Styled shoots are a popular way to build a portfolio, enhance marketing outreach, and experiment with new styles and trends. Yet, the industry lacks concrete education about how to pull one off successfully. Many creatives plan their first shoot with little more than an idea; but without a plan, it’s easy to waste a significant amount of time and resources on an experience that might be fun but provides no return on investment.
Yes, it’s important to know how to style a table or create a beautiful vignette. But a well-executed styled shoot requires more than an eye for design—rather, it’s a matter of logistics to coordinate the right team, source the best inventory, and stick to a timeline.
There’s a common sentiment among industry professionals that inspiration shoots are “not realistic enough” or that they sell a bill of false goods to potential clients. While it is true that editorial content differs from real life, that’s the point!
Styled shoots are not supposed to look like a real wedding because they are not meant to be copied in totality. Instead, they are intended to inspire people with a multitude of ideas that tie together. Without the constraints of client budgets, you are free to explore design concepts and add new flair to your portfolio.
If you want to maximize your design expertise, follow these tips and techniques to produce a shoot that will pay back in dividends.
Treat shoot days like a film set.
While wedding days are full of unexpected surprises and intrusive guests, shoot days are contained environments that allow you to control every little detail. You can move furniture, adjust lighting, and position décor so everything is displayed in the best light.
Ask your creative partners how they want their contributions captured so everyone benefits from the collective experience. And just like film sets have call times, plan your shoot timeline so people can show up on time, do their part, and leave. There’s no need for people to stand around waiting for their turn!
Respect your creative partners’ investment.
Styled shoots can be a lot of fun, but don’t let that diminish the fact that you and your partners are investing real time and resources into the final product. There is a cost associated with everyone involved, so it needs to be worthwhile and impactful.
Be mindful that exposure isn’t always enough for everyone, particularly if they already have strong brand awareness. Connect with your partners beforehand to discuss goals and ensure you are providing value for all contributors.
Find clarity on your “why.”
Too often, creative pros wrap up their styled shoot only to ask the question: Where can I send this for submission? This approach only makes your job harder! Don’t put the cart before the horse. Instead, plan and design styled shoots with a specific media outlet in mind so you can align the details and increase your chances of publication.
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Spend some time researching local publications to see what’s trending in your area. What are people showing off on social media? Which colors, themes, and styles get the most attention? A little bit of probing will help you plan a shoot that is relevant and even a little ahead of the trends, positioning your brand as an industry innovator.
It’s also worth looking back at the work you’ve done in recent years to determine whether there are holes to fill. Are there styles you love but are missing from your portfolio? Who are the clients you’d like to book more? Ultimately, your press features will put you in front of your ideal clients, so all of these questions should come together to give you a good idea of where to submit.
Get the paperwork in order.
While you typically don’t need a robust contract for styled shoots, you will need a model release for anyone on camera and a photographer’s release to use their photos. Outside of that, it should feel more like a handshake agreement.
Yes, there is always risk involved with any business endeavor—that’s why it’s critical to do your research in advance and work with people you know and trust. Contracts can get expensive and cut into your ROI, so stick with vendors you know will show up and respect the integrity of the shoot.
Tell a story throughout the shoot.
In the way real weddings tell a couple’s real love story, styled shoots should also tell a story—even if it’s fictional. The purpose is to evoke emotions from the audience, making them feel intrigued, excited, and inspired. So go all-in and craft a story for your shoot!
Start by hiring real couple models, as they tend to have better chemistry on camera. Then, make up names for them and give them a backstory! How would these imaginary people want their wedding to look? You may even consider creating a playlist to get your team on the same page. It all goes into creating a mood and a scene that feels natural.
To capture the story accurately, you will need to work closely with the photographer to ensure they bring your vision to life. As the creator, it’s your job to make sure every detail is presented in the best light, from the flow of a beaded veil to the colors of a bouquet.
Look beyond press features.
While it’s best to plan a shoot for publication, you should get more benefits beyond a press feature or two. You put a lot of time, resources, and energy into the shoo—how else can you leverage it to your advantage? Advertising, marketing, and social media are all easy channels, just as you use them to showcase real wedding content.
An often-overlooked perk of inspiration shoots is the chance to get amazing behind-the-scenes photos of you and your team in your zones of genius. Wedding days can get the best of you with the hustle and bustle pulling you from place to place. But when you’re working a styled shoot with industry friends, they tend to be more fun and relaxed so you can all get some great shots showcasing what you do best.
Without a doubt, styled shoots are an amazing opportunity to nurture your industry relationships, add to your portfolio, and earn some shiny press features along the way. Just make sure that you’re going into it with a plan to maximize your investment and ensure everyone receives value for their contributions.