamental rules are good to know. Styling is an art, but also a science. You need to know the rules to start indeed experimenting with your ideas.
Table of Contents
- 1 Tools Every Fashion Stylist & Product Photographer Needs
- 2 Styling Essentials for a Photo Shoot
- 3 Essential Things to Consider When Styling a Photoshoot
Tools Every Fashion Stylist & Product Photographer Needs
Having the right toolkit is essential to a smooth styling process in any photo studio, whether you are styling flat lay or on a mannequin.
In this product photography tutorial, we will give you a rundown of the essential tools every stylist and fashion product photographer needs to style, shoot and make their garments look superb.
The equipment every stylist needs:
- Pins - Safety pins, bobby pins, fastening pins & more
- Clips - snap clips, alligator clips, binder clips & more
- Blu/White tack - Any semi-permanent adhesive
- Scissors - Normal scissors suffice; fashion scissors are recommended
- Fishing line - Also known as fishing string, or invisible string
- Stiff brush - Also known as a suede brush
- Tape - Ranging from gaffer tape, duct tape, cellophane tape, masking tape and double-sided tape
- Lint roller - Fabric or self-adhesive
- Tissue paper - Or craft/crepe paper
- Measuring tape - Loose' tailor' style
Pins are mainly used to help fit clothes around a mannequin or hanger.
Ranging from bobby pins to safety pins, use them around the back and shoulder areas of your garment to 'pull back the fabric and create a more sleek, fitted look.
They are instrumental when you need to take photographs of your clothes from several angles. By threading them inside the fabric, you can make them almost invisible in-shot.
Clips can be crudely considered a more 'heavy-duty' version of pins — they are used for the same reason but can hold different fabric types more firmly in place.
They are helpful when you have clothes with certain kinds of material where a pin couldn't do the job. Sheer fabric is an excellent example of where clips become vital to holding things in place.
Use them in combination with pins to shape and style your garments by your brand styling guide. Not sure what a style guide is? Take a look here.
Blu-tack — or white tack due for less residue — can be used for various styling purposes. The most obvious of which is holding thick pieces of material in a place where clips and pins can't do the trick.
Use white tack on handbag straps when you want to showcase a particular element or make the belt lay nicely in the shot. The white approach is beneficial as; when used effectively, it appears practically invisible in your final image.
Scissors — or fashion scissors for their size, sharpness and shape — are handy for cutting things like loose threads and labels. Of course, no loose threads or tags should be showing in your product images, so a quick snip to tidy things up is crucial before you begin shooting.
Be careful to not use your fashion scissors with things like paper and tape. They are designed purely for fine, sharp work and just like kitchen knives; they become ineffective when the blade is dulled.
The fishing line is perhaps one of the most underrated and essential tools in any stylist's kit. It can be used for various purposes and help the stylist defy gravity without appearing in a shot.
Use a fishing line to hang your garments to achieve a 'floating effect' as most cameras will not be able to pick up the excellent, invisible string. You can also use it to hold things like handbag straps up and generally empower the creative possibilities open to you when shooting your garments.
A stiff brush is needed for materials that are prone to blemishes in your final shot. Suede is a perfect example of this, as the knap of the suede must be brushed in one consistent direction not to appear 'blotchy'.
It can also be used to remove fingerprints and smooth out fabrics prone to looking messy — for example, fur. Remember always to brush lightly to avoid ruining the material.
There are lots of different kinds of tape that you should incorporate into your styling toolkit. Masking tape is handy to hold things in place and does not leave residue as much as other kinds.
Double-sided tape is handy for helping to stick your clothes to a mannequin, giving your garment a more slim, fitted appeal. Gaffa tape can be used when your fabric is a little too heavy for masking or double-sided tape to handle — but be careful; it can leave a nasty residue!
Lint rollers are crucial for removing dust, lint and general speckles of dirt from your garments. Before shooting, always make sure you give your product a run through with a lint roller after steaming.
A lint roller is especially needed for darker fabrics where the exposure must be heightened to bring out the details — but not the dust!
Tissue (or Crepe) Paper
Tissue should be in every stylist's toolkit, no questions about it. Why? Because it allows a stylist the freedom to pad out and emphasise certain areas of any clothing.
Particularly useful for flat lay — or tabletop — photography, use tissue paper to create attractive curves and angles in your clothing and help them stand out. Stuff a shirt sleeve with paper or pack some tissue into a pair of jeans to give extra volume.
Tissue can also be used to achieve a more fitted look in combination with pins, clips and all your other bits and pieces.
Whilst not crucial to the look or feel of your garments, a measuring tape should be in any fashion or product photographers toolkit to take measurements with ease.
Particularly useful for speeding up workflow, use a tape measure to measure things like chest size, arm length, collar size and all other vital information to your customers in search of their perfect apparel.
Styling Essentials for a Photo Shoot
Get these essentials ingrained in your practice, and your shoots will be a success.
This is one of the essential parts of styling a shoot. Colour is the way to affect the mood and energy of the image. Many stylists use a great technique to use colours from opposite ends of the colour wheel together in one look.
This creates high contrast in the picture whilst remaining sophisticated. This technique is called 'colour blocking' and worth adding to your stylistic skills.
Remember to work closely with your photographer on colour choices. Include hair, make-up and the background/location when considering the colour pallet of your shoot.
The texture is your photographer's best friend; it allows them to play with light and shadow, creating interesting and eye-catching images.
The surface is an absolute must in black and white photography. The way to achieve texture is through fabric choice. Denim, leather, knit, lace, tweed all have different textures and absorb light differently. Consider texture in your styling, and your photographer will thank you for it.
Layering is a great way to manipulate the viewer's eye when constructing an image, directing them to look and highlight certain parts of an outfit more than others. You don't want to be covering your model in a sea of fabric, but some consideration for layering can be a powerful styling tool. A simple rule is to balance heavy areas with slim cuts.
Like layering, accessories create points of focus for the viewer and contrast within the image. Many stylists use accessories to stamp their unique vision on a shoot, expressing their personality and creativity.
Classic ways to use accessories to draw the viewers focus is using long earrings to draw attention to the mouth or a necklace to pull focus towards the cleavage.
Accessories are also an excellent physical prop within a shoot – allowing a model to hold or touch can help the shot look more natural and relaxed.
This is your time to shine! One of the most critical aspects of the shoot will be your vision and personality. Remember to bring this into the room. You have the fundamentals; why not experiment with breaking the rules? Use the outlandish item of clothing you have been dying to try out. Your creativity is key to developing your style. Go for it!
Essential Things to Consider When Styling a Photoshoot
Location dictates equipment. Deciding on your site beforehand is necessary as that dictates the equipment you'll need. If shooting in a studio, you need to think of the lenses you would use for the amount of space available in your studio. If you have a small studio, you may only be able to use a 35mm or a 50mm lens for portraits. A 24-70mm would be ideal for a small space, but you need to consider any distortions if you're shooting portraits at close range using a short focal length.
If you rely on natural light indoors, you would need to think of the time of day you are shooting and the available ambient and natural light to give you ample light that you need for your shoot. It would also be a good idea to have a reflector handy for both nodes, especially for indoor shoots. Various types of glasses create different effects.
Another thing to consider when shooting indoors is your background or backdrop. If it's in a client's home, you may need to ask them for photos of an idea of walls, windows, possible backdrops you can use if you haven't been there before. If you shoot in your own home or studio, you have more control and can prepare the space beforehand. You can go for a light or dark backdrop, fabric or walls, wallpaper or painting, or just the available surfaces in the home. You may need to declutter a bit, so unnecessary objects are in the shot.
Weather – Plan B
If shooting outdoors, you need a plan B if the weather doesn't cooperate on the day. Plan B could be a cafe nearby or a sheltered area such as a gazebo. Generally, when shooting outdoors during the day, the opposite problem occurs. There is often too much light. The first thing to decide on is the time of day to shoot. Will it be a golden hour? Middle of the day? Early morning? Dusk? Evening? Understand the needs for these different times of the day.
Best Times of Day to Shoot
Early and late, and golden hours are great times to shoot because the light comes from an angle. A golden hour gives a nice warm glow to your images, but the light during early morning shoots are often quite cold. Midday light, when the sun is high up in the sky, gives harsh light. It would help if you mitigated this by using reflectors to avoid dark shadows under the eyes. They can be natural reflectors like concrete paths, white walls, floors or the usual photography reflectors.
Urban or country? Each has a very different vibe. If shooting in a busy city location where you have to walk around and have nowhere to park, you may need to pare down your equipment. If you go to the country, you can fill your car with equipment and props to your heart's content and make a shoot logistically easier.
If shooting with artificial light either indoors or outdoors, you have more control over the amount of light available for your shoot, and natural lighting is not so much a factor. However, this would require more equipment such as light stands, softboxes, electronic flashes, triggers and receivers, batteries, and diffusers.
Overall Colour Scheme
Details matter when it comes to the outcome. For an image to be pleasing and successful, it involves more than just lighting. It involves tones and colour schemes. When planning your shoot, it may help think of a theme like vintage, bold, contemporary, simple, maximal or busy. Also, think of a seasonal feeling; summer, spring, autumn, or winter. Considering these things helps you eliminate ideas that won't fit and narrow them down to a few essentials.
You can then decide on the colours. Winter would call for cool white, grey and blue tones, and you may decide on a pop of colour. Spring may have a combination of pastel colours with dominant greens. Summer may be bursting with saturation and light, blue skies, and warmth. Autumn can have burnt orange, reds, purples and verdant gardens.
Feeling your shoot while mentally preparing for it helps in streamlining everything to achieve the desired outcome. You could go for a rainbow shoot where you want the colours to pop against a plain white or dark backdrop.
Props are optional, but they are helpful. My preference is minimal props, but I would suggest having them as tools during the shoot rather than necessary for the shoot. Let me explain.
If I am photographing young children, I would often ask the parents to bring a bag of favourite toys without the knowledge of their children. During the shoot, I may need to use them to entertain, comfort, use during breaks, and even make them look at the camera. However, only one of those may make it into the shot, usually a soft comfort toy.
I'd ask the couple to choose one or two props they want to be in the shot for engagement shoots, but that these props must mean something to them. We've had picnic baskets, bikes, guitars, books and flowers, amongst others. Sometimes, couples can't think of props or don't want any, which is fine. Often I'd say pick up a bunch of flowers just in case. Many couples, especially those who haven't had a photoshoot yet, may feel awkward and holding something like flowers helps.
A piece of outfit or accessory can be used as a prop too. A hat, bag or a particular pair of shoes can work. This leads us nicely to the next factor…
Even when you have your lighting and location all planned perfectly, sometimes your photoshoot can still get ruined. Okay, ruined may be a bit too harsh, but there is still one thing that can make or break your shoot – It's the outfit.
I give my clients a guide on what to wear before their photoshoot in the hope that they plan their outfits and, even better, share them with me to discuss them. Often they send me options to choose from, and together we agree on one or two final outfits.
I once had a couple whose location was in the most beautiful country setting – it was a dreamy scene. Unfortunately, their outfits were not in keeping with the site. Although they were happy with the images and the shots were beautiful, their shoot could have been published in many places but were let down by the outfits.
Encourage your clients to treat the photoshoot as a special event that they plan and prepare for. If they can afford it, even buy new clothes for the shoot. Regarding matching outfits, like all white shorts and jeans, that's down to personal preference. Mine is more towards classic complementary colours and patterns than checking or uniform outfits. Discussing this with your client is essential. The one big no-no I always tell my clients is to avoid big logos, cartoon characters, numbers or letters, or anything that is trend-based that dates quickly.