A short time ago, I was asked by Valerie Pritt, founder of the Engaged Wedding Planner Academy, if I would write a guest post for the blog about how to plan a styled bridal photo shoot. I happily agreed, as this is a subject I am quite passionate about! (If you would like to check out some of my past photo shoots, please feel free to hop on over to my media page.)
In this article, I outline the different stages of planning and producing a styled photo shoot, from a planner’s prospective, and my personal process. Please feel free to comment or ask questions relating to styled photo shoots. Enjoy!
Today we have Kimberly, founder of Love, Laughter & Elegance Wedding and Event Planning, giving us great advice on how to do a styled shoot. She has planned and participated in over 14 styled bridal photo shoots since 2016. All of her styled bridal photo shoots to date have been published, both in print and online. If you have plans of doing your first styled shoot soon, this article is a great place to start.
HOW TO DO A STYLED SHOOT
Styled photo shoots are not a new concept. Photography has long been a huge medium for commercial business advertising, as well as creating aesthetic artwork. Newer photographers are highly encouraged to participate in and host photo shoots, as a way to develop their skills, and create content for their portfolios and social media outlets. Not every photo shoot has to be elaborate in subject matter and style.
WHAT IS A STYLED SHOOT?
A photo shoot could be as simple as a pretty little girl, twirling in a princess dress, in a park setting. Or, one may shoot a romantic picnic setting with an attractive couple. Often, a single female model is the subject, clad in a stunning outfit, with hair and makeup professionally done. The model might carry an oversized picture hat, or a lush bouquet of flowers, or an adorable puppy. The options for choosing what, where, and when to shoot photos are endless. Our world is a continually evolving source of inspiration for photographers, and videographers, to capture and create appealing images. In turn, the need for appealing images especially applies to the event, entertainment, and hospitality industries, who in turn use those images to attract customers.
As a wedding planner with more than twenty years of experience, I have a sincere appreciation for amazing photographs of a beautiful wedding or event. I love to look at magazines and books, as well as online at blogs and social media sites that feature gorgeous weddings, styled photo shoots and parties. Having worked with numerous talented photographers over the years, I have learned about different styles of photography, such as moody, vibrant, and light and airy.
I understand the differences between candid photography, portraiture, and photojournalism. I know that shooting photos in natural light is vastly different from shooting in a studio, or indoors in a venue that might require additional lighting methods. Also, that editing photos correctly, and consistently, takes considerable time and effort. I love it when I receive galleries full of stunning photos from a photographer, from a recent wedding or styled photo shoot, that we worked on together. I greatly appreciate photographers, and their hard work. This is not only a job or career for them, it is a passion, and a labor of love.
Photographers are obviously key players when planning a styled photo shoot. But what about the other vendors? What roles do they play in the process? In all honesty, planning a styled wedding photo shoot is much like planning an actual wedding, just on a smaller scale, that involves other creative professionals. As a wedding planner, when I am organizing a styled photo shoot, I come up with a game plan.
HAVING A GOAL
First, I determine what my goals are for producing a styled photo shoot. Usually, the goal is to submit the professional photos for national publication, both in print and online. When the photos are published, this creates exposure, not only for myself, and my planning business, but for all of the creative entrepreneurs that contributed their time and talents to the event. Exposure, in turn, will drive traffic to the websites of the vendors and models involved, and will generate inquiries and bookings for their services.
Another, secondary, goal is to create something unique and beautiful, just for my own personal creative aesthetic. I have to admit, once one has planned a styled shoot, it becomes quite addictive. Especially if you love to see your work published, as I do, being shared with thousands of people.
CHOOSING YOUR DESIGN
The next step in my planning process is to create the overall aesthetic for the styled photo shoot. I take into consideration several factors, such as the time of year for the shoot, whether I want to hold it indoors or outside, potential locations, theme, and colors. I think about the potential available models and creative professionals, and any special elements I might wish to incorporate, like a vintage vehicle, or certain types of flowers.
Then I start looking online for photos that might work well together to reflect the overall theme. Pinterest is a great resource for putting ideas together, as well as Canva, and sometimes I use Google Images for additional inspiration. Then I compile all of the images I really like into one inspiration board, and that becomes my reference for the styled photo shoot. I share the inspiration board with my models and vendors, so that they have a clear idea of the overall look I am trying to achieve.
PICK A LOCATION
Setting the scene is the next step. Everyone always says, “location, location, location”. It is very true. The location selected for a styled photo shoot, can, in part, determine if a submission will be accepted for publication. That is not to say that you cannot take a “blank canvas” of a venue, such as a plain party hall, or a warehouse space, and absolutely transform it. It is done by professionals, every day, in the event industry.
If, however, you select a location with historical value, interesting architectural details, or simply gorgeous landscaping and scenery, you increase your chances of having your submission accepted. I try to create a list of potential venues that would work with the theme of my styled photo shoot. Then I contact those venues, and give them a range of calendar dates, to see what might be available. Once an agreement has been made with a venue to use their location for the styled photo shoot, I will begin to contact vendors and models to feature in the photo shoot.
FINDING THE RIGHT VENDORS
Finding the right vendors and models to participate in a styled photo shoot can be a challenge, sometimes. Everyone has busy lives and crazy schedules. Many vendors have families, or other careers, that will take precedence over my request for collaboration on my current project. As I have been involved in the wedding and event industry for over twenty years, I have built an extensive list of vendors that I love to work with and refer.
I am also always open to meeting and working with new vendors, both established, and those that are just starting out. This is where networking skills come in handy, to connect and collaborate with vendors. Sometimes I have trouble finding an available vendor or two to complete my team for the styled shoot, like a florist or baker. I will reach out to my other contacts, for referrals and suggestions. Most of the time, people are happy to help, even at the last moment. Even if we do not have a team member available for every category, like hairstyling or specialty linens, many of my vendors are talented in other areas, and will pitch in to fill the gaps.
My team always comes together to produce an amazing styled shoot. It is often recommended that contracts are to be used when working with vendors and models. My team members work with me on a voluntary basis, and I am upfront with my expectations from each vendor, what their role is in the styled shoot, and what they will receive in return, which is professional photos of the styled shoot to use in marketing and social media. They will also receive credit and promotion when a styled photo shoot is published and shared through print and online media sources. I strongly believe in “community over competition”. I want my vendors and models to enjoy working with me and want to continue to assist me in producing beautiful, inspiring content for everyone to enjoy.
PLANNING OUT THE DETAILS
Once I have my creative team in place, the next step is planning out the details. The details are the elements of the styled shoot that reflect your vision of the event. The big elements will include the cake, the flowers, the models and their attire, and of course the venue or outdoor setting. As important as it is to have those components in your styled shoot, for me, it’s the little details that tell the story of the event.
I will start sourcing small items like jewelry, décor, tableware, vintage greeting cards, fabrics, and accessories. Sometimes I will purchase clothing items specifically for a shoot. I will also look for unique items on websites like Ebay, Etsy, and Facebook resale groups. Local thrift stores are my favorite spots for great deals. As I have planned out my styled shoots, I have discovered that I have a personal style that I deem “vintage with a twist”. I absolutely adore vintage items, and I try to use some in each shoot. Vintage items could be a pretty handkerchief, or a pair of cufflinks for the gentleman.
Sometimes the items are personal to me and my family. I have used my grandmother’s wedding rings and vintage fur stole, my mother’s artwork and hand painted keepsake box, and even my own china and glassware that were given to me as wedding gifts. I often use the same items in different styled shoots. For example, I have used different sets of charger plates in several shoots, my own personal tableware, and linens. Votive candles, jewelry, accessories and attire have also made multiple appearances in my shoots. I try to carry at least one decorative element over from one styled shoot to the next. It creates a consistency in my overall style and branding, and collective body of work.
LEARN TO BE FLEXIBLE
When I have decided on and collected all of my detail items for the particular styled shoot, it is time to plan out the schedule for the day. This is very much like the way I create an itinerary for a wedding or event for my clients. The only difference is that for a wedding weekend, certain events must happen in a particular order: rehearsal, ceremony, social hour, reception, etc. Within a styled photo shoot event, I have more flexibility in the schedule.
HAVE A TIMELINE
I always state that the schedule is a proposed timeline of events, subject to changes as needed. If a vendor happens to be running late, or if one of models cannot be at the venue at the same time as the other, I can rearrange certain parts of the setup and shooting schedule to accommodate those needs. As with any event that I plan, I am working with multiple vendors and moving parts. It pays to be open minded, and flexible. My goals on the day of the styled shoot are to make sure all of the people and items are in the places they need to be, to do whatever is necessary to keep things going smoothly, and to try to stay on schedule as much as possible. All of my vendors and models understand this concept, and graciously work together to produce amazing results.
SHOOT DAY PROVISIONS
On the day of the styled shoot, I am always the first person on site, besides the venue owner or designated representative. I make sure I have all relevant paperwork, like contracts, contact and social media information for vendors and models, and lists of items and services being provided for the event. I also have a copy of the schedule, and sometimes a list of specific shots that I would like the photographer to take during the shoot. Depending on the location, and time of the styled shoot, I do try to provide bottled water and some snacks for my team. Sometimes the venue will provide those items for us, and that is always a blessing. There are also times that I will mention before the shoot that each person attending will need to be responsible for their own meals.
I usually have my personal supply kit handy at each styled shoot, the same as I do for weddings and events. I include basic toiletries, tape, scissors, pens, lighter, paper products, and trash bags.
Pro Tip: I often bring extra items for styling, like different kinds of ribbon, scarves, silk flowers, candles, and small printed signs. Photographers usually like to pair these items with stationery suites and wedding rings for detail shots. I have seen so many gorgeous layouts, or “flat lays”. These types of photos really help to tell the story of the styled shoot.
DAY OF SHOOT
Finally, we get to work on the day of the styled shoot, setting up décor and putting the models in gorgeous gowns and stylish suits. The shutters of the cameras start clicking, and the models are posed in endless ways, pausing only briefly to change outfits, or to touch up hair and makeup. For as much time and planning that goes into a styled photo shoot, the actual day of the event goes by quickly, and it’s over before you know it. The anticipation of receiving the finished gallery of images from the photographer is sometimes overwhelming.
When I receive the images, I am always blown away from the depth and excellent quality of the stunning photos, and the talent of the photographer that took them. I love working with my talented team members and praise them for all of the help they so lovingly and freely give of themselves to bring my visions to life. I know that I cannot do this alone, and I am exceedingly grateful for everyone that has contributed to my projects, and I love to return the favors by helping others with their projects. Community over competition is a wonderful concept. Please share it with others in our industry. Keep on dreaming and creating!
Kimberly Lehman is the founder of Love, Laughter & Elegance: Wedding & Event Planning in Canton, Ohio. She has been enthusiastically planning weddings and special events for over 20 years. Her personal experience and extensive knowledge make her a resourceful expert within the wedding and special events industry.