As an interior designer, I loved looking into people's homes. Part of it was because I liked getting ideas and part of it was because I was just plain curious. This curious nature followed me into the world of photo styling. And you know what I found? Photo stylist's have a tool kit just like interior designers did! (We carried tool boxes to client sites so we could hang up picture frames and assemble small furniture. That kind of thing.) Well, you better believe that I quickly assembled my own tool kit for photo styling. And none too soon because when my first client came calling, I was absolutely ready.
Every stylist will add their own special tools to this kit depending on which field they specialize in, but there are some basic ones that you'll find in every tool kit no matter the specialty. So, what is defined as a tool? It is an instrument you have or need to make your photo props shine. It's the stuff you don't see behind the finished photo.
1 | TWEEZERS
Tweezers are a must in any photo stylist tool kit for grabbing small objects in your styled shoot.
Food stylists find this tool very handy. Imagine having just staged the most gorgeous plate of pasta. You've garnished it with parmesan and the perfect sprinkle of parsley. Then the photographer takes the photo and sees that one of the pieces of parsley is too big and distracting to the eye. Do you think you can safely pull that tiny piece of parsley, which looks ginormous on camera, with your fingers without disturbing any of the well placed parmesan or making the entire mound of pasta go flat? You'd need not stress about it with a pair of tweezers. Their tiny ends will be able to lift that giant parsley leaf without disrupting the entire dish.
Tweezers are very handy for wardrobe stylists for obvious reasons: tweezing hair. Our tools don't always have to be used for their non-intended purposes.
2 | SCISSORS
I have never done a photo shoot where I didn't need a pair of scissors. They are so handy to have around at all times. You can cut up herbs with them, cut off price tags, snip off dead flowers or leaves or extra threads. Sometimes you need them to cut tape off a roll. A good looking pair can even be used as an impromptu prop to sell the story.
There are many types of scissors and each type of stylist will have a pair or three for their purposes. An interior stylist might have scissors designated only for fabrics and another pair that can be used to cut anything. A wardrobe stylist might have grooming scissors and another pair to cut off price tags. A food stylist will have kitchen scissors for some quick "chopping."
3 | NON-PERMANENT ADHESIVES
As most photo styling work is temporary, you'll need adhesives that you can remove, yet sticky enough to make the prop stay in place for the camera. What sort of inanimate objects will be moving around, you ask? Well, round objects like balls or anything with a curved surface are notorious buggers for moving when they should be sitting still.
Wardrobe stylists might use garment tape to hold an article of clothing in place (most famously used on J. Lo's green dress) or a quick hemming job if a model's pants are too long. Interior stylists may use tape to hide electrical cords behind furniture. Glue dots can be used to prop up small objects like jewelry.
Some great options for non-permanent adhesives include:
- Painter's tape
- Double-sided tape
- Scotch tape
- Packing tape
- Glue dots
- Electrical tape
- Duct tape
- Poster tack
4 | COTTON SWABS
Like tweezers, cotton swabs are handy to have in your tool kit for small clean ups that would disturb the entire scene if you tried to reach in with your hands. Wardrobe stylists like to have them to remove any makeup smudges (like those pesky mascara blobs!).
5 | BRUSHES
I have a multitude of brushes in various sizes in my tool kit. Not only are they great to have in the event you need to do a quick paint job, but the small ones are awesome at brushing away any dirt or dust specks. Have I mentioned how the camera picks up EVERYTHING?
I especially like using a bigger paint brush to clean off a surface after styling flowers. That pesky pollen dust doesn't always look charming in a photograph.
6 | TOWELS OR RAGS
As a stylist, you're in charge of all the clean up as well as the staging. Having a supply of paper towels or cleaning rags are a necessity to get this done. While you're at it, throw in a bottle of cleaning solution for a travel friendly cleaning kit.
Some other photo styling tools that are awesome to have in your tool kit, but not everyone will need them, are:
I like having these in my tool kit for still life styling. They raise objects where needed. You don't have to have designated risers on hand. A roll of tape can work really well as a riser in a pinch!
See how I used risers in this blue bedroom styled shoot.
- SPRAY BOTTLE
Spray bottles filled with water is a great tool for food stylists. Keep your salads and herbs looking fresh by misting them right before the photographer takes the shot. Then mist again if the shot needs to be retaken. Wardrobe stylists can also mist your models to give them a dewy complexion or to keep them cool on a hot day. I like to keep my water in travel sized spray bottles as I mostly use them for food styling. A small bottle works better at targeting small areas.
- SEWING KIT
Wardrobe and interior stylists both might find a need for a sewing kit in their tool kits. You just never know when tape won't do the job!
- IRON OR STEAMER
Wrinkles be gone!
- CLEANING KIT
I could probably do a whole separate post about what should go in the cleaning kit. Aside from the basic glass cleaner and dishwashing liquid, don't forget to include a bottle of Goo-Gone! It's so nice to have it on hand for getting gnarly price stickers off the props.