My Secrets to Putting On a Styled Shoot

A few weeks ago, a group of wedding professionals and I put on a styled shoot. When I set out to do this, it wasn’t because I knew what I was doing. No. That was not it. It wasn’t because I wanted to do something I have done before a hundred times… It wasn’t because it was going to be easy. No. It was precisely because it was going to be hard. Right in the middle of my wedding season, I saw an opportunity to make this happen, and well, I didn’t want it to pass by… Another thing, that I’d just put off until…later. The funny thing was, I wasn’t nervous to do the shoot itself. I wasn’t even nervous about the work involved beforehand in putting it all together. But there was this one thing…it’s the one thing that trips me up in much of what I do…I was terrified to ask.

I couldn’t just ask people to participate?! Could I? But that’s what I did. And that’s my secret to putting on a styled shoot: “Just Ask”. Stunningly simple, right? On its face, that sounds super simple. In reality, putting myself out there, with the knowledge that I might be rejected, is intensely nerve-racking for me. Rejection is probably my number one reason for not doing something. Wow. That sounds silly as I write it. But, I know it to be true for myself. Putting on another styled shoot has been something I’ve been wanting to do since the first one I did before I even began my business. But, that fear of rejection kept me from even contacting other professionals. When the opportunity arose for this latest styled shoot, I guess I just didn’t have the luxury of time to think about what that rejection might feel like. I had to either do or not do. On or off. 1 or 0. So, I did it. I just asked. And, it was like ripping off a bandaid. Once I did it, I realized if it did hurt, it only hurt for a moment. And, surprisingly, it didn’t hurt. So, I did it again, and again. Until I had a team of people together. And guess what? Not ONE person said no. Not one. Even if they had, what is the worst thing that could have happened? I would have asked another person. That’s it! When you put things into perspective, all of that ridiculous fear washes away.

So let’s review: Step 1 (the secret to putting on a styled shoot): Just ask.

Step 2: Have a strong theme in mind. If you, as photographer, are the overall coordinator of the shoot, make sure you have a strong theme and even visual examples of the theme. Often, we use words like, “vintage” or “modern” that mean something to one person, and something completely different to another. So, get specific about the theme in order to get everyone involved on the same page.

Step 3: Get your models set up. The models you use make a huge difference, so make sure you get them squared away right away. And don’t base everything on their looks. Their personality and their vibe make such a huge difference on the day of the shoot.

Step 4: Solidify your location as soon as possible. The location, whether a wedding venue, like the IvyWild (seen below), or in the midst of a forest, make sure that location is set, before moving forward. That involves coordinating with the owners/managers of the venue, or looking into permits and scouting the exact place you’ll be shooting to make sure it is precisely what you need and won’t change drastically from that point to the day you’re shooting (i.e. all of the leaves fall off of the trees and the park maintenance removes them from the ground).

Step 5: Talk with your stylist about what the models will be wearing. Or, if you’re the stylist, begin to pull ideas from your sources (wedding dress stores, like Bella Sera, tux shops, like Mills Brothers, antique shops, online) and make sure these items will be available the day you need them. Also, double-check here that each of the items of clothing, the accessories, and hair pieces all fit the theme you’ve selected.

Step 6: Talk with your coordinator/event stylist about the details of the shoot e.g. any tablescapes being creating, props used, backdrops being made or used, to make sure they fit the theme (like in this styled shoot created by Janine Davis of Bloomers Flowers and Amy Aguigui of Etcetera). And, if you (as the photographer) are the event stylist, again, make sure each of the items you’re looking for are available that day, from the rental house, or store you’re purchasing/renting/borrowing from.

Step 7: Talk with the floral stylist. When describing your needs to your floral stylist, be specific. It is incredible how much the florals can set the mood for the shoot. Make sure you have several conversations with them about which flowers they have in mind to use, or ask them to use specific flowers, if you know you want them to be highlighted in the shoot. For our autumn wedding themed styled shoot, I was really excited about using one of my favorite flowers, dahlias, so I made sure to talk to our floral stylist, Patti Bosket of Au Naturel about using those.

Step 8: If you’re including a cake or other food items in the shoot, begin to ask around about who is doing new and innovative things. Incorporate something that’s never been seen before. This is a great way to liven up a shoot and provides lots of details to shoot! Also, talk to your event stylist to find out if they plan to create a dessert table-scape, or how they envision highlighting the food and dessert.

Step 9: Details details! Again, go back to the theme and think of each of the details that make sense to incorporate into the shoot. That might be a hair piece or veil (like the one below by Melinda Rose Design, jewelry, boutonnieres, paper goods (such a menus, invitations, banners, or even a sweet hand-written note from a bride to a groom), anything that makes the shoot come alive and feel authentic.

Step 10: Be original. In all aspects of the planning all the way through the shoot. Think: original, fresh, new. The idea in doing a styled shoot is to try new things, play, be inspired, so don’t try to copy something you’ve seen…be innovative! Shoot with lenses you don’t normally shoot with, try new angles, new lighting techniques. If you aren’t used to directing your clients, try directing their every move. If you haven’t been one to focus on details, do it! If you are a detail-queen, but aren’t as versed in candid moments, try to look for the real, un-scripted parts of the day. I know I fall short when it comes to this step quite often, so it’s a constant struggle, but it’s worth it to me to at least try.

This, of course, is just the way I do it. But, for me, by following these steps each time, I can see myself learning from the process and moving forward in what I’m trying to achieve with a styled shoot.

As I said in this previous blog post, the most important part of a styled shoot for me, is collaboration. So, if I do nothing else, but bring great people together to work together in a creative environment, I’m happy!

And, if you haven’t put on a styled shoot yet, but have truly wanted to, start with step 1 and I promise it will all happen from there.



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