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A styled shoot is a staged, collaborative event that showcases suppliers and vendors. For example, a styled wedding shoot might have various ‘scenes' set up across one or more locations, that would reflect elements of a real wedding. For a styled wedding shoot, there might be a styled table, a bride and/or couple, an invitation suite, etc.
Styled shoots help both vendors and photographers to
Styled shoots can also be a ton of fun, we love styled shoots!
The tide has begun to turn against styled shoots recently, partly due to the rise of the ‘authentic' movement. People have criticized styled shoots for
Whether you decide to pay to join in somebody else's styled shoots (frequently run by other photographers, and also by stylists and styling teams), there's no denying that styled shoots can provide you with beautiful images for your website and social media pages.
Does that help you attract bookings? Does it help you attract high-paying clients?
In a word – yes. Absolutely, yes.
Shortly after I had started out in weddings, a photographer friend said to me ‘you know what the problem with your website is? people don’t want to see models and styled setups. they want to see real people and real weddings’
In part, I agree. But nobody wants to see the wedding of 65-year-old Uncle Bill’s 3rd registry office village hall wedding complete with white limousine and cocktail sausages, whether it was a happy occasion for Uncle Bill or not. Well, some people might. But this is key here; these people are not your client.
Your client is most likely to be image affluent. We have grown up in the age of Pinterest, Instagram, and wedding blogs.
Your clients know about trends and styles, they know about the importance of detailing. They painstakingly make styled choices that reflect their personality.
So as long as you use images that reflect their interests and the best version of themselves that they can be on their wedding day, it doesn’t matter whether you use real weddings or styled shoots.
Images on your site need to be aspirational, because that is what we all buy into, regardless of our taste or our tribe.
Do you think that clients would rather see ‘honest’, ‘real’ weddings than styled shoots? We are psychologically programmed and culturally conditioned to ‘want’ to buy into that which we see and perceive as attractive (read about the psychology of attraction for more information on this indepth subject!).
I put this to the test on my very own website.
When I started out, I only had images from a shoot and a single wedding to use on my website. I chose to favor the shoot images for my front page, reserving a few detailed shots from the real-life wedding for my portfolio.
After securing a handful of bookings, I kept the images from the shoot as my front-page images. I then did another shoot and added some of those images to the front page too.
It was definitely thanks to these styled shoot images that my own photography business was able to attract my stylish brides (three of my clients in a year made their own dresses, as they were all trained in fashion/ in the industry)!
It's not just me – so many big-name photographers currently achieving success with their work all participated in tons of styled shoots when starting out, and still do! Many now lead their own workshops that you can attend.
If you want to use styled shoots to develop your creativity, to practice with film and get a feel for the real beauty and potential of it without the risk of practicing on a client, and you want to make contacts and potentially gain recommendations, then undertake a styled shoot. They really do help you to develop your photographic style.
Then when you put that work on your website, you can feel confident you are attracting the right kind of client for you.
Regardless of whether you create a kinfolk-style, minimal, stripped-down shoot or a big, grand elaborate floral shoot filled with luxury elements and details, a shoot can be as personal and as authentic as you and your clients are.
This doesn’t have to be difficult. Think of a random word and choose a shoot based on that. Don’t worry about whether your shoot is going to be ‘pantone colour of the year’ or anything like that. If is it pretty, well-styled, wellshot, and has a cohesive theme, you will be able to gain publicity for it, and regardless of if you do or not, you will be able to use it on your sites / your portfolio. If you want to go all-in on this, look at Pinterest's upcoming trends, which does a great job of reflecting up and coming trends right before they are hot. Or look at trend forecasting agencies that can tell you about upcoming social trends, colors, movies coming out in the next year, and so on. All of this should give you a ton of inspiration if you're struggling.
This has to be my number one tip – creating a styled session is so much work, and I would never recommend that you do it alone, simply because there is so much involved in planning one that you'd probably want to hire a specialist to plan and arrange all the details.
Stylists and wedding planners are very likely to want to get involved as they like to boost their own portfolios and showcase their talents, and if you pick the right ones that have a pretty good portfolio already, and explain that you will be shooting film and that film is favored by X, X, and X blog and that it will add a completely different dimension to their portfolio, they will most likely be willing to get involved, if they have the time.
Show courtesy and only approach one planner at a time. Remember that they probably often get asked for shoot involvement, so if it is a no, don’t take it personally. They most likely just are too busy but the next one might not be.
It really isn’t a good idea to style a shoot on your own unless you are super creative already, and enjoy all of the planning and preparation work as well as thinking about your photography.
Even then, you might not be able to be as ‘free’ with your photography as you would wish, as you will most likely be thinking about the next setup, outfit, where the makeup artist is, etc, when really, you need to be concentrating on the light and your next shot.
A planner or stylist will be your biggest asset, and your key to gaining beautiful, well-styled images, so do not underrate this step!
A planner/ stylist will
(But don’t be afraid to think small either).
You can create a beautiful photoshoot that will look absolutely amazing on your website and blog, that will gain publicity (and those essential ‘blogger badges’ that show your work was worthy enough for exhibition on their site)
Whether you do a small, lowkey shoot – think just a tabletop and some accessory shots
Or a huge, grand shoot in a stately manor house with three models, two makeup artists, two children, eight dogs, and a peacock in a fir tree.
Step outside your comfort zone, but don’t overwhelm yourself.
When you are starting out, rebranding, or learning something new, it's easy to sabotage your own work at a shoot.
Here's how I did it – I'm still embarrassed to tell this story over two years later, but hopefully you'll learn something from it.
My beautiful Canon 1v film camera arrived two weeks before I had a planned shoot coming up. I wasn’t the only photographer on the shoot, there was another photographer duo there too.
The venue was an absolutely gorgeous Cotswold barn, all pale old stonework and rambling grounds with freeroaming ducks and geese. The dresses were provided by probably the finest boutique in the county. Everything about the shoot was toplevel.
And I crumpled. Properly fell to pieces.
I saw the other photographers there with their brand new 20K cameras, huge flashguns, gigantic lenses, and big light setups for later in the day when the lighting would drop.
I picked up my pride and joy and put it quietly back into my bag. What on earth would they think of me, I thought, showing up with my ten-year-old film camera, scrabbling around trying to load and unload the film after 36 shots.
I instead used a camera that I had taken along with me as a backup, my little canon 550d, with a heavy heart.
And I've wished ever since that I shot every single image on my film camera because they would have been sooo beautiful!
Don’t ever let that negative voice in your head get the better of you. Big shoot, small shoot, you’ve got this.
Let’s be honest. One of the reasons you want to do a photoshoot is because you want to get featured in the press. You want your images and your credit up in lights on those pretty blog pages or flickering out at you from inside the glossy pages of a magazine. And why wouldn’t you? You know that getting featured on these pages leads to all sorts of amazing things happening.
So do not go about setting up a photoshoot without first considering who you are selling the photoshoot. Yes, selling. Not monetarily, but you will be attempting to ‘sell’ your concept to your targeted blog, magazine, etc. Want to get featured on Style Me Pretty? Then you’ll need an elegant shoot showcasing luxurious vendors and a whole load of beautiful, personal detailing. 100 Layer Cake? Then you’re going to need light, airy images with a slight air of bohemia and whimsy to your detailing and theme. Etc. Basically, you need to sell to that blog in your introductory email why your shoot would be a good fit for that blog.
Don’t have the time to create your own session or still feeling a bit daunted? Then attend a workshop. Preferably one announcing ‘fineart’ in the title. Seriously, these happen everywhere, all of the time.
Research the photographer and the stylist’s background; generally, a fine art style photoshoot is going to be a brilliant place to start and get you really thinking about using film and your cameras in regards to lighting, composition, posing, etc.
Plus you get to meet an entire load of people in the same position as you are in, beginning/improving their film knowledge; and who can potentially pass you referrals at a later date, as well as becoming useful friends to have as you work and learn together.
The blog Wedding Sparrow often features details of fine art photography workshops that are coming up (as well as being a wonderful resource of fineart wedding photography inspiration).
You can also join photography Facebook groups (fine art ones in particular). Facebook groups are often the first place stylists and photographers will announce their upcoming styled workshops.
Styled Shoots don't tend to be that well SEO'd so they don't often appear in Google search, so you'll have to do some digging to find one to join.
Are you still feeling like you want to attempt your own styled shoot? Ok, crazy person! Here are my top tips for that.
See the essential tips above! Creating a concept is important whether you work with a planner or set up your own styled shoot. It's essentially the backbone of your shoot, where everything links together in a cohesive style. This helps you stay on track and focused in both your planning and your shots too.
Pinterest is great for this! Create secret boards over on Pinterest to plan for each element of the shoot. You can group each board by elements of the shoot
etc. It's always a good idea to do a mood board around the concept too, to begin with. This helps the general idea of the shoot evolve.
You can also create a shot list mood board. This might contain images of the kind of shots you'd like to take. For example, you might include images from certain angles, lighting conditions, poses, etc. This really helps if, like me, you struggle with brain freeze in stressful situations!
A shoot can be stressful, especially if you're working with a lot of high-end suppliers who are relying on you to get beautiful images of their products/services. Having a shot list to hand in the form of Pinterest can give you an instant reminder in those I've gone entirely blank moments!
Sourcing a location can often be easier than expected! However, the best ones also get inundated with requests, so you want to make sure yours stands out and gets picked!
To do that, you have to be able to tell your venue why your shoot will be of a huge benefit to the venue. You can highlight the intended publication, how much press/coverage you will get as a result, and if you're lucky enough to be working with first-class suppliers who have been featured elsewhere, let them know that too.
Highlight all of this in your introductory email, and you'll go a long way in standing out to the best venues.
I would also include a few (literally, 2-3) shots of my work (obviously my best ones)! and a very brief description of myself and why I want to shoot at this particular venue. Keep it brief, people are busy!
Follow up with another email a week later if you haven't heard anything.
And always have a Plan B venue as a backup to ask.
There's no real cut-and-dried answer to the question, ‘Should I pay for the venue'. It really depends on how much you want the venue, whether you have a budget, and whether the venue demands payment!
Some of the high-end, ultra-luxe venues will want payment, usually because they are so in-demand for most of the year that to give you their venue for free means they ultimately will lose money. If, however, it's a quiet time of year, or you get lucky on your date, they might not have a booking and might be happy to give you the venue for free.
Personally, I've paid for venues, and I've used free venues. It's always worth paying for something if it gives you those priceless shots that will get you tons of bookings in the long run.
One thing to note. If your venue comes back with a yes and a price, don't be afraid to negotiate if you really, really love the venue. It's a standard business practice to negotiate. The images will ultimately benefit the venue, not just you, so most venues will be happy to negotiate a budget that suits everyone.
Ideally, you'll already have local suppliers you love to work with and have in mind for your shoot.
This is also where working with a planner comes in handy because they will already have the contacts needed to reach out and ask for their participation.
However, if not, visit their shop, send emails, and make calls, following the same guidelines as contacting venues.
Remember, it's usually a publicity win for everyone to be involved! Because it's easy to feel like you are begging when you're trying to get suppliers on board. Which, if you think about it, is just our own fear. Everyone wins from a shoot, and suppliers stand as much to gain from being involved as you do!
You don't have to limit yourself to local suppliers as long as you have given yourself enough time for shipping. Contact your favorite Etsy stores, reach out to suppliers you love that you find on Pinterest, etc.
Even wedding dress suppliers that provide gowns worth thousands of dollars are usually happy to collaborate for a shoot, providing they can see the shoot is of high quality (they will judge this by your work, any previous publicity or credits, and how strong your persuading email is)!
Boutique owners might sometimes accompany their dresses to a shoot, which is understandable due to the level of value involved.
Finding a model for a styled shoot is simple; use model mayhem. I've always used model mayhem, you can post jobs on there, contact models, and you can post jobs that are both free and paid.
It's practically free to join, with a free membership and paid ones starting at $6.00. You can always quit your membership after finding and hiring your model!
Instagram can also be used to find models; just get creative with some hashtags! You could try #model #femalemodel #modelmayhem #model+”YOUR AREA”
Your model is the one thing that can make or break your shoot, so I would always advise opting for the best you can afford. Yes, I mean you should pay for a model!
A professional, experienced model will most likely
You might think your bestie or girl on the street has a killer profile, but if she doesn't know how to pose on camera confidently (and I mean, without batting an eyelid and changing poses even faster), you're simply not going to get the shots you want.
You might get a few, but your suppliers – and the publicity vehicle you're aiming for – aren't aiming for a few snaps. They want solid, beautiful, professional work. You can't very often get that with your bestie. Unless she happens to be a model.
Remember – you get what you pay for. A styled shoot is an investment into your business that, when done right, will return multiple bookings and thousands in profit. Don't scrimp on the odd few hundred or so needed to book a model.
If you really don't have or can't find the money to pay for a professional model, try to find one who needs more portfolio images and try the same approach as you did with the venue. Stress the quality of your work, your experience, any career highlights, and your creative vision.
If you get lucky, you might find a model who really needs fresh new images so she can get more work too.
If you're working with a planner on the day, they're most likely to bring their own assistant and support team along. If not, you're going to need some support on the day!
You'll most likely need
You don't need anybody experienced to do these things, just people with a willing attitude who want to support you. Don't go overboard, though, or you'll end up managing everyone when you need to be concentrating on shooting.
This might seem like overkill, but have you thought about what happened if that ladder your florist is on falls and your florist breaks her leg? Who is responsible? Who pays the medical bill? What about if that wedding dress you've borrowed gets torn? Will you pay for it to be fixed?
A simple contract ensures that you are not liable for any damages. It makes clear that everybody is participating at their own risk.
You can find styled shoot contracts online to purchase. Search for ‘styled shoot contract'.
You might also need a ‘model release' form. It's a contract where the model consents to images of her being used for publicity purposes.
Having an on-the-day timeline assures that everything goes according to plan. Otherwise what tends to happen is that nothing is set up on time, and you end up shooting the model for four hours and leaving yourself ten minutes for the table, for example.
Having a timeline helps suppliers to know where they should be and when, and you have an idea of what needs to happen when and helps you plan your shot list.
It also helps you come across as a professional, which will help gain future custom from the suppliers you work with, as well as the location vendor.
Work through right from start to finish, and ensure you have email copies of the timeline sent out a week beforehand, as well as copies available for everyone on the day. I recommend having clipboards for each one, as pieces of paper flying about on the scene of a busy easily go missing.
Ensure a break for lunch for suppliers (though you will most likely want to carry on shooting, your model will also need to rest).
The rest of what's on the ‘creating your own styled shoot' list is self-explanatory. Prep your kit two nights before.
Be sure to add in bulldog clips, hair grips, baby wipes, and batteries, as these are always needed during the day and rarely ever to hand!
Ensure everyone has the necessary plans and paperwork in advance.
And get there early on the day!
All that's left to do is to follow the plan, stick to your shortlist, and enjoy! And remember to give yourself a little ‘wiggle room' for creativity too.
That's our ultimate guide to planning a styled shoot for your photography business! Do you have any other tips you'd like to share? We'd love to know!
Watch out for our forthcoming post ‘ The Ultimate Guide To Getting Your Work Published!'
A post by Charlie
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