Photography Advice

Prop Stylist Robin Zachary

The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast

Robin Zachary - Prop Stylist
Robin Zachary – Prop Stylist

Her Career From Prop Styling to Creative Direction

We often hear about fashion and clothing stylists and even food stylists, but every bit as important is the prop stylist. The folks who curate all the finishing touches that give a shot its sense of time and place. Prop stylists are often the real behind the scenes heroes of the amazing images that we see in magazines and advertisements.

New York based Robin Zachary is a Prop stylist with experience at all levels of the creative process, from prop styling, to creative direction and even photography. With over 20 years of experience in the advertising capital of the world, I knew that Robin would be the perfect person to speak with to gain insight into the world of collaborating with prop stylists.

Release Date: August 6th, 2021
Transcript | TOGCHAT Resources

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Prop Stylist Robin Zachary – Her Career From Prop Styling to Creative Direction

Joe Edelman:
Joe Edelman here, and you are listening to The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast.

If it hasn’t happened, it will happen — you will be asked to make a photograph, and it will require props.  You will need to arrange those props in a way that is appealing.  If you are like me — I dread having to do that — it’s definitely not my strong point.  That’s where today’s guest comes in.  Let’s have a conversation with a top-notch prop stylist.  Stay tuned!

My photography thought for the week: I have been doing these photography jokes for a while and to be honest — the reason there aren’t any really good photography jokes… they haven’t been developed yet.

We often hear about fashion and clothing stylists and even food stylists, but every bit as important are prop stylists.  The folks who curate all the finishing touches that give a shot its sense of time and place.  Prop stylists are often the real behind the scenes heroes of the amazing images that we see in magazines and advertisements.

New York based Robin Zachary is a Prop stylist with experience at all levels of the creative process, from styling, to creative direction and even photography.  With over 20 years of experience in the advertising capital of the world, I knew that Robin would be the perfect person to talk with to gain insight into the world of collaborating with prop stylists.

So let’s dig in and see what we can learn.

Robin Zachary, it is so great to have you here on TOGCHAT today. Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me.

Robin Zachary:
Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Joe Edelman:
I’m going to dive right into the deep end of the pool, Robin. What exactly is a prop stylist? What do they do?

Robin Zachary On Set
Robin Zachary On Set

Robin Zachary:
We are hired to be part of a photography team. We collaborate with photographers and clients, and we are the person that’s responsible for bringing all this stuff to the photo shoot. That’s where I like to start. Many times, if there were no prop stylists, then there might not be all the pretty stuff that you see in photos. It could be a product shoot, it could be a food shoot, it could be a cosmetic shoot, it could be a craft shoot. There’s so many kinds of prop styling or things that fall under the umbrella of prop styling. Basically the prop stylist is the one who’s responsible for getting all that stuff, for finding what’s needed and getting it to the photoshoot in a timely fashion and safely and on point creatively as per the creative brief and requests from the client and the photographer.

Basically the prop stylist is the one who’s responsible for getting all that stuff, for finding what’s needed and getting it to the photoshoot in a timely fashion and safely and on point creatively as per the creative brief and requests from the client and the photographer.

Joe Edelman:
It’s kind of like being a professional shopper. Right?

Robin Zachary:
It feels like that sometimes I really am happy all the time to say that I get paid to shop, because it is a passion of mine. Shopping and hunting and being tasked with finding that special thing or some weird thing or some odd thing. So I’m always looking, I always just need to know what I can get where, so I’m always walking into shops when I’m away or, I’m scouring the internet for things.  It could be a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work.

Joe Edelman:
How does someone become a prop stylist? What was your path?

Robin Zachary:
It’s funny because everybody you ask will have a different story. Maybe now kids are growing up saying, I want to be a prop stylist, but back in the day, you didn’t really know about it. You would look at a photograph, and you would just assume that the photographer is responsible for the whole thing.

From an outsider’s point of view. Once I got involved in the industry through working at magazines, that was my entry. Out of college, I landed jobs at magazines. Some were startups, some are long gone, not here anymore. Basically I was put in the situation of working at these magazines and needing to create original content for the pages.

So being on staff, going the path of assistant art director, associate art director to art director, Always having that opportunity to conceptualize photos. I always say I was lucky enough to work at small magazines where they didn’t have a huge staff. Whereas, there was a photo director or photo editor, I was always the one responsible for my pages. So, I learned from my editors and art directors what to do, but it was really free rein in a lot of cases early on. Whatever you need, just go find it and keep it under budget. Like don’t spend any money and figure out, whether it was a food shoot, I learned how to borrow things from vendors, or I actually found my own childhood home as a source for many props because my mother and my grandmother collected antiques and vintage things. So I always had things that I could just call up mom and say, mom, I’m coming out on the train from the city to Long Island, and I’m going to pick something up.

So she would meet me on the platform and hand me a little shopping bag of something I needed. And I just turn around and hop back on the next train into the city. She was my partner in crime in the early days, but I also learned about the prop houses in New York and there were several back in the day and I loved going to the prop houses and just seeing rows and rows and rows of dishes and other props and getting to pick out things and pick out colors and, just make a lot of decisions creatively. So it was a true creative job, but it was part of my magazine jobs and all the way up to my last magazine job, I was the creative director of bridal guide magazine, which was a very big job, but it encompassed fashion, beauty, receptions, flowers, home decor, food and menus. So I really got this overview of so many niches. I was there for quite a long time and when I noticed, while I was planning on the shoots. I was overseeing the logistics and the budgets and designing pages. I was looking at what the editors were doing, and they seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was because they were the ones going to all the press previews and seeing the new products and the launches and getting to decide on the focus of a story.  I would just take it and make it look good. So I was like, I don’t want to do that. And so I eventually left the magazine and refashioned myself as an editor and stylist. And I became the magazine’s home design editor as a freelancer. Then I focused on tableware and that was my beat. I would go to the tableware market. I would produce the tableware stories. And in the meantime, I was also freelancing for other companies and other magazines. It was a great time and I regret that I didn’t do that sooner because that’s where I really found myself.

It was really a great marriage of all my interests, and it was perfect for me.

Joe Edelman:
I think it’s very common in our industry that there aren’t a lot of traditional career paths. You kind of make your own path, find your own audience. Do you have a background or education in art?

Robin Zachary:
Yep, exactly. I was always creative and always doing crafts, making things, painting t-shirts. I would make anything I wanted with my hands. I mean, now there are so many little shortcut tools and things that they make and all the craft places that I like would hand cut flowers and I would hand cut stencils to paint, make t-shirts and I would sew, I would hand sew. I didn’t use a machine, so everything was very hand done. I also would joke around that if anything ever broke in my house like a figurine or anything like that. I would get in there and fix it and nobody would it before anybody would notice, I would be there with toothpicks and glue and then paint, and I would match the paint.  I had a very good eye for color and paint and I worked with almost every medium possible. Then, when I went to college, I was a fine arts major, got involved in the computer and type setting early on, and learning how to do layout.

And that seemed to be the more sellable skill. So that’s how I got into magazines by learning graphic design, but then seeing that there’s this other side. I noticed some stylists that I met early on, and I saw what they were doing.

They weren’t really involved with the typography and the layout. They were just walking around with sketches and color swatches and Pantone chips and everything. I was like that’s what I want to do. You know? So when I finally decided to just go for it, I found that it unified all my great loves.  Working with tableware with fabrics, with flowers, textures, paints, different finishes. And then also my love of fine arts and the art background and music. Believe it or not, those were all my interests that were rolled into one that can be part of prop styling. I went through a whole other career before I kind of did this.

Joe Edelman:
Tell me a bit about workflow. I realize it probably varies from job to job, but do you, as a stylist, tend to join in the middle of a project? Are you involved from the beginning or even are you coming at the end of the project just when it’s time to shoot? Where does your involvement begin? I know for a lot of new photographers, they don’t really have the understanding of how to best put a stylist to use, so they are somewhat intimidated because they don’t want to sound stupid or look stupid. What is your ideal workflow?

Robin Zachary:
Well there’s nothing to worry about.  I think it’s classically the photographer might be contacted first by a client. That’s the way it goes, unless an existing company is used to working with stylists and has people that they like that represent their brand very well.

I think it’s a great collaboration between the team of photographer, client, and stylist. So ideally, the ones that I worked for repeatedly know to contact me early on, but I think in the beginning, when let’s say a company is a newer company or might just contact the photographer and really just assume that the photographer is the one that they should nail down first.

And then a lot of times I’m called very late in the process, which is not a good idea. I do want to point out that sometimes a company has a creative team on staff already. And they will come up with the concept and do a very elaborate brief, where they have everything from the point of the photo shoot, the shots needed, exactly what they want them to look like, they’ve got the colors, the finishes, they have inspiration shots that they pulled from other sources.

So basically, when they bring somebody like me in, it’s kind of like, well, we want this, and just make that happen. So if they do want me involved in the creative, which I love being involved at the early stages, then we can all have a dialogue.

We can have a conversation about what it’s going to look like and share.  You know, the easiest thing to do is to share existing shots because, then you can all be on the same page.  You know, that’s how it’s done and there’s so many things available now, people pull shots off Instagram and Pinterest, and they basically say, we want it to look like this. Back in the earlier days, there was less at your fingertips to grab onto.

So there was maybe a little more, open your mind and just go nuts kind of thing. Now all the clients, pretty sure they know what they want already. It is a very labor-intensive process. It is good to give the stylist as much lead time as possible.

It is a problem. It is almost kind of rampant that I get a call for something with not enough time to execute what they want me to do for me to do a good job. So I turned a lot of things down, and it’s a little upsetting that if they may be called me a week or two earlier, I could’ve put it on my calendar and yeah done it. And I think a lot of people are running around last minute and trying to find a stylist to do some something very elaborate. So I want everybody to know that it does take time. The stylist job is not just showing up the day of the shoot. It is, let’s work back two weeks I would say is the minimum I like to have.

Knowledge, not only of the date, but for me to plan out the whole schedule and how it unfolds in the days leading up to the shoot and depending on what it is they want. So, if I need to order things with Amazon or specialty items, I need time for things to come in.

I need to hit the ground running and shop.  I used to take jobs that were like 48 hours notice, where I would get a prop list, 48 hours before. And then it would be like the two days from hell, basically running around, trying to secure everything. And I just don’t do that anymore.

I just don’t. It’s worth it. And it doesn’t put me in a position to do my best work. So, a lot of times they’ll get a call and say, Hey, are you available on August 12th? And I’ll be like, well, I am available on August 12th, but tell me what you’re looking for and what you need. And let me see if I have At least the week or two before available to secure all the things that you want for this shoot.

So, there are many days of first understanding the scope of the job, planning it out, taking the client’s requests and turning them into a shot list while they might have the shot list, but putting the props, everything you need. And I really think through not only what I see in the visual representation, but I’m listening to what they’re saying and, taking very extensive notes of what I hear them saying, what they want.

And so I can cover everything, even if it’s not written down because they like to hand it off, and they hand it off to me. And then that’s, my job is to be very detail oriented. I have my own template that I kind of shot by shot, make a list. And with checkboxes, I like lists and check boxes.

So I, as I find them, I can go check, check, check, check, check. And then I make a list of all of them. Not only the props, but the supplies needed for each.  Like whether I’m going to need different kinds of tape or Other types of adhesives or ties or ribbons or whatever it is that’s going to be needed to make that job happen.

And also for the cleanup as well. Am I going to need, am I doing glassware? Do I need to make sure I have Windex with me and gloves? Or are we doing metals? Do I need a shining cloth with me?  Am I doing flowers? Do I need my Clippers? If I brought everything every time to a photo shoot, I’d be bringing suitcases worth of stuff.

I like to streamline my kids. So I have just what I need. So, there’s the planning then the shopping then the packing. Once everything arrives here to my studio, know, Props I’ve found or props I have, and I have a huge collection of my own props that I rent.

If it is glassware or something, breakable and delicate, there’s a whole day of packing, then there’s the truck. And then there’s getting to the shoot and unpacking, and then there’s the setup and, the organizing and the setup, and then there’s the repacking and then there’s the coming home.

And then there’s getting everything back to where it came from. It’s quite a series of days that need to be available.

Joe Edelman:
So as a prop stylist you really are a logistics expert as well as an incredibly creative person. There are so many things we wouldn’t think about just by seeing the finished product.

Robin Zachary:
My middle name is logistics and creativity and having enough options and choices for things that happen that change on the fly.  Shots may change the nature, like mid-shoot, something happens and something changes.

So you have to be covered for contingencies. And, when you’re going away somewhere, you have to bring everything. I just did a shoot a couple of weeks ago where it was on location, about an hour from the city in a house. And basically I had to bring a lot, most everything with me. The house did have some kitchen props and things in it that I was able to pull up.

And I had seen it already because the photographer had done a scout and sent me pictures of all. Stuff that was in the kitchen. But I brought a lot of my own things. So that was considered a travel shoot. Now there are other times when you’re shooting in a studio that is connected to a prop house, which is really nice because this stuff is right there.

That’s like ideal. I don’t know if you know, prop workshop in Manhattan has like 10,000 square feet of space. So it’s not like it’s just, they’re sitting in the studio, you have to spend a day going through and pulling the things that you want to use.

So you have them ready to go for the day of the shoot. So it’s treated as if you are taking it somewhere, but you’re not taking it. And you’re just rolling in the car, down the hall. That’s ideal if a client wants to shoot in that space, that kind of arrangement is great.

And any of them studio prop house combination is always preferred. Or I, to that people shoot here.  I have a pretty small space, but it works for tiny little shoots and things. I’ve done plenty of shoots here, but that’s great because then they can pull anything anytime, and it’s just a big free for all.

Joe Edelman:
For photographers just starting out, that needs some basic skills or for someone who wants to be a stylist like you? What is the best path in today’s market? I know you do some programs which I’d love for you to talk about, but even just from the standpoint of self education, because I have a feeling that so much of your education came by doing it. So what would be the things that people should be looking at to make sure that they’re getting the right kind of information?

Robin Zachary:
That’s a great question. You say self-taught, you could say you’re always learning. As a stylist, you’re always learning. You can study color theory, but I have a lot of things to say about color theory and the way it’s taught in school, like the color wheel and everything.

I’m like, no, I just don’t buy that at all. Even though a lot of people will teach it and say, this is the beginner way to do it. But I’m like looking, I’m seeing between the colors. Like my color wheel has like thousands of different. Pie chart pieces. I have a fashion background as well, and you see that every season, colors in fashion, and even like from Pantone, They’re just inventing new colors all the time.

There’s always shades between shades and the way things like bounce off other colors, so I never really go with basic clean colors, although those are back in style again, but they’re always paired with muted colors. There’s like brights and muted, colors and neutrals and organic colors. Colors in nature are so stunning and staring at flowers and how nature’s made these amazing blending of tones in a pedal of a flower it’s just like mind-blowing. I’m always looking for some interesting or odd or different color combination, that’s what attracts me.

I’m amazed at what lighting can do with colors and retouching and Photoshop, all that stuff, how you can brighten and intensify colors. I love that, but I also love what nature provides and daylight also, I look at things in daylights sense in its clean white light, which I know that, and I admire that photographers can replicate clean white light, but I know that bright, Keyed up light is trending again now.

I learned how to set up lights when I taught at F.I.T. But I don’t use lights and I use daylight. As far as other things to learn, Historical education is great.

Period style furniture is very important because those trends come back in style from different like mid-century style, different European type styles. So cultural references in style are important to learn. So it’s great if you travel, and you just see things from other cultures. Even just the handmade arts, the artists in made. Skills from different cultures and different countries are really important now, especially I think global style is a big thing.

Integrating weaves in woven from other cultures and also ceramics. Yeah. Huge handmade ceramics, especially from Japan and from Scandinavia and from South America, from all, all over the world. I like to just merge all of these different disciplines.

And I think if you do want to learn on your own, you really are just a student of all these things all the time. Because of social media, now we’re exposed to so much, you can just look up anything and find references and, or Instagram will just naturally show you things that you like with their algorithm.

Now if you want to learn, if you like taking classes, I taught at F.I.T. for a number of years, like nine years, I taught in the photography department, there was a styling class.  They still do have a 15-week styling class and I loved, loved being part of fit. And I loved meeting the college students. It was a great way for us to have like hands on photo shoots constantly.

We would do props and food and portraits and fashion. It was a lot of hands-on learning. So basically when I was finishing up there, I started teaching that on my own. And I started doing one-on-ones with people who want to learn styling. Now, I am also, self-taught in photography.

I’ve been hanging out with photographers for 20 plus years, so I can take a pretty damn good picture myself. I would not bill myself as a photographer, but I got plenty of photography skills myself, which is always good to have as a stylist to be able to take your own pictures.

And of course, having access to a camera on your phone, which has great resolution these days is also an amazing tool. During the pandemic.  I started teaching all my classes, just live online and demonstrating right here.

Being able to break it down.  You look around, you’ll hear about photography and styling courses or food photography, especially there’s a lot of that available online. So I stayed away from teaching food photography because there’s so much of that already.  I teach tabletop styling and I teach Composition and I teach different techniques. I teach a whole class in just napkin styling and linens styling. I’d work in with fabrics.  I teach setting up a home studio for everybody who’s trapped at home during the pandemic. And of course, for lots of Instagrammers who want to shoot at home. People who are just doing it for a hobby or artisans who are shooting their own products. So I teach home studio techniques. I teach a creative direction class, on coming up with ideas idea generation. I like to run through a series where I build on the basics. So I start with an entry-level free class, which is really an overview of the business and different entry points in the business.

And I call that styling beyond Instagram. And that’s a free class that I do about once a month.  That kind of is an intro, so people can get to know me and, see what it will be like. And then the other classes, I take them along the journey. But I want people to know that it’s not something that you can learn overnight, it takes a lot of practice. Now, a lot of my students are photographers. Especially the ones, you know, client wants to just hire one person to do everything.

I know several photographers they are functioned as the food stylist and the prop stylist and the photographer. They do it. Yeah. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a great package to offer a client. That’s extra value for the client in one person. Of course the schedule will be different.

You need more time to achieve the same amount of shots. You cannot do the volume of shots that I’m used to doing in one day when I’m part of a team. If you want to do it all yourself, I’ll teach you what you need to know. If you want to learn how to just be the stylist, there’s so many levels of what you need to know and how involved that job is.

I do train people to do that. I also work on the corporate side training in-house people because now there’s content creation. In-house so I’ve worked with several companies training their staff, either doing a talk to a company that has an in-house agency or just a little department, or a big department where there’s let’s say a food brand, were there food stylists are making the recipes, and they’re responsible for the prop styling, and they’re not trained as prop stylist. So they’ve just got a bunch of random dishes and napkins and things, and how to make that look more integrated and give it more style and how to drain napkins better.

It’s really a big mixed bag of things. There’s so much, and there’s work in so many levels for a prop stylist. And also that collaboration is really different every time. But I really do love that three-way collaboration between a really good food stylist, a really good photographer and myself, that’s like the traditional classic way.

Joe Edelman:
I would assume that your background in photography that you’ve picked up over the years is an added value for the clients that you work for, because that has to influence your choices in terms of props that you’ll select and how they’re going to interact with lights. Am I correct?

Robin Zachary:
You’re absolutely right. And actually, my training as an art and creative director, I used to joke that I can see things from any side of the room. I could be standing here, but I know what it looks like from here and from there. And from there, and behind and everything, I had this 360 awareness of, if you move a little to the side, you’ll get a little better angle.

And that’s just from the years and years of tweaking the camera and moving it and looking.  I’ve worked with a lot of photographers in my day. They line up the camera, and they see it one way, but I might say just a bit up here and a little higher up, and they’ll be like, ah, yes.

Right. If it’s somebody I know well, and that’s okay, I usually, I do not overstep my boundaries if it’s a new client or somebody I’m really working with, I don’t want to get involved. I know my place, I kind of tread carefully because I know there are egos at stake and I would never want to have any friction on the set.

I think that I do have that sensibility just from that. And I see mistakes in amateur work or beginner work, let’s say, not noticing lines, straight lines, and seeing things, little tips or skewed, just because the perspective is off or something like that, or their Verizon’s not straight or little things that are important in the shot that you don’t really know.

I do work with a lot of young photographers that have less experience in than me. And I try to even give them a few pointers, but sometimes they don’t want to hear it. They want to do it their way and everything like that. So I’m kinda like, I’m cool.

I’m cool. Whatever. I don’t want to tell anybody what to do only if I’m asked or welcome to I’m not pushy.

Joe Edelman:
So the photographers that are coming to you to learn prop styling, are you finding a lot of that is being influenced by the big trend in flat lays and things like that?

Robin Zachary:
That’s an Instagram invention, I think. If it’s right for the product, I would say yes. Or the food, course, certain things are not going to look good from that angle. Drinks and things are rarely, shot from above like that. But, I think Instagram has influence.

Print magazine and web and everything else. So if a brand wants to appeal to a really young audience, they’re going to employ that orientation in their shots. But it has to be right. First, like, look at the product and see, just have dimension.

How tall is it? If it from above, it’s not going to do anything, then it’s not going to work. So some people struggle with a vignette, which I like a 45-degree angle or a 90-degree angle vignette. Most people come to me and that is their biggest problem.

How does she upright items? Or they want something very tall with something flat and. What do you do about that? That’s challenging if not impossible. So, I have to say, well, we have to crop in on something. If you want to shoot this little ring with this giant handbag.

Well, if they’re not gonna really work in the same shot together, so we have to come up with some solution where we’re seeing like a corner of the bag or something like that, just to really feature the jewelry.

Oh, too many things. Sometimes people get too attached to too many things, and sometimes you have to edit, you have to take away. Sometimes less is more, and you want to throw a lot of stuff in the shot, and then you really have to look and see, is it taking away from the point of the show?

Is this are all these props enhancing the shot or are they distracting? So then you start taking away and then sometimes once you start taking away, something really emerges. That’s really special. So luckily it doesn’t cost anything to snap along the way anymore, you’re not shooting film anymore where, you have to nail it, and then you can’t do some other options or variations. I always find that to me is like the magic moment when I start saying, oh, it’s not working. I can’t get all these things to work. And like, let’s just start, let’s take it apart, you know?

And then as you’re taking it apart, then that’s where you really find something special.

Joe Edelman:
Is there such a thing as over styling a shot? You mentioned composition, so obviously photographers have a version of composition that we deal with. Tell me how composition comes into play with props and styling.

Robin Zachary:
Wow.  It’s important. I know the photographers are like that. They would compose the shot, but in advance, I kind of have to compose the shot in my mind to know what I need. There are times when I pretty much drew out the entire shot before I got to the shoot, because I knew I needed, a bowl here, and I wanted a plate standing up in the background and I wanted a smaller plate to inset there and, or I wanted a cutting board. That has to be thought out. I think it’s really good to be able to compose and draw even if its thumbnail sketches, just with some sort of sense of scale, so you can bring all the right things. So you don’t leave anything behind. Also, if you need things to be on risers or shelves or lifted, if you need to show things off on, Hooks or, whatever it is, you do need to figure it out in advance because time is money on a big photo shoot.

I don’t know if every stylist does this, but since I’m from an art direction background, so I’m trying to jump over all these hoops and come to the shoot with everything. I’ll figure it out.

I do have these full page things, all sketched out, and then they just were like, set it up, go ahead, just do it. And I just sit there doing my thing and putting it all together. And then maybe we just, then we put the camera on it, and it’s tethered, so we can see it.

And then we can move this here, this there moving, and perfected. If you have a composed shot, that’s pretty elaborate, that could take a couple of hours. That’s another thing is that you can’t have these elaborate composed shots, and you can’t plan 20 of those in one day.

That’s just not possible. Even though more and more shots are being jammed into shoots now. I did a job not too long ago where I did. Cheeseboard in a day for 25 different shots, unique cheese boards. So that was a lot.

Joe Edelman:
In the food world, there’s a phrase that gets thrown around, and I’ve heard some variations on the phrase, but the idea of dirty food, meaning it’s kind of more real food compared to the way food used to be styled, is an equivalent that’s happening in the prop styling world, maybe it is driven by Instagram where clients are looking for less props, and more average settings?

Robin Zachary:
Yeah, well, its natural lived in kind of look is very in this very like crumpled linens and some food maybe crumbs and know, bite taken out of something or something a little smushed. It doesn’t have to be perfect. More often than not all the food is real now, as opposed to all the additives and things that used to be put in years ago, most of the food is real and food could be shot.

Most of the shoots I’ve been on recently have been daylight with food and just very natural creases in the linens and everything are good, and they like that. You might want to steam out some bad wrinkles, so it’s like the, to put good wrinkles in you.

Like you couldn’t even put them in where you want them. So it has that look. I like doing that, Even just taking an app in and like whipping it around and just dropping it on the table. So it has this, like smooshy kind of look is, what I really love to do. And that’s very in right now.

One of the shots in that shoot of the cheese boards, we chewed up there were like olives on the cheeseboard. It had Shaquille buttery and crackers and olives and the cheese, but we were eating some of the olives, we like chewed up all of this and put the pits and like olive pits in a little ball.

And that was in the jar. There is this kind of natural thing going that I really, really love. I also admire like perfection in like high key studio work with lights and rank colors. I love that too. And I would love to. More of that as well. I just want to do, whatever’s happening. If somebody comes to me and says, we want to do this, I’ll be like, fine.

I can do that. I will figure it out. If it’s something I don’t know, I will figure it out. A lot of things now are retouched. I think too, a lot of it’s done in post-production as well. Some color is just not the color, I know it’s enhanced. I know you could. All kinds of vibrance and saturations and clarities and bump up everything and do all kinds of stuff.

So I know that some people were like, well, we’re not paying for retouching, so you have to get it right. And I’m like, but that color doesn’t exist in nature.  There is nothing in that color. So that was done in a computer.

Joe Edelman:
Robin, that’s a great point that you bring up and given your experience both in doing the styling but also from an editorial standpoint, do you find that with newer clients — maybe using a food stylist for the first time, maybe it’s a brand, maybe it’s a photographer.  Are you finding that a lot of clients haven’t thought it through?  They know they need a stylist to make it look pretty, but they haven’t really considered all the details that help make the shot look its best as part of the finished ad or packaging or editorial piece?

Robin Zachary:
I think today they are pretty savvy in that regard. They’re all into the demographics and who the customer avatar. They all talk about this. So I think it’s pretty well known that if a producer or on somebody on the client side might be representative of their own. You know, their, their age group.

I find that more often than not that they know by what they’re showing me, that is their inspiration or shots. They’d like, I could tell that they have done their homework, and they know. And because you have all that available to you now, you have a lot of visual reference everywhere you look.

So, I think they are pretty savvy about that. I rarely run into anybody who doesn’t know what they want these days. Maybe I would say perhaps somebody, like an artist or an artisan selling work might not exactly know, but they even know to it. I don’t know. I don’t think that’s a problem.

Joe Edelman:
Tell me about the Prop Styling Experience.

Robin Zachary:
So I started the prop styling experience when I saw how popular my classes were at F.I.T. And I, decided that it was just becoming like styling is such a hot career.

Now everybody is exposed to stylists everywhere on TV, on. In the blogging world in, Instagram, Pinterest everywhere.  I saw there was a need. I started doing this in 2015.

I did it even before I had a website up or anything, people were contacting me and saying, do you teach how to do what you do? Or will you consult with me? I want to do this specific thing. Will you show me how to do it? And it just kind of built from there. Just when I started doing the online classes, I started getting lots and lots of people and growing my mailing list. And then. Sometimes I do live events where I collaborated with Photoville the photo show.  Or five years in a row.

I did an event with the west Elm in Dumbo where we did a hands-on styling event. So I bring it there, and I teach them how to like layer plates and do tabletop styling.  We did a hands-on styling event with a Home Depot. So I’m expanding into live events, live group events. I also teach at the New York Botanic gardens and the penumbra foundation. But what I love doing is my own one-on-one just talking to a person or a group of people this way online and demonstrating and teaching them all about a certain aspect of styling.

My signature thing is. The of the prop styling experience has been accustomed, designed a styling workshop where I really get to know each person individually, and I create a program just for them, uh, what they want to learn. So I have exercises that may or may not apply to them.

Everybody has different goals and different desires. So it’s not a one size fits all kind of. Sort of catering to each person, and they’ve come from all over the world, all over the country, to spend like two days with me in New York. And we two full days shooting.

Sometimes they do it over three days depending on what it is that we’re doing.

Joe Edelman:
That’s awesome, and it sounds like a great program.

Robyn, I want to thank you. This has been fascinating for me, and I’ve worked with food stylists. I’ve worked with fashion stylists, but I have not had the opportunity to work with a prop stylist. I really appreciate you being willing to share so much information and I have shared the links to your website, the classes, as well as the Prop Styling experience, all in the show notes.

Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Robin Zachary:
I appreciate being here. It was really fun talking to you. Thank you so much. .

Joe Edelman:
My pleasure. Thank you.

I love speaking to people with such a wealth of experience and the fact that Robin shares it so freely is wonderful. I do hope that you realize the reason jobs like prop stylist and fashion stylist and makeup and hair stylist exist is because collaboration makes creativity better.  It takes it to a whole new level.  Certainly it can be fun to dabble in all of these things… I don’t think you want to see makeup by Joe — but understand that collaborating with other creative people is not only fun, but it is the key to turning out top-notch work.

Please do check out Robins website and classes — you may see me in one of her classes soon.  My son and daughter-in-law have a growing home decor business and I do all the product shots of their candles and concrete pots.  They don’t have the budget to bring in a stylist yet, so I am the stylist and photographer and I definitely need to up my styling game.

Before I wrap up this episode, just a quick reminder to support your local photo retailers.  Local camera stores are extremely important to the photography industry, and they are a great source of knowledge and support for your photography.  Online retailers provide us with convenience, and they are important too — but your local retailers usually match the prices that you find online, and they are much more invested in your success as a photographer.  I will also make you this promise — they are a better resource for gear knowledge than any YouTube video you will find.

I hope you’re enjoying this content that I produce.

Be sure to visit my website, where you will find my portfolio, over 300 articles and tutorials to help you improve your photography as well as a directory of modeling agencies and makeup artists from all 50 of the United States.  You will also find some great advice for models as well as the photographers that photograph them and the website serves as home base for all of my TOGCHAT podcast episodes as well as The LAST FRAME LIVE.

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Each week, the Last Frame focuses on a different topic with no scripts, no razzle dazzle, no canned presentations. I do my best to give you a lesson or demo or series of tips based strictly on my experience — in other words — how I do it.  No rules.  No bullet points, No top 5 ways, I share my ways of doing it so that you can get an inside understanding of how another photographer works.  This is not your usual YouTube tutorial stuff. I hope you will check it out.

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Okay folks, that will do it for this episode of the TOGCHAT Photography podcast.  Stay safe, have a great week and until next time, go pick up that camera and shoot something because “Your BEST shot, it’s your NEXT Shot.” So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting!  Adios!

FTC Disclosure: No sponsors have paid for inclusion in this show. Product links included in this page are generally Amazon or other Affiliate Program links from which I do earn a commission that helps to support the production of this show.

Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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