Styled Wedding Shoots for Beginners

This is a transcript of a Live Question & Answer session. You can view the recording in our Facebook group, The Wedding Business Success Hub

A few years ago nobody had ever heard of styled wedding shoots. Now they have become an important part of marketing for many wedding professionals.

So what exactly are they, why do they matter for you (even if you are not a planner or photographer) and how can you use them in your business?

In this live Question and Answer, Lisa Johnson from Carmela Weddings talks about:

  • Who can organise a shoot
  • Why do a styled shoot
  • How to find the right suppliers for a shoot
  • What to check if you’re asked to be a supplier for a shoot
  • How to get the venue on board
  • Do you pay suppliers for a shoot
  • Who do you submit the shoot to
  • Are there any rules around posting pictures from the shoot


What exactly is a Styled Shoot?

A styled shoot is where a group of wedding suppliers collaborate and get together to put on a fake wedding. You’d have one table, chairs, flowers and a bride & groom, a dress and a cake and stationery. All the things that go to make up a really good wedding. The planner is usually the person who comes up with concept. You all come together free of charge with the intention of getting published on blogs or in magazines.

Why would you do a Styled Shoot?

There’s lots of reasons. The obvious one is visibility. If you’re a wedding planner or other wedding supplier you want people to know what you can do. The best way of doing that is to get published in magazines and the big blogs. So you submit to a blog or a magazine. So before you even start with a concept really think about who you are going to submit to. It makes a difference to how it looks. When I went into the industry I wanted to show that I do fashion forward weddings. Not just the usual luxury weddings you see in magazines. Rather than wait for a bride & groom to come along I did a styled shoot. There are lots of other reasons. Networking – when you do a styled shoot you are meeting 12-13 other supplier. It’s a great way of meeting people and building relationships. Thirdly, when you are just starting out it helps you build a portfolio of your work when you don’t have actual weddings to showcase.

Do you need to be a wedding planner to organise a styled shoot?

Absolutely not. Anyone can organise a styled shoot especially if you want to showcase your particular style. It’s normally the planner who does the legwork and bringing people in. Get a concept together and a Pinterest Board and look for a Planner to work with. Think of your own twist and then look at who have a similar style.

How do you find the right supplier to work with for a styled shoot?

When people are new to the industry they tend to put out a call and say I am doing a styled shoot I need a cake, shoes etc. and see who responds.  Don’t do this.  Work, out the suppliers that you want to work with as this could last for 3 or 4 months and focus on them.  Think about what your concept is and who would align with it. So, if I was doing an urban shoot I wouldn’t ask a fine arts photographer to come on board as it wouldn’t suit either of us.  Make a list, do a call sheet which is what you send out to everyone.  Write down everything that you need on there – photographer, jewellery, tuxedo however small write it down.  Go down the list, do your research on Instagram, Pinterest etc. and work out who you want to be involved.  Only at the end when you are struggling to find someone to fill a slot would you do an open call out to find someone to fill the slot.

Which suppliers do you need?

The biggest one is the venue.  Once you have the venue and the date, its much easier to fill the other slots.  Then I would move onto the photographer, find one that understands what you want to do. The best way to do this would be to show them an Pinterest board of the types of images that you want to capture.  It’s just a concept, not an exact image that you want.  Then go for dress, model and work down the list. You would need to put a Facebook group together so that all the relevant parties can communicate, the dress maker will need to know the models size, the shoe supplier will need her shoe size.  Florist will need to know that table size etc.  You all need to talk to each other so to recap, start with your Pinterest board, establish a venue and date, find a photographer etc., start a Facebook group and communicate.

How do you get permission to use people’s photos in a Pinterest board to inspire suppliers for a shoot?

For Pinterest, you don’t need to get permission to use photos. Pinterest is a public forum and anyone can view content. Keep the images on Pinterest, don’t take them off to create a mood board keep them on the concept board.  When people ask what the concept is you can just add them to the board.  Nothing else is needed

How do you find a Venue?

For some people the whole concept comes from a venue, they have seen a venue that they love and want to base the whole shoot around the venue.  Otherwise going back to what I have done before, if I wanted to do something like a concept of a Winter Wonderland, I would obviously go somewhere with a forest or a lot of trees.  If you want somewhere grand, look for somewhere local with big sweeping staircases.  I always look for empty warehouses as they have the brick work that suit my urban themes.  When you talk to the venue you aren’t trying to get somewhere for free.  Go in with the attitude that you are helping to sell their venue, saying that you are going to show it off by styling it in the best light.  At the end, you will all be able to use the photos for promotion.  If you are tying the pictures into an exclusive blog you may have to wait until the pictures can be released but then you can use them for social media, brochures etc. as long as the photographer has given you permission to use them. Say that you are all collaborating on this for free and you would really like them to be part of that.  Obviously, they’ll be credited on any blog or magazine that it goes into.

A comprehensive guide to styled wedding shoots

Do you pay suppliers to take part in a shoot?

You wouldn’t normally, but there’s caveat on that.  On shoots where you are all getting something out of it, it’s a complete collaboration so you are all going to get to use the photos and all get credited in blogs and I wouldn’t pay anyone.  The only people I have paid before are models as its very hard to get the type of model you have envisaged for the shoot without paying them.  You can get free models, I used Star Now which is a free resource on the internet where you can put out an advert and people will come back and say they will do it for expenses.  I would normally pay between £50 and £100 on expenses for a bride and groom.  I have never paid anyone else.  I am giving my time for free as a planner and I am probably giving the most time so others can to, the florist will pay for the flowers, the dress maker will pay for the dress and the time it takes to make it or use one they already have.  I would say not to pay anyone.

However, my caveat is if you are using it for commercial gain, so for example I wanted to do a styled shoot because I wanted really good pictures on my website, so it was for my business, then I paid every single person involved.  Although everyone got to use the pictures it was still for commercial purposes because it was for my website rather than for all of us to gain something out of it.  But that is the only time I would pay.

What is Star Now?

There are few different ones out there, I use  its for models who are just starting out or trying to get established in the industry and are needing portfolio shots to help them get further in the industry. Having bridal shots in their portfolio is excellent for them, so they will normally do it if they need to, for either no fee or expenses.  There is probably something similar in the US etc., a google search should bring them up.  But if you are doing a big shoot for a really big blog then I would suggest you all split the cost for a great model, as they can make all the difference to the shoot.

How many set ups do you advise in a day’s shoot?

Sets up means looks in a shoot in one day.  The planner and photographer will normally know how many looks they are trying to achieve in advance.  I would normally say not more than 2 or 3 as things like hair and make can take a long time to do (2-3hrs) during which you will be setting up the table with the florist and the rest of the room then you have the photos taken, this could easily take up half a day.  To then go and get all those things redone for the next look will take time again and the day can easily disappear.  Ask the venue, they may only have a short space of time during which you can use it.  They won’t turn down business to allow you to use it so you will have to fit around opening times to the public etc.  Don’t expect to get use of a venue at the weekend if it’s a wedding venue!

If you are florist or a cake maker and have been asked to take part in a shoot, what should you be asking the organiser?

I think pretty much all of us in the industry have been burnt by doing a large shoot.  The first question to ask is what is their concept? Ask to see their Pinterest board and if it doesn’t align with where you are trying to go as a stationer, cake maker, florist turn it down, there will be lots of opportunities to do more shoots.  There is no point doing a shoot that won’t appeal to your end client.  You need to know your ideal client before going into styled shoots, it’s so important.  If I had gone in and created styled shoots in huge ball rooms that’s not going to work for my ideal client, that would be on a blog somewhere and then I would get a client in saying I want a wedding in the Ritz and I would have to say no that’s not what I do or want to do.  It’s not worth it for any of you. Either wait for the right one or start your own.

Second thing, I would ask is who else is involved in the shoot? If you know there are people you want to work with then that may be a reason to get involved, building that relationship even if the concept isn’t ideal for you.  So, if there is a photographer or planner involved then that may be a good enough reason for you to get involved. Ask what’s needed, I have heard horror stories from an amazing hairdresser who could do anything to any hair but when she got to the shoot all that was need was pinning 10 ballerina’s hair into a bun which could be done by anyone and doesn’t show off her creativity. When it was shown in a blog/magazine they didn’t show off the hair as it wasn’t interesting enough, so it was a complete waste of her time, make sure you know what’s needed. If you are a florist and they want a huge display of hanging flowers then that is going to cost you, so make sure you know what they want you to do.  Check the date, the worse thing as a planner is to find out after all the planning that someone involved can’t make the date and you have no model, dress or cake.  Check the date because if you can’t make it at the last minute it will put you in a bad light with so many suppliers which isn’t something you want in this industry.  Make sure you are building good relationships with people.

Should you use legal contracts with suppliers?

Depends, as a planner I don’t because we are all doing it for free and contracts only work when there is money being exchanged and contracts won’t mean anything.  I do know someone that loans out things and she won’t be there so she does.  She loans out silk table runners, she makes the planner sign a contract as so many of them weren’t being returned.  So, for something like that it is worth it. The problem is the things that you might want to be put in a contract we can’t guarantee as planners, e.g. wanting your cake to be shown in a blog, we can’t guarantee as we don’t know what the magazine or blogger will select and its out of our control. Contracts are only any good for the benefit of getting your goods back.

Who do you submit your styled shoot to and how do you go about it?

Before starting, know who you want to try and get it submitted to. Have a list of 5 suppliers starting from the top down of where you would love to see your work in and then only submit it to one at a time.  Sometimes they can take 2 or 3 months to get back to you, by then you may have decided that they aren’t interested and submitted it to a few others to see.  If they want it and the first comes back to say yes then you can be in trouble.  Only submit one at a time.

It is normally the photographer that submits.  There are stipulations on every single blog/magazine on who and what can be submitted so always check the guidelines and it will tell you the exclusivity period that they need it for.  There are usually stipulations on most UK and US magazines that they won’t show it if it has been shown somewhere else, there are some exceptions.  You can normally find someone who would take it 3 or 4 months after its been featured elsewhere or you can sometimes get it into a US blog/magazine if its been in a UK one and vice versa.  Mostly you would be looking at getting it into a blog or a magazine.  Blogs have a high readership so I would normally start with a blog but there is something lovely about seeing your work in print so I wouldn’t rule out a magazine.

Can I use photos after a shoot?

Copyright is always with the photographer, they will own the photographs regardless of who else was involved in the shoot so always make sure you speak to the photographer to understand what they will let you do with the photos.  I have never worked on a shoot where the photographer has said you can’t use them as they want their work out there as much as you do.  Normally they will say you can use them on social media/websites after they have been published.  If you do it before they are published then they won’t get published.  Make sure you have checked and have it in an email that you can use them for anything.  If you are a supplier and not a planner then check with the planner because, if you can’t use the photographs its completely pointless for you.

What’s the deal with Sneak peeks?

Because of exclusivity that blogs and magazines have on sneak peeks its getting more and more crucial that you don’t use the pictures beforehand. People used to think that it was OK to use on your own blog but if blogs/magazines think that people might have seen something from that shoot before they won’t touch it.

As a planner/photographer make sure that you have it all written and that everyone knows that they can’t use the photographs afterwards until they are released. If they can, what they can use? can they use behind the scene shots? That might be OK.

I have seen new planners doing shoots and plastering the photos all over Instagram and social media and then they can’t get a blogger to feature the shoot because they have seen it all over social media already.

No pictures of my cake were published in a magazine I was told by the planner it would be, should I ask for pictures for my own marketing purposes.

Yes, it happens all the time, during a shoot you will take a couple of hundred shots and then the blogger will select say 12-20 of those to use dependant on what their membership want.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to use those shots.  Speak to the photographer or the planner and just say can I have all the photos as I want to use them on my own blog or Instagram and there is no reason why you shouldn’t get them.  Always ask for them.

What Ingredients does a shoot need to get the best chance of coverage? Does there have to be a bride and groom model?

Not necessarily a groom, but if you want a front cover then you stand a better chance with a groom to get the romance shot.  The real ingredients that you need are detail especially for blogs.  If you have a field shot that’s great, it shows off hair, dress etc.  But if you have detail they want a theme, something that gives it a twist, something that they can write about, so an upcoming trend.  Get as much detail in as possible.  Get smaller bits that you can take photos of – shoes, jewellery, stationary, the more detail the better.

I have seen in magazines beautiful shots of the bride and groom in amazing parts of the world where you don’t need anything else.  A planner friend of mine has just done a shoot in Iceland where you don’t need anything else, it just looks stunning.  But if you are looking for the best chance of getting it published then go for as much detail as you can.

How do you contact different vendors?

Start with an email and ask them if you can have a chat about a concept for a styled shoot, if they come back on email and say no we have done too man styled shoots this year then you know it’s not personal.  I only do 4 styled shoots a year now, it’s not that I don’t like their concept it’s just that I can’t fit it in with weddings. If you have a relationship with them already phone them otherwise drop them an email and see what their response is and arrange a call, its easier to describe your concept and give over your passion on the phone.

I’m a new photographer and I’m in the process of a styled shoot.  I’m having a bit of trouble trying to get event rental vendors to respond.  How can I request this? I’ve tried to ask if I could return the collaboration with exposure/look book etc. and showing mood board.

Its difficult especially if its your first or second shoot. I would suggest trying to find other suppliers or vendors that are also new and are in the same boat trying to get their stuff out there.  When I started out I struggled getting people to lend furniture as its such a big outlay for them to deliver the furniture, so I tried to find people just starting out.  Find people wanting to start lending out furniture and need the shots.  Or established people with new products coming into their range, agree that the photographer would stay on for half an hour to do shots for just their website.

If you are showcasing a venue (it is them that has commissioned the shoot) would you style it based on their ideal client rather than your own style (as a wedding planner)?

This is a tricky one, if they have hired you to showcase the venue then that means that everyone should be getting paid.  You need to be clear on that because it will be for use on their own marketing purposes i.e. in their brochure/website.  If they are paying then you do it in their style.

However, if the venue is wanting to collaborate on the concept and no one is getting paid then you are all in it together and you can work together on the concept, but it needs to work for your ideal client otherwise why would you do it as you are not getting paid.  Always ask yourself that, don’t make your business an expensive hobby, always make sure you are getting something out of it.

How do you get magazine bloggers interested in your shoot – just send photos?

NO! check the submission process for the magazine.  Write to the features editor about yourself and the concept for the shoot.  Why you think it’s great and why it would be great for their readers.  Why will it resonate with their readers in particular.  Add a few sneaky shots onto the email of the shoot to grab their interest.  If they ask to see more, you can send them a link to a photo folder.  For blogs, it can be a bit different you would usually send them all the pictures upfront with some form of written word.  Some bloggers want a little bit written by each of those involved and some just want something from the planner or photographer.  Make sure you know the relevant submission process and follow it or they won’t even look at it.

Should all suppliers stay on site for the entire shoot?

No not necessarily, I try not to encourage it.  A model, especially if just starting out can get really shy and if there are 20 suppliers standing round it can make for an uncomfortable shot.  If you don’t need to be there then don’t be.  Check with the planner/photographer to see if you are needed.  A cake/dress maker would normally drop off and collect later.  If you want to be there to network then check at the beginning of the process that you can be there all day.

I did a styled shoot at a wedding fair and got some fab photos for all involved.  We put some on Facebook and Instagram, have we scuppered our chances of getting any coverage anywhere?

It depends where you want to submit it to.  You have probably scuppered your chances of getting it into the big blogs if people have already seen it, it will be one of their first questions as they want exclusivity.  Not every blog has that level of exclusivity.  Look at which blogs you want to appear in and make a note of their exclusivity periods rules and their submission process and names of people to submit it to.