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A beginner’s guide to styling shoots

By June 28, 2018 Photography No Comments

When you are shooting tests a stylist can often be the hardest team member to find.


Designers and stores rarely hand over clothes to anyone who is unestablished, so many photographers shooting tests include makeup and hair, but ask the models to bring their own clothing. This can work in your favour or have disastrous results. All models dress differently, so some will turn up with a wild and wacky wardrobe, while others will have barely any shootable items.

If you have no idea what the model is bringing you are going to have to find inspiration on the spot. If they turn up with nothing at all, it might be time to think of an impromptu makeup story. Be flexible and choose a space that could work with a variety of outfits. Keep it raw and natural without complication. If the outfit really isn’t working, concentrate on the model’s face and mid-range shots rather than shooting full length.

To make life easier, you could include a list of items the model could bring on the Call Sheet. Don’t make it too specific, for example don’t say, ‘I need the model to bring floral printed, three quarter length, capri pants,’ as not many people have those, but ‘Please bring a range of pants (prints if possible), jeans, skirts and any floral items you may own,’ would be a reasonable request. Usually a list would include denims, plain solid tanks and tees, shorts, a jacket, swimwear, and nice undergarments. Also include a selection of shoes, heels/pumps, and trainers/sneakers, and possibly accessories too, such as jewellery, gloves, or tights. All of these are staples that people generally have in their wardrobe. Ask them to bring two dresses, or suits, but don’t ask for everything they own, especially if you live in a city where models generally use public transport.

Keep it simple. Think about the number of shots you’re aiming for and whether any will be close-ups. Maybe you will only need to put together three or four outfits? Models can get embarrassed over the stuff they own, and many won’t have their full wardrobes with them as they are often traveling. If a model turns up with a suitcase, take some time to go through it—they probably spent a lot of time deciding what to bring. Models get attached to clothing and they might really love something that won’t shoot well. People are sensitive, so if someone looks like they are getting upset, shoot a few frames, go very close and only capture a corner, or make their pose more dramatic so it compliments an unusual item.

It can help for you to own a few pieces of wardrobe as backup. Go to thrift stores or borrow from friends, but make sure the models knows if a garment is precious so they don’t smear makeup over your girlfriend’s silk blouse. Buy a range of jeans in various sizes and styles—men’s and women’s. Denim never goes out of fashion, but not everyone is the same size so there’s no need to only buy skinnies in a size zero.

Keep cuts simple and clean and buy items that a model can play with—wrap scarves, hoodies, and hats for example. In terms of styling the pieces, look at what models are wearing when you cast them, check out how fashion store mannequins are styled, and online street style blogs can help too. There’s no need to spend a fortune, just sort through to find classic pieces that will suit most body shapes: simple tanks, white shirts, some shorts, and maybe a few pairs of heels in larger sizes. Make sure the clothing is freshly cleaned and, if necessary, you will be ready and able to style a model.

Top tips for styling shoots

Closet space

Whether your model is bringing clothes or you are working with a stylist it can be important to remember you will need some space to look at outfits and hang important items. Consider purchasing a portable clothing rack and hangers.

Less is more

If your clothing requirements for models and stylists become too specific it can be off putting. If you make your requirements less limiting and allow people some freedom you could end up with a mixture that just works.

Work with what you’ve got

Some models refuse to bring clothing to shoots. Maybe they don’t have what you want, they forget, they’ve stayed over with a friend the night before, or they’re just plain lazy. This is why backups are important. You may even end up shooting your own shirt and the shorts the model arrived in!


Be aware that foreign models may not understand the fashion terms from your home country. Examples of differences between British and US English: “trainer” are “sneakers,” there are “pants” not “trousers,” a “waistcoat” is a “vest,” and “pumps” are high heels, not running shoes.

With Shooting Models photographers and models alike will learn the key skills to help them advance in the business: top model Franki Falkow and pro photographer Adam Duckworth collaborate to cover all the bases, from booking models to lighting technique. Breaking the process down into logical stages means you won’t put a foot wrong: results will be stunning, and it will be an experience you’ll repeat time and again.

Shooting Models, Falkow and DuckworthShooting Models
Franki Falkow and Adam Duckworth

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