Photographic Stylist

The Job and What's Involved

Photographic stylists work closely with photographers to design the look and mood of a photograph. Their work appears in catalogues and brochures, books, advertising, magazines and newspapers, or at events, such as fashion shows or exhibitions. Photographic stylists usually specialise in a particular area, such as food, fashion or interior design.

Before the shoot the photographic stylist meets the photographer to decide how they will create the right image. They may have some creative freedom, but they often work to instructions (a brief) supplied by the client. They need to understand what message the client is trying to convey, the target audience, and the end uses of the photographs.

The photographic stylist:

  • Carries out research and contributes ideas.
  • Sources and then borrows, hires or buys props, accessories or food.
  • Helps to arrange the set and background.
  • In the case of food photography, prepares the food for the shoot.
  • In fashion photography, helps to dress the models so that clothes fit and look good.
  • Carefully checks all details making sure that everything is in the right place.
  • Manages the budget and keeps records of all expenses.
  • Markets and runs their business (if self-employed).

Food stylists use equipment such as tweezers, cotton buds, blow torches and water sprays to help them achieve the right effects. Stylists often contribute their own props and accessories to a shoot.

Photographic stylists work as part of a team with photographers, art directors, lighting technicians, set builders, and other stylists and designers. They also work with clients, as well as models and celebrities.

Some jobs, such as photography for a book or a shoot for a catalogue, can take several weeks. Others, such as a fashion spread for a magazine, might take just a few hours.

A working day can be long and pressurised and photographic stylists must be flexible about their hours. A shoot might be scheduled from 9.00am until 6pm but the stylist often has to work longer, until the job is finished. This is to meet deadlines or to make the best use of models or equipment, which may only be available for a limited time.

A food stylist may have to buy and prepare food before the shoot.

Stylists might carry out preparatory work in an office or from home. Most shoots take place in studios, but some might be on location, sometimes outdoors.

Photographic stylists may have to climb ladders to arrange sets, and the work can involve lifting, bending, carrying, and working with paint, glue and hand tools. It can be hot working under studio lights.

Travel around the UK or even abroad might be necessary and a driving licence is useful.

Starting rates for junior photographic stylists may be around £12,000 a year. More experienced stylists may earn around £24,000.

Stylists working with well-known photographers can earn over £35,000.

Most stylists are self-employed, so income depends on the number of hours they work. Daily rates can vary from between £200 to £400 a day, depending on experience and the type of job. Assistants may earn about £80 a day.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There is no set route to becoming a photographic stylist, but many stylists come from an art and design background and have experience working as a photographer's assistant.

Other possible routes in include working as an editorial assistant or as a visual merchandiser. Work experience in fashion retail or interior design may be useful. Some stylists come from a modelling background and food stylists usually have some cookery or catering experience.

Employers include advertising agencies, publishers, design groups, and magazine or media companies. Most full-time stylists work freelance. At the beginning of their careers, it is possible to build up experience working as a junior stylist. However, competition for work is fierce and they may have to take a second job in addition to this.

Stylists work closely with photographers so they have to develop contacts and form good working relationships. Reputation is important. They also need to develop relationships with suppliers and build up their own collection of props and accessories.

Stylists need a strong portfolio of photographs or 'tear sheets' (published magazine pages) and the ability to market themselves and their work. Some stylists are represented by agents, who take a commission.

Most jobs are based in London and large cities.

Education and Training

There are no set qualifications but many photographic stylists have an art and design background.

Some further education colleges offer art and design foundation courses, with options to specialise in fashion or photography, as preparation for degree courses. BTEC National Diplomas in Fashion or Photography may also be useful and can provide entry to degree courses. The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this type of work.

Foundation degrees, such as Fashion Styling and Photography at the London College of Fashion (part of the University of the Arts), are available and can be topped up to degree level by completing an extra year.

Only a few degree courses are directly related to styling careers, but many fashion or photography courses include a styling module. Other relevant courses include interior or exhibition design, and home economics (for food styling). Some courses include work placements.

Applicants are advised to check with individual colleges or Universities for exact entry requirements and course details.

Creative and Cultural Skills supports Young Apprenticeships in Art and Design. Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for Creative Media has developed two Apprenticeship frameworks for the Photo Imaging sector.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There is usually no formal training and most photographic stylists learn on the job, often working closely with a more experienced stylist. It may be possible to work towards vocational qualifications, such as NVQ's in Design or Photo Imaging.

Other vocational training includes:

  • MA in food styling by distance learning at the University of Central Lancashire.
  • The British Display Society (BDS) provides courses in display design, styling and visual merchandising.
  • The Fashion Retail Academy offers a Level 4 Diploma in visual marketing, and short courses, including an introduction to styling.
  • The London College of Fashion has short courses, including fashion styling for print.

Many colleges run short, part-time courses in subjects such as make-up, photography and fashion styling.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Photographic stylists need:

  • Creativity and imagination.
  • An appreciation of what makes a good picture.
  • Patience, concentration and attention to detail.
  • The ability to work well under pressure and think on their feet.
  • An understanding of photography and lighting.
  • Practical skills to set up and create displays.
  • Good communication and teamwork skills.
  • Organisational skills and the ability to manage a budget.
  • Commercial awareness.

Your Long Term Prospects

Many stylists set up their own business or become self-employed. It is also possible to move into specialist areas such as set decorating for TV and films, or related occupations such as marketing, sales or exhibition work.

Within an agency there may be opportunities for promotion to head stylist, art director or designer.

Get Further Information

The Association of Photographers (AOP),
81 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4QS
Tel: 020 7739 6669
Website: www.the-aop.org

British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP),
1 Prebendal Court, Oxford Road,
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP19 8EY
Tel: 01296 718530
Website: www.bipp.com

The British Display Society (BDS),
12 Cliff Avenue, Chalkwell,
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex SS9 1HF
Tel: 020 8856 2030
Website: www.britishdisplaysociety.co.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Website: www.ccskills.org.uk

Design Council,
34 Bow Street, London WC2E 7DL
Tel: 020 7420 5200
Website: www.designcouncil.org.uk

The Fashion Retail Academy,
15 Gresse Street, LondonW1T 1QL
Tel: 020 7307 2345
Website: www.fashionretailacademy.ac.uk

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 08080 300 900
Website: www.skillset.org

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