How to Organize a Styled Shoot :: For Photographers

I sort of have a crush on the wedding photography industry. We could easily be a group of behind-the-screen homebodies constantly in competition with one another, but instead I’ve discovered a group of supportive and encouraging peers. When I first shared my styled shoot I received dozens of amazingly sweet comments and probably the same amount of questions from photographers itching to organize one of their own.  So this post is dedicated to answering those questions and sharing my experience, in hopes that it will help at least one person become inspired and move forward with their vision.

In case you missed my blog post about our shoot, you can view it here. The shoot was a collaboration of another photographer, Andrea, and myself as well as a team of incredible vendors. We chose to do an “Up-cycled Bohemian” theme and selected vendors that shared a passion for eco-friendly wedding options. Our coordinator and stylist, Nicole Alexandra Designs, was key in turning our vision into a reality, and she was kind enough to share some of her insights in this post as well!

Step 1: Choose a Theme

It all starts with an idea. Styled shoots are organized for many reasons, but most of the time they are used to inspire creativity in your brides, to build relationships with wedding vendors, or to share some idea you’ve been “pinning” and dying to share with the world.  Think of seasons and trends to help guide your vision. If you are planning on submitting your shoot to a wedding blog or magazine, remember a winter-themed shoot organized in February would not be appropriate for them to publish in Spring, and it may end up sitting in their queue for a year.

Think of the type of wedding you dream of shooting and the type of bride you want to work with, and turn that into a styled shoot. For me, I love detail oriented, colorful and nature-loving brides, so my personal goal was to attract that very specific group.

Step 2: Decisions and Timing

As a photographer, one major decision you will have to make is if you want this shoot to be a collaboration with multiple photographers, or if you would prefer to tackle the project on your own. I had a vision for this shoot and decided to involve Andrea because I thought it would be more fun AND I wanted both of us to benefit from it.  I was so happy with this decision because it was nice to divide the responsibility and I really enjoyed sharing the experience. Thankfully, Andrea agrees:

“Though inspiration shoots don’t always work this way, I’m so glad Jessica and I teamed up to plan this shoot. We shared the planning process, we were able to bounce ideas off of each other and having two photographers really helped ensure that we covered every single detail of the shoot and could produce the best photos for everyone who collaborated with us. And, not to get all mushy, but I feel like I made a really great friend in the process, so bonus points for that, too!”

During the actual shoot we were respectful of one another’s creative processes and took turns photographing models and details. If I ended up in her way, she would let me know and we just laughed it off and, again, stayed respectful.

Andrea also shared her thoughts on timing: “Plan ahead – but not TOO far ahead. For our shoot, we had about one month of actual planning (plus an endless amount of hours we both spent dreaming up perfect Bohemian weddings prior to the shoot). It was a tiny bit tight, but I think too much extra time would have taken away from the momentum of the shoot.”

Throughout the process you should keep a schedule and set various deadlines for yourself and your team. What day is the shoot taking place? When do you need to make a decision on vendors? If you need to pick up items before the shoot of leave a deposit, when will that happen? When will you post sneak peeks? When will the vendors receive the images? When are you going to submit for publication?

Step 3: Choosing the Right Vendors

Here are the vendors you will need to contact:

  • Wedding Coordinator
  • Photographer(s)
  • Venue
  • Models
  • Wardrobe/ Dress Shop
  • Hair and Make-up
  • Florist
  • Table Settings/ Rentals
  • Bakery
  • Accessories (Rings, etc.)
  • Paper Goods

I love Nicole’s thoughts on the process of choosing vendors, so I’ll allow her to take the lead here!: “Securing the right vendors is key to making the vision of your shoot come together – once you determine your theme and direction, contact vendors that fit.  If you have preferred vendors that you work well with, reach out to them first.  It will help build your ongoing rapport with them.  If not, research new vendors by asking for referrals or via online.  Read the reviews, look at their work, if you feel they will be a good partner, contact them. A good idea is to create a PDF which outlines the shoots objectives, what you need from the vendors, and what they will receive in return.  Also, be sure to describe your business and include links to your website, email, and phone number.  Having this PDF will be beneficial when you contact the vendors via email or in person.  I highly recommend following up an email with a phone call or an in person visit.  You will definitely have a better success rate if so.

On that note, one thing to remember is that you WILL be rejected.  Not everyone has the time to participate, but keep trying.  You may have to reach out to 15 florists before one will commit, so be persistent and positive!”

Personally I did not have any vendors on speed dial, so Andrea and I began to research local florists, dress shops, bakeries, etc., also being sure to Google key phrases like “Style Me Pretty Los Angeles Styled Shoot” to hopefully find vendors that have participated in similar shoots previously. Here is an example of an email I sent to potential florists:

Hello!

My name is Jessica Wood, I’m a local photographer and business owner in Redondo Beach, CA. (Jessica M. Wood Photography). I am currently putting together an “up-cycled bohemian” wedding styled photo shoot for next month.  Another local photographer and myself are in the process of assembling an amazing team of vendors to help create our vision, and we plan on submitting the images to inspiration blogs like Style Me Pretty and Green Wedding Shoes.

The reason I am writing is I am looking for a florist to create some beautiful arrangements, such as table decorations, a bouquet, and a floral crown. We would love to have you join our team! In return for your generosity, you would receive all of the retouched digital images for your own marketing and advertising, as well as credit to your business if we are successful in getting published. The photo shoot is scheduled for the afternoon of March 22nd. 

Please let me know if you would be interested in working with us because we would absolutely love to have you. Thank you for your time, I truly appreciate it!

Sincerely,

Jessica
www.jessicamwood.com
Jessica@jessicamwood.com

Some key aspects I want to point out in the above email is that I promised every vendor the images from the shoot. I did not want to put any restrictions on these by saying they needed to credit the photographer or could only use watermarked images, because I feel that is not fair to the level of work they would be putting into the shoot. It is so important to be polite and gracious to your vendors throughout the entire process. Also one major decision Andrea and I made was to not be demanding or overly specific about what we wanted from the vendors. We discussed our vision with them and the secret Pinterest board, but other than that we were happy to leave their particular contribution up to their creativity.

Once you have every vendor selected and committed, stay in contact with them and be specific. Confirm the details with them TWICE and remember that sending one too many emails is better than not sending enough. Everyone involved should know exactly what to expect the day of the shoot.

Step 4: Details, Details, Details

The tiniest details end up being so significant, and it is important to keep all of your thoughts organized. Organization is key, just like it would be if you were planning a wedding or event, and having all of your ideas in one place rather than scattered all over your house on post-it notes can make all the difference. Since I was not the sole photographer on this project it was also important for Andrea and I to stay in touch constantly. The easiest way to organize the madness was utilizing a Google Doc

Step 5: MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Nicole wrote, “The Day of the Shoot:  Arrive as early as possible to your shoot.  You will always need more time than you think.  From a styling perspective…Be prepared.  Always come with as many options as possible.   Whether it is the wardrobe, décor, or accessories, you never know what you will need in the moment.   Also, it is a good idea to bring clothing clips and fashion tape.  Ask you models to bring a variety of nude undergarments and spanx if they have them.  Also, remember to handle all of the garments with extreme care.  Many bridal gowns have exquisite details, whether it be lace or beadwork, you want to return the gowns in the same condition as when you borrowed them.  It is helpful to assist the models when they are getting dressed for this reason, and because some of the gowns are difficult to get into.

Have a count sheet of what vendors provide you.  Stay organized throughout the day and count all borrowed items before you leave the shoot location.  Ensure you leave with what you came with.”

I could not agree more! Things will go wrong; it could rain, there might not be a large enough space for the table, or a model might get caught in traffic.  Just breathe and give this shoot your very best. Its not a wedding day and you have both the time and freedom to work however you feel comfortable.

We choose to use real couples instead of models, so it is important to remember that they are doing this as a favor and to embrace the chemistry between them. If there are vendors present at the shoot, tell them time and time again how much you appreciate their help and listen to their input. Remember that they are there to show off their work and creativity as much as you are. At the end of the day, you want to leave feeling like you delivered on exactly what you promised your vendors.

Step 6: After the Styled Shoot

When the shoot is over, you are the one with all of the responsibility. This includes posting sneak peeks, sending thank you emails and getting the images to the vendors in a timely manner. One thing I want to stress is to give credit where credit is due.

Notice how the vendors are all tagged in the sneak peek photos. This way they can see their work and share it with their fans as well.

Once there are any photos posted online, you should share like crazy.  Sharing is so important in this process because this is your BABY! I posted my sneak peeks on my business Facebook page, my personal page, and in multiple photographer groups I am a part of. I was looking for feedback but also wanted to show industry peers that I respect my vision come to life. In fact, one of the top photographers in the world (and one of my idols) ended up commenting on my post.

The last step of this process is submitting your inspiration shoot for publication. Look at blogs and magazines that have styles similar to you own and choose one. Based on my research about submissions, the majority of blogs want to be the only one that publishes a specific wedding or inspiration shoot. Style Me Pretty, for example, looks for clean-edited images that tell the story and emotion of the day. They love vertical images (easier to blog) and LOTS of detail shots; your images should total approximately 70% details and 30% portraits. It takes SMP 4-6 weeks to respond to a submission, but if you are anxious about getting published it is acceptable to send a polite follow-up email to check on its progress.

** See this shoot featured here: http://www.stylemepretty.com/california-weddings/2013/05/23/bohemian-styled-wedding-shoot-from-jessica-m-wood-sincerely-a-photography/

Well, those are my 6 steps on “How to Organize a Styled Shoot.” And please remember that I am by no means an expert when it comes to this. In fact, I’m more of a novice. This was my FIRST wedding styled shoot, and a combination of luck and hard work is what made is successful.

Here are some specific questions I was asked, and if you have any others not address in this super long post please feel free to post them in the comments and I will update this was answers!

Q: How do you get models?

A: I would choose a real couple over models any day. We posted statuses on our individual Facebook pages saying we were looking for two real couples in a committed relationship, but preferably engaged or married. This advertisement was also shared on our personal pages and Instragram. We also posted an ad on craigslist and Model Mayhem but were careful about the amount of information we shared about ourselves. All interested applicants were asked to send a photo of themselves and a short bio. I also spread my search to some photographer groups and one of our models ended up being a fellow photographer that was happy to help out!

Q: Did it cost anything for you to do it out of pocket?

A: Our only expense was the truck/ workers to deliver our table and other furniture items. It was split between myself, Andrea and Nicole, so we decided it would be worth it to work with a higher quality rental company.

Q: How did you find venues/ locations?

A: In all honesty, this was the most difficult part of our process. We received many, many
“no’s” from our ideal venues and there were even a few that wanted to charge us thousands of dollars to use their space for a few hours. I think this part of the process takes persistence and an open mind- for example, coming to a venue with a tentative date/ time of day would be much better than asking for April 25th at 4pm. We ended up shooting ours at the florists home and flower fields in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, which is completely unconventional but turned out beautifully.

Q: How and where did you find wedding dresses?

A: Our dresses came from a warehouse in LA and the only way I came in contact with them was going to a designer Claire Pettibone’s website and emailing her LA representative. This is another aspect that will take many emails and many rejections. If you are unsuccessful in finding a dress shop, keep emailing. If that still doesn’t work, consider using a couple that already owns wedding attire or even looking at rental websites like www.renttherunway.com.

Q: How did you find/ decide on a stylist?

A: Andrea and I wanted a stylist local to our specific area in Los Angeles so we confined our search to that area. We emailed a few and either did not receive a response or a tentative “yes.” When asked why Nicole decided to join our project, she responded with the following:  A: I think that having a genuine and personable approach is crucial.   I truly felt this when I met Andrea and I was intrigued by the Up-cycled theme.   I have always loved bohemian style – it is effortless and beautiful, so I had an interest immediately. Everyone is dedicating their time and energy so it helps to work with a likable and professional group of people which I immediately felt with Jessica and Andrea.

Q:”… I feel somewhat “not in control” and do not know what to expect.”

A: Take a step back and remember why you are doing this… its supposed to be fun! If you are not working well with your stylist or another vendor, then maybe you are simply not compatible, and it is okay to respectfully step away from the project even when you initiated it. You want to make sure from the very beginning that everyone you work with shares your passion, your sense of urgency, your “vision,” or whatever else is important to you. And again, have fun!!

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for reading this incredibly long post and I wish you the best of luck in your styled-shoot-ventures! <3

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April 14, 2013 - 5:48 pm

Leon - I have to say Jessica I appreciate you taking time to do this. Very detailed and an excellent read. This will be bookmarked and I will use this as my guide for trying to set one of these up. I will also link to this as reference for when I blog about my experience. :)

April 14, 2013 - 6:20 pm

sarah - thank you so much for this, jessica! i have been swirling this idea around in my head for a while now. good to hear what worked and the honesty of what was difficult. thank you for taking the time to write it! the shoot turned out beautifully!

April 15, 2013 - 8:36 am

Amanda - Great post. Very informative and helpful for anyone wanting to put together a styled shoot!

April 15, 2013 - 9:13 am

Jenna Leigh - GREAT POST! Super informative and gorgeous shoot too :)

April 15, 2013 - 10:04 am

Jamie Bodo - This is wonderful! I’m so glad you wrote this…. I’ve been confused about the process! Thank you!!! :)

April 15, 2013 - 11:19 am

Hannah Nielsen - Wow! This post must’ve taken you ages to write! SO informative and packed full of great tips. Thanks!

April 15, 2013 - 11:29 am

Rebecca Anne - This one got bookmarked! Definitely going to have to come back and read this about 20x times! Wonnnnnnnnnderful post and how sweet of you to help other photographers!

April 15, 2013 - 1:09 pm

Joy+Amber - WOW. This is fantastic. I love how you gave each photographer the opportunity to showcase their own style and brand! Love.

April 15, 2013 - 4:37 pm

Gretchen Korf - Thanks for such a detailed behind the scenes! It’s such a help.

April 15, 2013 - 5:19 pm

Michelle S Hanks - Whoa! You are thorough and I LOVE it!!! I, too, will bookmark this and go back to it if I ever get the guts up to do something so cool and magnificent.

April 15, 2013 - 5:44 pm

Beth - Wow, great information. I had to bookmark this just in case I ever do a styled shoot!

April 15, 2013 - 7:04 pm

Julianna Rennard - Amazing information. THANK YOU SO MUCH for writing this post. Every tip is so useful.

April 15, 2013 - 8:56 pm

Anna Gordon - Thank you for this amazing resource! I’m planning my first styled shoot right now and this is so helpful!

April 16, 2013 - 9:11 am

Alisha Guild - GREAT advice and so nice your willing to share your tips ;) thanks!!

April 16, 2013 - 9:31 am

Christina Elenbaas - Wow, thank you for sharing! I will definitely be adopting some of these ideas for my upcoming styled shoot. Thanks!!

April 16, 2013 - 10:23 am

Jete Devisser - Wow! Thank you so much for the detailed post – this is chock-full of great information!

April 17, 2013 - 10:03 am

wani - amazing! thanks so much for sharing – fantastic information and fantastic shoot. keep up the fab work. :-)

April 17, 2013 - 10:33 am

Jasmin Chadwick Photography - Great read Jessica, thanks for sharing! Gorgeous images as well!! x

April 23, 2013 - 4:58 pm

How to organized a styled shoot - [...] Bohemian Wedding”.  Afterwards, she asked me to contribute to her blog post – “How to Organize a Styled Shoot :: For Photographers”.  The post is fantastic and provides insight on how to organize your own shoot.  Enjoy! [...]

April 25, 2013 - 11:10 am

Jelger & Tanja Photography - Thank you very much for this great share. We’re currently planning a stylized wedding wedding ourselves, and bumped on some roadblocks. Your post gave me some great ideas on how to handle them, but more important, it gave us courage to persist :-) Thanks!

July 7, 2013 - 1:36 pm

Laura - This has been really helpful, and I’ll definitely be referring back to your post a lot before my first styled shoot. I have most of my vendors that said they will be happy to work with me, but my biggest concern is making sure they follow through. Do I need to make a contract for them or is it just staying in constant contact about the shoot? If I do need a contract, what wording is best? None of them have said anything about needing to get paid – they all know it’s a portfolio job – but what do I need to do to make sure that money is taken care of?

Thank you for your help!

August 25, 2013 - 12:56 am

San Diego Wedding Planner - This has been insanely helpful! Thank you so much for posting your experience, and all of this wonderful information! I am excited to do my styled shoot again, no longer nervous, I can do this!

September 2, 2013 - 6:30 am

April Maura - This post is very helpful and motivational. Thank you for taking the time to gather all this information in one spot.

September 30, 2013 - 8:35 pm

Katie Doherty - Thank you SO MUCH for posting all this useful information!! :)

October 16, 2013 - 8:52 am

Moments of Happiness Designs and Novelties, Inc. - Thank you so much for posting this! I have my first styled shoot next week and this was very helpful.

June 27, 2014 - 9:34 am

Trina Baker - Thanks for sharing with us. I have wanted to organize a stylized shoot for a few months and had no ideas where to start. Thanks!

October 29, 2014 - 6:33 am

Moose Studio - I am SO happy to have found this article. I have been dreaming of initiating my own styled shoot for months now and didn’t know how to start the process. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this everyone. Your styled shoot was gorgeous and I look forward to seeing many more! Also, congrats on feedback from Jasmine Star! (She’s my idol too and would probably do a little happy dance if she commented on my work like that). Keep up the good work :)

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