September 5, 2018
So this is a new kind of post on here!
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that more and more of our followers are fellow photographers, which I love! After helping host the Experience Shootout for Photographers, I felt inspired to write some blog posts specifically for wedding industry professionals and see how it goes.
This post is specifically for photographers who are interested in getting into styled inspiration shoots. This is all of the information that I wish someone had told me when I was first getting started. Whether you’ve done a styled shoot or two before or have only just heard about it, I hope that these tips help you during your next shoot!
Styled shoots are happening everywhere. The popularity of styled shoots has increased to such high degrees that many publications have had to incorporate new submission rules and are less interested in inspiration shoots and instead requiring that image pitches only be real weddings.
So then, why are styled shoots so popular? Well, for one thing, they’re really fun for photographers and vendors alike. It’s a great way to network and typically, all involved get a ROI from the images that are made. But aside from that, it gives photographers the creative control they need in order to create the imagery they dream of– whether they are creating that imagery for their brand, to inspire their clients, or to practice their skills.
But, if I may, here’s a personal note from someone (me) who has done more styled shoots than I can recall on the top of my head: when doing a styled shoot, it’s best to understand why you’re doing it. In this saturated industry, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using styled shoots to “up” your competition or to build up your image. While this isn’t all necessarily bad, I think that if this is your core motivator, you’re going to end up somewhat disappointed.
Styled shoots aren’t meant to just be things that make us look cool and fancy and impressive. They are artistic projects that allow us to hone our planning, styling, and networking skills. Often, they are the shoots that can get us out of creative ruts or inspire us to love what we do all over again. From a strictly business standpoint, it’s a way to curate imagery that builds the heart of our brand, helps give our clients value, and ultimately, should provide some amount of return to our investment profit-wise.
All of that to say, if you’re going to organize or be a part of a styled shoot, know why you’re doing it. Having a reason will give you better results and more satisfaction.
There’s nothing worse than having the cake delivered to the styled shoot only to realize that the baker’s idea of “simple and classic” is a three-layer buttercream hot mess. Clear communication with your fellow vendors will help you to create a unified vision and make things run more smoothly, giving everyone the experience they are hoping for (and it will make them want to work with you again!)
Use a mood board, remembering that vendors cannot always read your artistic, left-brained mind and might need visuals. Try offering key words and be specific about the list of shots you are hoping to get (bonus points if you ask the vendors if they have any shots they’d like added to that list.) If you want a lot of control over the decisions made, be up front and tell your vendors that. If you are the lead organizer, let them know what to expect and who will be doing what.
If you’re planning your own styled shoot without the direction of a planner or stylist, please remember that you can’t do everything. Doing everything yourself eliminates the opportunity to network with other vendors, so instead I suggest that you delegate every part of the shoot to someone you’d like to work with!
Be clear with your team on who will be doing what so that nothing goes through the cracks. Who’s picking up the tuxes? Who’s finding the models? How are you going to communicate with each other – email, group text, Facebook group? Who is in charge of what? Don’t leave this up to happenstance– nail this down as soon as you get started!
Remember that more than likely, the vendors you are working with are losing profit by helping you, whether by providing product or free labor. In return, be grateful their time and offerings, always thinking of ways to go above and beyond to show them your thanks.
Suggest for them to come to the shoot and be involved, or for them to at least watch the shoot unfold and get some iphone shots for their social media. During shoot set up, take some in-action headshots, branded photos, or at least be willing to think of their style during the shoot and photograph what you think they might like images of (i.e., for a hair stylist, make sure to get a shot of the back of the bride’s hair.) And also, SEND the images to ALL who were involved! Including the venue!
After the shoot, please continue to exercise kindness and respect to all of the vendors involved by properly tagging them in your social media posts. You want to keep your good reputation and get recommendations from these vendors, so never avoid giving anyone credit for their hard work! From experience, I have found that the best way to do this is to A: email all of the vendors explaining how they can expect to be tagged, telling them that if they’re not okay with your tagging process to let you know, and B: send out a list of vendor names and social handles that the vendors can easily copy and paste into their posts.
Pretty photos don’t always build our business like we think they will. Having that gorgeous Instagram feed we’ve been envying just isn’t as powerful as positive, word-of-mouth recommendations from the best local vendors.
Remember: profitability > popularity.
If you don’t nurture your relationships with other industry leaders, you’re missing out! Don’t gamble your time and money and connections by thinking only your images will take you to your dream business. Put people first if you want to see real growth.
Note: if you work with a vendor or venue that you want to do more with, try to budget a little bit towards purchasing them a gift like a photo book that they can use to show to their booking brides examples of their work (and your beautiful photos; it’s a win-win!)
Ok, so those are my networking tips. Now, here are my marketing ones.
First, be proud and post these photos. Thanks to many social algorithms, our posts don’t get seen by as many of our followers, so I personally don’t feel bad when I “over-post.” Share your favorites and don’t be afraid to spread them out and post over the course of the entire year. Having fresh content keeps your audience interested.
You don’t have to submit your shoot for publication, despite what you might have heard. I rarely submit for publication anymore because I’m focusing on my relationships with vendors and clients. Submitting shoots can take up a lot of your time, so do your research on what publications are a good fit for you and if it’s worth the effort you will have to put in.
Publication is a great way for new clients to come across your work, especially if you’re looking for destination weddings. It also adds caliber and expertise to your name when you can say that you’re a “published photographer.” But just know– publication is more or less a marketing tool for photographers. Sometimes it can feel like those publication badges on our websites are like little trophies, and we can get hungry to stack up higher against our competition with more and more of them. Instead, see publication for what it is and only submit when you see it as the next best move for growing your business and challenging yourself.
I should have put this at the very top of this post because it might be the biggest lesson I’ve learned through all of my styled shoots.
I know, I know. All of the best photog’s feeds are laced with these unreal images from styled shoots as if they’re doing them every other weekend (some of them actually are, I think.) That’s awesome…
When you have the available budget for it.
If you’re in a season where you need to reach a new set of clients, get your name out there, and need fresh content for your website and social media, I recommend that you set aside a larger budget for styled shoots if you can. They are going to be important for the season of business that you’re in.
But, please realize that these shoots are expensive– depending on what you’re envisioning. Budget wisely, plan accordingly, be realistic with your financial resources. As an entrepreneur, your time is money, so make sure you know each shoot is going to show an equal ROI to your time and financial investment.
Also, if you budget well, you’ll be able to do more styled shoots throughout the year. Personally, I think doing more, smaller styled shoots gives you a better ROI than just one or two super expensive ones because you’re able to work with more vendors and get more varied shots to show your future clients.
Maybe it’s just me, but if I get a pitch for a styled shoot and it doesn’t fit into my brand colors or style, I don’t take the offer. I want to stay consistent for my clients and actually give them inspiration that looks like a Shea Brianne bride’s wedding.
If you can work with your vendors to stick in a general color palette that will work well with your brand, you will find that you can use your images more widely– from your website, Instagram feed, print pieces, price guides, etc. If you take a styled shoot that’s not a good fit with your brand or style just to take it, realize that you’re doing it to hone your shooting/styling skills and probably won’t get as much “share-ability” out of it.
If you actually read this post all the way to the end, first of all, thank you! I know I can be long-winded when I write and appreciate you actually reading my advice! Secondly, rest assured that taking the time to educate yourself and run your business well is going to pay off. I hope that your next styled shoot exceeds your expectations and not only brings you joy, but a better business and wonderful clients to serve!
Before you go, can you do me a favor?
This is my first educational blog post for photographers (kinda intimidating!), and I would love to know if you enjoyed it or found it helpful so that I could know whether to include more in the future. If you would read more of this type of content on here or have more business-related questions, would you shoot me a quick email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know? I would greatly appreciate it!
Keep making beautiful things!
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We're Shelby & Jared, Springfield MO wedding photographers passionate about meaningful living. We document timeless moments for free-spirited, elegant couples across the Midwest and beyond. As fine art photographers, we strive to create work that will leave a legacy of love for years to come.
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