Industry Insight from a Field Scout + Stylist

By Kate Riley January 14, 2013

I’ve always been fascinated by the magazine business, by the editorial side, the styling side, the photography side too.  When a magazine scout wants to come look at your home, it’s flattering of course, but for me the thing I value is the opportunity to gain some insight into the industry.

Each time I have the chance to work with professionals in the business, they always teach me something new, and it’s had a profound impact on the way I take photographs of everything.  Like all of us, I’m drawn to the pretty and I love to see how real spaces, ones that people actually live in, come alive on the pages of a magazine.

Last week there was a two day photo shoot at my house, and I’ll share all the details when it comes out in May.  At the end of the process, I sat down with Sarah of Albaworks, the regional field scout and stylist who found my home through the blog.  After watching her work for two days, I asked if she’d be willing to answer some questions so I could share with you all some insight into the industry from the perspective of a field scout and magazine stylist. 

Enjoy my Q & A with Sarah, and these lovely images from her portfolio! 

albaworks logo


Q:  Let’s start with your background Sarah, tell us what you do.

I’ve been a location scout, field editor and stylist for national home magazines for the past ten years.  I’ve been fortunate to work with a variety of magazines that run the gamut from ultra modern to traditional design, and from high-end to budget-savvy. Everything from Traditional Home to Better Homes & Gardens, California Home & Design, This Old House, Kitchen and Bath Ideas, Do-It-Yourself, etc.   My job changes all the time, which I love.  Some days I’m scouting a home, on others I’m styling a shoot, or I’m interviewing a fantastic homeowner.  Whatever it is, I’m constantly learning something new.

As a regional scout, I serve as the eyes and ears for these magazines on the West Coast and beyond.  It’s taken years to distinguish the “It” factor, but I know it when I see it.  It’s my job to match the right location with the right editor, without wasting anyone’s time.

As a stylist, my job to enhance what’s already present, so I come in to put the icing on the cake.  Styling for magazines is all about maintaining the integrity of the home and complying with the rules and requests of the individual magazines down to the exact angle and detail.

mod table and window seat albaworks


Q: What do you look for when scouting a home to be featured in a magazine?

I’m always on the hunt for a great kitchen or bath, or an entire home.  Typically a solo bedroom or living room will end up on the cutting room floor.  Kitchens and bathrooms tend to be the first spaces homeowners decide to remodel, so it makes sense why so many magazines will feature them.

seaglass tile bathroom albaworks

In general, I’m looking for everything the magazines are looking for.  Kitchens and bathrooms should have a unique element to them.  We’ve all seen the head-to-toe white kitchen, so we want to see something new that makes a kitchen or bathroom special.  Does it have clever storage, interesting mix of materials, color, or even a great floor plan? Is it “green” or tech savvy?  Is there a historic twist?


floating vanity in bathroom albaworks

When I’m scouting an entire house, I’m looking for a killer kitchen, bathroom, dining room, master bedroom, living room and exterior shot… the whole package.  I’m also looking for the what makes it special, whether it’s a renovated home, a cottage, or a loft.  The entire house should have a cohesive feel and a defined, unique style of its own.  A great story is an added bonus so knowing a personal/ family angle creates a connection and is always helpful.


Q: What makes a space special or home stand out?

When things don’t come from cookie cutter retail – those sources are perfectly fine as long as they’re the not everything. Items from flea markets, thrift stores, antique stores, hand me downs, and vintage finds add character. 

rustic dining table albaworks

Old things reinvented for use as something else!  Resourcefulness in design is fantastic – it’s like taking any basic black dress and layering it with a vintage necklace or unusual scarf – that’s what makes the combination special.


Q. What trends or details do you think magazines are attracted to right now when looking to feature homes?

Many people love a classic look so popular homes tend to be “transitional” in style, meaning traditional with a contemporary twist, or a slightly edgier feel.

When it comes to specific design elements, neutrals in gray tones are popular; magazines like to see layered patterns; organic elements and textures or a green approach to design; brass hardware and lighting seem to complement the cooler grays.

mixed kitchen materials albaworks

Components such as reclaimed wood or whitewashed floors are also hot right now.  Magazines like a great wallpaper, a beautiful window treatment, or an interesting piece of furniture that catches the eye, they appreciate creative layouts, architecture, materials, DIY projects, and of course, anything “green.” 


Q:  When styling a room for a photo shoot, are there any specific rules you follow?

Good style appears effortless, and I try not to over-think anything.  All spaces are different, so it’s my job to enhance the look that is already present, and incorporate it with the look and feel of the magazine.  Much of the time I’m editing, and bringing the focus to a particular area of a room, other times I’m creating more of a lifestyle appeal.

french chair and mantel albaworks

I am always adding in something fresh and organic and I like to mix different shapes and textures.  When working with a magazine, it’s important to add color to catch a readers eye while they are flipping through the pages.  I try to make sure the colors relate to each other, are balanced, and bounce around the room – as if the room is talking to itself.


Q: What tips can you offer anyone photographing their own home?

Turn the lights off, light fixtures skew the colors in spaces.  Photograph the rooms in the best natural light without a flash, when the room is brightest, but when the sun is not streaming directly through the window.

Shoot overalls for each room. I use the four corners rule, taking a picture of a room from all angles.  Then find pretty vignettes to showcase a mix of materials, design, color, and decor.  Create “a pretty moment in time.”

white cottage living room albaworks


Q: Share a few styling tips with us and let’s take it space by space.  What are your best bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, family room, and vignette styling tips?

In bathrooms, be sure to extract personal items like toothbrushes or creams – keep all personal things out before photographing.  In a kitchen, focus on the details in the materials, is there unique hardware or a great color combination?  Combine wide shots of the kitchen with detail shots of the specific design choices made.

marble bathroom albaworks

In a bedroom, make sure the bed is made (you’d be surprised how many are not) and keep personal items to a minimum.  Make the space appear appealing to others, since much like home staging, in a well styled room, people can imagine themselves in it. 

In a family room, focus on the structural or architectural aspects, like beautiful windows, beams, or floors, and any great furnishings.  And in a vignette, avoid a one dimensional feel. Layer textures and have something living or organic present.

beachy dining nook albaworks


Thank you Sarah for sharing your insight into the industry!  I think that’s why we’re all pinning these gorgeous spaces, like Sarah said, there is something extra special about them and they inspire us in our own remodeling and design choices. 

To see more of Sarah’s portfolio and the multiple publications she’s worked for, visit Sarah at Albaworks




  1. Great interview and tips, Kate! I was the production manager of a major publication for 6 years, and loved loved love it! The deadlines, watching it come together, being around all those talented writers, editors, photographer and designers. I may need to find myself back in that arena some day!!

  2. What a wonderful post full of great information!! She is obviously very good at her job, her shots look so natural and effortless, not staged!! Thanks for sharing such a fun experience, can’t wait until May to see your home and to hear more about it!

  3. Thanks for the input! I only have a little apartment to photograph at the moment, but I’ll certainly keep these tips in mind for future projects. I’m hoping to buy a new camera soon too, so I’ll be referring back to you’re posts on photography soon. You do a great job yourself! Thanks again.

  4. Such a GREAT interview! Thanks for asking exactly what we’d like to know Kate, and to Sarah, thank you ~ it’s so valuable getting tips from such a talented professional!

  5. Great tips! haha I am laughing about the bed comment above. I was thinking the same thing! When I first started blogging I had no idea the importance of lighting and shooting in manual mode. It’s amazing what natural light, no flash and a little camera know how will do for photo’s. Thanks for the info, good stuff! :)

  6. Great tips, but what I’d really love to know is where I could find a clock like the one pictured above the mantel? LOVE it!

  7. I never thought much about how a home was chosen or what goes into styling a home, but after years of looking magazines I could see it as she explained it. There are always great colors and interesting accessories I can’t identify from a particular store when I see these rooms in magazines.

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