Creative Direction 101: Styling

One of my dreams in life is to one day be a creative director on big-name, high fashion, editorial photo shoots. To give direction over everything from styling to set design is so enticing to me and would be nothing short of a dream come true. You know how people say “if you love your work, it doesn’t feel like work”? Well, that’s how creative direction would be for me.

I didn’t fully realize that I was already pursuing this passion until a follower commented on an Instagram post where I talked about my dream to creative direct saying: “You technically are a creative director already.” I read the comment, took a step back, and realized she was right.

When it comes to photo shoots for Absolutely Olivia, I do the planning, the styling, the location choosing, the modeling, and the post-processing. In a nutshell, this is creative direction. With the wonderful revelation that I was my own creative director, came an exciting idea for a new blog series…Creative Direction 101.

Read Creative Direction 101: Planning

In this series, I will walk you through the step-by-step process of one of my more “editorial” shoots and give tips on how to do so yourself. For the second installment, today I’m going to be sharing my styling and location choosing process for the majority of my bigger, more artistic shoots. Ready to learn how to bring your creative vision to life? Keep reading!

*PAUSE! Want to get the Creative Direction 101 series sent straight to your inbox BEFORE it hits the blog?Subscribe to Absolutely Olivia with your email! If you’re on a phone, scroll to the bottom of the site to subscribe and if you’re on a laptop, subscribe in the sidebar. You’re in for a treat!*


The first thing I do when styling any and every shoot is, of course, to head to my closet to begin pulling pieces that loosely fit the end goal for the outfits I have in mind. A lot of the time, I will have a few clothing items in mind already that might go well with my creative vision for the shoot. I pull these items and everything else from dresses and tops to pants and skirts to shoes and accessories.

If I’m 99.9% sure that I won’t end up using an item, but there’s a slight inkling in my mind that I might use it, I will pull the item and lay it on my bed with the rest of the clothes. Also, I never disregard pieces I used in a previous shoot because there are endless ways to style everything. This way all my bases are covered and I have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to the official styling part.

Since my original creative plan was to create a shoot that was whimsical, editorial, and more feminine in the outfit, hair, and makeup, I made sure to pull clothing pieces that loosely fit this criteria. This way I wasn’t pulling edgy ripped jeans and bomber jackets, but rather sheer blouses and flouncy dresses. Always keep your creative vision in mind!


When I pull clothes, the initial number of clothing items is typically around 20-35, but this can grow depending on how many different looks I am aiming to style. I know this is a lot, and can seem overwhelming, so in the beginning start smaller and be more selective throughout the initial pull.

The second step of narrowing down the pieces is an in-between step, but the hardest one for me to get through. For some reason, it takes me quite awhile to remove pieces that aren’t the best fit for my end vision, but maybe this is just the emotional connection I have with my clothes kicking in. No matter what it is, I spend 15+ minutes holding up pieces and deciding whether or not they make the final cut to be officially styled.

The questions I ask myself when doing this are: Does this piece fit the mood or could it be styled to fit the mood of my creative vision? Could this piece be styled with any of the other pieces I pulled? Is this piece too normal? Is it the wrong color palette? Have I used this piece in the last month or so of shoots?

From here, I’ll narrow the pieces of clothing down from about 30 to 10.


Now that I have my final clothing items (8-14 pieces) narrowed down, it’s time to style looks. For me, this entails taking a step back, surveying all the pieces, then picking and choosing ones to pair together and create outfits from. It is important to think outside of the box when officially in the styling stage. Ask yourself: What would this shirt look like layered under this dress? What if instead of tucking in this blouse I belted it twice? What if I paired these two bold patterns or colors together?

Styling is a process of trial and error through trying on. I spend a good amount of time trying on different combinations of clothing items, sometimes spending up to 30 minutes styling one stand-out piece with others. Eventually, you’ll achieve a quicker eye for knowing which pieces go together and this process will be less lengthy.

The outfit I ended up choosing for the photo shoot this series is centered around was a quick style and the second full outfit I tried on. Since I knew I wanted more of a fresh, feminine look, I chose my renaissance white dress and layered another, strapless floral dress over top. The end result was a gorgeous and editorial look that reminded me of certain Prada ads in Vogue. Even though it isn’t always the case, I was lucky in finding the right outfit that fit my creative vision fairly quickly.


Locations can make or break a shoot, especially when you’re going for a more professional fashion photography feel. If the location isn’t right, nothing will seem right in the final photos. Occasionally I will already have a location in mind when initially planning the shoot, but normally I choose the location after I’ve chosen the outfit. Post-styling always helps me to begin truly envisioning the final creative vision I am going for, so choosing a location becomes easier and less time-consuming. The two moods for locations I choose between are always either an urban setting or a nature setting. Since I have both near me, I can alternate depending on the shoot.

Also, I keep a running list of locations that I see when driving around my neighborhood and city, so then I have somewhere to turn to when brainstorming locations is fleeting. Although, sometimes real life sets in and the location choosing happens the day of the shoot. This entails driving around with my mom (my photographer) in full outfit and camera in hand until we find the perfect spot.

Luckily, for the outfit I chose for the shoot this series is centered around (outfit seen above), I knew immediately by taking one look in the mirror where I wanted it to be shot. There is a field behind my house that when photographed correctly looks void of civilization and much like the rolling fields you see in editorial ads. Since the outfit is feminine, floral, and to be blunt: peasant-like; the field was the perfect way to finish off the mood for my creative vision.


A mantra I have repeated throughout this post is to”remember your creative vision.” The whole process of styling and location choosing is for naught if it is not done with the end goal of your shoot in mind. Don’t get sidetracked, but continue to stretch your limits and think outside of the box. This part of the creative direction is a great time to add onto your creative vision for the shoot or even reevaluate it and change key pieces. You’re never stuck with how you started as the creative process is ever-changing, which you’ll get even a better idea of in my next installment coming out next Wednesday!

All in all, my styling and location choosing process for photo shoots is fairly simple. Some days the whole process takes about 10 minutes as I’m driving in the car with my camera by my side ready to shoot. However, the majority of the time my more editorial shoots are styled in advance. I hope this post gave you the insight you were hoping to find when it comes to setting up shoots. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to read Creative Direction 101: Planning!

💜Love, Olivia


15 thoughts on “Creative Direction 101: Styling

  1. Another fabulous post! I’ve organized my entire closet into outfit/outfit options before…it didn’t last, but it was nice to see how many outfits you can make with one item of clothing paired with a bunch of different ones (:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. NICE. I like that your creative ideas have a starting point/general theme/vision, I think that’s something that artists of all kinds really should hone in on: our visions for certain pieces, be it paintings, photos, books, or music, and how we go about the process, while fluid, should still have some connection to that vision. But sometimes it’s true that inspiration strikes hard and you’re just following your gut–which is fun too. XP

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Creative Direction 101: The Photo Shoot | Absolutely Olivia

  4. Pingback: Creative Direction 101: Editing! | Absolutely Olivia

  5. Pingback: Creative Direction 101: Styling — Absolutely Olivia – Ellustar Fashion

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