Styled shoots. Inspiration shoots. Whatever you call them, there is a great debate in the wedding photography world about the merits of doing one nowadays!
So, let’s cover the pros and cons of producing your own styled shoot, along with insights from a handful of top pro photographers who have experienced them firsthand.
Image by O'Malley Photographers
PRO #1: BUILDING VENDOR RELATIONSHIPS
A huge portion of wedding film photography jobs are booked through referrals, because every time your network gets business, you have a chance to get in on that business, too!
Referrals are a result of building great relationships, and styled shoots can be a powerful way to connect with like-minded vendors.
“At the beginning of our careers, styled shoots were a helpful way to showcase our style and make friends in the industry,” Scott and Ashlee O’Malley remark. “These friendships quickly turned into working together on real weddings. For us, the goal was always to work with friends and shoot real weddings that are every bit as beautiful as inspiration shoots.”
PRO #2: CRAFTING TARGETED NEW MATERIAL
Do you find that your portfolio of film photos (and social media digital images) aren’t reflecting the type of aesthetic you want to be shooting yet? Inspiration shoots can be a way to show off your skills. You can use these styled shoots to propel your career towards your ideal target clients/jobs.
However, it’s important to be upfront about the inspirational nature of your shoot, and to find a balance between styled and real weddings.
Greg Finck cautions, “As photographers, we all need to be very careful with styled shoots and the way we use them. Clients want to see real content and are no longer impressed by pushing styled shoots in one’s portfolio. I think the time when you could fill a portfolio with styled shoots is done.”
PRO #3: EVOLVING YOUR CREATIVE SIDE
When you have a say over not just what’s going on behind the camera but what’s going on in front of it, you get to take your artistry to a whole new level. Think outside the box and challenge yourself to do something new and original! You may find that with added artistic control, you can start to stretch creative muscles you didn’t even know you had and learn more about your craft.
“Be creative, find your vision, ensure it’s in line with the type of work you are looking to attract,” advises KT Merry. “It will help you grow as an artist, build your portfolio, and stand out as a photographer.”
Image by LMarie Photo
CON #1: HIGH UPFRONT COST
Because a styled shoot is self-produced, it’s on you to foot the bill.
Even if your team of vendors/contributors are donating their goods and services, you are still putting wear n’ tear on your film cameras (and digital cameras). Plus you’re covering photo lab processing & scanning of film and/or digital post work, in addition to the time you put in planning and shooting film. That all adds up.
Top it off with any extra styling or other costs that aren’t being donated, and you can easily spend four figures on a styled shoot.
CON #2: OVERSATURATION OF THE MARKET
Styled shoots create gorgeous high quality photos, which is why there are TONS of them out there. With that, lots of similar content is circulating in the industry, and styled shoots can get lost in a sea of similar imagery.
“Usually, the end goal of a styled shoot is being featured in print or on a blog,” KT Merry explains. “This means that, in most cases, the intent is to create something publishable that’s on point with current looks and trends.”
“These ‘fake’ weddings can be (and have been) done very, very well, inspiring couples and wedding professionals while raising the bar in the industry. Yet, they can also be more reflective of Pinterest’s perspective than one’s personal point of view.”
CON #3: PUBLISHER’S WON’T ACCEPT THEM
“The market is saturated with styled shoots, and media actors will barely publish them, except when they have one foot in the design,” Greg Finck contends.
It’s true, publications are accepting inspiration shoots less and less as they continue to evolve/refine their specific brand’s aesthetic and curate cohesive pieces that connect with today’s brides.
Our friends at Southern Weddings Magazine did an in-depth guest blog post for Richard Photo Lab delving into the challenges of getting inspiration shoots published and keys to a successful approach. Check it out!
Image by Greg Finck
If you decide that a film or digital photography styled shoot is the right choice for you, we’ve got a few pointers that can help you along the way:
TIP #1: HAVE WELL-DEFINED GOALS
To get the most out of a styled shoot (and to keep disappointment at bay), it’s important to know why you are doing it all to begin with and remain focused.
“I keep doing styled shoots for three good reasons,” explains Greg Finck. “One, it’s a refresh from real weddings and gives me the chance to expose myself to great design content in easier conditions. It always helps me improve the way I shoot details, how I pose couples, etc.”
“Two, I do them to develop relationships with new wedding planners. The experience of the styled shoot and providing them with great imagery and content, instead of the usual coffee date, is something I like and they value.”
“And lastly, I do them to push myself out of my comfort zone—if I do a styled shoot, it needs to be different in many aspects from what is already done on the market. If you have good reasons to invest in a styled shoot, please do it and invest big time!”
TIP #2: HAVE A CLEAR VISION & EXPECTATIONS
Lacie Hansen remarks, “Going into a styled shoot, I really have to make sure everyone is going for the same idea or look. These shoots take a lot of time and can be costly, so you want to make sure it’s worth it! Make sure your vision is seen.”
Styled shoots are stressful! Get your team of vendors on the same page about everything ahead of time—from the aesthetic vision of the shoot, to the role each vendor plays, to what they get out of the experience (whether it’s images, credits, publication, etc).
TIP #3: USE FORWARD THINKING
If publication is absolutely a must-have in your list of goals (though, we believe you should really view it as the "cherry on top"—your shoot is not a failure if it doesn’t get published!), then plan accordingly.
Contact publishers ahead of time to see what kind of content they are looking for, if any, and to get your name on their radar before submitting.
Shoot for next season or beyond and submit your images early—stay ahead of the trends.