Monday, March 12, 2012

Twelve Questions For a Magazine Story Producer

Today I am thrilled to present an interview with Donna Talley, Regional Editor and Producer for Meredith Publications. Donna is one of the top design professionals in the industry and her work has been featured in and on the cover of many of the nation’s leading shelter magazines as well as in numerous Meredith books.

Photo by John Bessler

I have had the great fortune to observe Donna at work as she has been the creative force behind most of the photo shoots that have taken place in my own home. Since so many of you are curious about magazine photo shoots, I thought it would be informative and fun to talk to Donna. She graciously agreed and was willing to share her experience and expertise.

Donna Talley / Photo by Andreas Trauttmansdorff

1. How did you begin your career?

I’ve always been interested in interior design and gardening, but started my career as a music publicist in New York City after studying composition at Juilliard. After 10 years of living in the city, I moved to Saratoga Springs, NY and turned my passion for gardening into a topiary & garden shop, which was featured in Country Home magazine (one of Meredith’s main magazines at the time). A Meredith book editor saw the story and contacted me about producing stories for her “Garden Style Projects” book. My shop lease had expired, and I realized I didn’t want to continue in the retail arena. After that first photo shoot, I knew I had found my true calling – creating beautiful images for print media. When the Executive Editor of Meredith’s Special Interest Publications subsequently contacted me about scouting locations for their design and gardening magazines, of course I jumped at the chance! You know that saying “Find what you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life”? That’s me. Fourteen years and almost 300 stories later, I still can’t wait to go to work every day and make pretty pictures!

Donna Talley / Photo by Dana Gallagher

2. Most people only see the end result of a photo shoot –a beautiful room, filled with beautiful things. I am sure there is a lot of behind the scenes hard work that goes into making these spaces look so pretty. Could you share a few of the steps you typically follow to prepare for a photo shoot?

The focus of the magazine is my starting point. For example, if I’m producing a shoot for one of our budget kitchen magazines, I won’t be bringing in expensive copper pots to style the space. The props and accessories are carefully chosen to further the story (and, of course, make a beautiful photo!) I start with a styling plan, and then head to the stores. I’m basically getting paid to shop – which sounds like fun – but time is money, so I’m very calculated and decisive about what I’m looking for. On a typical shoot I go to 3 or 4 (sometimes 5 or 6!) stores, depending on the number of rooms we are photographing. I also have wonderful interns who help me keep track of all the shoot props.

Donna Talley / Photo by John Gruen

3. What characteristics do you look for in a house when scouting for a magazine?

I scout for many magazines, all with a different point of view – some are budget-oriented, others feature very high-end projects. So at any given time, I might be looking for pretty cottages, rooms with a strong storage angle, creative before-and-after renovations, beautifully-designed kitchens and baths, fabulous gardens… the list goes on. Truly, no two days are alike. I find a lot of potential stories through my network of interior designers, architects and renovation experts – and even homeowners who have already had their homes published refer me to projects they think might make a good story. I think the biggest characteristic I look for is a story that readers can relate to, and find inspirational. Also, very nice and accommodating homeowners are a big plus!

Donna Talley / Photo by Andre Baranowski

4. What are some of your favorite styling tools/ideas which readers can easily incorporate into their own décor?

My go-to styling tool is always incorporating some element of the outdoors and nature, no matter the season. This goes beyond flowers and plants – I recently discovered these natural moss spheres in a great chartreuse-green that live forever! I also like branches and items you can find in your own back yard. But even a $10 bunch of beautiful tea roses from the supermarket can bring life to a room.

Donna Talley / Photo by Michael Partenio

5. Can you share some of your best simple and inexpensive ways to keep a house looking fresh and up-to date?

Sometimes just changing out pillows can really make a big difference! Keeping big pieces (sofas, chairs) neutral ensures a room won’t look dated in a few years. I’ve seen many trends in fabrics over the years, so you could change the pillows every year or two to freshen up a room without breaking the bank. I recently traveled to France and found 1-1/2 yards of gorgeous fabric in a scrap bin that I had made into pillows for my living room sofa, using fringe found on The cost of the $175 pillows amortized over the course of a year is a little over $14 a month!

Donna Talley / Photo by Michael Partenio

6. What are your go-to sources for finding great accessories, furniture and other home décor products?

I’ve been doing a lot of online shopping for shoots in the past few years, if I’m looking for something specific, such as bar stools., etsy and ebay are favorites. I’m also lucky to have retailers provide products for my shoots in exchange for credit – The Container Store, Country Curtains, Wisteria Catalog, and Smith + Noble are all great. I also shop a lot at Pottery Barn, HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and Target. The key to styling is to mix things up so a room looks “real life” and not like a catalog or store display.

Donna Talley / Photo by Michael Partenio

7. Do you have an all-time favorite story you have produced?

That one is easy! I produced a story about my mom’s pizza recipe that we shot in my kitchen with my sisters in 2005 for BH&G Simply Perfect Italian magazine. We were up at 4:30 AM making 8 batches of dough for all the shot sequences. She got a kick out of being in the same magazine as a couple of Food Network stars

Donna Talley / Photo by John Bessler

8. Where do you find inspiration to consistently come up with new and exciting ideas?

Inspiration, for me, comes from everywhere. And travel definitely helps open my mind and see how people live in the world.

Donna Talley / Photo by John Bessler

9. Have you seen a change - from your point of view as a producer/editor – in magazines due to the ever increasing number of design blogs and sites like Pinterest?

In my opinion, I think design blogs enhance design magazines, as they are another source of inspiration for consumers. I’ve also found that bloggers are very open to having their own homes featured in magazines, so they are a great scouting tool for me.

Donna Talley / Photo by Michael Partenio

10. What design trends do you see developing over the next several years?

I think the biggest design trend is that homeowners are living smaller, with little luxuries and modern conveniences being the focal point. Ten years ago, I regularly scouted kitchens that you could park a couple of cars in! Now, spaces are more intimate, designed with a more realistic lifestyle in mind.

Donna Talley / Photo by Dana Gallagher

11. What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is being able to help talented design professionals get their work published. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t easy to get your projects in front of the right people at the magazines, so us Regional Editors are the connector to help get a project green-lighted for a story. That is very satisfying to me.

Donna Talley / Photo by John Bessler

12. Is it possible there is a worst part of your job?

The worst isn’t so bad… I’d have to say, when it’s pouring buckets on a shoot day, I wish I could turn those into home office days and re-schedule the shoot for a bright, sunny day! But in this job, you need to have a “go with the flow” attitude.

Donna Talley / Photo by Michael Partenio

Thank you Donna for sharing your expertise! You have shared some great information.

Donna Talley / Photo by John Bessler

If you would like to see more of Donna’s work please visit her website She also has a Pinterest account which can be found HERE.


Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions said...

Great interview, Stacy! I'm sure it is a busy job for Donna. I'll bet she has been in some of the most lovely homes, too. I wonder if she ever gets any ideas for her own home from the homes she has visited.

An Urban Cottage said...

She's done some really beautiful work. Thank you for sharing!

Cynthia said...

I had the opportunity to have my craft room featured in a national magazine 2006. It was a fun experience BUT I felt really guilt and fake afterward. It's probably just me but I got so many comments from people who wanted to create that perfection in their own homes that I felt guilty for creating this false impression of who I am and how I live. No one really lives 'magazine perfect' and for some reason I found it hard to live with the feeling of being inauthentic. I remedied it by posting photos on my blog of how the room looks during/after a big project- a mess just like the homes of the very ladies e-mailing and feeling guilty about their less-than-perfect spaces! I know my reaction is sort of weird but I wonder if others ever felt like that and, if so, what did they do about it?

Stephanie said...

What a great interview! I wonder what she does with all the props she purchases though. Does she return them, sell them or does the home owner get to keep them?

@Cynthia, I don't think that is a weird reaction. There is no way anyone could shoot a home in "real" life settings, it just wouldn't read right in a magazine, plus who wants to see our messy homes in high gloss LOL. I know that when I look at magazines, I see items that are just placed there for the look, but you can tell they aren't functional. Most people know that, so you shouldn't feel bad about it. To me it is like getting all dressed up to go to a special occasion. It may not be the real "me" on a daily basis, but much nicer to look at :)

Holly Gruszka said...

What a wonderful interview! It's so interesting to get to know more about Donna and her background. I've read a few stories about magazine shoots and I'm always so curious how they take shape and where they actually begin. I'm going to check out Donna's website too. Thanks again for sharing this interview with us - Donna answered a lot of questions I was always curious about.

Anonymous said...

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I wish you a great week.

LOVE Maria at

A room with a view said...

Sounds like a wonderful job. Thank you for sharing this interview!

Anonymous said...

What a great interview Stacy - it's always fantastic to read the perspective of people in other areas on the industry. Thanks for posting!

Carolyn@Sweet Chaos Home said...

What an interesting interview! Donna's job sounds like a dream, and she is obviously very good at it! I wish someone was paying me to shop :) I have "pinned" a few of the photos you featured. I'll have to go check out her Pinterest boards. said...

Wow, what a great interview - and great insights into the magazine industry and styling homes for shoots, and scouting. Understand the "paid to shop" stresses, time is money - I tend to walk pretty fast through antique malls looking for specific things to save time!

Kathysue said...

A really informative interview, I enjoyed reading every single word, thanks for doing such a great job,

Sonja said...

I have a question. Do you know a source for the stone on the fireplace with the large clock on the mantle. I am trying to find something like this for ours.

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