In my former life I was a full-time field editor for the Meredith group of magazines (Better Homes & Gardens, Traditional Home, et. al.), and during my time in France I’ve continued part-time, writing and/or producing the occasional story for them, in France or on visits to Charleston.
So today, for the curious among you, we shall look at a day in the life of a field editor. This particular field being the heart of Provence, not a bad place to work! This story, which I produced, styled, and wrote, came out in the winter issue of Country French, a Meredith bookazine. Here is a behind the scenes look at how it all happens.
I found the house through a friend in Provence who knew a designer there; the designer did this house for an expat couple. I never actually met the owners, who have multiple homes.
The first step: I visit the house, and if it works I take scouting photos which I will then send to my staff editor in the states. She will then say oui or non. To be successful a field editor has to have experience in knowing which of Meredith’s 20-odd shelter magazines, if any, is a fit for the house, and if it will in fact please a particular editor. I knew as soon as I saw this one that it had an excellent chance of landing in Country French: Provençal romance, lovely architecture, the designer’s hand evident in the interiors, and the furnishings high end.
I happened to be going to Provence anyway with my two best American buds Darlene and Sandi (photo above), and they were happy to tag along for the scouting expedition. We met the designer on site. Actually Sandi is a fellow editor, but today she was pressed into service as my ‘secretary’, recording details for the story while I took the scouting photos. Photo right: The French designer, très elegante, tells us about the garden.
The staff editor liked it, so months later I was back with my shooting team. Which usually includes me, the photographer (Gordon Beall is my regular guy, and he came over for this shoot), and an assistant. Since it was an expensive shoot far from home, Ron was pressed into service as our assistant, to save on costs. Which means he packs and unpacks the van, schleps stuff, and holds up lights as needed. The pay was lousy, but he got to travel to Provence where he would eat and drink wine, so he didn't complain.
My staff editor requested some pretty heavy propping, so we rented a van for the trip, and filled it to the brim with flowers, vases, jars, outdoor pots, hats, pillows, throws, vegetables, bread, cutting boards, and all the other props necessary to make a second home look a bit more lived in (at left: loading up). Then the three of us crammed ourselves into the front seat and off we went. In addition, I planned to use every accessory I could find in the house (and I did!), moving things from room to room. Shooting is more complicated than you might think; there's composing, styling, lighting, and so on. it often takes a couple of hours just to do the first photo, but after that it goes faster. I wish I had a picture for you of what a room in progress looks like. The area we're shooting is propped and pristine, and just inches outside the shot it's often controlled chaos, with equipment, props, lighting, tools, a flower arranging station, etc.
It took the three of us a couple of very full days to do the shoot. Weeks later they sent me the shots they would use, and I wrote the story and captions after interviewing the owners. They used 14 shots; we took at least half again as many, which is typical.
Now the fun part: take a look at my scouting shots, then at the staff editor’s decisions. The 'after' shots are the ones they actually ran.
Scouting shot: The staff editor requested a cozy cocktail hour scene on this unfurnished patio off the kitchen.
After: We hauled furniture up from the pool to set up the shot. In the evening, we drank the props!
Scouting Shot: For the foyer, our photo order specified pillows, a bit of color, and BIG flowers.
After: In the shot I used the owners’ pillows and some that I brought. I couldn’t find any flowers tall enough at the florist, so I cut these from a tree by the side of the road on the way over!
Scouting shot: The living room propping was pretty straight forward; they asked for pastel colors to be added, with flowers and accessories.
After: I brought or borrowed pillows.I couldn’t find an interesting pastel throw, so I pressed one of my wool scarves into service.
Kitchens are always tricky. The editor asked for a breakfast scene on the table and a baking scene on the island, and we wanted to add interest and color to the empty stovetop. You have to use enough props to tell the story, but it can easily get cluttered (What, your counter doesn’t look just like this when you bake?). Shapes are important too, like the bowls and the teapot. The open door in the breakfast room shot invites you into the scene.
After, set up for breakfast:
After, with the baking scene:
While my job is styling, Gordon’s is about capturing the light; we madly follow the sun around the house as we shoot (and sometimes create sunbeams where there are none). Gordon scored some gorgeous rays in this shot of the daughter's bedroom. We work together on coming up with the composition, though he’s the real pro.
Darn, we didn’t make the cover! Cover shots are a special breed, and we always try to line one up. We use a cover template with the title/logo to help us. But only one per issue gets chosen, it’s tough! Here's the cover from that issue:
Now it you'd like to see an article I shot and wrote recently in France, pick up the debut copy of Mediterranean Homes and Lifestyle, which is on newsstands now, to see a gorgeous French village garden in Burgundy.