In this episode of The Savory Shot, host Mica McCook chats with Robin Zachary, a prop stylist who has built a successful career in an unconventional industry. Robin shares insight into her career journey, her mother’s advice on the importance of having anything and everything be a prop, and her new book, Styling Beyond Instagram. Tune in to hear Robin’s inspiring story and practical advice.
Robin’s love for prop styling began as a child. She was inspired by her grandmothers, aunt and mother who all grew up and lived in New York City, collecting vintage finds. Always excited and eager to receive new finds so she could use them in her photoshoots.
In 2015, Robin created a prop styling workshop, The Prop Styling Experience, where she teaches others about the creativity of this career path. Robin’s experience has inspired her to write a book. Styling Beyond Instagram, where she explains the many types of prop styling that exist and how to choose the path that’s best for you.
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome to the 18th episode of The Savory Shot. Y'all already know me, and if you don't, my name is Mica McCook and I'm your host. First, I just wanna say thank you for being here. I know you have a million things you could be doing right now, but instead you're here with me and that means the world to me, so thank you.
Mica: That's all I know. I don't know any other. I don't know any other ways to say thank you in other languages. Y'all, y'all, y'all. Oooh. I'm eager to get this par-tay started, so I'm not going to waste any time on today's intro. Y'all, we have a truly incredible guest with us today, and I have no doubt that their story and insights will leave a lasting impact on you.
Mica: I know it did for me. Today's episode is all [00:01:00] about starting an unconventional career and figuring it out as you go. And if you're a freelancer, you know what I'm talking about. This is all relatable. Hello. My guest, Robin Zachary is a prop stylist and has built a successful career into an industry that is not always easy to break into.
Mica: Y'all, we got into some real meat and potatoes in our conversation. Robin shared the important lesson she learned from her mother. About the importance of using anything and everything as a prop. Y'all, Robin believes that anything can be a prop and has learned to save everything because you never know when it might come in handy for a shoot.
Mica: We talked about her course, The Prop Styling Experience, which helps aspiring prop stylists and anyone interested in learning the skills they need to succeed in the industry. That means you food photographers. One of the things that really stood [00:02:00] out to me during our conversation was Robin's new book, Styling Beyond Instagram. Y'all, this book is all about taking your prop styling skills to the next level and creating truly standout images that go beyond just being Instagram worthy.
Mica: But before we get into that, let's start the show.
Mica: I [00:03:00] wanna start off by saying thank you for, for joining me and for trusting me with this. Welcome, Robin to the show.
Robin: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for seeking me out and finding me and writing to me. You're just the right kind of person I'd like to talk to.
Mica: Oh yes. That makes me so happy. That makes me so happy.
Mica: Well, I wanna dive right in. Awesome, awesome. So while I was starting to wear research on you, I found your blog Prop Closet and I thought it was the coolest thing and I'm just like, went through quite a few years of posts and it was awesome. But I wanted to find your very first post. And I did, and it was in April, 2008 and it was very like small minimal.
Mica: All that said, this is it. I has begun to blog. And it just made me laugh because I remember 2008 being like the coolest thing ever. And starting [00:04:00] a blog of my own and I thought, oh my gosh, I have so many thoughts. I wanna know, what was your world like when you made that post?
Robin: Oh, dear. Well, the world, well my world, I was busy doing lots of things, um, in photography and styling, and I kind of, I, I wanted to talk about it back then with so many things didn't exist yet, like Instagram and, uh, I guess Twitter probably was around.
Robin: Sort of, but blogging was first in social media really. I mean so I put it out there, I didn't know how to publicize it. I didn't know how to monetize it. I was just typing away. And then, you know, I found writing very difficult actually. But kind of second guess the things I said, even though I'd kind of ramble on about certain things.
Robin: And it's interesting that you found it because I, I still pay to have it up there, on a Typepad, and I've never taken it down. And occasionally somebody does find it. If you do a little bit of digging, [00:05:00] I don't have it linked to anything really. Well, I wanted to show what it was like behind the scenes. This was like, I always did wanna write a book, but again, I didn't have connections or know-how, even though I'd been in the magazine business for a very long time, all my connections were in magazines, not in books.
Robin: They're two separate worlds.
Mica: Oh, they're definitely two separate worlds in 2008. I mean, before any kind of social media, how do you tell people what you do without or how do you learn about what you do? You mentioned in a few interviews that when you started out as a prop stylist that there was no direct path and you had to figure it out on your own as you went along.
Mica: As a, as a theater person, I totally get that. Once we were done with school, they were just like fly bird. And we're like, what? What?
Mica: How do we get jobs? When did it become clear to [00:06:00] you that you were paving a career path that future prop stylists would follow?
Robin: Well, I started in magazines, as I said, and that's where I first learned that it existed as a career because I was a designer and artist. I graduated with an art degree, like General Art, you know, from, uh, the State University of New York at Binghamton, which is not really known as an art school. But I took the art program and when I graduated, I, I actually had been training at the school paper to learn typography and, and layout.
Robin: So my first job jobs were in design, so I was designing pages but then I had opportunities at early startup magazines to be involved in creating the imagery. And here's a story on a food story. Well, they just like Robin, go make it happen. So I basically would either, we either had, um, like a recipe developer or chef or a [00:07:00] restaurant that we worked with.
Robin: So I would go and get some plates and get some napkins and create a set and bring a photographer and have it shot. What was funny is those early one, very early shoot, we spent a whole lot of time setting it up in the restaurant, doing the lighting and the set, and the chefs were making the dishes and I brought my own plates and they plated it beautifully. We put it together. We must have spent a couple of hours getting the set ready. And then when we were, we were like, okay, bring the, the plate a dish out and we're ready to shoot. So everybody came out from the kitchen thinking that there was gonna be some like extravaganza happening for the photo shoot.
Robin: And you know, like for a food shoot, it's just sitting there. So they all come out, all the, everybody from the kitchen and they're like just waiting. And the photographer just goes, snap, snap, snap. You know, a few exposures and it's done. They were expecting kind of something dazzling to happen that's kind of, maybe they [00:08:00] were thinking of it, of a fashion shoot or something, but it was very different experience all. So all the work is really in the setup and the preparation beforehand. So that was very early, early days. So what was somewhere? Was I going with this? I forgot. Um,
Mica: Something this is just a little tail end and then I'll bring it back to the paving a career path question. Is something you said that just made me laugh because it's so true about the expectation of like what a, a food shoot is like.
Mica: It's like everyone expects it to be like this great grand and vogue you know? And it's like two or three snaps and it's done. It reminds me of the photographer, Gregory Crewdson.
Mica: He is just an amazing photographer. He does like fine art and he rents out entire town, and it's this huge production, like you would think it's a whole ass movie.
Mica: He's got [00:09:00] like smoke blowing and there's not a single detail that's missed and it all, you know, this just this built up, built up, built up and action, and then click. Done. That's the shots. It's like you're leading up to this one click of a moment and that's it. That's here and gone. That surprised me the most about food photography.
Robin: Now you can, you do a couple of options. You might put a garnish, change the garnish, put something else in what? Move a prop there. Move a prop there. So you have a few options. So could take a few minutes of, of tinkering with things on the set to get it exactly right. Generally there, there's so much involved in the lead up to the shoot that most people don't realize.
Robin: That's why I was like happy to be, be able to go through and spell it out. How much time do you need to leave? How much beginning the in from the inception of the project to the day of the shoot. If you wanna go back to my career [00:10:00] path. There.
Mica: Hey, I, I like to let these interviews organically flow the way that they're supposed to, so there are no wrong answers.
Mica: Whatever pops in your mind is what needs to be on the episode. What we were talking about earlier is about paving a career path. You had said in, in several interviews that there were no other prop stylists that you knew of and you kind of had to figure things out on your own. Today I feel like we're definitely spoiled in that we have so many mentors.
Mica: At what point did you. Well, I guess these will be two questions. You know, who are your mentors and at what point did you realize that the path that you were taking, that future proof stylist, prop stylist, would look back on and go, okay, Robin did this, so I'm gonna do this too.
Robin: Um, well, mentors for me, were hard, kind of hard to find.
Robin: My mentors were my editors at magazines that kind of told me what they were looking for and [00:11:00] trusted me to learn on the job, which is basically how it unfolded. Early on, I did meet a prop stylist named Sarah Avalon, who, she was the first person I knew, and, um, she was recommended by a photographer. We were both friends with the same photographer, so I would see her at his studio all the time.
Robin: I'd see her scurrying around. Props and paint and, and sketches and all kinds of things. And I was like, now that looks like a fun job. I was like trapped in a full-time job at the magazine and I got to do lots of styling jobs, but I saw her as having a freelance career, so we became friendly. So she was really the first mentor, and I don't know that I had at the time that I was doing it, I had been art directing for so many years that it became a just a natural flow. When I decided to leave full-time creative director at my last job, I basically had done [00:12:00] styling in so many areas. So whether it was like fashion, flowers, food, home decor, receptions, tableware, beauty, cover shoots, you name it. I had a lot of experience to go off of. And all I knew is that I liked the idea of doing more paired down quieter shoots. When I first left that job, I was doing fashion styling and prop styling. And I, so I did prob a couple of years of fashion styling, like bridal fashion styling, which I loved, traveled, and it was fun.
Robin: And then I just decided still life is much more chill. Much more where I see myself, like personality wise. I mean, I, I did hundreds and hundreds of fashion and beauty shoots with like 20 people there, and it, it's a lot. Some people think it's glamorous and everything, but you know what, it's a lot, it's a lot of personalities, a lot of egos, and you're just trying to keep the peace to get everything done. I [00:13:00] found my calling in prop styling, and especially for food shoots. Most of the work I do is for food shoots.
Mica: That's so awesome. And gosh, the, the bridal fashion shoots, uh, I totally understand like the, the craziness and too many, I call it just too many bosses in the same room. Everyone has a deadline that needs priority. It's like, how do you, how do you work around that? One story that I, I read of yours that I just, I loved, we talked about your mom meeting you at the train station with the bag of props in hand. And I was like, oh my gosh, that's, that's her, that's her first, uh, partner in crime right there.
Mica: My, my friend Charlotte. She's extremely close to both sides of, of her grandparents or her grandmothers. I met both of her grandmothers. When one of her grandmothers passed away. She had this whole house to look through, and at the time, Charlotte and I had a, a food blog. And she had all of [00:14:00] these amazing props and it's like these are props for the blog, but this is a whole woman's life and history. And you feel like you really get to know the person through the things that they hold onto over the years. And so even though like I met her grandmother once at Charlotte's wedding, I felt like I knew her as a person just by the things that I held in my hands that were of hers. What is one thing that you learned from your mother that has stuck with you throughout your career?
Robin: Let's see. My mother just, she just wanted me to succeed, so she would do whatever she could to help me in whatever business idea I was coming up with, or she would drive me into the city. When we lived in Long Island for one of my early businesses in high school, I painted t-shirts. So we drove down to the Lower East Side to buy like wholesale t-shirt.
Robin: She was always like whatever it was I was into, she provided me with the space and the materials [00:15:00] for just about anything. If I learned anything from her, it's to hold onto everything because she never know when you're gonna need it. So that's why I probably don't ever have to leave the house because I've got anything I need here for any little gadget or widget or gizmo for anything. It's like something comes up that I have to find that I haven't looked at in years. It's like I know where it is. I know where I lost last, saw it. So I know like I could just reach into this cabinet and pull it out. Something like, oh yeah, I haven't seen that thing in a while, and I know it's there.
Robin: And that's kind of what our house was like. It was, but it was a house and now it's an apartment, so it's a different story. Like in a house, there's just endless room for things. I mean, we had a pretty big house and a basement and I would tinker around with things down in the basement all the time with all the art supplies.
Robin: She definitely, if I was working on something like. And I needed [00:16:00] like a vintage bag. I mean she had like, it was mostly the vintage stuff that I would get from her. Like a beaded bag or picture frame or a dish or she, she got married in the sixties and so of. There's a lot of mid-century modern stuff that was in the house that, which I got most of, um,
Robin: And so there was some kind of funky like style sensibility that was maybe back in style at the time. So it was like, Ooh, there's like a prop house here. So I'd call up and say, mom, I need a X, Y, and Z. I'm coming in on a train tonight and like I live close to Penn Station in New York, and the train out to Long Island would be like half an hour.
Robin: 35 minutes. She'd be standing on the platform and I would just turn around and get on the train on the other side, going back into the city and it was like, hi, Mom! See ya! She was so great. I miss her. But she did leave me with a lot of things to remind me of her. A lot of cool furniture and stuff, [00:17:00] lots of stuff, but it didn't, it didn't end there.
Robin: The collecting carried on after her. So, but it did start a lot of collections and a lot of like interest in things, everyday objects. That's what I mostly collect is everyday objects that have a function or kitchen tools that maybe aren't made anymore or anything. Anything that just looks beautiful or functional or Hes Betina.
Robin: I have a lot of cool stuff.
Mica: Oh my gosh. I love that there's a, a film called No Country for Old Men. I don't know if you've ever watched it. It's with, uh, Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem. It's a pretty dark movie. There's a little bit of the movie where he goes into like a, a gas station, like a small town Texas gas station, and he flips the coin and he tells the, the teller to call it and depending on what his answer is going to [00:18:00] be, will determine if whether he kills him or not. And there's a little exchange, but the, the, yeah, the gas, uh, station teller chooses the right side. And so he, he lives another day and he's about to throw the penny into the cash register.
Mica: And Javier Bardem's character says, "Don't do that. That's a special penny. That penny traveled years, miles, places so that it can land right there with you. That's a special penny. Don't give that penny up." And he walks out the store. And that's so much how I feel about like vintage shopping or anytime I find like a really cool prop at an antique store, I think, wow.
Mica: Where has this prop, this, this cup been this, this iron skillet? What, what things has it seen? What hands has touched? What meals has this cooked that now it's right here in my studio, in my home that I get to use it. Like it gets a little bit more of [00:19:00] life. When I see prop, especially antique props. I think, wow.
Mica: Who owned you before? What was that person like? I could geek out on that all day.
Robin: I agree. Some things, things travel around the world. You don't know what countries they've been in, where they've been, they've crisscrossed the globe and ended up with you.
Mica: Yes. Like my, my husband got me a bag of salt from Malta. We were watching this reality show. It was like a cooking "save our restaurant" type of shows. One restaurant that was featured, they featured this small business of salt makers. They're showing how they find their salt, how they gather it, how they process it, and we found the name of the business.
Mica: We found their. And I told Aaron, I was like, that's what I want for Christmas. I want that bag of salt from Malta. And he got it from me and it arrived and I'm [00:20:00] holding it. And I was just like, oh my gosh, this came from Malta. Whole other side of the world. What, what a journey that this bag of salt made to get to my hands.
Mica: I can go on about this topic. What do you think it is about your work that makes people wanna hire you for their shoots?
Robin: Well, New York is known for a lot of, lot of commerce, a lot of busyness. People tend to shoot off emails to a lot of different stylists to see who's available, but I do get a lot of inquiries that I'll respond to right away and tell 'em if I'm interested and they'll find that I'm very easygoing and I'm very methodical and detail oriented as well as being creative. But you need both sides. You need to be both to, to really pull it off, right? You can't just be like a free spirit creative. You're working with a lot of items and things that you have to keep track of and, um, search for and, and [00:21:00] obtain.
Robin: So I pretty sure that when somebody brand new approaches me, I mean, I could usually tell that they actually know who I am and that they followed me. I get a little bit of a more personal note either through Instagram or an email. I mean, other times I think they're just, somebody is like looking for somebody quick.
Robin: You know? They just need a body.
Mica: I know what those emails are like.
Robin: Yeah. And I, but I, you know, I really do appreciate when I get repeat work from certain people, and I've had some clients for five, six years on, you know, like a once a year project that would come up. People like to hire somebody that they can count on.
Robin: That's reliable. So if you do a good job, you'll get called back. Just because starting with somebody brand new is a lot harder than just calling in somebody that you know will get the job done.
Mica: Oh, absolutely. Especially when there's a lot of money on the line. There's tight deadline on the line.
Mica: It's a [00:22:00] risk to bring on someone new.
Robin: Yeah. But on the flip side, people like to work with new people too. They like to mix it up. They like to just try something different. Or maybe they're upgrading their look and they're changing things and they wanna bring somebody in who has a little bit different style.
Robin: But that's New York. I think it's different everywhere else. Each city and region has a different way of, of working. And I see people in other parts of the country developing a nice little team that they're always together with, and I think that's great. And I've certainly had that experience. But it's not always the case.
Robin: You know? You just have to be flexible and, and open and know what to do to hit the ground running. You can't, you can't stumble.
Mica: Mm-hmm. Something you said that rings so true, you said that creatives need to be creative, but on the flip side, they also need to be organized and have systems in places. That has been the [00:23:00] biggest takeaway that I've learned over the years as a creative.
Mica: Just learning to balance the two because the business side is hard, but it's learnable.
Robin: Yeah. Unless you wanna have a business partner. I always thought that would be nice to have somebody who just goes out and gets the jobs and negotiates and does all that, and then I'm doing the creative part. But that's like having a rep, which I have had and that's been good at the time.
Robin: But you know, I don't have one currently, but it's a great thing if you do have that ability to work with a rep who's like selling your services for you and doing all the bookkeeping so you could just concentrate on the creative.
Mica: That's a great balance. I, I actually like that a lot better cuz some folks just aren't good at the business side.
Mica: And, and, and let's say they do learn it and they realize I just don't like it and I don't wanna talk numbers. And I'd rather have someone do that for me so that I can just [00:24:00] do what I do best, which is create. You are a big proponent of collaboration between photographers and prop stylists. What makes that kind of partnership so effective?
Robin: Well, they are both creatives. Coming at it from a little different angle, I worked with photographers for so many years that I kind of learned the language of photography and composition, and I picked up a lot seeing all the equipment set up and just being in the studio. But still, I can take a good picture, but I wouldn't bill myself as a photographer.
Robin: I, I prefer somebody whose sole or main objective is to get a great quality shot, which would involve the lighting and the, the technical aspect that the edit, the post-production, and all of those things. Handling files. I mean, there's so much to do. I mean, there's, as far as [00:25:00] composing a great shot, lots of photographers work completely on their own and do it all. Prepping food and, and propping and, and lighting and setup and shooting and editing and that's fantastic, but, it's nice to find somebody who wants to collaborate with you and you can go back and forth and they can make suggestions, and you could make suggestions, and you could try things.
Robin: It just makes for a better, either better quality or more expedient photo shoot. I mean, on a day that you've gotta get 25 shots, you definitely need to separate the task, so you can't have one person doing it all. It's gotta separate. And in that case you have a food stylist, a prop stylist, and photographer. And then there could be an art director from the client.
Robin: Everybody is in on, has some say in what it looks like, but everybody's focusing on their job. That is, that's the only way that you can crank out 25 shots [00:26:00] in a day. Yeah, ideally, like, usually it's eight recipes max. If it's recipes, if it's like cooked food, baked goods, anything like that. I mean, things are somewhat prepped in advance and brought up to the sta the stage of being assembled or heated or decorated or garnished or whatever it may be.
Robin: But I did work on a shoot where I had to do 25 cheese boards now, different cheeses. Now, I was doing the prop styling and the food styling, so. And it was, this was not cooked food, so that's why it was manageable, but it was still arranging beautiful different cheeses with their jams and fruits and meat and herbs and flowers. And I mean, it was a lot of work by the end of the day. I was a little delirious, but you know,
Mica: I mean you've earned that deliriousness cuz that's a lot.
Robin: It was a lot. And I could have an assistant at the end of [00:27:00] the day come and help me pack because I don't think I could stand at that point.
Robin: It was just a long day and that was a lot to squeeze in one day. But think about it probably could have been done if it was one person doing the whole thing, it would've taken a week maybe to do those or, or maze, whatever it is. So it's really the way things are planned around here and in most big cities where it's like a whole team is hired for that shoot day.
Robin: So it has to be separated. Now, if you're working from your own home studio, then you have a whole different timeline. You could be, the client might give you a week to accomplish a certain amount and then another week for post-production. So, I don't know, maybe a two-week turnaround for the job. I don't know exactly like how somebody like you would plan it, but that's what I'm assuming is, is pretty standard.
Robin: So you just think it just makes a lot of sense because in my book I did outline all the roles and what you need to do now. So if you are just focusing on props, some people just like they're [00:28:00] cooking and they're making their recipes and then they're like opening the cabinet going, Hmm, what should I pull out?
Robin: What should I, what can I use? What can I, oh, this is a good plate. And they'll take out something that they have. And it's something maybe they've used before a ton of times or this way we're out. We're paid to go out there and find something unique and different for every shoot. So I don't like to use things more than once in the same way.
Robin: Definitely certain pieces will make, will peek in here and there, but they're not like featured.
Mica: Something you said earlier that I love. You said that photographers and just people in general in, in a team approach a problem differently. I totally agree with that. Something that you've done for many years probably isn't the most efficient way of doing it, or there's always a better way of styling something or doing something. We can all learn from each other. You can't get that from watching videos. You just, you can't. It has to [00:29:00] be in person. So anytime a food photographer, like a newbie reaches out to me and they're like, how do I get better at food photography? I'm like, go find some food stylist.
Mica: Go find some prop stylists. Go find people and say, Hey, let's, let's go play. Let's go do some portfolio work. And that's how you learn. That's how you get better.
Robin: I like to collaborate a couple of times a year. I certainly, or if there's just an idea that someone has and that they approach me and they wanna work on something, I'm like, sure, you know, I'll take it.
Robin: I, you, it's always good to keep the portfolio fresh and it doesn't matter whether it's a test shoot or a real job anymore, if you put it in your portfolio, if it shows your strength, that's all that matters. If it's beautiful work that you're proud of, it doesn't matter what it was for , so.
Mica: Yep, yep. How can photographers get better at using props?
Robin: Well, one thing to do is to try some different things in a symbol, in a situation, like switch [00:30:00] out different dishes. Or different linens. Practice using, like doing all the different linen drapes and folds and things that you see out there. Try to define the look of the project and make sure that the your choices and props, your dishes, your glassware, your flatware, linens, all echo that mood of that shot.
Robin: Use something that's consistent with the desired end result. I'm really big on establishing the theme and the style and then establishing color palette. And just bringing a lot of options. Don't just say, this is the dish. Definitely bringing options is key because you never know until this the items are on the plate, how they look on that color, on that pattern, on that shape.
Robin: So what we [00:31:00] like, what we do is usually ask for a stand in like a little bit of something or just one piece that didn't, doesn't look so pretty. You save the good one for the shot and use a stand in, set everything up, make sure it looks right so you have the coloring and everything is there. You know what, what the colors and tones in the food are.
Robin: And then when everything's set and you've taken some test shots and everything looks good, switch out. Take, you could take the plate, or if you have the same plate, a duplicate, you just like dress up the good plate and then switch 'em out. Sometimes you have to put some tape down on the set just to know exactly where the positioning is, and they're very carefully like, mark, which way is the front?
Robin: So they know, well we, this is camera front and we wanna make it look good from this angle, not the back. That's not gonna be seen.
Mica: That was great. I recommend that our listeners if they want more pro tips that they check out your [00:32:00] book because your book is filled with all the pro tips. And I wanna dive into that.
Mica: I wanna segue into that cuz I have your book and it is bomb. I love it. And I'm learning things that I never considered. When I plan out my shoots, I've always been like obsessed with the food styling and I'm like, I need to get better food styling. I wanna be a better food stylist. But now I'm like, wow, the props have an, have just as much of an effect on the food as the styling does.
Mica: I, I have all of these, like plates, random plates, things like that. And like what you mentioned earlier, I, I actually would just go and open, go to my prop closet. I'm like, "I'll pick that one." But now I'm like so much more intentional. Before we dive into that, I just wanted to tell you that your book is amazing.
Mica: Your book is called Styling Beyond Instagram. What did you learn about yourself at the end of writing this book?
Robin: That writing a [00:33:00] book is a lot of work. I learned, that, uh, I pushed myself to bar limits that I didn't even believe could possible for the first time working on something like this. Something I've thought about for many, many years, but only recently had that opportunity.
Robin: It was intense. And actually I've been teaching this stuff in the book for years already. I was teaching at FIT for nine years, and then I started teaching the doing The Prop Styling Experience, which was one-on-one. Like bootcamp workshops and then also went online during the pandemic. So I've been talking about this, uh, material for a very long time, but actually writing it so somebody could understand, especially somebody who's new to the, the business.
Robin: So there I would sometimes catch myself writing in shorthand and then being like, oh, wait a second. Nobody's gonna know what I'm talking about, so I not only [00:34:00] did I go back and try to spell everything out so clearly that I also added a glossary at the end with some names and styling words and, and things just in case you don't know what I mean.
Robin: If I say PMS color or you know, something like, can't think off the cuff what, uh, an example. But I just found that I, I did what I set out to do. And it was very proud that I, that I finished it. But it's been a little bit of a, okay, like, let's relax and give myself some room to breathe for a couple of months.
Robin: But I'm getting really good feedback from everybody and I would love some more reviews on Amazon.
Mica: All right, y'all, you heard it here. Let's put out those reviews. Let's, let's support it.
Robin: Yeah, I appreciate it.
Mica: What I'm really liking about the book are. Well, there are two things I, I love. First, I, I love all the forms that you put [00:35:00] in, like.
Robin: The worksheets.
Mica: The questionnaires.
Mica: The, uh, the, the invoice templates. Like the checklists. That's great because it just gives us an idea of like, this is what we're supposed to be looking out for. The other thing that I like and I'm really enjoying are the testimonials. That they're just really cool because they're like different testimonials by different. There's like photographers in there, there's a actual prop stylist in there.
Mica: It's coming from so many different perspectives. What I wanna know is what surprised you the most about the testimonial?
Robin: Well, I wanted to spotlight and feature people who came from different backgrounds and did things differently. So some of them were students of mine that have gone on to like make themselves into a real stylist.
Robin: I mean, they did it. Like I gave them the encouragement and some mentorship. They went ahead and found them, either found themselves [00:36:00] an agent or got themselves settled in a certain region of the country, or, I mean, some went on to do related things, not necessarily. Some do a little bit of everything, but I'd like to show a variety of the different people that use styling in their work.
Robin: So not only feature different types of people that are like in directly involved, but also people now of shop owners has to take photos to promote their businesses now. So it's like a must for everybody. So if you have a shop, you're not gonna necessarily have the option to hire a photographer to come in and shoot your merchandise or, or your handmade goods.
Robin: So everybody's gotta have a little studio area set up in their home where like, okay, if you make ceramics, it's like, okay, this comes out of the kiln, boom. You know, everything's set up, the lighting, the camera. The set and that's set up for their e-commerce, for their website or Etsy store or whatever it is.
Robin: Now it's just [00:37:00] such a, such a part of everyone's life. So I wanted people to see that you don't only have to be a professional prop stylist to involve styling in your life. So if it's something that you like to do, you certainly have many, many options and opportunities. And then also the biggest thing now, I mean the work at home situation is totally becoming so prevalent where you can work out of your home. You don't have to be somebody that's in a major city, you could be anywhere, and you could have clients and you could have things shipped to you, and they don't have to be there. And you could work on your own schedule. So there's so many opportunities now. The photo equipment like industry is booming. I mean, More than ever. Plus, what about people who are just shooting with their phones? Phones are fantastic now.
Mica: Yeah. I just got the new iPhone and I've been testing it out. Man, it is banging. That's. [00:38:00] I can do so much with it. I'm like, man. I mean, I'm not gonna give up my actual camera, but it's, it's amazing what you can do now. I could never, in 2004, 2005, I never, ever, ever. I got my first cell phone my senior year in high school. I was 18 years old. It was a little Sprint flip phone, and it could take a very pixelated, teeny, tiny square photo. And I thought, this is the cool, look how freaking amazing technology is.
Robin: Yeah. Can I tell you a secret? I hired a great photographer to shoot most of the full page pictures, but we didn't shoot enough and I had to supplement with some of my own pictures, so some were taken on my camera, but some were taken on my phone.
Mica: That's amazing. Now I'm gonna like go back and re like, analyze every photo to see which one.[00:39:00]
Robin: Let me know and you see if you can tell.
Mica: But you raised a a great point about you know who your book caters to. That it's not just professional photographers that should be reading this. It's anyone who has a business that they need to promote.
Mica: My husband and I, at one point, we were thinking about selling our house and buying a house in a more trendier part of Austin, and some of the houses had it, it was titled Zoom Room. And we're like, what? What is that? And I go like one of those weird sex rooms. And so I looked it up and it is not a weird sex room.
Mica: It is a room specifically for Zoom meetings. And I'm like, is that a thing now? And I found an article about how to decorate your Zoom Room. Like your back, what's behind you [00:40:00] that looks professional and reflects who you are and it's all trendy and things like that. And there, and I'm like, there's a whole article on this. Like this is the world we live in, that people have dedicated Zoom Rooms. I thought that was the coolest thing. So when you mentioned about like this is for people who have a business to promote or if they're doing like a video or things like that, your book is doing such a great job with teaching people. Do you talk about the business side and that's where you have the questionnaires and the estimate worksheet, which I also think is bang in too. I'm like, this is great. What's the most important advice you hope your readers take away from that chapter?
Robin: Oh, well, the worksheets of for being organized on point, not stumbling through something, not knowing how to bill. The biggest mistake that stylists make is not charging their clients for props that they own.
Robin: And that they should know that this is a line item that must [00:41:00] be included in your estimate and that they just think you just magically have all this great stuff. Well, you've gotta let them know that, no, that's not the case. These are my business tools, and if I were to go buy everything new for you would've cost X.
Robin: So this is my rental fee. And whenever that may be, I mean, you could do it by the piece or a flat fee, which is what I usually do, depending on how many things I bring. But you know, it helps me out by owning props that I don't have to spend time hunting for everything. But if there are things I do need to get, there are prop houses in New York that I go to and that I rent from and per piece it's pretty expensive to each item you pay for. And I mean, hey, they have to make money to have that service and be in business. So that's why that justifies the price. So anybody that thinks you just have stuff, you know, maybe if it's like one thing, okay, you bring like a bowl or a dish with you [00:42:00] to supplement everything else that's being used.
Robin: But if you bring everything, you've gotta make sure, I mean, that could be, you could be sitting on an additional $700 to a thousand dollars to add to your fee, and that's separate from your fee.
Mica: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have a home studio and I use my office to do all my shoots and all my clients, they come to my house.
Mica: I never charged a like studio usage fee or rental fee cuz I figured it's my house, whatever. And one of the food stylists that I worked with, she was like, are you nuts? She was like, you should definitely be charging a studio, studio usage fee. You should be charging that. She's like, you're disrupting your home.
Mica: People are coming to your home. They're using your restroom, they're using your electricity, your wifi, your kitchen. That should be included in your, in your estimate, you should be charging a fee or rental fee for your equipment too.
Robin: Exactly. All of your equipment that you've spent [00:43:00] thousands of dollars on.
Robin: You've gotta split that up amongst all your clients in a year and add on a studio fee, a prop fee. Sometimes I add in a kit fee for all the expendable things. Like the cleaning supplies and the paper towels and the everything that I bring that get used, any kind of sprays and solutions and stuff like that.
Robin: Just like a basic $50 kit fee.
Mica: And these are things that new photographers, new prop stylists, new people coming in the industry, they would either learn that by assisting someone already in the business or they just would go through their whole career missing out on that and being taken advantage of.
Mica: Books like yours, Styling Beyond Instagram, is such a great resource to have because these are things that we just don't know. I wanna take it to The Prop Styling Experience. You, you touched on it a little bit earlier. You, you wrote in one of your posts. My feeling is that resources should [00:44:00] be shared, and I love that philosophy.
Mica: How did this belief impact your approach to teaching?
Robin: Nobody was really teaching, and that's why I saw an opening there because you kind of had to learn from someone before. You had to do like an apprenticeship with someone and they would teach you the trade. And I wish somebody taught me things. I, I learned overall a long period of time by watching other people and doing things my own and learning from photographers and figuring things out.
Robin: But I didn't have anybody take me under their wing and show me what to do. So that's why I feel like I enjoy teaching. I enjoy watching people learn something new and blowing their mind with something they never thought about. And I, I like seeing them turn that education into a success story.
Robin: From teaching, I just, I just felt like, I mean, now so many people are giving everything away on Instagram, everywhere. It's like a [00:45:00] video. It's like how to do this and how to do that. It's like sometimes my hand's gonna explode. It's like I don't wanna just learn all day long, I just wanna look at pretty pictures. But that's what the way is now. And it's sharing and it's like, it doesn't even matter who you are, you could have learned. I always say, you learned something yesterday, you teach it tomorrow. There's a lot of that going on where like, oh, oh my God, that's a great tip. Okay, then I'm gonna like show my audience how smart I am by doing this thing. Right? You see a lot of that out there. And uh, some of it, it's like, some of it's good, but some of it's like really sloppy and not professional. And I just wanted to do. I, I ran my class at FIT like professional bootcamp, and these were like college kids. I had a great time teaching them and I did it for nine years. But I wanted to teach grownups, who already knew what they wanted, came in, contacted me, found my website online, contacted me and said, I'm interested in doing this.
Robin: I wanna come to New York [00:46:00] and I wanna spend two, two and a half days with you. And what we do is go over like hands-on technique and do just as many photo shoots as many different areas that they wanna do or that we have time to do. And then I was always like handing them like a folder of worksheets and, and like guide, like handouts in a folder that I spent like $30 printing out at, at uh, like the FedEx place or the copy shops.
Robin: And that was a lot of money. I was like, here, here's all the business stuff we talk about the business, but that's what became this. That's what became the book. So now I can be like, here, here is my book. I'm gonna do the creative here in person, and you can read this and we could talk about the details and you have questions.
Robin: We could talk about all that. But I wanted to put that out there. So that was accessible. And then we could do the creative together because that is kind of an experiential learning [00:47:00] process. During the pandemic, I started teaching classes online Zoom classes, and I had like a wonderful repeat audience all through, like the whole beginning of 2020.
Robin: Where everybody was around. So it was just like every week I was doing another class. I was just like on a roll. I was just cranking out topics for everything. And it was just like here. That same group of women would sign up every time and we would, it was just so wonderful. I met such great people that way.
Robin: And now things are different because people are back to work and they're not around the same way. So now it's slowed down a little bit, but I'm trying ramp that up again in 2023. Figure out the next move. I have some new classes. I do have a Prop Styling for Food Photography new class to do. It's funny that that was one that I had not done because that was just such a loaded topic, and that's what I do mostly.
Robin: But I, you know, I covered all these other things, other [00:48:00] classes like composition and tabletop styling and styling with flowers and lit styling with linens have a lot of other topics. But this needed time and landing. So I don't know if you know Lauren C Short from the Food photography Academy?
Mica: I do. Yeah, I do. I've taken a couple of her classes actually.
Robin: Yeah. Well, she asked me to do, uh, to do a class of food, uh, prop styling for food photography. So we recorded that and it's gonna be part, it's gonna be a masterclass as part of her, uh, you know, her membership thing. So, but right. So that's like it for people who's one of the recorded classes that she's going to offer.
Robin: But I still will run it on my own for people who are not in that enrolled in her school, if they want to enroll in the school. I mean, it looks fantastic. But I am gonna do it myself as one off class in my whole class series. Now, I, I kind of know which ones were more popular [00:49:00] and I kind of have to just schedule dates.
Robin: People just keep writing to me. When are you starting, when are you starting? So I'm very, uh, I'm excited that people want to learn from me and I do not do anything in this like slick automated way that everybody else is doing online with like prerecorded classes and like.
Mica: Oh, so this is in real time.
Robin: This is real time because I personally do not learn well from a self-paced class. I never finish anything. That's just me and I know of the way I learn best is when I'm like with someone and we're connecting and we're answering. I'm able to answer questions that come up right on the spot.
Robin: People are allowed to comment and say things, and so I do that and there is some aspect of hands on which I love because, I tell 'em to bring certain things and log in from the area where you'd be shooting and like set this up and [00:50:00] then just email it to me and I can open it and share it right away and we can talk about it.
Robin: I love like real in-person learning and so I try to create that in-person experience as best as I can.
Mica: Ah, I love. I love that. I'm with you on the, the pre-recorded. I mean, it takes a lot of effort for, for me to get through online courses. I love that that's how you're gonna you're gonna teach your courses.
Robin: Yeah. That's how I've been doing it, because I'm not like super tech savvy and slick in that way. So I've always shied away from these. I mean, I know they've made all these formats and, and services to make, um, auto, you know, online classes and webinars and everything's so easy.
Robin: The whole process. I'm just like, you know what? Thank goodness for Zoom. I decide I'm doing a class. I advertise it. People sign up and I'm like, we're there not a whole bunch of backend work. I set up my space here. I have my cameras in different locations, and I'm able to [00:51:00] really connect with you, and every time it's a little different because it's, it's live and off the cup.
Robin: I have notes, but I might go into something different and sometimes I may, my, my demo might be completely different, so I'm always taking pictures. I'm, I've got tons and tons of pictures, but I'm really excited about this Prop Styling for Food Photography because I think that is probably the major area of prop styling in general there.
Robin: That's where the most work is, and that's probably the most popular niche of the prop styling world. So, yeah, so I hope people, uh, follow me when they hear this. Hopefully they follow me on Instagram and sign up. I have a thing on my links in my Instagram to get on my waiting list, and I do a free class also that is really called Styling by Instagram. I was doing that class before the book.
Mica: Is the class is the class what inspired the book?
Robin: Well, the, the name of the book, right? So the [00:52:00] class is like a free class, which is like an intro and like a little nutshell of what's in the book. But that's only because of circumstance, because I was doing the class first and then the book came. So now it's all in a book, but 208 pages of it would take me like 10 hours, to speak it all. But.
Mica: But it's like a assigned reading when you do your classes.
Robin: Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. That's true. I cover all the topics in separate classes though. And those are the creative hands on that I do. So people, if they get on my mailing list, I just have to get it together on dates and everybody's got a different time schedule now.
Mica: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing prop stylists today?
Robin: Well, the biggest challenge is that people think it's easy, and they think anyone can do it. [00:53:00] And they think they can do it, and they think it's the most fun part of the job.
Robin: So they wanna do it, but then they don't realize what the, how much, how you can elevate the end result with a prop stylist. So I'm not saying, I'm talking about clients, not your work from home photographer who was learning to do prop styling too. Because I would say that they are in the prop styling world as well.
Robin: I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about like a client who hires you and thinks that that's the fun part of the job cuz I'm doing the shopping and doing this. But there's a lot of things that you don't take into consideration and you don't know. I mean, I have worked with some super organized clients, but a lot of times they'll bring down the props that they have and we'll have those there.
Robin: And maybe we'll use them, but mine are usually better. So they wanna use something that they brought, you have to, you wanna make them happy, and you're like, oh, I love this, and let, let's use that. [00:54:00]
Mica: Yeah. And something you mentioned, it's at the very beginning of your book. You mentioned how over the years you've had so many people come to you and ask you for tips and advice and, and you're like, that's such a loaded thing to ask me. And so for this reason, this book exists for that. If a prop stylist or someone looking to get into props came to you right here in this very moment, what answer would you give to them if they asked you for advice?
Robin: On how to get started?
Robin: Well, yes, I do give that, uh, lots of tips in the book on how to get started, but I think the number one thing, the most important thing is to really start talking about it and telling people, I wanna get into this. Do you know any photographers? Do you know any stylists I can assist?
Robin: Do you know any people in the food industry or any restaurants that might need some photography? Just try to, [00:55:00] networking is really your, your first thing that you should do because you never know who you're gonna meet, who you're gonna be at a party at, uh, like with and meet. Make connections with if there are any message boards or anything around in your area.
Robin: I found some early collaborations through Craigslist.
Mica: Oh, Craigslist. I love Craigslist.
Robin: There's definitely, uh, a section there for creatives on Craigslist and there's lots of last minute and even in advance photo shoots that people maybe aren't paying, but maybe doing like a, a styled shoot or a test shoot or something like that.
Robin: So yeah, that's another one you wanna get in on. Just getting in and doing and working with other people. Whether you are getting paid or not, you're just kind of learning and starting to experiment, starting to just refine your style and gain some experience. So it doesn't matter if you're getting paid in the beginning, you just wanna [00:56:00] say yes to a lot of things and carefully say yes.
Robin: You wanna make sure that it's something you can deliver on. I mean, there were a lot of times where people would contact me when I was working at FIT and say, um, do you have a student that I can hire? And then I would say, what's the work? And then they would describe the job to me. And these were like companies and they would want a student.
Robin: And I'd be like, okay, you could hire a student if you wanted to take like three times as long, or you could hire a professional for the right amount of money and get it done in a day.
Mica: Those expectations just were like.
Robin: Oh, but sometimes they would just, yeah, they would be like looking to save money and they would want a student, and like I, I don't have students first year of college that are really ready to take this on to the degree that you want from.
Robin: If it was something easy and simple, I would've totally referred somebody. But the kinds of things that I would get would be like long [00:57:00] involved, heavy propping styling jobs, and it's like you should just spend the money and have it done right unless you wanna spend more money. Doing it over when it doesn't come out right.
Robin: I had some star students, I had some really great students, but I still don't think, not having even assisted a photographer or stylist or a food stylist, I think you're not ready. A lot of people say, just say yes to everything and just go out there. And I'm like, be careful what you say yes to and just make sure you can handle it, because if not, you might get yourself into some sticky situations.
Mica: Yes. I mean is it's asking yourself, is this situation setting me up for failure or setting me up for for success? One point that one of my former professors, Frank Curry, said in, I think it was two interviews ago, he said that education [00:58:00] leaves room for failure and as does portfolio work.
Mica: When you're working with a client, you have to be able to deliver exactly what you say you're going to deliver in exact amount of time you say you're going to deliver it.
Robin: Right? It's possible that somebody may rise to the occasion and do a fantastic job, and I've heard that and that's totally possible.
Mica: I feel like you're protecting your students by telling these companies that. What you're asking for is something that my students are not ready for. This is where they're at in, in their learning.
Robin: Right. And it's happened numerous times. So I feel like people should be aware and be educated on what they should expect to pay for this service and they are trying to pinch pennies and do it for nothing, then you get what you pay for.
Mica: What's the, the three triangle model? The [00:59:00] quick, cheap, and good. Pick two.
Robin: Ooh, that's good. I like that.
Mica: I love that. Before I ask my final question, I've gotta say that this has been an amazing interview and I loved everything that we've talked about.
Mica: What do you hope that the listeners learn from you today?
Robin: What else? Let's see. I, I hope they pick up my book and they're interested in the different angles and the different topics that are in there. Maybe there's something they never thought about, so that's what I, I hope they learn that it's a multifaceted type of job.
Robin: Type of career or discipline, whatever you wanna call it. It's very, it's a multi-layered thing. There really isn't a school program, not like years. And you think about you go for years and years to learn a certain thing. You go to medical school for like 10 years of your life. Or you go to something [01:00:00] that's a two, three year program and there really isn't anything like this, any program to learn this, that you really have to learn from life around you.
Robin: You know, be inspired by things. Always just be open to everything. Look at everything. Learn how to see things around you. It's more like you look at a photograph and you just turn the page, but stop and look at how it was put together. And look at the background and look at the coloring, and look at everything.
Robin: Look in nature, look at all the different flowers and, and botanical things that can be used as props. And through every, like, I love going to looking at foreign magazines and seeing what they're printing and what's going on, and design and style. Go to museums, travel, I mean, that's all these things.
Robin: Influence you. Like everybody gets some kind of things that stick with them from your, some total of life experiences. And I think that's a place where, as in any art form, [01:01:00] like your photography or you're an artist, you're a painter, you work in some medium. Styling is is in line, is there with all those things to the art form, just like any of the other art forms, I hope they, uh, are inspired. I hope try something new. I hope they see things a different way.
Mica: I love that. To see things a different way. That's great. Where can the listeners find you and support you?
Robin: I am on Instagram and it's at Robin Zachary. My name Robin, with an i. And besides my Instagram, uh, I have thepropstylingexperience.com is my teaching website.
Robin: And then I have robinzachary.com is my portfolio site, which is badly in need of an update. So I do have a listing page, a portfolio page at a a site called Found Artists and [01:02:00] you can find me there and see my most recent work there. I respond to direct messages, emails, get on my mailing list and they'll be sure to let you know when those classes open up.
Robin: So hope to see everybody here in some form and I really appreciate you having me here. This is wonderful.
Mica: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Robin: I am feeling this is not the last of our friendship here.
Mica: Heck no. I I, I say this to everyone who. Who I cross path with. Um, I'm like, we're besties now.
Mica: You can't get rid of me. So Robin, we are besties now. Aw. There's no getting rid of me. Thank you so much for being on the show and I'm signing up for that Prop Styling for Food Photographers Workshop. I'm excited about that. Thank you so much for being a guest.