The Ultimate Guide to Styled Shoots

Written by Emma Hla
Styled shoots are my thing and if you didn’t know, I used to create brand campaigns for wedding venues under my Creative Consultancy.

Under this consultancy I worked with award-winning wedding planner Katrina Otter Weddings and our friendship actually started back in 2013 when we met on Pinterest! A shared love for beautiful weddings, stylish interiors and of course being wedding business-owners lead to our first meeting and inevitable collaboration. With my passion for branding and design coupled with Katrina’s talent for planning, we made a pretty great partnership.

We have told many wedding venue stories, working with new-to-market venues taking their first tentative steps into the industry through to established businesses looking to attract a new client or update their brand image.

So, if you’ve been thinking about creating your very first marketing campaign or perhaps want to be more involved in the process, then here’s everything you need to know.

Why styled shoots?

Styled shoots are a perfect way of launching into the wedding industry or rebranding your business, your visuals are key to attracting the right client. Your images can be used on your website, across your social media accounts and submitted to magazines and blogs as well as featuring in your marketing collateral.

Consistent, appealing and downright gorgeous, the images you’ll receive from a well-planned styled shoot are priceless.

For both Katrina and I, even though our businesses are quite different, styled shoots quickly allowed us to mark ourselves out as experts in quite a crowded marketplace. Our shoots also allowed us to elevate our presence and we gained industry recognition whilst attracting our ideal clients.

Styled shoots are a great opportunity to be creative and maybe work outside the boundaries of a client’s brief. Perhaps you want to showcase a different style of wedding at your venue, maybe you’re brand new to the market, or perhaps you have a newly renovated area that you want to show to potential couples.

Styled shoots are also great for networking and meeting wedding suppliers – As a wedding planner Katrina has gone on to use several of the suppliers we’ve worked with on shoots for her weddings and events. So if you’re looking to update your recommended suppliers lists then this is a great way of testing the waters with new suppliers.

How to create your focus

Firstly, think about your dream couple and what they would look for at your wedding venue.

What are your brand vibes? Are you quirky? Classic? Vintage? Bohemian? Style-led or something else. Don’t go too off brand when it comes to your styled shoots. Although each of our shoots have been different, I think there’s a running similarity in our style.

Don’t just follow the trends, and this may seem a weird one for us to say because we write a trends feature each year, but what I mean is don’t focus your styled shoot on a particular trend if it’s not you. Clients and publishers will see through this – your shoot has to come from you and you alone. Don’t create a shoot around something because you think it’s ‘popular’. Consider the longevity of your images, shoots aren’t cheap so you want to ensure the images you receive will work super hard long-term then don’t go after a trend or anything with a strong theme.

Next get inspired! Don’t immediately hit Pinterest for this, look at other things you’re drawn to – colours, textures, fashion, interiors, a particular flower or landscape. Perhaps there’s a motif at your venue or a historic link you want to work with – a book or poem works perfectly.

When you’ve got an idea of how you want your styled shoot to look and feel then hit Pinterest, it’s the easiest resource to use and a great way of communicating to multiple team members. We set up a shared board and start pinning things that inspire us albeit with a focused approach because we know what our styled shoot will be.

When pinning, have a list of elements you’ll be covering on the shoot such as getting ready, ceremony, fashion, cake, tablescape, and stationery.

Once you’ve got your inspiration then it’s time to really narrow everything down and we create a lookbook.

What is a lookbook?

A lookbook is a visual guide to how your styled shoot is going to go down. We include details such as the overview, colour palette, date and then we break down the shoot into our elements – fashion, beauty, hair, accessories, bouquet, flowers, ceremony, stationery, cake, tablescape, lifestyle and then any particular details we might want to capture.

There are two functions of the lookbook – firstly to keep you on track and ensure your decisions remain consistent – although note the lookbook is a guide and isn’t there to stifle the creativity of the team! So, don’t be too strict.

The second function is to attract key wedding suppliers to collaborate on the shoot.

Choosing your collaborators

Always approach the suppliers you want to work with directly and never start by sending out a styled shoot supplier call on any social media platform. For a styled shoot to really work you need to curate the right team and ensure the suppliers you work with suit your styled shoot vibe.

When approaching the supplier, drop them an email first saying that you’re planning a styled shoot and you would really love to share your moodboard with them to see if they’d like to work with you on it. At this stage include the date of the styled shoot.

Once they’ve responded with interest, follow up with your moodboard. Hopefully it’s a yes! If it’s not for whatever reason (dates clash, other commitments, location etc.) then don’t be disheartened. Who’s next on your wish list of suppliers?

This can be quite a lengthy process to secure the right time, so usually we like to give ourselves 2-3 months to prep for a styled shoot. This allows you time to secure your collaborators and to then communicate with them individually about what they will be contributing.

Be inclusive in your choices

Creating an inclusive shoot isn’t just about the people in front of the camera, it’s also about who’s behind the camera contributing to the team.

When choosing your team, how inclusive are you being? Are you reaching for the same suppliers over and over again? Widen your network, reach out to suppliers you haven’t worked with before and be a champion for the UK wedding industry.

The Photographer

Your styling may be totally awesome, but it’s only the photographer’s interpretation that truly matters. When choosing a photographer make sure the fit is right.

The relationship with the photographer is key – it’s a super tight working relation between stylist and photographer and neither should cramp the other but it’s important there’s honest communication.

We usually love to also include a videographer but consider the style of both photo and film and ensure they are a good match.

The Model

A model can quite simply make or break a shoot.

It’s an area you really want to invest in, so go to online agencies and look through their portfolios. Alternatively seek out other styled shoots and see if anyone stands out to you.

2020 saw the rise of the model couple – real couples are the best folks – again take a scroll through social media using the #modelcouple and see who pops up.

If you’re looking to create a same-sex couple shoot, then look for a real couple.

Budgets – how much does a shoot cost?

A key factor to consider on a styled shoot is who pays for what?

Styled shoots are usually collaborative – this means everyone brings their own expertise/service to the table. A florist will pay for the flowers, the stationer the paper/printing, the photographer – the film etc.

As the stylist/planner and host of the shoot we will usually pay for the model and also any expenses such as providing food/drink for the team. If we’re working on a commercial campaign for a wedding venue these costs will usually be invoiced to the client and they will also provide travel expenses for the model and any possible contributions to the florist if a big installation is required.

At first this can all seem quite daunting, but you need to see the outlay as part of your marketing budget – so what do you want to allocate to this per year, and how many shoots per year do you want to achieve?

If you’re hosting the shoot as the venue, then you might need to offer accommodation to the team if it’s a long day.

Crib sheet

Communicating with your team once they’re on board is key and as venues you will all be used to a schedule or three! A crib sheet for a styled shoot will usually include:

  • Logistics and timings on the day
  • Contact details of the team (name/business/contact number)
  • A map and directions to the venue
  • A list of shots you want to cover
  • House-keeping rules for working onsite
  • Health & Safety
  • Any social media rules you might want the team to adhere to
  • Food and dietary requirements
  • Accommodation details if required

For people off-site who are maybe contributing to the shoot also include them in the crib sheet and be really clear on how long you’ll have their items and when they will be returned.

We usually send this out to the team 1-2 weeks before the shoot so any amendments and dietary requirements can be sent to us.

Shoot day!

Kick off with a meeting, introduce yourself and then allow the team to say hello and let everyone know what they’ll be contributing to the shoot on the day.

In this meeting go through any important health & safety requirements for working onsite at your venue. Let everyone know how to get in touch with you and where lunch will be served. As idyllic as it sounds everyone sitting down to eat communally, usually it’s best if people can grab something as and when they have a free moment so ensure food is available for a 2 hour window.

If you’re doing the styled shoot to feature on a particular blog or in a specific wedding magazine, then make sure you’ve done your research and know exactly the kinds of shots and details those publications need.

After the shoot a little email the next day filled with thank yous will be grateful received! You can also let the team know next steps and that you’ll be in touch as soon as you have images to share with them.

Kit bag

On the day you will most likely need:

  • Lighters
  • Bull dog clips
  • Washi tape (to stick down flyaway stationery)
  • Simple, strap heels (size 5 works for most) for the model to walk in outside
  • Walkie talkies
  • Any props for flat-lays – ring boxes, boards for stationery, ribbons, bud vases etc.

When should I plan a styled shoot?

If you are just starting your business or planning your first styled shoot then there are definitely times of year to avoid!

  • May – late September are a no-go as the majority of your suppliers will be starting peak season
  • Even if it’s out of season try to avoid weekend dates
  • Think about school holidays and try to avoid as some suppliers will have limited capacity
  • Also consider bridal fashion weeks as this might mean that designers/boutiques will have their dresses out on loan. Not just UK shows, but also NYC etc.

Submitting your styled shoot

You should already have an idea about where you want to be published before you start the process of submitting. But what I will say on this is really treat each submission personally.

Read and absorb the submission guidelines for the particular publication and follow these and only these rules. Blogs receive many submissions and guaranteed one way not to get featured is to completely ignore the way they like to work.

Submitting to multiple blogs at the same time is a BIG NOPE.

Don’t do it.

You won’t win friends at the publishing platforms if you’ve submitted to another platform at the same time, it can get a bit awkward and no one likes to play second fiddle should your first choice come back accepting your shoot. So aim for one blog at a time and honour the individual exclusivity clauses.

Don’t be disheartened if a blog or magazine says no, simply have a plan B or C.

During this submission process it’s important to remember the team and ensure you’re keeping them up-to-date and in the loop. We usually share some sneak peeks images with them for use on social media. These images are usually just a little hint of the shoot and styling – it’s vital to keep exclusivity for the blog that publishes the full shoot.

I will say however that if your hosting a shoot at your venue, I would negotiate an immediate 10-15 images that you can start using on your own website and third-party platforms – waiting for embargoed images to be released can takes months and you’re wasting precious time if not being able to use for your own marketing.

Include credits when sharing images with the team so everyone can easily share on social media!

Once published – share the love!

Don’t rely on just the blog to spread the word when published! Make sure you’ve made it easy for your team to get on social media and tag everyone involved.

Always thank the blog – whether it’s in the comments, on social media or an email.

Your brand

As venues, you may frequently get requests to collaborate on shoots, remember – only say yes to those suppliers that are right for you and your business and make sure the styled shoot vision marries with your own ideal client.

If it doesn’t, it’s OK to politely pass.

Some lessons learnt…

Finally, here are some lessons we’ve learnt along the way:

  • Try to work with models who have contracts where you can use the images “in perpetuity” so the rights to use the images don’t expire
  • Make sure you control the tiniest details – remind your model to bring nude underwear, strapless bras, trainers or boots for running around fields in and even send them the colour nail varnish you would like them to wear. However offer to pay for a pro mani/pedi. If you don’t want to do this then stipulate they must have bare nails.
  • Don’t just do ‘fashion’. You can absolutely just do tablescapes and details for magazines, but if you want a blog don’t forget the details.
  • Do light candles if you have them as part of the shot.
  • If there is a particular way you want something captured, then communicate well with your photographer.
  • Don’t include the model(s) in every single shot, you also need your venue/details without the model(s).
  • Don’t try to do too much.
  • Some photographers really like shooting in portrait, so if you need landscape for your website too then communicate this.

If you’re doing styled shoots but not getting published:

  • It may be because the images aren’t quite right – remember your photographer is key!
  • It may be because your model doesn’t feel natural, remember to use professional models only as it’s quite the skill to move/pose in front of the camera!
  • It may be because your shoot is too themed.
  • You might not have enough details – blogs love all the details plus fashion! Magazines predominantly want details. If you’re not planning both, then you’re limiting your scope.
  • It may be the style and aesthetics don’t suit the publication – really target your shoot to a specific blog or magazine you want to get published in. Make it personal, look at the kind of shoots they publish, the images they use and make sure you’re ticking off that shot list!
  • Don’t be disheartened if your shoot is incredible but it’s still a no – we’ve received declines and whilst it’s disappointing it’s not always about you. It might not work with their editorial calendar (hint, shooting a Halloween styled shoot the week before Halloween will not be published – think ahead 3-6 months!) or they might have just published something similar. Always have a Plan B and a Plan C for your submission routes.

Lastly have fun – shoots are hard work and on the day, there can sometimes be a little friction. But remember why you’re doing it, you there as a collective to create. It’s what you/we do. So enjoy and reap the benefits of the beautiful outcome.

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