How to Host a Styled Wedding Shoot

Styled Shoots have always been a part of my business, either to create portfolio content for my photography business or as a part of what we offer at Photography Farm. For me, I feel that they are an essential part of being in the industry. They help to define my style and attract the right couples to my business; they bring connections to others within my industry and they are a fantastic way to flex my creative muscles.

A Styled Shoot can be anything from just putting a pal in a pretty frock and getting them to hold a bouquet to a full-on destination shoot with a big styling team and professional models. It depends on where you are at in your career and what you wish to achieve. You might simply want to add some pretty pictures to your portfolio, maybe you want to get a feature on a wedding blog, or maybe you want to show potential clients what you can shoot if allowed full creative control. Styled Shoots are your marketing secret weapon.

In these challenging times, they’ve been playing an important role as the wedding industry is utterly starved of content. We’ve so few real weddings to shoot that The Styled Shoot has gained more prominence. It feels like in the absence of an entire wedding season, wedding professionals have needed an outlet for creativity and for showcasing their services or products. We can all communicate what it is that we do and why we love doing it; the shoots are keeping our websites from going stale and our social media feeds from getting repetitive.

The easiest entry into this world is to attend a Styled Shoot workshop – the ones that we host with Photography Farm have been selling out since lockdown eased. Photographers need to keep connected to their craft and joining a shoot organised by someone else means you just rock up with your kit and all the content has been planned for you. They are also a good way to make connections with other suppliers and with your fellow photographers. But potentially you might want to create your own styled shoots. They can be hard work so I asked the international wedding stylist, Valentina Ring from The Stars Inside some questions about planning them.

What are the biggest challenges when it comes to planning styled shoots?

One of the biggest challenges when planning shoots is assembling a team where everyone is aligned in style, goal, and audience. This means being very intentional when reaching out to vendors to suggest a collaboration – and doing your homework about the work those vendors love doing and the couples they are targeting. Of course, you may not always get your top pick, as they may not be available or interested in participating in shoots! Ideally, each supplier should be very carefully chosen to tell a part of the story – and on the same page about where the shoot will be submitted to, what the imagery will feel like, and which brides and grooms they hope to connect with through this work. Shoots where there is a disconnect in style or goal may result in disappointed suppliers, an inconsistent aesthetic narrative, strained communication, and – as a result – more obstacles when it comes to getting those images featured or shared. Suppliers who are proud of the work done together and who enjoyed the partnership will also more genuinely be able to recommend one another to each others’ ideal client, which can lead to more organic business growth. 

Once the team is assembled, the next challenge is keeping everyone informed! There will be deadlines (for example, when items need to be received by) and bottlenecks (for example obtaining model’s measurements before choosing dresses, or securing dresses before accessories, and so on), and keeping on top of these over the course of weeks or months can be tricky – particularly if you are busy with client work alongside. Naturally, paid client work takes priority over collaborations, so it’s important to keep communications kind and understanding with one another during busy times; as the organiser, you may end up tasked with chaser emails and stressful last-minute changes, and it’s up to you to follow your instinct and gracefully tow that line between protecting the interest of the team as a whole and individual suppliers’ changing needs. 

The final challenge I think is worth mentioning is the management of expectations for each vendor involved. It’s entirely natural for each vendor to be preoccupied with the role of their own contribution, and sometimes it can be tricky to satisfy those worries while also making sure the story being told is balanced and cohesive. As the organiser, it’s really important to understand what each supplier’s priorities are, and whether they have any conditions that need to be met in order for the partnership to be successful (for example, items being shot or worn in a particular way). It’s your responsibility to ensure those conditions are met if you’ve agreed to them, but it’s also up to you to pitch the shoot in an honest way and, ahead of the day itself, manage expectations about what can realistically be done within the constraints of time, location, and content that you have.

Please give us your three top tips for a successful Styled Shoot.

  1. Tell a story. When brainstorming the design of a shoot, delve as deep as you can into the STORY – who is this couple, what do they love, what are their values, why do they make the choices they do? If there is a specific inspiration, step outside the box of a one-word theme and really ask yourself: what details can I use to bring this to life in a heartfelt and subtle way? How can I convey a feeling? What is the journey of the couple I’m photographing? Where does the day start, climax, and end? This kind of storytelling and moodboarding work will help you find (and convince!) the right suppliers, while also ensuring that your images are truly unique and captivating. Shoots with a compelling description are also much more likely to be featured, as it will all feel much more “real”.  
  1. Give everyone creative ownership. The shoots where I’ve witnessed the most MAGIC happen are those where each vendor feels truly proud and in control of the work they have contributed. There will of course be an overall brief for them to work within, but if you’ve done your job well in conveying the story they are part of, then you can afford to give each vendor the freedom to create whatever they are most excited about. Seeing the different interpretations of the brief come together is one of those very special things about shoots, in my opinion – and it’s what can make a gallery of images take on a life of its own. Nobody likes being micromanaged or bossed around – and certainly not when time is being given voluntarily! Choose suppliers you trust, and then respect their creative process. 

3. Overcommunicate. This is a big one for me! The best way to handle all the challenges I’ve mentioned in the previous question is to keep communicating – keep checking in with everyone – and keep sharing information. In the run-up to the shoot, keep in touch with vendors about their progress, their delivery timeline, their ideas, and their requests. One week before, email everyone with reminders of the schedule, the BTS policies, the access/parking information, the handles of the team, and anything else of importance. The day before, do it again. At worst, it will be superfluous information, and at best it will prevent unpleasant surprises on the day! After the shoot, keep the conversation going – thank them, let them know how the day went (especially important for vendors who weren’t on-site), and keep them in the loop about submissions and gallery links. Open and friendly communication is the key to happy teams and genuine referrals!

How do they generate paid work?

Shoots can lead to organic business growth in a number of ways: you may get referrals from the vendors you worked with, you may have your images featured in a publication and seen by a prospective client, you may use them to grow social media profiles (Instagram and Pinterest especially!) which then help you attract more of your ideal couples, and they may be opportunities for learning which lead you to understand your business and your audience better – which in turn helps you connect with them more authentically. They can also inspire your current clients to widen their horizons in unexpected ways and guide you in taking your brand and your business in the direction that is most right for you. If you are considering narrowing or widening the scope of your services – for example niching into a particular specialisation, or widening your geographical reach, shoots are a fantastic tool for connecting you with the people (both suppliers and clients) that can make that happen. If used intentionally, shoots truly can help you do more of what you love, and less of what you don’t!

Creatives should be practicing their craft in between the paid gigs. Think of dancers and musicians, they rehearse then have a show; artists sketch before they commit to a final canvas. Styled Shoots can be the rehearsal or the sketching for wedding photographers and at the same time, they realign your portfolio and set out your aesthetic. They can make you stand out in a very busy market and in 2021, they can be what buoys you up in the void of weddings.