Business post: Styled shoots – how to get them right

This being a wedding blog and all, I don’t usually write two business posts in such quick succession. But after last night’s post on how not to approach wedding bloggers, I got quite a specific request. So one more of these little wedding business advice posts and then back on to wedding lushness!

One of you got in touch to basically say it’s all very well and good saying “send in a styled shoot” but where do you start? What exactly is a styled shoot and how do I set one up? Right you are to ask those questions, so let me explain how to make the best of a styled shoot.

What is a styled shoot?

A styled shoot is a photoshoot around a particular theme, either paid (to promote a particular product or service) or collaborative (everyone’s products and services are donated for free in order to promote everyone equally). They can be great fun, a chance to really be artistic, meet new people and make great professional connections, and (probably most importantly) to get your work out there.

One problem with styled shoots is that everyone is doing them. Everyone. That’s great – nobody has ownership over creativity at all. But when everyone is making themselves seen, how do you stand out from the crowd?

How do I come up with ideas for a styled shoot?

Unfortunately I’m not an ideas factory. But I can help you workshop the kind of styled shoot you want to do. Flick through all the wedding magazines and indiscriminately rip out the images that really appeal to you on an instinctive level. What makes you stop and say “wow” I want that dress? What makes you crave the table styling on the page?

Put the images in piles according to the publication they came from (FYI, you can do this with blog image searches too and Pinterest, if you’d rather your shoot went online). Then, in order of the magazines that had the most content that appealed to you, make a list of your preferences to pitch the shoot to (a tip, don’t pitch a styled shoot before you’ve done it unless you’ve worked with said mag before or know the editors well. They won’t know how to answer you as they’ll have nothing to go on).

Then start examining why this images appealed to you. What do they have in common? What is the one factor that you can take from them and apply to your own, original idea?

Image © Emma Lucy Photography – an Under the Vintage Veil styled shoot

How do I find other professionals for a collaborative shoot?

When I first started out, I’d just put the word out on Twitter and grab the first people that came along. Mercifully that worked really well (only awesome people got back to me) but it’s a lazy approach and not one that I’d recommend in general.

Even though it worked out really well, if I could go back in time and tell myself off for not doing my research I would, because it had the potential to go horribly wrong. Others join communities online for wedding professionals (there are a few on Facebook) but again it’s like going fishing – and you’ve already put the thought out there so you then need to reject more people than you accept and it becomes awkward.

First of all, as fun as it is to be eager, I wouldn’t recommend planning a styled shoot until you’re really familiar with the industry. Participating? Absolutely – my motto is “get involved”. Planning? I’d wait a little longer.

If you do know the industry then finding people you want to work with should be easy. Make a list of precisely that – people you admire and want to work with. Your list might look something like this:

Hair stylist
Make-up artist
Model (and I’d urge you to choose someone who looks right for your shoot, not just a very pretty friend – but hey, if your very pretty friend happens to look right for the shoot like my very pretty friend Catriona in the picture kissing the balloon then you’re golden.)

I have a little list of my dream team styled shoot participants *cough*LouisefromBLovedpleasecomeandstylemylife*cough and I’m sure that when I next embark on a styled shoot they’ll be the first people I call.

Don’t be afraid to approach people and ask – especially if you have a great idea and vision. They can only say no, in which case you politely move on and ask someone else. The rejection probably isn’t personal and they’ll admire you for taking the time to get in touch and be flattered that you asked.

A little tip – venues are generally the hardest to find as they do charge for shoots etc. Find an up-and-coming venue that’s both fantastic and keen for the publicity. It may take a little time but it will be worth it.

Implementing my ideas

This is where Pinterest is amazing. Set up a Pinterest board that you can all view and contribute to. The only potential problem is keen-eyed rivals who might nick your ideas (happens) so if you’re feeling a bit protective, set up another account with an unrelated name and don’t make it too obvious what you’re up to!

Now, the single biggest problem with styled shoots: too many cooks in a kitchen. Put one person in charge of the look and feel of the shoot and they will become the shoot director. They will write briefs (with images to illustrate what they mean) for each supplier and be in charge of the look of the shoot being cohesive and what was envisioned. To be a really great coordinator, I think you do need to afford your suppliers a level of creativity – that’s the only way they can surprise you – but give them a clear framework to stay within (unless you’re after something totally specific for a part of the shoot).

If someone’s ideas aren’t what you’re looking for, find a kind way to tell them instead of heavy-heartedly using their ideas on the day when they don’t fit with the overall theme.

Then write a call sheet for the day. Think really practically about who needs to be there all day, and who can drop off their products at the beginning of the day and collect them at the end. This might sound really rude but too many people on set just leads to people standing around and chatting all day, or to conflict between too many ideas and opinions. A call sheet is a polite way of letting people know when they’re needed and when they’re not. Hair and make up will need to be around all day for touch ups, as will the stylist.

Another issue is that, invariably, there will be costs. Whether it’s buying a load of helium for those hundreds of balloons you wanted, petrol, lunch for everyone – and I’m a firm believer that, if there are costs, everyone should contribute. Everyone is in the shoot for equal publicity, even if it was your idea, just because it was your baby doesn’t mean you should pay hundreds of pounds when, if everyone contributed, people would only be out of pocket about £20. It’s awkward asking for money, but set a budget from day one for the extras you can’t get for free and check with everyone that they’re willing to pay their share. Don’t be unreasonable about this, more than £100 per person starts to defeat the object of the shoot. But if you have 15 people involved and they each contribute a nominal amount, that’s still a nice chunk of budget to work with.

Image © Emma Lucy Photography – an Under the Vintage Veil styled shoot

On the day

A few things to think about on the day:

Prepare everything that can be prepared in advance. Do not leave anything to be set up on set. If you’re a florist, arrange the flowers in advance and deliver them. If you’re putting together props, have them as ready as they can be before you leave. If you’re a stylist, sketch out a few table designs before you get there. In the past I’ve had a bit of a creative “I’ll work it out when I get there and feel inspired” approach. While it’s worked out OK, there are images I look at and wish I’d thought a bit harder about how it would all work when I wasn’t so pressured for time.

If you’re styling more than one set or area, have a second stylist on hand to put your vision into practice. Equally have someone muscle-bound on hand to set up anything heavy.

Prepare for a very long day (that’s a point – make sure you book the venue for a very long day too). Bring food and drink – LOTS of it. Trust me.

Make sure you run to schedule as much as possible. People tend to be at a bit of a loose end when they arrive and that’s where the shoot coordinator takes charge, sends models to hair and make up, starts setting up the props and doing test shots, generally kicks things into gear.

Less is more when it comes to set styling. A lesson it took me a while to learn (I’m more of a more is more kind of gal). If you’re trying to sell a product, make sure it’s visible, clear and well presented. Don’t bung everything relevant on a table and hope for the best.

Attention to detail is CRUCIAL. C-R-U-C-I-A-L. A magazine will reject something on the basis of something being slightly wonky or unrealistic in the picture so make sure you straighten everything out (I’m serious, bring a ruler), bring some drink to fill glasses to take before and after shots, and make sure your photographer is bloody good with Photoshop because you may well need to edit out things you didn’t notice on the day before you send your shoot off.

After the shoot

First of all put your bloomin’ camera phones away! Styled shoots are all about how the images are captured, so don’t go Tweeting spoilers that may undermine the gorgeous photography that’s to come. It’s a big anti climax and can really ruin the buzz around what you’re doing.

Secondly put one person (someone who’s articulate and connected) in charge of pitching. ONLY PITCH TO ONE PLACE AT A TIME. That’s in capitals because it’s essential. Do not pitch your styled shoot to ten blogs at once, don’t try to get it out there to as many people as possible, pitch it as an exclusive to your first choice and be patient. If you don’t hear back in a week, send a polite follow-up email and in another week move on.

Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, it takes time – but it’s the most professional approach with the best results, I promise.

You don’t know how frustrating it is as a publisher to receive a gorgeous styled shoot and be unable to feature it because “these other ten wedding blogs are running it too”.

Credit where credit’s due, make sure you’re all happy with how you’re credited and that you’ve not been missed out. Don’t argue over stupid things like whose name is first on the credit list, I promise you that nobody but you sees it as an order of the most to the least valid contributor. Once everyone’s happy with how their names are spelled / their title on the shoot, write a great account of the concept behind the shoot and its implementation (or, if you want to be really clever, look at the copy next to styled shoots in magazines to see how it’s done in the publication you want to send to), ping across the credits and play the waiting game.

Remember the whole point is the credit – the whole point. Don’t mess up a professional relationship by leaving someone out.

Keep everyone in the loop about where the shoot is going and enjoy seeing the fruits of your labour online or in print!

Styled shoots can be a great way to meet new people and to showcase your work to the world, so don’t be put off if they sound complicated or hard work. But make sure you work with the right professionals, and have a clear vision and target in mind instead of doing a shoot for the sake of doing a shoot! Good luck!

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