Why Styled Shoots Won't Ever Fade Away

I find that one of the tough parts of having a blog and a business that work hand in hand is trying to justify your own way of doing things. One person may tweet this and one may blog that and all of a sudden you might stop in your tracks only to find yourself reevaluating your goals, your plan of action, your way of making things work for you. I know that as much as I believe whole heartedly in myself, as a newcomer to the industry I often find myself overwhelmed with the amount of learning I have yet to do. However there is one thing I am sure of.


One stat that has emerged from engage11 and really has me feeling slightly defeated is that "brides are not embracing styled shoots." (I do realize this is a convention for luxury brides which is a clientele I am not trying to reach out to). As someone who was once up to her eyeballs in endless amounts of 'inspirational' wedding photos during my engagement, I can see both sides of this discussion. For brides with tight budgets and limited resources it's defeating to see perfectly styled shoots knowing you'll never be able to create something as structured. And I totally get that a real wedding where a ceremony takes place and a union is made, where there's an actual guest list and a meal being served is extremely different logistically than say a styled shoot organized by a planner/florist/designer/photographer. I agree that no wedding vendor should ever advertise to potential clients that these shoots are in fact real weddings. Because well, they're not.

However. And this is a big however. When you go into business as a wedding stylist and coordinator or start a business venture with goals of styling events (i.e. designing the aesthetics of a wedding and making your design concept come to life on the big day), and you have yet to build a portfolio, have zero proof of your talents, haven't had the opportunity to showcase your abilities, or even worse, have actually booked clients but they haven't given you full reign to style their event to reflect your talents - then where is an aspiring wedding stylist to turn to? What about wedding stylists and coordinators who are trying to set forth new trends, trying to freshen up their portfolio, trying to work with new talent in the industry? What are they suppose to do? When I officially started Hey Gorgeous Events just eight months ago I had only my wedding photos for my portfolio. Which is great. But I knew I'd need something more to add to my portfolio to speak to brides.

Inspiration shoots are a lot of work. But speaking from a stylist's point of view, they are in my opinion one of the best ways to showcase the talents of various vendors and hands down, until you can lock in brides who trust your vision entirely, one of the only ways to have complete control over the creativity that goes into creating wedding-type portfolio images. And while there's no guests eating and drinking and celebrating at a styled shoot, there are still time constraints, unpredictable weather conditions, vendors who cancel last minute, scheduling conflicts, flowers, invitations, cake, decor, a venue, a photographer, a model, a gown, accessories, favors, a videographer involved (and the list goes on and on) that are just as real as they would be at a 'real wedding.' And that is why I 100% believe in styled shoots. And will continue to do them.

The stylist in me doesn't spend months preparing for inspiration shoots and collaborating with 12 plus vendors with the mindset that my efforts are strictly for potential clients. Instead I create these opportunities for myself, and for the others who instill their faith in me to organize such endeavors, because I enjoy doing so. That and it's an amazing networking opportunity for all involved AND most importantly, these shoots allow us the freedom to showcase our work, talents and abilities. Which in turn ends up being both a benefit for us and a benefit for potential clients or brides who will forever as long as the industry exists, be on the look out for new inspiration. A win win for all.

I'd love to hear from both brides to be and stylists below! Please play nice.
Above photo by Beth Kaye, from my first inspiration shoot. That helped launch my business.

36 Lovely Comments:

Claire Gallam said...

I am with you, 100%. If you are a bride on a budget, any big real wedding can be defeating to you. I didn't have a small budget, but I can't tell you how many times I looked at weddings on SMP and felt defeated because I wasn't working with $100,000. And those were REAL weddings. I think to your point from a vendor perspective is incredibly true. As someone starting off, you can't expect to just have instant street cred because you planned your wedding. That doesn't make you a wedding planner. Styling shoots doesn't either, but it gives you a chance to actually work with photographers, bakers, stationers, etc who are in the business and gives you something for a bride to look at. As a bride, and maybe this is just me, but I was incredibly drawn and inspired by shoots the same was I was real weddings. You look at it for the pieces that make it whole, like any wedding. You look at how the cake inspires the stationary and the stationary inspires the place cards and the place cards inspire the menus, etc. As a bride, I was looking for how things went together and picked pieces I wanted to recreate. It's your business, do what works for you. If styled shoots work for you and get you brides, keep doing them!

Emilee Sutherland said...

Thanks Rhi for this. I agree with you 100%. I also agree that they give vendors the opportunities to build relationships with each other. Also, as a bride - I have gained much inspiration from styled shoots, that I realize I cannot emulate everything exactly - but it gives me somewhere to start. Keep the styled shoots a comin!

Brenda's Wedding Blog said...

This post is perfect and exactly true. The networking that comes from styled shoots is amazing and I love being able to introduce new vendors and artists to my brides from these shoots. And, it's amazing the amount of inspiration that can come from a photo shoot for brides. Totally agree with Claire - some blogs feature real weddings that aren't even attainable for many brides, so I find it very interesting how this aspect isn't even being touched on at Engage. But, I'm not surprised.

Alicia@CharityWedding said...

I am not even a stylist or in the wedding industry but I agree with you 100%! I recently coordinated a styled shoot and am in the midst of another and it has been a great way for me to network with vendors as well as have great, fresh content on my blog. I LOVE looking at styled shoots and instead of ever feeling defeated I always felt inspired by the possibilities. Styled shoots are the absolute best way for vendors to showcase their talent because there are no constraints from a Bride or a timeline. And I never thought about a new business needing photos for their portfolios but that is so true also. I think sometimes the experts that say things are out dated or not relevant have become detached from the actual day to day process of the industry and get too focused on being experts- if that makes sense. Keep the shoots coming!

Sara Fachetti said...

I hope they never do! As a budding photographer, I would have more limited opportunities to add to my portfolio, and when you are just starting out, if you didn't have styled wedding shoots, it would be 100x harder to book a wedding. I'm attending my first styled shoot in a week and a half and I'm so excited!

Sarah Nicole said...

I think styled shoots can be amazing and inspiring, but like you said when I am on $5,000 wedding budget I sometimes feel defeated looking at them. I agree with you about using it as a way to build relationships and increase your portfolio. It's a great way to get your name out there and build your credit. I think the most important part is to let people know it was a styled shoot.

Michelle Ellen said...

Who said we don't embrace styled shoots? They definitely don't represent me!

I'm in the industry but I was also a bride last year. Inspiration shoots are awesome for everyone - as a bride I got lots of ideas and inspiration for my wedding, and as a vendor it's been a great way to do something creative outside of regular client work. Not to mention the networking and meeting of other folks in the industry, the press, and having beautiful, professional photos taken of your work.

The point is to take bits and pieces from things you see on these blogs - who would copy an entire inspiration shoot (or real wedding for that matter) for their own wedding anyway? And if you're on a budget: for every super fancy detail featured, there is at least one DIY idea to balance it off.

So I say, the more ideas out there the better. Bring on the real weddings, fake weddings, everything! I was a bride and I loved them all.

Danielle Pasternak said...

Well said. I do inspiration shoots as a way for me to learn and research more. It allows me to work with vendors I chose and have a great time!

Lauren @ ELD said...

Yes yes! I 100 gazillion percent agree with you! They're even necessary tools for established professionals to be able to show off what they can do, because brides don't always step outside of the box for their weddings unless they've already seen it! I have seen some blogs post inspiration shoots but be kind of sly about the fact that it was a SHOOT- like using the words "rustic chic wedding shoot". A viewer could easily skip the last word on that when scrolling down, which maybe causes some brides to get disappointed and feel let down when they see that it's a shoot?
I LOVED the shoots when I was bride because I didn't want to replicate what someone had already done at their wedding. I'm not sure who the brides that were "polled" are, but I think maybe they're just being brats about shoots not being "real weddings". ;)

Koru Kate said...

As a recent Bride & a longtime wedding planner, I'm weary of styled shoots because many are disguised as a real wedding. As a Bride, I was very frustrated when I was looking at something I thought was a real wedding only to read the fine print & realize it was a styled shoot. Because a *real* wedding & a *styled* shoot are different. But both have their merits & both are inspiring. As long as it's made plain & clear that it's a styled shoot, I have no problem with it. As far as being in the wedding business, it's always changing & there's a constant learning curve. Don't let others tell you what works or doesn't work- follow your intuition & do what works for you!

Anastasia Marie said...

You tell 'em girl!

la petite coquine said...

A huge, tricky topic that you absolutely NAILED.

When I first started writing the blog, I was, like lots of other brides, disillusioned with inspiration shoots. It's hard to get excited about a shoot that features just one table, 3 or 4 "guests" max, a cake rarely cut into...

But like you said, they give you such amazing insight into a designer or stylist's vision and capabilities, and they can be a huge source of inspiration, as long as you don't get caught up on trying to recreate something exactly.

Here's to a long life of beautifully styled shoots, and lots of them styled by you, you gorgeous girl!

Glamour and Grace said...

Great post! I completely agree! I really don't understand why brides would feel defeated by an inspiration shoot. Many of the weddings that have been featured in Brides and Martha Stewart for years have been expensive and unrealistic for the budget bride. But the entire point of blogs and magazines is to inspire. It is not about recreating a whole event, it is about taking pieces you love and making them your own. I don't think brides see a real wedding and want to copy exactly so why would they look at styled shoots that way. We are all here to inspire and learn and grow and I think that styled shoots are a wonderful way to do this.

Jessica said...

Hey Rhi!

I have followed your fab blog since I became aware of its existence when you graciously featured my little story here... http://www.heygorg.com/2010/11/charming-nashville-wedding.html

I ended up becoming a wedding/event stylist and planner myself and I enjoy reading all about your experiences and advice!

I completely agree with you about stylized shoots and I've used them to build my business portfolio. They are also a great way to network with other vendors and see first-hand their work. A stylized shoot gives me the freedom to come up with a concept or take someone else's idea and translate it (much like working with a bride). So for the lack of a better term, it's great practice!

Brides can definitely benefit from stylized shoots because it gives them a visual example of what their vendors are capable of... it may not be the theme or concept they want, but it's inspiration none-the-less.

I sincerely hope that all the big blogs and publications will continue to feature stylized shoots because they're great tools and resources for us vendors to showcase the great work that we do!

xoxoxo -Jess

Steph {bubblerock} said...

Not that you needed to justify what you do/wish to do at all but I think you said it well...
You believe in style shoots, some don't. We are all different but they serve a great purpose to you: practice, network and portfolio.

And when you get that bride who just let's you run with her wedding and do it all as you creatively wish: then you will have the tools, the knowledge and the people to do it and do it well...

Good on you Rhi... Don't go changing who you are and how you envisage your business... We are all different, and what works for you, will work for your business and future. Because after all, you are showing passion, commitment and a hardworking attitude!

Shana said...

I personally love styled inspiration shoots. Reasoning: Sometimes, as a future bride, I find looking at lovely amazing wedding after lovely amazing wedding to be overwhelming and frustrating because I know I will not be able to acheive it on my own without an unlimited budget and honestly 10 people helping! The styled shoots on the other hand give me ideas that I can pick and chose from and possible vendors that I can utyilize as well. They are lovely things to get ideas from but not "real" and therefore not so frustrating. I hope that makes sense!

cindy* said...

I am a big fan of styled shoots, not only as a DIY bride, but as a vendor of sorts too. I made the cake for a styled shoot before I moved, it was a great way to connect with other talented vendors. Also, as a vendor you are able to showcase your aesthetic in a way that you sometimes don't have to freedom to do with clients.

It can be daunting to plan a wedding while aspiring to create the "perfect" event, especially with all of the great, albeit often out of reach, work out there. I think a little innovative editing (choosing what to spend your dollars on!) can go a long way. I sacrificed some things for others (flowers! my dress! food&drinks!) and did a lot of DIY. Your wedding is definitely time to cash in on favors ;)

I found both styled shoots and real weddings to be invaluable as inspiration while planning my own wedding. I don't think I will ever tire of seeing or being a part of styled shoots.

Jennifer Weiss said...

For a planner, stylist, florist or caterer, I don't see a conflict with doing a styled session. It's a demonstration of your vision and talent. It's also a great way to network with other vendors. However, if you are a start up or inexperienced photographer looking to portfolio build to attract potential wedding clients, I think it is very misleading.

Amy said...

A styled shoot is a great idea period. It's like the difference between seeing a wedding dress on a hanger and putting it on. You never know what it's going to look like until you see yourself in the mirror.

Also, it allows you complete free reign. Even if a couple allows you to plan the whole event, you're going to cater to their likes to make sure they have a fantastic day. With a styled shoot, you can really show what you're capable, show how far your vision can go, without having to please a client.

The Loveliest Day said...

Love reading your input on this! And so with you on finding ways to make things work for YOU, despite what others have to say.

Laura *You Stir Me* said...

Completely agree. As a recent bride with an extremely low budget I definitely turned to styled shoots AND real weddings for inspiration. Even when I came across a completely unattainable styled shoot I still gained something from it - it inspired me and got me excited/motivated to make my day just as special. As someone who is trying to get into wedding/event design and is just starting to think about her first inspiration shoot, I think it's really important to not lose sight of your passion for the pretty...not only is it a great networking tool but it's also a great way to reinvigorate your love for design! Do what you love and forget the naysayers. You're a complete inspiration, Rhi!

Krystal said...

This was really interesting to read! How you have built up your work and achieved your goals - it's very exciting!!! I must go browse through your posts i've missed the last few days :( sorry friend, i haven't disappeared tho!

Kirby said...

great topic! as I dream sewing up my own bridal gown line I have thought many times about getting involved with styled shoots. not only is it great networking for those involved in the wedding industry, but it showcases everyones talents like you said. and as a bride I've thought about being a little bit more prepared on my wedding day with props and such. not so 'styled' but just to have the opportunity of having our pictures look more styled rather than quick and thrown together is something I would like to have. actually I'll probably put together a plastic bin with different things we can use (ribbons, mason jars with tea lights, bubbles, a set of our invites, signs, etc) ready so we have things when we want/need them.

Jessica said...

Rhi, this is such a great post. Thanks for addressing the topic. I have to say, from a bride's point of view only, that I LOVE styled shoots. Granted, I am a blogger so 9 times out of 10 I can pick out a styled shoot from a real wedding if it's not specifically labeled as one or the other. But the inspiration that these shoots bring about is phenomenal for generating ideas on themes, fashion, props, florals, print material, you name it. Every element of a styled shoot is a potential idea for a bride's own wedding and when I admire a particularly dreamy wedding, I don't imagine myself pulling off the ENTIRE thing. I analyze the elements I am drawn to the most and think "How can I incorporate a seating arrangement like that into my ceremony site?" or "That shade of blue would be a gorgeous accent to my color scheme." I realize this is not the case for many brides, but I think that is where the responsibility of the blogger and stylist comes in -- educating brides on how to "use" styled shoots for inspiration.

Tait Larson said...

Hey Rhi, My name is Tait. I help my wife Abby run Style Me Pretty. I don't think photo shoots are going away. We still have some really successful photoshoots on our blog. I wrote up my thoughts on photo shoots on our behind the scenes blog Backstage.

Are Wedding Photo Shoots Really Dead?

One additional thought, if you get a photo shoot on a blog, help the blog promote it. Get brides you know who love your work to stop by, leave comments and share the post on social media. If blogs see that your shoot is successful they will likely put up your next shoot.

If I were a wedding stylist I wouldn't worry about the overall trend or more or fewer shoots. I'd just work hard to make my shoots as successful as possible.

Abby said...

Hey guys! Let me start by saying that I LOOOVE Styled Shoots. I love them so much that I put them up on SMP despite the fact that I get a ton of push backs from brides of all budgets. And I completely 100% agree that the shoots are the one chance that vendors get to show what they are truly capable of without the constraints of a bride and groom involved. But here is where I think there needs to be a change. It's in the way that shoots are PRESENTED and discussed on blogs. So we have this gorgeous shoot with details that are so steal worthy and applicable to a style savvy bride. But exactly how do they replicate that to scale? Where do they find that perfect linen? How do they craft that perfect menu or placecard or headpiece? I think it's less about the shoots themselves that is the issue, and much more about the way they are articulated on the blog. Whether we add buying guides or source lists, tips on recreating for a real wedding...those are ways to bridge the gap between these beautiful shoots and the brides that are consuming them.

Alison said...

I agree with abby. The problem with styled shoots is that most of them are completely unrealistic on a larger scale. Sure, that table you got from restoration hardware may be the perfect platform for your tablescape, but really - how can someone afford 25 of them? That's right, they can't. My 2 cents is if a shoot is styled and it is budget friendly, then it's inspiration. Otherwise, it's really just depressing.

Alison
Viva La Diva Events

jacin {lovely little details} said...

styled shoots are fun, pure and simple. they help you articulate your style and bring ideas to life. totally agree with you, and totally agree with abby.

PS - you had abby and tait comment on your blog today. i'd say mission accomplished, lady. you can probably shut down the computer for the night and enjoy a glass of wine!

brit @ landlocked bride said...

Thanks for posting this. As a gal in the same boat as you (blogger and event stylist), it's a tough road to cross. But, here are my thoughts: Styled shoots do exactly what you mention. They are meant to help the stylist show off their abilities and design aesthetic. I think the thing that stylists need to keep in mind is to style the shoot in a way to attracts the type of bride / couple they are trying to target. You want simple / minimalistic? Then don't style a shoot that is completely over-the-top. It is this element that will help you attract the right brides for you.

On the contrary, I know it's hard and defeating for brides, but the point of style shoots and magazines (which have been doing staged shoots for years), is to inspire. Literally. It is not meant for you to go out and try to re-create what you saw in a magazine completely, but it is to spark an interest so that you can come up with an element or aesthetic of that event / shoot that works with your wedding.

I know the industry is so torn between these, and I know brides feel defeated, but I think as planners and event stylists, it is our job to educate brides on how to apply these shoots to real life and make it work.

Like I said - great post. I'm glad you touched on the subject!

Catie Ronquillo said...

Hi Rhi! Love that you addressed this topic and in the way you did. As a photographer, I absolutely love working with other vendors on styled shoots. These types of shoots allow me to flex my creative muscle that is different from a wedding day. Also, it's a fantastic opportunity to work with vendors I've been wanting to work with, that may not happen on a wedding simply because the bride and grooms gets to choose. While I blog every wedding that I shoot, not every wedding is necessarily my aesthetic, but I try my best to represent the couple's vision with my eye. I think that styled shoot are an avenue to take when building a portfolio or when I have a creative idea that I want to bring to life, but I don't have any clients that would be on board with that type of idea yet. I also think that once I can showcase your ideal design aesthetic, I begin to attract like minded brides who share that vision and will come to me because they know I can execute it. I believe that styled shoots will continue, and I know that I'll always be up to the challenge of photographing one. In fact, a shoot I did last summer allowed me to see what it's like to work with different vendors, and one vendor team did not perform at all. I felt that if they treated me as such that they'd probably treat their clients as such, and consequently, I just cannot refer them. In a way, styled shoots are a rehearsal of sorts when working with other vendors. I've also discovered vendors that I absolutely LOVE and refer whenever possible. If I were a bride again, I'd definitely want to use some of the ideas that I've seen that were part of styled shoots. Perhaps not an entire theme or concept, but at least pieces of it. It's kind of like how couture inspires ready-to-wear...

Naomi Goodman said...

Well said and I tend to take what are truth for others with a grain of salt. My clients love to see style shoots, not because they believe they can replicate the things they see but it gives them ideas...btw they aren't going anyway so you either embrace it or find another way to get wet...love your post {and you sweets!} xo

Josie said...

Totally agree. I'm a London stylist and planner and it's all about shoots these days. I think they also make you more creative, force you to push yourself and that's a good thing for your clients.

ASHLEY said...

I love you Rhi!! Such good discussion coming out of the industry! I agree with you 100%. I love styled shoots. I think it's an amazing way, like you said, to get vendors out there and to show off their potential. XOXO

bonafidebride said...

While some think styled shoots are 'unattainable' in real life, those $100,000 weddings aren't much better. And in my opinion, while real weddings say, 'This is how I work,' a styled shoot says, 'This is how I THINK.' To me, that's just as important. While a wedding stylist's work in a portfolio may have been limited by a client's budget, her creativity in a styled shoot is unlimited. Styled shoots showcase the true abilities of our creative minds, which is just as important an aspect for our potential clients to consider.

Nikki said...

Rhiannon this is a great post and definitely made me see styled shoots from another perspective. Although I do love looking at the photos and drooling over the details, I would sometimes get annoyed. Of course 6 chiavari chairs with a massive chandelier look beautiful but you can't afford to do that on large scale with your $15,000 budget. In fact you might not be able to have chairs at all, actually ;) Just kidding.

They are a great to draw inspiration from though so I don't want to them to go away either.

Anonymous said...

Totally true and thank you for sharing. As event designers we can't always showcase our full talents because of budget restraints BUT Brides can pull ideas for their own weddings but on a smaller more attainable scale. Shoots won't and shouldn't go anywhere.