How Do I Become A Commercial Stylist?

Becoming a session or commercial stylist can be  difficult to break into. Just having the right skill set isn’t always enough, there are a lot of steps between the salon chair and the photo set! Sharelle Smith sent us her question via email and we turned to our resident Session Stylist Expert, Ruth Roche, for the answers.


“My question is how do I come from behind the chair and become a commercial stylist…. I’m licensed and very experienced in different textures of hair and extensions…“-Sharelle Smith

RR: If you don’t already have one, start a portfolio that showcases your expertise/work. Agencies and publications will need to see the work that you do in order to book you. Research local photographers who shoot ‘beauty’, which means close up shots of hair and faces. These photographers know how to light hair, which is soooo important. If the hair is not lit properly, you can’t see any detail and it becomes muddy.

Choose professional models based on how they look in pictures, rather than in person. The team you put together needs to be on the same page and willing to work together to create a cohesive image. If any of the elements are off you can end up with a weak image, because when one part doesn’t work, it distracts from the parts that do.

Once you have a portfolio of 10 or more images, you can begin to seek out opportunities. Connect with local newspapers and magazines and offer to style hair for the editorial shoots, which will both give you exposure and add even more images to your portfolio, which builds your credibility and reputation, and the ability to get even more work. The more you do … the more you do.

It’s also important to do things for free sometimes, like volunteering to assist someone who is already established in the area you would like to work. You can learn the ins and outs of the business and build relationships that can lead to opportunities in the future.

If you are in a bigger city that has hair and makeup agencies, get signed on with one (you will need a portfolio for this). That is where you will get booked with work that may not come your way otherwise, such as advertising, catalog, editorial, music videos, TV commercials and celebrity work.

For film and television, sometimes you need to belong to a union in order to work on the movie or show, and to be in the union you need to have worked a certain number of hours on a union show. How you do that is by getting hired on a film that works with both union and non-union artists.

There are also many other ways to get going on a freelance career, like knowing someone who knows someone, etc. A foot in the door is all you need sometimes. Keep your eyes and ears open, and help as many people as you can who are doing what you want to be doing! I hope this helps and good luck!

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