Have you ever looked at a photo of a beautiful room in a magazine and wondered why your own home doesn't look like that? Don't feel discouraged. The truth is that those rooms don't usually look like that either -- they've been styled by professional prop stylists.
A prop stylist comes before a photo shoot armed with accessories, art and props of all kinds to make the room look as good as possible on camera. Even those rooms designed by well-respected decorators and interior designers are amped up a bit with props. That's because what we see in reality and what we see through the lens of a camera can seem a little different. Rooms that look beautiful in reality can look a little empty through the lens, so it's up to the prop stylist to layer in the appropriate items and fill the space in the appropriate way. It's also up to the prop stylist to make any other necessary alterations to the room so it looks like the aspirational fantasy we all look for in magazines and decorating books.
Here are 10 of the most common things prop stylists do to get a room photo-shoot ready:
Get Rid of Clutter
The first, and arguably most important thing, is to get rid of the homeowner's clutter. That means envelopes and papers, remote controls, dishes, rogue pens and pencils, kids toys -- all the things that are a part of normal, everyday life. These are things we all have lying around our homes, but they don't look great in photos. So when the prop stylist comes to prep the room for the photo shoot, all those things are carefully hidden away out of sight.
It goes without saying that a dirty house is unacceptable for a photo shoot. So prop stylists make sure there are no specks of dust or dirt on any of the furniture or other surfaces being photographed - especially the floor. There's usually someone wiping things down right before the shot is taken so that no speck of dust has time to settle. If they happen to miss anything, the photo gets touched up by the photographer after the shoot. So don't feel too bad that your house doesn't look as clean as what you see in the magazines. Those houses probably are not that clean, either.
Every prop stylist has a steamer and iron on standby, and before the first shot is set up, every fabric that is going to be in the shot gets ironed or steamed so wrinkles are eliminated. Window treatments get steamed so there are no visible wrinkles, as are any other hanging fabrics. In many cases, upholstery and throw pillows also get a quick steam or swipe with the iron so that they look smooth. It's also very common to add a decorative throw to a sofa or chair, and this item will be steamed as well.
Freshly Cut Flowers
Every interior prop stylist knows the ins and outs of flower arranging. That's because fresh flowers are the most common prop you'll find in professionally styled interiors. Look in any decorating magazine and you'll see them on coffee tables, end tables, bedside tables and mantles. Fresh flowers add color and life to photographs (and real life rooms), and they work in any space at any time. They can add a burst of color and bring rooms to life.
One of the most common props used by interior stylists (aside from fresh flowers) is a decorative box. This is because boxes do wonders for filling empty spaces and for creating height in styled vignettes. And in real life, they're great for hiding things like remote controls, pens and paper. Decorative boxes come in all sorts of styles and colors. Antique mahogany or inlaid boxes are classic and traditional, while faux shagreen and lacquer boxes can be modern and glam.
Some homes have a lot of great art, and in these cases it can usually be left as is. But in many cases prop stylists have to bring in several pieces of art -- often large in scale. These pieces are used to fill empty wall space, and oftentimes to add more color to the finished photograph. Art is used to pull all the other pieces in the room together.
Few people have shelves that are perfectly styled all the time, so don't feel too bad if yours are a little messy. But in a professional photograph it's important for shelves to look just right. When items are randomly placed on them it can look quite cluttered in a photo. Take a careful look at some decorating books and magazines and you'll see that all the shelves are carefully styled with books, accessories and flowers.
A good prop stylist doesn't stop with just the bookshelves. In any interior photoshoot you'll see that side tables and end tables are rarely empty. More often than not, they are styled with a little vase of flowers, photo frames, decorative boxes, or other small accessories. The styling is always very carefully considered, and never too crowded, but there is always something to fill the empty space.
Layer in a Rug
It's not uncommon for a prop stylist to come in and replace the homeowner's area rug with something bigger, or possibly more colorful. In some cases neutral rugs, although stunning in real life, can appear bland and washed out on camera. When this happens the prop stylist needs to fill that dead space with something that will come alive on camera.
Clean the Windows
Windows must be cleaned so that they are spotless before any room can be photographed. Dirty windows can cast a pall over an entire room, so it is imperative that windows be cleaned until they shine. The only time this isn't done is when the window won't appear in the photograph, or it has to be altered in post production due to the light.