A considerable amount of work goes into the beautiful images we see in magazines, on the internet, and social media. And ironically, the best results are often the ones that make it look like the whole thing was utterly effortless. But behind the scenes, the stylists have worked tirelessly to plan and organise every last detail. They invest hours of work before, on and after a shoot day and are essential to a successful photo shoot so we wanted to shine a little light on these vision makers and shoot creators.
For a stylist, a lot of work happens before setting foot inside the location on the shoot day. So we asked Hannah Deacon, an accomplished interior stylist and creative director, to take us through an example of what happens in the run-up to a shoot.
Hannah told us that ‘this isn’t what happens for every shoot, as each project is different, but it will give you an idea of a standard run up to shoot day’.
When you realise what’s involved, you’ll undoubtedly feel better about why your home never quite measures up to those stylish magazine images.
Once I receive the brief, my first port of call is finding inspiration from outside sources. I’ll begin by casting the net wide. Like a magpie, I’ll pull together my favourite things that work within the brief. This can be anything, including new fabrics, lovely images, places I’ve visited, or traditional or historical inspiration.
The photographer and the location are the foundation of a shoot. They both need to embody and project the right feel, and there certainly isn’t a one size fits all approach. Once we can lock down dates with both, we have a timeline to work to.
There is so much talent needed on a shoot, and it can be tricky to bring everyone together simultaneously. There might be set builders, assistants, couriers and seamstresses, to name a few. So this is the next thing we lock down – booking our invaluable team.
At this stage, I’ll create an overall mood board to pin down the look and feel of the shoot, which will need to be approved by the client. I’ll build on this later with more specific detail, but a rough shots plan helps ensure everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
I was once told recce-ing the location saves half a shoot day – which is a mantra I stick to. On the recce, I measure up for blinds, curtains and furniture and take pictures of angles that might work for final images. Then I ask the all-important logistical questions: Where are we in the country? Will the bed fit in the door? Does the paint look likely to fall off if we decorate? Is the floor too scratchable? Where will we put the three or more sofas arriving when we’re not shooting them?
I make rough thumbnail sketches at this stage, which helps me create a balanced set of images for the final result. It also means, logistically, I can plan which part of the location we will use for each shot, what compositions we’re after, which products are key, and so on.
I will have been sourcing continuously by now, but this is the moment to pin everything down.
For editorial shoots, this means days out at the shops taking photographs of items with their codes and names, as well as days scouring the internet, online boutiques and rifling through fabrics and wallpaper at Chelsea Harbour.
I get my paint charts and flooring samples out, and my PR contacts become invaluable as I beg, borrow and steal for press loans. When things come through, it makes my day. When they fall through, sadly, it’s back to the drawing board. I send countless emails about availability, pickup, delivery and return logistics.
For commercial shoots, it’s off to the props houses, where we can choose from a vast selection of props to hire – from stuffed giraffes to the latest (well, almost latest) chair design. Whatever you’re after, a version of it is probably in a warehouse in Acton somewhere.
Fabrics are now sent to the miraculous seamstresses while I put together a document specifying measurements and designs for blinds, curtains, cushions, seat pads, and upholstery. I tally each fabric to each item to each shot so they’re all perfectly organised when they arrive (like magic!) on the day.
The set builder will get something similar but maybe not quite so detailed. We might also talk about how, for example, “we need to make this look like a crumbling wall; how can we do that? Can we bring all the right materials?” Set builders are incredibly creative – talented at thinking and making on their feet.
The day before a shoot, there may well be two Luton vans driving around London, collecting furniture and props from all the places I’ve arranged loans or hires with. If you have a good courier as part of your team, they’ll do all they can to help sort out a missing bed, sofa or carpet!
This is also the day I buy any last-minute props, collect a flower order, and source beautiful food props like classic lemons with lovely leaves. I’ll pack my toolbox, scoop up any props from home, load the car and then we’re ready for an early start the next morning – and an effortless shoot day!
So there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of what’s involved in the run-up to the shoot. By highlighting the importance of attention to every detail, Hannah has shown the extensive work that goes into producing those effortless-looking images of beautiful homes.
To find out what happens when shoot day arrives, read about a typical shoot day with Jen Haslam.
And for more from Hannah Deacon, take a look at her beautiful Instagram page, full of gorgeous shots that, yes – look completely effortless.