What a Stylist Is and Does

By Heather Newberger

anyway stylist

Anyway Management boutique agency makeup stylist preparing for shoot.

My first encounter with what a stylist "is" and "does"...

My first foray into food photography was a disaster. I was 20 years old and had just transferred to the photography program at upstate  Ithaca College.  At the time, I had grand designs of becoming the next big fashion shooter and ate up every lesson we learned in the one commercial class our fine-art program had to offer.

The first few assignments were about lighting "he figure," and I practically lived in the studio that winter. There was nothing I loved more than going through  my friends' closets, picking out favorite pieces and having them stand in front of my lens.  However, once we had mastered basic technique our professor asked us to go out  into the world and make images about food – so I baked a cake.

The day of the project review, I didn’t feel great about my image. I knew something was off, but damned if I knew what it was. My professor did, though.  “Now this is a great example of setting the scene,” she started off, looking at my image pinned up to the dry erase board. “I get a great sense of environment from this shot… and time of day.  The lighting feels very organic and fresh."  "But the cake,” she started, looking right at me “that cake looks horrible.” And she docked me 20 points.  

At the time, although disappointed at my grade, I was more disappointed in myself.  How could I forget such an important part of image making?  Sure, manipulating light is one thing, but isn’t  image content the most important thing a photographer can create?

Little did  my younger elf know that the real answer to this question is no, absolutely not. But no one tells you about stylists in school.  Photography is portrayed as an all-encompassing medium – from project conception to completion – with the image maker as a solitary creative genius, who operates in his or her  own time.

Sure, it’s a very romantic idea,  but when we are talking about commercial photography, this perception could not be further from the truth.  To create a successful image, photographers must work with a wide assortment of other artists who come to the set with specific roles and skill sets that have been honed over months and years of experience.  True, there is no liberal arts major course  that aptly prepares you for such a career path but that doesn't  mean it’s something people don’t do.

Here is how I explain what a stylist is to people outside of the industry and at family reunions. First I ask my relatives if they have ever seen an ad for iced tea. Family member X says of course, we’re from Pennsylvania, we drink iced tea.   I then ask them to picture the ad.  Is there a person in the ad? If not, add one. Now look at the ad in your mind. How many people do you think were on set to create this image?  They usually will think for a while. The photographer? One will say.  Oh, and the model,  another will interject thinking that they have now solved the riddle.

Then I give them the bigger picture. There is a photographer on set, but he probably has a few assistants, maybe a lighting guy and definitely a digital tech. There is also the client, who represents the brand, often in addition to the people from the ad agency that the brand has hired to make their product look so "cool."

Now, remember that model? She needs hair, make up and someone to dress her in the right clothes to set the mood. If she’s standing in an environment (whether it’s a kitchen or a fast food joint) that means there has to be a set person hired to create  and fabricate (or at least prop) the scene. This person is also responsible for bringing as many options of different glasses for the iced tea as possible – tall glasses, short glasses, glasses with rims, glasses with handles  and then there are  the straws. Do we want plastic, paper, twisty, curly ?  And because there is so much for this prop person to handle, they should probably have at least one assistant on set to help them out. Or maybe two?

Last but not least, someone has to be responsible for the iced tea – and only the iced tea.  What color it is, how much condensation  do we need on on the sides of the glass, are there  bubbles in it,? Oh and what  should the ice look like? And don’t even get me started on the guy you have to hire if it turns out that the iced tea needs to splash, too.

That'when I ask all my relatives again, how many people are involved in a photo shoot for iced tea?  Now I think they've got  the picture.

Heather Newberger is Director of the Styling Division at Anyway MGMT.  For more information on their services contact Heather at:  heather@anywaymgmt.com.


Brooklyn, NY

 t.  212.343.3037

 c. 267.640.5562


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