I recently coordinated my very first styled shoot, and what an undertaking it was! The shoot was hosted by the historic Renwick Mansion in Davenport, Iowa on April 22. We envisioned a blush and burgundy event with gold and greenery throughout. I had literally no idea what I was getting myself into, yet somehow it all worked out.
Here is the process I followed–
- Lock in a venue. Some would say to select a theme/ style board first and coordinate the venue second, but I didn’t have that luxury. As a relatively unknown wedding photographer, I couldn’t rely on networking or established relationships with venue coordinators. So, I contacted a handful of high-end venues, explained the styled shoot process and goals, and asked for their collaboration. Below is the template I used–
My name is [name] and I am working with a handful of [city/ region] area photographers to collaborate and plan a styled wedding shoot this [month].
I wanted to reach out to you because I came across your website last night and fell in love! All I can think about is the amazing setting the [venue] has to offer!
After the shoot we will be using the photos for promotion, crediting all vendors involved in social media and blog posts.
We were wondering if you would be interested in collaborating on this shoot. Of course, in return for any collaboration on this, we will gladly share all edited digital images with you for your own marketing, advertising, social media, etc.
Thank you so much for your consideration! I would be happy to answer any questions and discuss more details, and would absolutely love to work with you!
I look forward to hearing from you!
2. Create a vision/ style board. Once I had found a venue and signed a contract, I drafted a vision board that coordinated with the setting. Well, in my case, I found a board on Pinterest that caught my eye. The goal of the vision board is to identify primary colors, themes, and styles to focus on. This is also an item that I shared with each collaborating vendor to help them visualize the shoot and what each of them could contribute.
3. Contact key vendors/ collaborators. You can’t host a wedding styled shoot without a bride, groom, decorator, or hair/ make-up artist, so those were my next focus. I utilized The Knot, Wedding Wire, Facebook, and suggestions from friends and family to find a decorator. I simply tweaked the template above and messaged the decorator on Facebook. I got a handful of no’s, which is to be expected. But, I did find an amazing decorator that was eager to collaborate and did such a fabulous job.
When searching for a bride and groom, I debated whether to use models or a real-life couple. Having recently attended a styled shoot using models, I found that they lacked the chemistry and passion that I wanted to capture in my photography. So, I chose to use a real-life couple. I advertised the need for a recently engaged or married couple on my Facebook page and actually reached out to the couples I had photographed within the last year.
I contacted my own salon to ask if any of their stylists were interested in participating in this event. And it was as easy as that.
4. Find bride/ groom attire. After I identified my couple, I then began the search for a bridal boutique and tuxedo shop that were willing to collaborate at little to no cost. I found a magnificent custom bridal boutique in St. Louis on a styled shoot Facebook group and was able to send them my bride’s measurements. The tux was a little trickier. I contacted lots of local vendors but got no responses. Just two weeks before my shoot was scheduled, another shoot coordinator told me about a website that she has collaborated with. And, thankfully, that shop was able to provide a tux for my groom.
5. Line up nice-to-have vendors. Do you really have to have wedding cake, custom florals, or boutique accessories? Not necessarily. But are they nice to have? Absolutely. I have no big secret to finding these vendors. The wedding cake was provided by a local bakery, and the paper florist had advertised on a styled shoot Facebook group. Boutique accessories– think jewelry, shoes, bowtie, etc.– came from other participants who offered to provide items, my own jewelry box, mid-level department stores, and Amazon.
6. Create a timeline. My timeline spanned the entire day– from the time I arrived to the time I left. It included arrival of the vendors/ collaborators, photographers, models, and lunch delivery. It was all there. The bulk of the shooting took place in stations. I planned for six rotating stations across the two hour shoot: bride / groom, venue, sweetheart table, cake table, guest tables, and details. I allowed twenty minutes per station and paired photographers to rotate together. Now, that didn’t all go according to planned, but I’ll explain more a bit later.
7. Address last minute details. After attending my first styled shoot on April 8, I knew I had a lot of little things to gather before the April 22 shoot. I realized I didn’t have invitations, menus, wedding favors, place card holders, or extra jewelry for the details station. So, those last two weeks were a frantic scramble and pleas to Facebook friends for some of these items.
Looking back, there are handful of things I would do differently.
- Having attended a styled shoot where photographers weren’t invited to shoot the getting-ready portions of the day, I though it would be a nice addition. In reality, though, most of the attendees arrived plenty early and spent that time designated for getting-ready portraits shooting the stations. This threw the whole day out of whack. I will probably adjust the schedule significantly or only allow for stations in the future.
- I will arrange for an invitation suite and calligrapher much earlier in the process. When my original calligrapher backed out just a few weeks before the shoot, I scrambled to find suitable invitations and ended up ordering something from online. They were not the look or style I had envisioned, but beggars can’t be choosers.
- I had paper florals for the bride’s bouquet and groom’s boutonniere and other artificial florals were provided by the decorator. I would like to have more consistency in this area, whether that means getting all florals from one place or putting the florist and decorator in touch with one another to assure consistency.
Things I definitely will do again…
- I will most definitely plan to use real couple as models in future shoots. There will be no awkward near-kissing or getting-too-close moments. Instead, everything will be genuine and electric. I so appreciate the chemistry that my Renwick couple brought to the shoot.
- Lunch for the vendors and models is a must. As these folks were donating their time and energy into this shoot, it is only right to provide some token of appreciation. I just gathered Jimmy John’s orders beforehand and had a delivery scheduled at the appropriate time in the timeline.
- I will again create a Facebook group for the styled shoot event to communicate directly to vendors and participants. Because everyone’s time is valuable, answering questions and posting information only once in a public forum allowed for more effective communication.
One more piece of advice– identify your goal for the styled shoot. Are you working on portfolio-building? Networking with industry professionals? Submitting for publication? This information is very important to know and communicate to all participants early in the planning process.
Renwick styled shoot vendors: