May 23, 2012

As an art director for print material featuring my clients' home decor and gift products, I often spent days on set styling detailed products for photography. I loved it! Photo studios are typically fun working environments, but the people are what truly make it a great job for creative types.

Depending on the project, there may be from two to a dozen people on set in these scenarios, but 4-5 was typical for us. The photographer, a photographer's assistant, the art director, a photo stylist and the client. A client doesn't always bother to show up - one can easily approve via email - but sometimes even they want a day out of the office!

The products were tabletop pieces, small home accents and gifts. Sometimes we were "on location" in a rented house or other cool building, but often our small displays were most economically achieved in the photographer's own studio. Big spaces, often in the warehouse district.

The day starts early with the photographer supplying one of my #1 food weaknesses – pastries. grin Whatever is to the client's liking. Morning chit-chat ensues and then we get started. For several-days-long projects, the team has already been supplied with layouts of the magazine, ads, brochures or whatever it is we are shooting. Prior planning meetings prepare everyone. Flooring has been brought in, furniture has been delivered and fake walls have already been painted the colors I've requested. Someone may begin ironing tablecloths or curtains. I, or the photo stylist, bring in fresh flowers and greenery, and any food and beverages that are planned to be in the pictures.

The photographer and assistant arrange supporting structures on which we'll arrange our products for close-up shots. They'll move in the flooring, walls and larger props for room shots. An art director's job description may allow her to simply "direct" the stylist, but I would often style a portion of the shots myself, depending on the scope of the project. For a one-day project, I might be director and stylist. Large projects may require several stylists, so the art director provides vision, makes sure the "product is king," and keeps work flowing.

A camera was in position in each bay, based upon the initial direction given. As the products were arranged, we would step back and view the display through the lens and see how it looked from the shooting angle, and if the lens was appropriate, etc. Since we sometimes had many small accessories to showcase, there was much tweaking to be done. Move the chair a hair to the left. Tuck that napkin under that corner. Rotate the apple 20 degrees. Attention to detail is an essential skill for this type of work. You can also expect to spend the day on your feet.

The photographer might snap a couple shots to show to the client for an initial response. We also used masks. A mask was a print out of the potential type going to be positioned over the top of any photo – a print out on a transparency. This allowed us to ensure that no critical product get obscured by words running across it in the finished magazine. The client had already approved our layouts, so now they could see it exactly as it would appear.

Once we were pleased with the styling of the products, the photographer stepped in to light the shot. And the stylist could move on to the next bay. The photographer worked his or her magic and when it was lit to perfection the scene was captured. On we go! Sometimes we spent an 8 hour day on one photo for a single page ad. That doesn't count the shopping for props that is completed before we even head to the studio. Some days assistants are sent out on a last minute dash to find a new prop. Lunch is picked up or delivered to the studio to save time and money. Our projects were usually planned well in advance of deadlines, so work ends about 5pm and begins from there the next morning. See you then!

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