Oh, the styled shoot! It's something extremely unavoidable when you are in a wedding related business. For me, I love doing shoots because they pushed me to explore, experiment and have the creative freedom to produce my best work. I mean, look at how gorgeous the venue, model, bouquet, and wedding dress are from Steve Torres's shoot!!!
So what exactly is a styled shoot? Basically, it’s a bunch of different wedding vendors collaborating and chipping in to create a small, staged wedding in hopes to get a result (photographs) published. The ultimate goal is to increase everyone's exposure. Because of the small scale setup, each vendor able to go over the top and showcase their best product with photographers to shoot many detailed photographs in the best lighting! Everyone will be rewarded with professional photos, used for marketing purposes which allows for many cross-promotions on social media.
"Styled shoot sounds fun and I want to make, create and or be part of one but I'm not a photographer or wedding planner/stylist! What do I have to do?". Well, lucky for you I jotted down a few things I wish I had know when I first started out (the etiquette). How I have been advising some slightly discouraged creatives (the misconceptions). Lastly, how I like to make the best of my styled shoots! So let's starts with the first one!
1. The one who calls the shoot is the (biggest) sponsor.
Usually, the one who first called out or organized the shoot will be have the biggest expense. This can be the photographer, the florist, the planner or even the venue. Sometimes, I get called to help out on props for a look book (thank you Lindsay from Lindsey Marie Design and Maggie from Maggie Wu Studios). Sometimes, collaborators will cover the expenses. Basically, whoever receives the most benefit from the shoot tends to invest the most money.
2. It takes a village of collaborators to pull a styled shoot.
Almost all styled shoots are done as a promotional tool for small businesses. When you're more established, styled shoot is an excellent way to showcase your full creativity. Everyone tries to help each other out, providing the best of our ability with the least amount of dollars. Collaboration means each elements need to work together nicely, try to playoff each other’s design elements, and make sure the whole shoot has a cohesive look. Having a great stylish/planner who have a cohesive vision is important to the outcome of the shoot. Since I usually create a custom suite for each styled shoot, I typically look at the Mood Board and draw inspiration from the site, dress, floral, and other unique design elements.
3. Be up front and clear about cost from the very beginning (we'll understand).
Yes, it's a collaborative effort and for a general styled shoot situation, nobody makes money initially. We all know expenses add up and sometimes you really want to participate in the shoot but can't afford to do it for free. If this is the case, then tell your point of contact upfront. I've made mistakes of doing so many "special" calligraphy pieces along with covering too many shipping expenses. I actually went all “Macaulay Culkin” during the first Home Alone movie when I filled my very first tax! My jaw DROPPED! My wallet was also hurting badly when I needed to get colored handmade paper for multiple shoots. Arpa paper only reasonably priced in bulk and opening account minimum order is always painful. These days, I make it clear from the very first email that I need a small fee to cover my basic supplies and a reimbursable cost for "special" pieces and shipping fees.
However, this doesn't apply to whoever "instigates” the shoot. When possible, try not to tell everyone to chip-in for your cost AFTER the fact. But my biggest pet peeve is when the instigator of the shoot profits greatly but expects the rest of the vendors to collaborate for free. Or best, at cost! That's only acceptable if the other vendor offer to collaborate.
4. Schedule and time accordingly.
Let’s be honest. Because this is a collaboration with very little profit, I have a very small incentive to reschedule my paid gigs for styled shoots. This goes with all the other collaborators too. So contact all the vendors ahead of time and try to keep the dates concrete and during lull of wedding season. Depending on the time of the year, I need anywhere between 2 weeks to 2 months advance notice for styled shoot.
Also, keep in mind that "wedding season" doesn’t happen at the same time for different vendors. For example, I'm at my busiest 2-3 months before the actual wedding because that's when clients mail out their invitations while florist will be swamped about a week or two before the wedding days or during Valentine/Mother's Day/or any other bouquet season.
5. Make sure every vendors are thoroughly represented in the best styling (very important for me).
Model with beautiful wedding dresses, check. Awesome centerpiece and table setting, check. But there's so many other vendors in a styled shoot that won't be visible in a wide angle shoot with an awesome landscape as a backdrop. Those vendors are usually the jewelers/accessories, shoes, and calligraphers. For those vendors, we love lots of detailed shots. And for those type of shoots, styling is super important!
It's a bit discouraging when you scroll through the beautiful film scan and notice that the photographs with your work is in single digit in only one vignette, especially when you've spent couple of days working on your piece. On a side note, paper goods tend to be photographed separately and sometimes looked disconnected with the rest of the shoot. I try to enforce little "demands" to ensure my calligraphy makes more appearances in the shoot. Or I just bring my silly ass to the location so I can be a helping hand and remind everyone to stick in my place cards!
6. Have a plan of attack on publication.
It's a good idea to keep everyone posted about where you plan to pitch the shoot for publication. Why? Sometimes you'll be surprised who has an extra connection to smooth out your publication. Plus, different publications have different looks that they prefer and make sure to tailor my work accordingly. Some vendors have a preference on their publication so it's nice to get a wholesome opinions from everyone before making a decision.
7. Give credits when credits due!
This is the most important aspect when the shoot is done. Make sure to credit everyone during submission, whenever posting in social media and even on your website. For Instagram, I love to mentioned everyone in the comment section and tag whoever participated in the actual picture.
Now that we've set the basic guide on how to conduct styled shoots, I'll go over some of the misconceptions people have regarding them! These are a few things I usually hear as the main reason creatives feel discouraged to collaborate on styled shoots.
1. Instant results (from the photos to the featured).
For most people who are new to styled shoots, they think the images will be ready instantly with publication already lined up. Unfortunately, neither is usually the case. When working with film photographers, they need to physically mail the rolls of film to a film lab, get them developed and scanned, and have the result emailed to them. And then, they still have to do any retouching needed from the scan.
After you have all the images, someone will need to come up with creative “copy writing” for submission. And depending on where you want to get published, the submission process can take anywhere from a couple weeks to months for the approval. Then you'll wait some more for the actual publication date. I've had shoots that take up to 6 months before they were published, and it'll be even longer for printed (9 months, I could produce a human baby while waiting!).
2. It only take one styled shoot to go from unknown to household brand.
I wish.. Instead, think of publications like a billboard advertising of your brand. Now, remember the last movie you watched in a theater. How many times did you see the giant billboard, side posters,and TV ads of the movie before you finally decided you want to watch it? I'm going to take a wild guess that it's more than once. I'm not saying it's not impossible to have one amazing post that brings awesome traffic to your platform, but there's power in numbers. The more your potential clients see you, the more they feel obliged to contact you.
3. The opposite of #2, loaning your stuff for every styled shoot request.
Yes, there's huge power in numbers but it doesn't mean you have to say yes to all styled shoot requests. I used to say yes to most requests when I first started out. Soon, I made a decision to be more selective due to time constraints which actually works for my benefit. My “filtering” process starts with passing on collaborations that don't share a similar aesthetic with my other projects. When I'm still overworked with that criteria, I decide to only take styled shoots I'm excited about! This allows me to have more control over my time, give my best efforts because I'm not stretched thin and have more successful shoots with people I collaborated multiple times with.
4. All shoots will be successfully published in big blogs/printed.
Just like everything else in life; you get few amazing results, many good ones, and some where the stars just won't line up! Just because Style Me Pretty published many blog posts everyday, doesn't mean they will published everyone. Same goes for Green Wedding Shoes, Magnolia Rouge, Wedding Sparrows, Once Wed, and all the other big blogs that come to mind. You're busting your ass for that "amazing" outcome but there's going to be many that won't live up to your expectation and that's okay.
How many you ask? I dug deep and actually counted all my shoots from last year. I did at least 40 fake invitations and other calligraphy goodies for styled shoots to date (about 1 1/2 year). I think 1 made it to print, and maybe 10-15 in prestigious blogs (Style Me Pretty, Magnolia Rouge, Wedding Sparrows, Belle Lumiere, and Cottage Hills). The rest published in smaller blogs or nothing at all. So yeah, a lot. Basically, it’s all about persistence!
5. Expecting to work with all the top notch wedding vendors right away.
To be honest, the reason my “published ratio” is much better lately is not by accident. I was collaborating with many up and coming creatives when I first started because I was still learning the ropes and basically paying my dues. Some of those up and comers grew with me and are now “a force to be reckoned with”. In addition to the initial group of creatives I collaborated with, I'm able to catch the attention of more established vendors. Those who I could only DREAM to collaborate with actually contacted me! This significantly improved my chance to get published. That being said, most of them won't be as impressed if they have to collaborate with me on my early work. Put it simply; you have to pay your dues, hone your skill, and your network will grow.
To sum it up, styled shoots do wonders but it's not exactly a magical silver bullet to success. It takes a lot of hard work and rejection. For every shoot I share that got published, there are many that you never heard of. Since I know how much love, time, and financial investments styled shoots could be; I have a few little tricks to make sure you always walk away with something! It's like you're built in consolation prize for the worst case scenario ;)
MAXIMIZING YOUR OUTCOME
1. Nailed your style and your niche.
It's great to be a Jack of All Trades, but it's even better if you have a signature style. When the stylist or photographer plans the shoot, they have a vision in mind and will first contact vendors who work best with that vision. When they call you to get your signature look, you basically have full creative freedom. And remember, you'll need everyone to be able to spot your work from the vast number of gorgeous styled shoots being published everyday. The last part is super important to convert all your styled shoot investment into clients.
2. Have your own "Black Book".
To be honest, this point is the surest way to do the least amount of shoots while having the most amount of publications. It's better to have a short list of awesome vendors you love, who you've worked with multiple times and fully trust each other’s expertise rather than trying to work with new people every time. Just like any relationship, you have to put effort and foster them over time. I love collaborating with new people especially up and comers, but I'm more selective with who I collaborate than I used to be. The reason is simple, time is your most valuable limited resource, so you have to use it wisely.
3. Sneak in some product shoots.
I know, very obvious for most vendors but this is something to keep in mind for calligraphers. Instead of focusing on just the invitation and custom works, I tried to produce things I could recreate and sell. This way, I could use the photos for my advertising regardless of the shoot’s outcome. This can be addressing in very particular format, wedding signage, place cards, many Silk and Willow writings, and even the original vow books! I believe this professional quality product shoot is part of the reason why my Etsy store stands out from the crowd.
4. Have fun!
At the end of the day, you still want to have fun. Even if all is lost, you're building bridges and making connections with many vendors you otherwise wouldn’t cross paths with. Make the most out of it! Create a great impression of you, your quality of work and your work ethic. Be a good sport and good cheerleader. Be supportive. And when possible, join the shoot so you can get to know everyone. This part is my favorite, really :)
Okay then! I think I have covered some of the goodies on how you can make styled shoots work for you. Let me know what you guys think and if you have any questions!!!
Photography: Steve Torres Photography // Wedding Planners & Designers: Love Anne Joy Design + Events // Floral & Event Design: Bloomwell & Co. // Bridal Designer: Jinza Couture Bridal // Hair and Make Up: The Blushed Company // Invitations & Calligraphy: Seniman Calligraphy // Accessories: Elizabeth Bower Bridal // Men's Attire: Vitarelli // Groom's shoes: Vero Cuoio // Rentals: Etablir and Luxe Linen (Linens) // Wedding & Event Venues: Vibiana