The Photographer is (not) God

Style Bites

I've been doing a lot of meetings lately with new photographers so I wanted to take a moment out to discuss the relationship between the photographer and stylist. (Note to photographers who are reading this: please proceed with an open mind and, that said, I know that all of you do not fit these stereotypes.)

Okay, so first a question: If a photo shoot happens in the forest and there's no photographer there to see it, does it still happen?

Laugh if you want to but this gets at the core of what I'm going to say. In essence, a photographer's job is to capture moments. To document them. To have the skill and knowledge needed to present an image in such a way as to garner a given emotion.

This is an art indeed but the photographer is not God. The photographer does not create an image out of thin air. Elements are needed to build that image. This is especially true in fashion. At the very least, traditional fashion imagery relies on its models, hair and makeup artists and stylists to craft the basis of any shot. At the most, the photographer is like the carbon molecule, the backbone of all organic life but a big bucket of coal when no other molecules are present.

This is why I'm continuously baffled by photographers (especially inexperienced ones) who show little or no respect for their crew, who try to identify a "weak link" in the crew and then blame all the shoot's problems on that person. I've never worked a shoot where the photographer turns to the crew and says, "Sorry, I'm just not good enough to get this shot; it's beyond me."

Another pet peeve is the fake attitudes which are affected by social-climbing camera slingers. Guys who think that a photographer "should act like this" or "do those sorts of things" to gain more respect from clients. This type of guy will walk onto a set, cheek kiss the models, order hair and makeup to change something, tear through a rack of clothes and shout that it's "all wrong!" and storm off to sit with his coffee while his lackeys set up the lights. I've had the dis-pleasure of working with several who fit this mold.

What a stylist can do for a photographer:
  • provide a cohesive feel across a selection of photographs
  • watch the clothing--that it hangs correctly, etc.--so the photographer can concentrate on other details
  • offer insight into what is or is not fashionable so that the photos are not immediately dated
  • offer timeless style when a photo will need to appear current for many years
  • source clothing, new and used, for the purposes of the shoot
  • follow a style brief (if the job is commissioned)
What a stylist will not do:
  • borrow ready-to-wear or couture clothing just so someone can shoot "for fun" or for their portfolio (please don't lie to us and say it will appear in a magazine if you don't have confirmation of will get us in trouble with the designer showrooms)
  • bring you 20 clothing choices for one photo just because you were too "busy" to make clear what was needed before hand
  • wait more than one month for prints or a cd of images (in a test-for-prints arrangement)
  • sit for hours while the photographer fiddles with lights or locations (on free jobs)...this should all be worked out before the crew arrives, to show respect for their time
So get off your high horse, Mr. Camera Man. You need us just as much as we need you. If you treat us well then we'll do great work for you and in the end you'll look the better for it. If you screw us it will show.

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Style Bites is written by a freelance stylist and fashion journalist.