Tuesday, March 3, 2020

What I Do As A Magazine Prop Stylist

Had you asked me during my first year of teaching if it was possible to not worry about going to work on Monday for the entirety of a Sunday, I probably would have said it wasn’t. If you’ve been around for a while, then you likely remember in posts me mentioning my stress/Sunday scaries/overall confusion toward why I was teaching and whether or not it would be possible to switch professions and find something I love. Well, two years ago Dorothy, you did it; it all was possible and resulted in a job that you didn’t know existed.

 For those of you who may have just happened upon this post, I went to college at Furman University, where I graduated in 2017 with a major in Elementary Education. I opted to stay at Furman to get a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education while simultaneously teaching 4th grade at a school in Greenville County. I finished that in August of 2018, and the day after I walked across the stage with that diploma, I packed up a U-Haul and moved to Birmingham without a job. While there were a lot of risks involved and having to trust that everything would work out, I am so glad that I did it and, in turn, discovered a job I love. 

I currently work as a prop photo stylist for a magazine production company in Birmingham, where I style both food and lifestyle shoots for 11 different magazine titles. I wouldn’t have known about this job had I not originally been offered/taken the position as an Editorial Assistant at the same company. You can read about what my role as an Editorial Assistant looked like here. So, after sharing a look at a day in my life a few weeks ago, many of you sent me questions about my job, and I thought it would be helpful to answer them here. I’m sure there are some topics/questions that I completely forgot to include, but I hope that this gives you a gist of what I do, although this role may look different depending on where one works. 

How do I get started? // How does someone go about finding a position like this? 
Great question. Like I mentioned, I don’t think I would have thought about this as a profession had it not been my original interest in looking for jobs within the magazine industry. Initially, I was writing and doing social media and assisting at photoshoots with the stylist as needed. The more photoshoots I went to, the more enamored I became in potentially eventually switching into that role. I had no idea a stylist position would open as early as it did (I had been working at the company for a little over a year when I submitted my application to become a stylist). I feel lucky to have been hired for the role since I didn’t have any real background in the field. 

Thinking back, I don’t think I had really seen any postings for positions of this nature on LinkedIn during my initial job search (well, not in Birmingham, at least). An excellent way to get started would be to familiarize yourself with the masthead (basically the credits page that is usually found in the front of a magazine near the letter from the editor). From there, maybe look up the stylists listed to see if they post anything about their jobs. Some magazines have in-house stylists while others freelance, so it is likely that the freelancers post more about what they are doing than the on-staff stylists since they are trying to further expose people to their work to be hired for various projects. From there, if this is something you’re hoping to eventually get involved with, maybe message them to see how they got started. 

If you know you want to work for a magazine, checking the parent company’s website for job postings may bear more results than LinkedIn. It’s also possible that you discover other roles within the industry that could allow you to eventually be exposed to a job opening that involves photo styling. 

Do you work full time in this position?
Yes. I work 40 hours a week and am a salaried employee. Occasionally at our company, a freelancer is hired to work on a shoot/story, but that typically only happens if all 7 of us stylists already have 2-3 shoots to work on in a single week.

What is the name of the magazine you work for?
As an editorial assistant, I worked specifically on Southern Lady magazine and The Cottage Journal. Now, I work on 11 different titles as well as special issues. You can see all of those various magazines here

What type of education or training do you have to do this type of job? // What are some qualifications needed for someone in this type of job?
I wish I had a clear-cut answer for this one. From what I recall based on my job posting for the stylist position was that experience in the industry seemed to outweigh educational background. I think someone in this role definitely needs to be creative, have an eye for design, and an interest in keeping up with trends while also making educated projections of what is to come. Being able to juggle multiple photoshoots and plan ahead while staying organized is also an important component. 

Is it true all food is fake for prop styling?
Haha, nope. The only fake food I’ve ever used is fake ice cubes, and I barely think that counts since it was nearly 100 degrees outside, and our real ice cubes couldn’t handle the heat. All of the food items we shoot, whether for recipes or as props in the background for lifestyle photoshoots are completely real and edible.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts?
I really love it when I am assigned to lifestyle shoots, especially ones that are based around a specific theme or party idea. Starting from scratch on those and coming up with a location, place settings, and other creative ideas to include within the shoot is so much fun. I have a bunch of these coming up in late March and April, and I am already looking forward to getting started on them to take an idea an editor has and bring it to fruition.

It’s hard to come up with something that I dislike, but I think styling food photoshoots with foods I don’t personally like can be kind of a bummer. For example, I really do not like bananas so styling a photoshoot involving banana recipes for an entire day would not be ideal especially since you not only deal with the recipes day of but also go to a tasting for the items ahead of time to get a feel of what the food looks like. I have since realized that I don’t have to try everything at tastings, but the first tasting I ever went to involved blue cheese stuffed peppers, and I hate blue cheese but thought I had to try it. It took everything in me to look at our test kitchen chef and tell her it was delicious when all I wanted to do was spit it out, haha! 

Do you actually shop for the props? If so, what are the best places for home décor? 
Yes, I am the one responsible for shopping for the props I plan to use in a shoot I’ve been assigned. As an editorial assistant who the stylists knew was interested in prop styling, I was given some responsibility sourcing different items, but that was because of my interest. I come up with everything I want to use, get in contact with people about using these items, and order in what we need. I even do the flowers for any of the shoots I’m on that require floral arrangements. We do have a prop room at the office filled with tons of different items that we often use for in-studio shoots or less noticeable background props in lifestyle shoots. 

Some of my favorite places to browse for home décor include:
Annie Selke, Ballard Designs, Brooke and Lou, Caitlin Wilson Design, Courtland and Co, Dear Keaton, Etsy, Grandin Road, Lauren Haskell Designs, Lulu and Georgia, One Kings Lane, Paynes Gray, Pottery Barn, Serena & Lily, Shop Lo Home, Shop Paloma & Co, Shop Waiting on Martha, Sorella Glenn (I’m dying to work their lampshades into an upcoming shoot). This list could go on and on and on. Maybe I’ll work on a separate post containing info regarding my favorite stores/vendors for home décor and entertaining pieces.

How much say do you get in arranging a photoshoot?
I would say that, for the most part, I probably have about 70% of the say when the photoshoot is actually taking place. Ahead of time I’ll get with the editor and art director of the magazine I’m styling for, and they will give me the theme of the shoot/story and share their input and inspiration of what they’d like to see, and from there it’s my job to execute on that. The photographer helps to dictate the angles, which can affect what I choose to do while arranging certain things. I think the amount of say I have in a photoshoot decreases when it is predominantly food in the shot since that falls on the food stylist to make adjustments. 

How far ahead do you work on shoots? 
Most of our lifestyle photoshoots are shot a year ahead of time so that we can make sure that natural color is displayed. For example, we want to avoid shooting fall content in the spring when everything is bright and blooming instead of when the leaves are orange and rust-colored. 

Food, on the other hand, can be done a month or two ahead of when the issue is set to go to print (about two months before it actually ends up on newsstands). For example, two of the photoshoots I have this week are for July/August of this year, but at the end of this month, I’ll be working on lifestyle shoots that won’t be published until March/April of 2021. 

Who works with you at photoshoots? 
Usually, at a photoshoot, I am there with a photographer as well as a food stylist. The food stylist is who makes the food for the shoot and tweaks its appearance to make it photo ready alongside my props/design. 

What general advice do you have for totally switching career fields like you did? 
Stay tuned for that post in mid-March! 

I hope this answered some of the questions you may have about what exactly I do as a prop/photo stylist, but if you have any others feel free to ask away, and I’ll do my best to get back to you! 

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