STYLIST - Ciara O'Halloran

Today we are meeting the gorgeous Ciara O’Halloran, musician, creative director and stylist, and Mum to two little ones.

I am always intrigued about freelance creativity. In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how the moment that you put financial pressure on your creativity is the moment that your passion is lost. But the creation of divinely beautiful images is the soul of the digital world that we live in today and I know that those apparently casual and simple images are not just snapshots, but rather a careful curation of items that are moved into shot ‘just-so’, then adjusted to get exactly the correct layering through the lens. It is less of an art but rather a combination with science…. a bit like baking.

So I am super excited to share Ciara’s story. In this interview she shares the creative process behind a series of print-worthy images and how she started out in the business, as well as how Ireland fits in on the global stage. There are so many pearls of wisdom here that will delight you!

Ciara specialises in the wedding, interiors, food and lifestyle industries and creates “fresh and aesthetically engaging photographs… with an element of organic elegance” .

Her clients have ranged from Brown Thomas to Cloughjordan House, Image Publications, and Richard Corrigan, to SIBO Designs to name just a few,

Ciara's work has been featured in Hearth Magazine, BASH Magazine, Image Interiors and Living, Confetti, Brides Abroad, Ireland’s Wedding Journal, Stellar, Wedding Flowers and Accessories, Weddings Unveiled, FEAST: A Dinner Journal and seen on Once Wed, Style Me Pretty, 100 Layer Cake, Magnolia Rouge, Decor8 and Food&.

Scroll down to see her answers and a selection of fabulous pictures, all courtesy of Ciara and the photographers linked:

- Ciara, tell us a little about yourself and your background leading to your current career as a stylist.

Like many creatives I’ve had a bit of a winding road when it comes to career! I grew up in a musical household as my mum is a cellist and I think it’s only in hindsight now as a parent myself, that I realise how lucky we were to be immersed in the arts so early and naturally. My two sisters and I all played different instruments, spending many happy years in various musical activities. I also loved ballet and art and design and anything really that could be linked back to the science of aesthetics, even if I didn’t have the awareness to define that passion and interest at the time.
Like so many 18 year old’s leaving school, I struggled to decide what career I wanted to pursue considering journalism, interior design and classical music as options, and in the end the familiar won out and I opted to complete a Bachelor of Music and later a Masters in Music in the US. My career as a violinist and educator has allowed me to travel to many amazing parts of the world and also to work with a range of students from pre-schoolers to post grad level which is still something I pursue and enjoy, working as a lecturer in CIT. 
It was only following my own wedding in 2011 and discovering the huge enjoyment and thrill I got from styling all the decor and details of the day that I considered the possibility of styling as a career option I could also pursue. I styled an inspiration shoot with my
wedding photographer Christina Brosnan shortly after the wedding which then led to further photographers reaching out to collaborate and my work grew quite quickly and organically from there. 

- Styling, although quite big globally, is still small in Ireland - how did you set yourself up as self employed in this business? How did you get your first clients?

The role of a stylist on a shoot is still quite a new idea for many in Ireland but I was lucky early on to collaborate with really wonderful photographers who later championed my work and referred me to fellow photographers and clients. Those photographers could see the benefit of having a stylist on board to oversee creative direction and concept, and ensure that all the elements and set up of shots were cohesive. I initially did most of my styling work for wedding photographers and magazines but later branched our into more commercial work, in particular that in the lifestyle and interiors sector which is an area I’m particularly loving right now. Each job has tended to lead to a new one, via clients or photographer referrals. That being said as there weren’t many other stylists working in the industry here, navigating the ins and outs of being self employed definitely was a learning curve. 

- Are you also a photographer, or do you often work with the same photographers?

While I would love to do more photography in the future, any I currently do is purely for my own pleasure. At the moment I exclusively do the styling for shoots and work with a range of different photographers depending on the style of a shoot and it’s very much a team effort on the day, bouncing ideas off each other to get the perfect shot.
As Ireland is quite small when it comes to the lifestyle and interiors industry I tend to work with a small group of photographers regularly but it’s always lovely to connect with new photographers for various projects. 

- Stylists need lots of props for each feature, do you travel with a car full of bits and pieces? What kinds of props do you migrate towards?

When I first started the business I amassed a huge collection of props that would be carted from one shoot to the next. However every project is different and trends evolve and change so I soon realised that holding onto a permanent collection wasn’t really suiting my needs. I do source props still but often will borrow items from artists and designers to feature on set or take advantage of some of the prop rental companies which have emerged as the industry evolves. It depends on the needs of the clients but I nearly always gravitate towards natural and organic materials like wood, stone, pottery, metal and linen as I love how honestly and simply they tell a story while also showing up beautifully on camera. Those elements and adding a piece of greenery to add life to an image is something that always gives me pleasure!

- Can you tell us about the process behind each photograph - the storytelling or narrative as it were - how you design an image?

There is so much that goes into one image, but it’s the intricacies of the process and getting to that final point that I love. If I’m working with a brand, it’s very important for me to understand their narrative and goals when aiming to connect to clients. My role is to translate those values into the imagery and the best starting point for that is to decide how we want an image to feel. Each different element can support or distract from that emotion so nothing is there by chance when it comes to creative direction. Once the concept is finalised, I work with the photographer on the day of the shoot to ensure the set up supports the vision and also keep in mind the threads connecting all the different images. I need to ensure they are all cohesive so that a publication or campaign can use the images in any combination and know they will all work alongside each other. 

- With attention spans getting shorter and the huge amount of content consumed on a daily basis, what are the elements of an eye catching image?

We all know the cliché “an image paints a 1000 words” but it’s never been more true in today’s society. As visual creatures we make judgments in milliseconds and those that grab our attention are nearly always those that elicit an emotion and tell a story. 

- The world and technology are changing rapidly, how do you adapt to changes in this industry as a self employed person? Is social media a large element to keeping an online profile active for you?

I think sustaining a creative career anywhere these days requires a presence on social media, though I don’t generally play by the tried and tested business rules and prefer to just do what I enjoy as it’s so easy to get sucked in and spend more time online than actively creating. Instagram as a visual platform provides me with so much inspiration from creatives and stylists all over the world so I enjoy the interaction here and don’t get involved in other platforms as there aren’t currently enough hours in the day! 

- Is Ireland a good place for your career at the moment?

Ireland is still quite a small market when it comes to styling and there are pros and cons to this. I’ve been able to accelerate my career and take on larger projects sooner than I probably would have in other countries simply because there aren’t that many people working in the industry here. On the flip side lots of people aren’t familiar with the concept of a stylist still so the bulk of my styling work tends to be with publications and clients based out of Dublin. I relocated to Cork almost three years ago so it would be lovely to have more styling work this end of the country but I’ve accepted that travelling is inevitable for now. 

- What advice would you give someone looking to start out in photography and styling?

Trust your own voice and create with that in mind rather than reproducing what’s been done before. 
The more succinct you are on your own style the easier it will be to attract clients who resonate with that and will want to hire you for your strengths. 
Reach out to fellow creatives starting in the industry to see if they would be open to collaborating to create portfolio work. 
Only share the kind of work/clients/imagery that you want to attract more of so your ideal clients find you.

- Where do you look for ideas and inspiration? Is there any particular creatives that inspire your work?

Instagram and Pinterest have been a great resource for connecting to like minded creatives in person and online. There are so many amazing stylists that I have discovered this way. I did a course with stylist Joy Thigpen in 2012 in the US, which was really inspiring as I love her approach to aesthetics and her styling process. 
Ilse Crawford’s mission to put human needs and desires at the heart of her design and imagery is a concept that I always return to and I also recently enjoyed reading stylist Nathalie Walton’s book, This is Home, and her philosophy really resonated with me. 

- As you have just welcomed a second baby to the world, how are you managing the old question of being a mother and an entrepreneur?

It’s a juggle there’s no doubt about it and I’m trying to embrace this season of being lucky enough to have two wonderful little beings who need me so much at the moment. At times I would love to have more flexibility to take on lots of work but I know that time will return. Part of our decision to move back to Cork a few years ago also was to be closer to family and we’re so lucky to be able to avail of that help! 

Quick Questions:

- Favourite book?

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

- Favourite local café?

Good Day Deli Garden Café at Nano Nagle Place 

- Favourite date night spot?

Elbow Lane Restaurant 

- Where in Ireland do you love to go for a weekend away?

My husband proposed in Killarney so that will always hold a soft spot for me! 

- Most visited website lately?

Does instagram count?! I’m definitely spending a bit too much time scrolling thanks to all the night feeds going on at the moment. 

Read more about Ciara O’Halloran here:

Ciara O’Halloran Instagram

Ciara O’Halloran website

Ciara O’Halloran Pinterest

or contact her here: 

Thank you so much Ciara, it has been such a pleasure to share your story and such heavenly images.