Sometimes, the littlest things make the biggest difference in a shoot, like the angle of a light casting the perfect shadow or a single wisp of hair blown across a model’s face. Make no mistake — that wisp was placed with the utmost attention to detail. A hairstylist picked that precise placement over countless others.
“Having a stylist on set is often a must for [my] work,” says Dallas, Texas-based photographer Yesi Fortuna. “This elevates any project, and if the client doesn’t want to spend in this area, they are likely not that interested in focusing on quality work.”
Yesi works primarily in fashion photography, so the need for stylists in her line of work should come as no surprise. The same can be said for Atlanta, Georgia-based photographer Harold Daniels and the celebrity portraits he takes.
I’ve been really fortunate to have relationships with stylists that I’ve worked with since I started in the business. It’s always great to work with people who you know are going to do a good job and that you know what to expect from them. It makes a shoot a little less stressful knowing that you don’t have to worry about the stylists.
One of those stylists is Atlanta-based Faith Brooks. She has been working in hair and makeup for more than 20 years. Over the course of her career, Faith has added clients like CNN, GQ, Nordstrom, and Nike, among numerous others, to her portfolio. To get these gigs, it takes a combination of reputation and self-marketing.
“I’m listed with Wonderful Machine and Make/Create, but a lot of people find me through my website too,” she explains.
Stylists fill in the blanks on shoots and need to be ready to make split-second decisions when it comes to fixing a subject’s hair, makeup, or outfit. At the beginning of Faith’s two-decade-plus tenure, the stylist cut her teeth through the kind of hands-on patchwork a big shoot often needs from its resident jack of all trades.
I started in the nineties, and back then you had to do both hair and makeup, so I had to learn hair. I learned by assisting other people, working with them, and watching them. I really paid my dues to try to get where I needed to be in terms of dealing with any type of hair or any person that would ask you fix something if it needed to be changed. We have to be learning constantly, which is also fun.
Preparation is obviously key for everyone involved with a project that features a large number of moving parts, but perhaps no one — other than maybe the photographer — needs to meld pre-shoot preparedness with improvisational acumen more than the stylist. Casey Cheek is a Florida-based stylist who was kind enough to show us what her toolkit looks like. As you can imagine, it’s overflowing with a variety of items.
In my hair kit, I have a Mason Pearson brush, different size round brushes, a blow dryer, combs, flexible hold hairspray, strong hold hairspray, molding clay, and hair extensions.
In my makeup kit, I have foundation, concealer, cream blush, mascara, bronzer, eyeshadow, lip stains, hydration spray, makeup brushes, makeup light, makeup chair, and sanitizer.
And compiling such an extensive agglomeration of products is just the beginning. Come shoot day, the stylist becomes one of those first-to-arrive/last-to-leave people and has to hit the ground running right away. On a good day, Faith gets about 30 minutes to prep the subjects. On a good day.
We’re usually the first people on set after the producer and, for that very reason, we need to ready the talent for the day’s work. Ideally, we would like to have at least half an hour, but a lot of the times we’re not allowed that. It’s just a matter of time being money.
This is where stylists earn their check. As we know, word travels fast around the industry regarding who’s an efficient worker and who’s dead weight. You can bet your bottom dollar that some in Faith’s role is going to have an instance where their ability to work quickly is tested — and you can be rest assured everyone else on set is observing closely.
Sometimes the director will say ‘can you change their hair in five minutes?’ That’s challenging, but developing speed is crucially important. Being fast is why people will have a tendency to book you because they know they can rely on you to have the people where they need them.
Still, there are instances when the stylist simply needs time to complete a look. Faith mentions that she’ll sometimes have to ask for 5-10 extra minutes to finish up her work. The fewer middle people to go through, the easier it is to make this happen.
You can’t take a straight hairstyle or a very curly hairstyle to the opposite extreme in a hurry. Sometimes, you’ve got to ask for more time — you just have to hope everyone else understands.
These back-and-forths are easier to accomplish when the two parties have worked together on numerous shoots before. Photographers like Lutz, Florida-based Kate Holliday tend to go back to the same stylists over and over again for a very simple reason: just one less thing to worry about. Kate, in particular, sees this partnership as a true collaboration and keys in on the word “trust” when discussing a relationship of this ilk.
It’s important that you as a photographer are clear about what you need. Being on the same page about the overall look is key, but there also has to be a certain level of trust. You have to trust that they understand your needs and that they’re going to deliver — but you also must trust their intuition if they have an idea.
Hair and makeup done by Casey Cheek and Kimberly Williams, respectively, frequent collaborators with Kate Holliday.
I look at every shoot as a collaboration, so I always welcome ideas if the stylist has a bout of inspiration! I’m not a stylist, so I prefer to give up the reigns and let them express their creativity. Open communication and honesty are paramount, but always with respect.
One of those people that Kate works with often is Casey, a hair and makeup artist whose kit you saw above.
There are times when it is up to me to ask questions regarding timing and location, to make sure I can efficiently and effectively get the look desired. I have to feel comfortable enough to tell them when I need to change something and I also have to feel confident that their direction will get us to a good place.
When the photographer and I have a good relationship, the talent can immediately feel it. The vibe on set is fun, easy and relaxed. And I love working with Kate because she’s been on both sides of the camera, so she has a certain empathy for me as a stylist and the talent she is photographing. She understands that each role is important, is super respectful of all involved, and is always open to ideas and collaboration. When the images come back, I’m always happy with the final result.
Though a high-stress job that features healthy doses of unpredictably, the role of hair stylist is an enjoyable one for folks like Faith, who found their way into this line of work as they realized how much they enjoy collaborating with other people. Preparedness, teamwork, and chemistry combined with a spontaneous spirit can turn even the most demanding of shoots into a pleasant, productive experience.
I enjoy the creative process and I like working with a group of people. Creating with a group of people has always been fun for me, even as a child, so I think it just led me into it. I almost felt like I didn’t control my career myself, it just happened. But I’m nothing but grateful. This is a fantastic career!
Next time you’re looking for a hair stylist, consider using Wonderful Machine’s Find Crew page.
If you’re a hair stylist and you’d like to be listed, send an email or call us at 610 260 0200.