A stylist’s eye

A pair of eyes in­ter­pret­ing your shoot from a slightly dif­fer­ent an­gle can be hugely ben­e­fi­cial to keep­ing your work on­trend. Aaron K dis­cusses with life­style and in­te­ri­ors stylist Me­gan Har­ri­son-Turner the role of a stylist

The Photographer's Mail - - Column - Aaron K

As a fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher, I know from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence what a huge im­pact a pro­fes­sional stylist can have on a shoot. Don’t ask me how they do it, but a great stylist can take a mun­dane or lack­lus­tre scene and quickly turn it into some­thing vis­ually spec­tac­u­lar. Their in-depth knowl­edge of ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ can also pre­vent ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment (for the pho­tog­ra­pher, the sub­ject, and the client) fur­ther down the line. In fact, for trend-sen­si­tive as­sign­ments, I think it would be fair to say that hav­ing a stylist in­volved from the out­set is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial.

So, for this is­sue’s col­umn, I spoke with Me­gan Har­ri­son-Turner, a very highly re­garded life­style and in­te­ri­ors stylist who has spent over two decades work­ing along­side some of New Zealand’s lead­ing com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phers. Dur­ing this time, Har­ri­son-Turner has styled dozens and dozens of ed­i­to­ri­als for well-known publi­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Your Home & Gar­den, Home & En­ter­tain­ing, Cui­sine, and Fash­ion Quar­terly, and has been in­stru­men­tal in the de­vel­op­ment of dis­tinc­tive looks for many ma­jor brands, such as Levene and Ez­ibuy Home & Gifts. The Pho­tog­ra­pher’s Mail: Can you briefly ex­plain the role of a stylist: what ex­actly do you do?

Me­gan Har­ri­son-Turner: Well, ul­ti­mately, I’d like to think that what I do is help pho­tog­ra­phers to cre­ate great images. On oc­ca­sion, when I’m asked this ques­tion, I tell peo­ple that I go shop­ping for a liv­ing — but styling is ob­vi­ously much more than that. As a stylist, I ba­si­cally have to beg, bor­row, buy, hire, make, in­vent, or do what­ever else is re­quired to as­sem­ble the most suitable items for the scene that we hap­pen to be shoot­ing. A big part of a stylist’s job is know­ing where to find things.

Dur­ing the shoot it­self, I worry about all the lit­tle de­tails. I re­ally love what pho­tog­ra­phers do with light and an­gles and com­po­si­tion — they make the scene that I’ve put to­gether look bet­ter. But I worry about dif­fer­ent as­pects of the shoot than the pho­tog­ra­pher — like the shape of a wine glass or the fin­ish of a ta­ble sur­face. You re­ally need to get th­ese de­tails right in or­der to en­sure that the photos ‘make sense’ and are vis­ually ap­peal­ing to the client’s tar­get de­mo­graphic. I imag­ine ac­quir­ing this type of knowl­edge re­quires quite a bit of re­search.

Def­i­nitely. I’m con­stantly keep­ing an eye on what’s go­ing on. For ex­am­ple, I’ll at­tend gift fairs or food ex­pos so [that] I know what’s com­ing through to the mar­ket and what’s on its way out. I’ll visit the bou­tique stores be­cause they stock the new, in­no­va­tive prod­ucts first — usu­ally a year or two be­fore those prod­ucts be­come main­stream and end up in Briscoes.

I also fol­low a gazil­lion dif­fer­ent blogs and pick up a lot of mag­a­zines — not nec­es­sar­ily

be­cause I like them, but so [that] I know what’s al­ready been done. When shoot­ing an ed­i­to­rial for a mag­a­zine, it’s im­por­tant that we don’t pro­duce some­thing which looks a month or two be­hind other mag­a­zines in the same genre. What can pho­tog­ra­phers do to make your job eas­ier and get the best re­sults?

Hav­ing a de­tailed and con­cise brief re­ally helps. Every­thing tends to run more smoothly when we have a clear un­der­stand­ing of what we’re aim­ing for.

It also helps if pho­tog­ra­phers un­der­stand that when things change, for what­ever rea­son, the orig­i­nal costs that were quoted may dif­fer.

Work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively is an­other im­por­tant skill. Some pho­tog­ra­phers act like a dic­ta­tor on set, but there’s al­ways more than one right an­swer to any prob­lem that comes up, so, be­ing will­ing to lis­ten to sug­ges­tions from oth­ers can of­ten be quite use­ful. When hir­ing a stylist, what at­tributes should pho­tog­ra­phers be look­ing for?

Pick the right kind of stylist for the job. My back­ground, knowl­edge, and ex­per­tise is in props and in­te­ri­ors — I don’t do fash­ion. I’m a big be­liever in horses for cour­ses, so I leave the fash­ion styling to those who spe­cial­ize in fash­ion.

Styling is a real job. Some­times, when there’s a styling bud­get, it might be tempt­ing to get a friend’s part­ner’s cousin (or who­ever) to go out and find things for a shoot from the stores. But pro­fes­sional stylists, like my­self, have spent years build­ing re­la­tion­ships with sup­pli­ers, whole­salers, re­tail­ers, deal­ers, gal­leries, pri­vate col­lec­tors, and all sorts of peo­ple, so we know how to lo­cate and ac­quire the right things at the right price in a much shorter time frame than a lay per­son. And a good stylist will be able to find items that you sim­ply can’t get on the street.

I guess it comes back to pro­fes­sion­al­ism. If you want to be known as a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher, it pays to work with other pro­fes­sion­als who you can count on to de­liver a level of qual­ity and ser­vice that will ac­tu­ally en­hance your rep­u­ta­tion and stand­ing with clients.

You can find out more about Har­ri­son-Turner and her stylist as­sign­ments at meganstylist.co.nz.

Cover im­age styled by Me­gan Har­ri­son-Turner

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