It is interesting to watch the faces of people when they hear what I do for a living, not so much writing or decorating, but when I answer photo stylist I see a quizzical look followed by “What is that?” After I explain, usually the head nods and the response is “Oh, I thought you meant hair stylist.”

I didn’t know myself what I photo stylist was until I was one. An associate who worked in the advertising industry knew of my design/decorating work and my eye, so to speak, and asked me to design a series of vignettes featuring bead board panels for a client of his. I subcontracted this work for his advertising agency as a freelance photo stylist, and my new career was born!

So after I describe what I do as a photo stylist, I usually hear “That sounds like so much fun!” And it is. Imagine this: you get to go to a setting (business, house, outdoor) and make it look nice for a picture. Even more fun is getting to build sets inside warehouses, decorate and appoint them, and then tear them down and start again. Think of it as having a life-size dollhouse with big people furniture and accessories to play with.

Photo styling is also much work and requires a keen eye for detail and meticulous organization. In my experience, the concept for a photo shoot is discussed with an art director. He or he is the one who pretty much facilitates everything: budgeting, hiring crew, designing the mechanical & electrical aspects of the job, etc. This concept is then discussed with the photographer who designs the lighting, arguably the most critical aspect of any shoot. Much of my work as the photo stylist involves constant interaction with the photographer to make sure the lighting is correct for the setting, especially if we are mimicking outdoor lighting indoors, say through windows.

I must say that I have been lucky enough to work with two of the best photographers in the business, Patrick Hood and Robert Rausch, both of whom live in the Shoals area and travel around the world for the likes of the American Photographer and the New York Times. In their professional manner, they defer to me as the stylist, the eye. However, these two could shoot with a blindfold and capture the image. They are that good.

I mentioned work. An important aspect of each job is legwork and lots of it. Even if I am lucky enough to have an assistant budgeted, I still spend days and sometimes weeks gathering from a list of every minute detail in a setting, down to the floors. I work with furniture stores & art dealers. I also rent as much as I can and then purchase whatever is in my client’s budget. I always pilfer my own home and studio for props and borrow items from friends who don’t mind. Sometimes I kick in my own funds for props, especially when I can justify a birthday or holiday gift for someone. (With one shoot in particular, I didn’t mind a low budget because the shoot was right before Christmas. So perfect accessories for the shoot became perfect gifts for special people.) After shoots, everything has to be packed away in my SUV, picked up by furniture stores, and otherwise hauled off the set just the way it was hauled in.

When you look at the photos in my gallery, I’ll wager you can’t tell which rooms are in real homes and which are sets built in a warehouse or which flowers are real and which are artificial yet perfectly at home in outdoor settings. Every photograph tells a story after all. If we are successful, the image stands for itself and we, the photographer and the stylist, are invisible. It is our job to be invisible.

Emily has styled for the following companies:

American Pacific: Photography by Patrick Hood
Billy Reid Photos by Robert Rausch
• “Cella” Airstream Project – NO’ALA Magazine September/October 2016 – On the Road Again (Pages 88-96). Photography by Tera Wages
Design the Space – Online retailer of American Pacific and Mantelcraft products. Patrick Hood Photography
Distinctive Designs – Patrick Hood Photography
Hund Haus Wine & Spirits
MantelCraft – Patrick Hood Photography
Marriott Shoals – Patrick Hood Photography
Tiffin Motor Homes – Allegro Staging, Robert Rausch Photography
St. Florian Fiber Farm – Robert Rausch Photography