Work out a roster of the room views and details you’d like to end up with in order to estimate the time needed for your shoot. (A word of advice: Allot more than a single day if you’re trying to photograph the entirety of a good-size house with magazine-quality styling.) You’ll also want to compile a wish list of objects for your stylist to track down.
At the shoot
Recasting a 3D interior into a compelling 2D image is much trickier than it may seem, and a stylist’s job is to act as a translator between those two worlds.
Los Angeles stylist Emily Bowser and AD100 designer Mandy Cheng first worked together on a shoot at the home of Hamilton actors Emmy Raver-Lampman and Daveed Diggs. Designers, Cheng says, “are focused on making it nice for humans who walk through in all different directions. The stylist is focused on how the shot lines up through the lens of the camera.” As Bowser puts it, “It’s good to have an outside perspective. Because sometimes designers are focused on things that wouldn’t be noticed in a picture, and not focused on things that would be.”
Much time at the shoot will be spent “schlepping huge things everywhere, then moving things one inch,” Bowser says—shifting aside your perfectly placed sofa, for example, to clear a view toward the gorgeous fireplace surround you also had installed. Stylists, likewise, understand the use of props and flowers or foliage for specific compositional purposes: tall, sculptural branches enlivening expanses of cabinetry or a blank wall, for instance. As well as the basic photographic dos and don’ts, your stylist will be considering not just how to make each individual picture a winner, but the overall narrative of a residence: what story do the images collectively tell, and how does each one contribute? “What’s more important in an image is conveying the mood rather than every last inch of space,” is ten Have’s mantra.
Costs you should expect
Core billing for stylists is usually done by time. Most charge a day rate that, depending on your local market, is likely to start at around $750 to $1,000 or more for residential design firms. (Work done for bigger companies is typically more expensive.) This rate will apply equally for days spent preparing for the shoot, for the shoot itself, and for the time required to return borrowed items afterward.
Further costs will include floral supplies ($300 to $1,000 for a whole house, depending on location) and sometimes rental fees (generally 10% to 15% of the retail price) for accessories that couldn’t be borrowed on memo or bought and returned. If significant travel is involved, stylists may charge for those hours, too, plus mileage. And, of course, lodging and meals if an overnight stay is necessary.
If you are trying to pack as many shots into a day as possible, you may want to spring for an assistant (usually $350 to $400) who can be on the periphery fetching things, prepping flowers, and resetting rooms after the photographic team has moved on. Lidbeck Brent points to a second potential cost saver: “Get in the day before and do the setup, so it’s all ready by the time the photographer arrives” the following morning.
Why you’ll be glad you allied with a stylist
Yes, photography is expensive. And, Katie Rosenfeld asserts, doing it right is “all worth it” and “a great investment”—one of the best you can make for building your reputation and growing your business.
“Just because you’re a designer, that doesn’t mean you know how to stage a photo,” Cheng reminds us. A talented stylist will look at your work with a fresh eye—and that skill is a feature, not a bug. After all, you want your photos to engage and delight people who aren’t designers themselves. As ten Have observes, “Photography might be expensive, but if it’s a good project you’re proud of, the image lasts forever.” That’s the fundamental ROI.