My big thing is Styled Shoots – I love them! I love coming up with a unique concept, obsessing over the little details, styling the models, and working with vendors for a cohesive design.
They also give me a chance to shoot something I want to shoot (as opposed to weddings where I have no control over the timeline, lighting, weather, etc.), and they let me practice new poses or lighting ideas.
When I first started out on my own, I didn’t have a full wedding to show. I had always been a Second Shooter, so I only had a lot of detail shots or candids. I didn’t have the wide “money” shots and portraiture to complete the collection. Styled shoots helped me have something to show potential clients of what a full wedding collection might look like. I still use the first one I ever did as an album Studio Sample.
Putting them together can be a daunting task all on its own. It can take months to put one together, but they’re totally worth it! The pros definitely out-weigh the cons (I can’t really think of any to be honest), from building relationships with vendors, to getting those photos published!
What’s your concept?
First you need to come up with a concept. What inspires you? Is there something or somewhere you have always wanted to shoot? Perhaps you’d like a good excuse to get on a Venue’s Preferred List? Or maybe you just want to do something crazy and different? I am inspired by unique locations, fashion, and movies.
Making it happen
One of my most favorite Styled Shoots to date is “Gold Rush Glam”. The Planner I worked with and I met over coffee to get to know each other and we got to talking about doing a styled shoot. She had always wanted to do this theme, so we brainstormed some ideas for props, locations, etc. It wasn’t long before we were giggling and totally nerd-ing out on the details!
We worked together for at least 4 months to find the perfect location and get all the details together. It started with the story of “Jenna & Noah”, traveling by train across country during the Gold Rush. We brought a modern twist to it with adding a little “Glam” (aka gold glitter). That’s our concept. Imagine all the little details you could incorporate from that? It makes me think of gold nuggets, wood & cast iron textures, a gold pan, oil lamps, pick ax, luggage, cow skulls and outlaws…
From there we needed a venue. We wanted a little chapel that had some exposed brick. Those are harder to find that you think. So we did all the inside shots at an urban and industrial Venue in downtown Denver, and threw an outside shot of a chapel into the collection to instill the idea of it (you would never know if I didn’t tell you!). After that, it wasn’t hard “selling” our concept to get other Vendors on board. Just like a wedding, once you get the venue and a date, all the other elements can come together.
Benefits for vendors too!
The benefit for Vendors is that they get to also show off their work, gain exposure for their business, and get professional portfolio shots of their product. We had some ideas of what we wanted, and gave those to each vendor as a guideline, but ultimately we let them do it their way. You have to be a little flexible and let each element do it the way they want to be presented. The perfect example of this is the flowers – we met with our Florist and gave them some color and texture ideas, but it was their gorgeous design skills that made it happen and tied the other elements together.
We also tried to consider current trends happening in the wedding market, both in Colorado and Nationally. That way it would have relevance and current potential Brides would be interested in seeing it.
We had multiple vendors involved (basically almost everything you might see on an actual wedding day):
- Models (x2)
- Furniture rentals
- Groom’s Formalwear
- Printer (invitations, etc.)
- 2nd Venue
- Wedding Dress
- Hair & Makeup
Additionally, we also had several Crew “hands” to help with moving things around, assisting with photography, etc.
The images have been published multiple times, and one of them was selected as the cover of Shutterfest Magazine! (January 2014).
See the feature in the online version of Rocky Mountain Bride Magazine here:
So you have an idea – now what?
I would start with research. Has this concept been done before? If so, what did you like/dislike about it? How can you make it better or different? Obviously, you wouldn’t want to copy something someone else did. Put your twist on it! I wanted to do Bonnie & Clyde – I love the styling of that era, the story of them, and all the details you could incorporate were awesome (guns, money, vintage, car, etc.) Sure it’s been done, but none that I was in love with, or it wasn’t a complete shoot with a tablescape, flowers, or props.
The first place to start compiling your ideas is Pinterest. It’s an incredible resource to collect your ideas. I will make a board and start pinning anything and everything into it that may work for the shoot. Then I go in and start refining it by deleting those pins that don’t necessarily work together. Sometimes I even invite other collaborators to the board to pin as well, that way you both can SEE your ideas in one place and make sure they’ll be cohesive.
Next, build your team. Make a list of the Vendors you want to work with – the Dream Team. Reach out to them to see if they’d be interested, and be enthusiastic about it! SELL them your concept and brainstorm how to make it work. If they’re too busy or not interested, that’s okay – don’t get discouraged! Just move on to your second choice, etc. Involving a Planner is always helpful because a. they will help you with coordination and logistics of the shoot, and b. it gives you a chance to work together and build a relationship for future business. Build those relationships and providing a good experience will help to get more referrals, and that is the best form of marketing!
Executing the shoot can be an all-day affair, and sometimes multiple days. The day of our Gold Rush shoot, it snowed, so we weren’t able to do any of the outdoor shots – we had to do them 2 weeks later! Thankfully the models were down, and we shot at the Colorado Railroad Museum (which wasn’t initially planned)! Again, flexibility goes a long way…
One of my favorite parts of any shoot is directing the models/client. Learning which expressions or poses they can/can’t pull off is the challenge. I find myself showing them how to stand or what to do with their hands rather than trying to direct with words only. I’m thankful for the Spider Holster system, as it allows me to secure the camera without it hanging on my neck, banging around and getting in the way. I like to lay on the ground or climb on things for a more dramatic perspective, and it allows me to do that easily for agility.
I’m all about efficiency when I’m shooting, so having my lenses and additional cards on my hip is REALLY handy. The hand-strap definitely took some getting used-to, but I learned to trust it and my belt, and have never looked back. In fact I threw away my camera straps and don’t regret it one bit! My SpiderPro belt and accessories also make me look really cool… ha!
Make sure to have a list of the shots you want to get so you don’t forget. I also find it helpful to have a cheat sheet of poses, compositions, & lighting I want to try. These images will also be in the portfolios of your Vendors, so make sure to get some killer shots for them! The shop who provided the dress and formalwear still uses the images in their marketing and has a huge print in their showroom!
Publishers LOVE details – the more the better! So my workflow on the day-of is to shoot wide/ middle/ tight/ horizontal/ vertical. This gives Publishers options when putting their spread together. I also try to incorporate multiple elements of details into each shot. For example – if shooting the tablescape, don’t just shoot the place setting by itself. Use the top of the chair in the foreground, and the centerpiece in the background. This will also give your image depth and make it more interesting. Next, narrow in on the place card and use the top of the plate in the foreground or off to the side, and use the flowers in the background.
Once you’ve completed the shoot, now it’s really time to get to work! Edit and polish the photos. They need to be ready to go to print once you submit them for Publication. One of the biggest mistakes I made starting out was not editing the entire collection the same way. We would do a few “signature edits”, but then the rest of the collection would be kind of boring and less dramatic. Even though the concept was unique and we had lots of details and images to choose from, they wouldn’t get picked up and this is why. There HAS to be consistency.
Two Bright Lights!
My favorite platform for getting published is Two Bright Lights! It’s efficient, affordable, and makes it easy to track what is going on with each submission. It brings together Photographer and Publishers to one convenient location. No longer do you have to go to each one, size the collection to their specs, and submit them whichever way they prefer (Dropbox, email, zip file, etc.). All you have to do is upload the collection, enter your Vendor Team, include the story/details of the shoot/event, and choose which publications you would like to have consideration from. Done! They’re sent all at the same time, and you can easily see which ones are accepted, rejected, or otherwise. For more information, visit their website at www.twobrightlights.com
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The most important element of the entire process is to enjoy it and have fun! I keep a list of ideas on my white board in the office so I can constantly be thinking of the next one. There’s a few that have been floating around in my head for a while, and I hope to execute them within the next year.
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