Casting, Styling and Props

- - On Set

Those three little gems are usually left out of editorial shoots to save money and time but I can tell from the few instances I’ve had all three on set, the change in the resulting pictures is profound.

Of course, great photographers are good at doing all of that (obsessing over the details in pre pro and on set) while taking pictures too but having those people in the process can make the images stonger… and keep the photographers sane.

In fact, if you’re not already paying close attention to those 3 facets of picture making you can improve your photography dramatically by doing so now.

DJ Stout at design collective Pentagram and of Texas Monthly fame tackles the venerable brand of L.L. Bean and uses casting, styling and props to effect a major face lift.





Read how he did it (here).

There Are 27 Comments On This Article.

  1. You betcha – and might I add that a primary point of differentiation for many photographers is how they handle elements beyond the camera and finding the frame. Controlling the production scene and producing the right frame is much easier said than done no matter how simple it ends up appearing.

  2. what’s interesting about your examples – is look at the use of minor details to describe the feeling of the clothing: from the lean of the driver, hand on the window in the jeep; to the splashes of water in the stream and wrinkles on the clothing in the product shots. It’s commercial enough to be clearly recognizable, but more authentic in terms of what it feels like to experience the moment.

  3. It always amazes me how often clients don’t understand the value in casting the right actors/models for any given shoot, as well as styling, props and having the right makeup artist, hair stylist and location.

    This is a great example of how important these details are! The dog in the jeep photo is a medium sized dog, looks like an Aussie. Imagine if the client told them “Oh you don’t need to hire a dog, one of our employees has a Golden Retriever who would be perfect and we can save the $950.00 for the trainer, dog and travel costs of the dog. Besides not being trained, it would be too large to work well in the photo.

    Even with ad agencies who do some very fine creative, I get this let’s save money by using an employee instead of paying for a model once in a while. More often than I’d like to have happen.

    Thanks for pointing out how important this part of the creative process is.

  4. For many the photos are whats selling the product so it is always important to get props and plan things out 100%. It will be the make or break of your photoshoot. Plus if done right it will turn from just a picture to something with some considerable wow factor.

  5. I can understand given editorial budgets why you don’t get casting, location scouting and even wardrobe most of the time. What I hate the most though is when they don’t even budget for hair and makeup.

    I’ve had people show up for a shoot drenched from rain with makeup smearing down their face and their hair jacked up and had to pretty much shoot them that way. Sure, they cleaned them selves up a bit… but I’m sure you can imagine the results.

    I couldn’t imagine not having those things for an ad shoot though. Especially for something with as big of an ad buy as LL Bean. I’m sure the travel, hotel room and per diem for the account execs who wants to be at the shoot was more than a stylist would be and the exec would add exactly 0 to the shoot.


  6. Good post, as I’ve been saying this for a long time.

    Too many photographers geek out about lighting, lenses and such and disregard the most important aspect of photography – the subject in front of the camera.

  7. I agree with you Dude.

    As to 3. Shannon’s comment – the wrinkles in the product shot are well done but also serve the purpose of having enough color variation that the consumer won’t return the purchased item saying it wasn’t the same color as the one in the catalogue.

  8. Goes to show, consumers generally buy into a brand and the lifestyle it stands for, and not the product.

    The same thing often applies to photo editors and art buyers and the way they “buy into” a photographer as a brand.


  9. I’m not so sure. Of course, anyone can see that the “After” approach is generally better, but whenever I see a picture like that Jeep picture, where they do the session outside, to give it that “real/documentary” feeling, but then I see the models cast like that, and I just see them leaning on the Jeep, it just does not work.

    At least in the “Before” version, there are no pretenses being made — nobody’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes, and make it feel documentary. The “Before” version just says, (honestly), “Hey, this is a dorky catalogue, and we know that, and we’re trying to sell you clothes for your yuppie husband, because we are LLBean”. There’s no deceit or false premise.

    Of course, that rear shot of the models running thru the water is great, but when you throw in the Jeep picture, it just really waters it down, and kills the credibility of the whole session. It just screams “politically correct casting”, made by some fearful fashion editor, attempting to not offend anyone. That kind of vision rarely leads to good work. Three-day stubble or not, it’s still just a very average catalogue approach.

    Having said that, D.J. Stout rocks…

  10. I would be willing to bet the watering down of the approach came from the client, in a last ditch attempt to not alienate all their hundreds of thousands or loyal consumers. I’m actually surprised at the amount of stuff D.J. got away with for such an old brand. He must be incredibly persuasive.

  11. As they say in baseball, “well, there’s always next year”. If D.J. Stout moved them that far in one year, I’m betting he can continue to move them next year. The editorial landscape needs about a dozen more like him, scattered around in magazines across the country. If the D in D.J. stands for “Dolly”, then maybe he’s cloneable.

    One of the great things in life is this term called “the client”. It just feels so good that you can just always have that phrase in your back pocket, like a Trump Card, and you can always play it. It’s as though “the client” is not really a living, breathing human entity, with kids in private school, and a payment on that Volvo stationwagon, because you can just “blame it on the client” and all is well again in Photography Land.

    It just seems that, with any great campaigns, it’s usually done with one person firmly at the helm, calling the shots, and making the critical decisions — rarely is it Decision By Committee.

  12. “the client” in this case: Chris McCormick (born in Bridgeport, Connecticut) is the President and Chief Executive Officer of L.L. Bean based in Freeport, Maine. McCormick is the first non-family member to ever to hold this position at L.L. Bean.

    And likely shitting his pants over a redesign that’s about to drop.

  13. I would definitely be more willing to buy the clothes based on the “revamped” photos. The original ones are outdated and don’t scream “adventure!” whereas the new ones do.
    I also love how the newer photos show the clothes ‘in action.’

  14. I work for L.L.Bean….the interesting thing in this redo is that the product line hasn’t changed…just the presentation.

    I think it will certainly bring in a younger customer who wouldn’t otherwise respond to the other catalog look.

  15. Interesting, indeed.

    Although to be honest, I’m not really a fan. I feel like LL Bean is trying to be REI from Chase Jarvis’ perspective – and I don’t think it works for LL Bean. No matter what their advertising or catalogs come off as, I’m still not going to LL Bean to buy my activewear. Khakis and Polo’s, maybe.

  16. LL Bean may be dorky, but with their lifetime “no questions asked” return and replacement policy, it makes sense to buy active wear there. If you rip your active wear getting in and out of a Jeep, they’ll replace the garment for free.

  17. HAHA – Stylists has very little to with it. They are both the same. It’s an artistic direction. It’s in edditing. Creative director did his/hers job. AD’s hire. Period.

  18. The real Talent is Cheryl Brown, DJ Stout did not have the creative imput in this that she had. I was there believe me I know.

    It was true the CD was fearful in regards to the PC Jeep Thing. But I am really chagrined to read the credit is going to DJ. Stout without one word mentioned about Cheryl Brown. She is the True talent behind this book and new look. Dj Certainly helped but she put in more time and creative effort by far on this new look.