While working with a stylist is preferred, it doesn’t always work out. Especially when you are just starting out and have yet to find someone who matches your vibe. To this day, I still style a lot of my own shoots. This works best for tests, portraits and lifestyle—editorials are another story.
So, where do you start? First, you need to put together a moodboard of your ideas. If you want to shoot more than one look, make sure they make sense together. Consistency is so important for your personal style.
Now that you know what you are looking for, it’s time to begin.
Here are a few great resources and ideas for styling your own shoots. This continues to work for me, and hopefully should for you too!
1. Vintage. I love a good Vintage store or thrift shop. I’ve been thrifting for myself for years and recently starting buying items for future shoots in mind. Some places can be pricey, especially in LA, but some can be cheap! You never know what you’ll find at the Goodwill or Salvation Army. It could be a bust, but it’s worth a look.
Vintage is my first choice, because it means your clothes will truly be unique and one-of-a-kind. In a world of fast-fashion and overdone trends, it’s important to stand out. Speaking of fast-fashion, I’m big on sustainability and shopping second hand is always a great choice for you and the planet! :)
2. Reach out. Do some research, and find a few smaller or local brands that you’d like to style with. Reach out to them directly and offer them an exchange—you will shoot their products and provide them with the final images. Make sure you specify that you will be happy to return the products and they may only use the final images for social media. The great thing about this is that you have a brand to add to your credibility. There is also the chance that they will post your images, thus bringing more attention to your work! It’s a win, win. Plus, you’re on their radar for the future when they might want to officially hire you to shoot.
3. Hit the Mall. Unfortunately, shopping second hand means that you can’t always find what you are looking for. If you’re in a pinch or shooting a certain look, it’s time to get that credit card out and hit the mall. Or wherever (because malls are kind of terrifying, am I right?)
It’s important to only go to stores that are within a reasonable budget. If you are planning to return your item, you never know what could happen on set. It’s not worth risking shooting a model outdoors in $1,000 shoes, only to have her step in chewing gum. My stomach just dropped thinking about it.
Hate shopping? Look into ordering clothes online from places such as Asos that offer free shipping.
4. Model Mayhem. This website is pretty janky looking, that’s for sure, but sometimes it can introduce you to the right people. Often there are local clothing designers looking to showcase their work. Like reaching out to brands directly, this would be an exchange for photos. The choices aren’t always the best, but it’s worth a look!
5. Dive into your closet. Obviously this really only works if you’re a girl, and styling a girl. Or visa versa. Plus, you have to keep sizes in mind. Sometimes this can be a great option! As I mentioned, I’ve been collecting vintage for years. I typically look at my own closet first, before I seek clothing elsewhere. If the model is a lot smaller than you, it’s easy to pin the clothing for a better fit.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for in your own closet, maybe you could find it in someone else’s. Think of friends that reflect the style you are going for and reach out to them! In New York, I had various friends in the fashion industry and always loved peeping their closets before a shoot. This is a great thing to do in advance in case you can’t find what you’re looking for. I wouldn’t rely on this option last-minute!
6. Collaborate. A lot of photographers lean towards this option— especially when they’re just starting out. This means you’d ask your model to bring certain items to the shoot. I always have them bring a few options, just in case, but I never rely on them. You simply can’t know what they will bring—it is really out of your control. I’m no control freak, but I don’t want to shoot someone in an item I’m not keen on. Like I said, it’s important to keep your styling consistent and it is hard to do this when it is out of your control!
6. Simplify. Are you just trying to shoot a nice portrait? When you’re truly focused on the face, the other details aren’t as important. You can shoot a model in a tube top (is that still a thing) for an an implied nude look. You could shoot your subject in a tank top or plain white tee. Think about styling them in minimalistic jewelry or your favorite earrings. In the end, simplicity is always a safe bet.
These are some of my favorite tips for styling a shoot on your own. If you're truly overwhelmed or swamped for time, reach out to stylists. Just know that they may be looking to do something editorial and less interested in a simple test shoot. Good luck!