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
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