Interior stylist Diana Civil and her partner in crime photographer Russell Sadur are a collaboration dream team and here at Light Locations we love working with them. Not only companions in life but also in work, these creative pair complement each other in every way. As owners of Nightingale Road and The Shed, they co-created two fantastic spaces in which shoot crews can work their magic. And they have worked together on many photographic projects, successfully combining the unique skills and attributes of photographer and stylist.
We caught up with Di and Russ to find out more about how stylists and photographers work together and unearth the good, the bad and the ugly of working closely with your spouse.
Di: There are various ways in which a photographer and stylist will work together. Hence, the stylist needs to pick the photographer or vice versa. It’s the key to getting the best from a shoot.
When I work with Russ, I plan the shoot and tend to do all the production and the styling. This involves liaising with the client, finding the location and going to recce. Also, booking the team, working up the shoot plan, set build plans, propping, and then art directing and styling the shoot. By the time I get to the shoot day, I know the job inside out. I am always conscious of the time on a shoot, and I will keep the team on track. The whole shoot team have integral roles on the shoot, and each person needs to know what they are doing at all times so that the job runs smoothly.
At the end of the day, you shoot everything you need to, the house is reinstated, and everyone is out on time. When there is painting and decorating, you need to factor in time to get this done, and the house cleaned and hoovered before the end of the day.
Russ’s role is to create the look and feel for the shots and work his magic with the light and camera angles interpreting how I see each photo. We quite often have to shoot spring in the winter and vice versa, so he may need to make a room look warm and cosy when it’s a bright summer day outside or make a dull grey day look bright and sunny.
With many clients these days, the photographer will need to capture various crops for multi-platform use, so there is a lot of checking to make sure we fulfil the brief and have everything we need for the client. The photographer’s role these days is also to be a master of magic. We often have product problems that the photographer has to solve with a bit of creative post-production. For example, we might be sent one chair that needs to look like a set of six or a chest of drawers that will be manufactured with different handles. So, there’s a fair bit of retouching to products in development, not available or that arrive damaged.
Russ: I just say yes!.. Di has a vision for the shoot and the images. As a photographer, I have to interpret this vision to bring the imagery to life with my lighting and photography. Di puts the entire shoot plan together, including the location, team, and props. She then ensures that it goes to plan and will liaise with the clients on the day to make sure we get the best from their products and best end results. The logistics of the day are essential, and Di will make sure that we can pace the day to make sure we get all the shots done within the timescale but still makes sure we have time for lunch in the mix and are out on time. There’s certainly a lot to think about, and it’s way more than just arranging a few props.
This depends. Styling can slow down a shoot as the stylist will generally faff and tweak and fluff everything until it’s perfect for making the end result more considered and polished. But this does make a much more complete and perfectly crafted image.
On the other hand, a stylist can also speed up a shoot. No matter how good you think you are as a photographer, the stylist has a knack for elevating even the most random props into a fantastic shot. Plus, the stylist always knows best ( as Di tells me!)
Russ: The advantages are that the client benefits from a far more productive day. There’s no politeness or politics with getting straight to the jugular where the shots are concerned. Although there have been a few heated moments generally at around 3pm when I need a strong coffee! We have been working together for many years, so I like to think we have a pretty slick operation. We can and do shoot a lot of images in one day, which really benefits our clients. The other advantage is that you can discuss the shoot or location at all planning stages (although this can be a disadvantage too when you are trying to watch the football!).
The disadvantages are that it doesn’t give a lot of time or opportunity to work with other stylists. I love working with other stylists as it brings a new perspective and input to my own work.
Di: As Russ said, it works both ways. I love the fact that there’s no stress as we know how each other works. It makes for a chilled shoot atmosphere. The disadvantages are that working and living together can be a bit full-on when you have a busy shoot week. When we get home, we disappear into different rooms for a few hours of our own space and a break from hearing each other’s voice! The other disadvantage, as Russ said, is not being able to work with as many other photographers as I would like – it’s a real treat when I do.
Russ: ‘Best’ is difficult as we have worked together for so long. We have a diverse range of shoots going back many years, encompassing pretty much everything. Many of these have great stories and were exciting to work on. We are fortunate that the majority of our clients are long-standing ones. We have great relationships with them, which makes for an enjoyable working atmosphere. Hence, our shoots are always full-on and hard work but at the same time great fun.
Several years ago, we used to shoot for a magazine at some fantastic and surprising locations. One particular favourite was a secret garden full of unexpected overgrown garden statues and ornaments. It was a real discovery, where the perfect images were right in front of your eyes at every turn.
Di: We’ve shot many fantastic brand collaborations over the years. But I loved it when we used to shoot at the Chelsea Flower Show. We’d be there really early in the morning, before the show opened to the public, to get all the shots done. We then had a chance to look around the show with the VIPs and no crowds. Maybe it’s the rose-tinted glasses, but I’m sure it was always amazing sunny weather too. It was always a real treat, not really the best collaboration project but definitely the best collaboration treat!
Russ: There are always hiccups on shoots when you have a crew, a location (location owners!), set builders, clients, transport, product and equipment involved. Everything CAN go wrong, but it’s how you deal with a problem and get around it that counts. Only last week shooting at a brand-new location (first shoot!) our product didn’t turn up until 3.30pm. We used some lateral thinking and managed to scavenge some products from a local supplier and create some images. You don’t need qualifications in this industry; it’s all about problem-solving and delivering the goods on the day.
Di: There have been some great stories over the years of funny shoot disasters. Some of which I couldn’t possibly repeat! One assistant with an allergic reaction to the lunch, or a story about me setting my hair on fire. Or the set builder who thought by cutting a hole in a piece of vinyl flooring, it would neatly slip over a giant oval bath. Another interesting tale was a new mattress being stolen from outside the front door in the space of 2 minutes flat.
We also have numerous tales of location owners who don’t realise that you need to move things in their home to do a shoot when you turn up with a van full of furniture.
Russ: I have been shooting for a long time, so I feel that I can use the light around most problems. It also means that very little phases or panics me in any environment. As long as I have some strong coffee, the day will be fine.
Di: I think having worked on Interiors magazines for many years was the best training you could get. You learned how to put all aspects of a shoot together thoroughly and learn about set design and decoration, logistics, and budgets. All the things that are just as important as the lovely creative bit. This comprehensive training is a crucial part of being a stylist. I would never wing it on a shoot; I always like to be properly prepared, have a shoot plan and take a shoot kit which I think is essential. It’s disappointing that many stylists don’t invest in their craft or even a roll of bin bags. Being properly organised is a key strength in my opinion.
Apart from the snack box, which is legendary and a shoot essential, the best things Di brings is her cool, calm head. And knowing precisely what she wants and needs from the shoot to give the clients a great end result.
Her single best trait as a stylist is making sure we are all fed and watered.. haha!!! No, seriously, she thinks through the shoot with every fine detail before getting there. So it’s always highly organised and planned perfectly for the whole team. There is no hierarchy on Di’s shoots – everyone is a vital part of the team, which makes for a great working environment.
Drive to the shoot when we shoot together, which has its advantages and disadvantages!!! Seriously though, Russ is extremely competent with the shoot’s technical aspects and is a camera and lighting nerd. This means I can do the nice creative bit and leave all the aperture and F stops to him.
His single best trait as a photographer is being a total camera nerd. He’s never phased by any situation. He knows the camera and lighting inside out – just don’t get him talking about it!
The most annoying thing is that we do the shot, then she says, can I just move that…… it makes post-production a pain….