Staging a Shot

This month, a fireplace designed by Shelter Architecture holds down the last page of Midwest Home Magazine.  The project needed to be photographed in signature square format for the “Ideas to Steal” feature.  We worked with Barbara Schmidt, a stylist and set designer from studiobstyle, to stage the photograph.  This post illuminates the process of staging the shot.

But first, a bit of history.  The fireplace in question was designed to replace an outdated and ungainly hearth in a Golden Valley home that was undergoing a full renovation.  The overall seventies look of the house, complete with false beams and veneer wainscoting, did not suit the current homeowners’ tastes.  Utilizing the existing firebox, Jackie Millea chose a crystal media hearth and designed a planar stone mantle with ebony wood surround.  The bold scale of the fireplace both acts as dramatic accent to the widest wall of the living room and covers up the existing brickwork. A relatively simple intervention that makes a dramatic difference in the room, this fireplace is a fitting “Idea to Steal.”

When the renovation was complete, we had all the spaces in the house photographed for posterity and promotional purposes.  Brandon Stengel of farmkid studios captured the interiors beautifully, including an image of the fireplace in context.  We have used his images extensively: for our winning ASID submission, on our website, and in advertisements across digital and printed media.  But the opportunity to show off the fireplace in Midwest Home came with a contingency: we had to have a custom, styled shot cropped to square format.

Enter Barbara Schmidt.  As a stylist, she specializes in staging spaces for commercial photography.  She arrived at the shoot with an entourage of accents and accessories — a vintage, framed lithograph from Spinario, hand made rug from Morocco by way of Aubry Angelo at International Market Square, chrome lamp by Ralph Lauren, vases from Tapis Decor, and an assortment of floral options.  Let us be clear: we think our homeowners have magnificent taste.  In fact, it felt a little disingenuous to restyle their living room when it looked so great in the first place!  But commercial photography is a forum for product placement and part of the editorial deal for a magazine like Midwest Homes is to feature commercial wares.  We started by clearing the shot of the clients’ furnishings: pulling back the rug, shifting the sectional to the side, and pulling magazines, crockery, and accents out of the frame.

Then we laid in the rug (only as far as the camera could see) and furniture. These items were selected to complement the monochrome palette of the room and keep the fireplace as focal point.  We layered in artwork (which did not make the final crop) and accessories.  Most of the homeowners’ handmade crockeries were subbed with product placements, except for a tall fluted vase with a graphic spray of apple branches.

Barbara and photographer Tim Nehotte have photographed the “Ideas to Steal” feature in the past, so referenced a previous image for the proper crop.  When the shot was framed up, Tim set up studio lighting to illuminate the scene.  After a couple of test shots, we determined that the composition needed more color.  We tried adding colored accent pillows and books to the shot, but ultimately used some floral touches in an unexpected way.  We separated a handful of monkey pods from their stems and attached them to the branches — a totally custom floral display! The remaining pods went into a vase on the floor.  Green is the primary accent color through the rest of the house; it seemed right to accent the shot with a color that was part of the project palette.

Finally, we ignited the fireplace and 3…2…1…done

As for the product details, they appear in small print in the Resource Guide of the printed magazine.

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