How to Plan a Styled Photo Shoot
by: Grace Hurtienne
You’ve saw beautiful styled shoots and it looks like so much fun, but you have no idea where to start? I was just like you when I started planning my first styled shoot. I did some things wrong and some things right, but I learned a ton and my last few shoots have been successful! I decided to blog the key parts to help your shoot be successful.
1. Choose a Theme and decide on a Location
First, and in my opinion, the most important aspect to planning, is deciding on a theme. When I first started planning “The Enchanted Forest” I created a private Pinterest board, and went pin crazy with inspiration from other photographers and blogs. My “theme” had a mind of it’s own, and the more I pinned, the more excited I got.
Choosing a location was the easiest part for me. I knew I wanted to use my parent’s property, which is deep in a magical green forest, that was the home to many make-believe stories of my own when I was a child.
2. Get yourself some vendors
Chances are if you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know some local vendors. Reach out to some of your contacts, or even to people you don’t know, and see if they are interested in working together. Odds are a few will be. For our shoot, we did all of the planning and styling ourselves, but we used a local baker for the cake/cupcakes, and a local hair and makeup artist. However, you might consider connecting with a wedding planner, and a florist to help save yourself some time, and stress. When looking for the dress/tux, you could try local bridal boutique, but if you have no luck, you can always ask your friends or family to borrow something of theirs.
Lucky for me, my mother is gold-mine of vintage props, wedding decor and decorative items. She had 4 daughters get married within 5 years, and kept everything, so I had plenty to work with. My Mother-in-law also runs a successful prop shop, so I went to her for some last minute goodies to help pull it all together.
I knew there were some specialty items I wanted to use, so I headed over to Etsy, found some vendors who had exactly what I wanted, and sent them an email. I was shocked at just how willing, and excited some of the vendors were to ship me their stuff free of charge to use for my photo shoot. This may not always be the case though, and chances are you may have to purchase a few things. From Etsy we got our bouquet, boutonniere, paper goods, head-piece, stamped silverware, and macaroons.
At the very bottom I’ll give you an actual email I used, feel free to customize it, and use it for your own upcoming shoot.
Fact: You may need to barter with people to get what you want, but it’s for the greater good, so it’s worth it in my opinion.
Next I posted a “Casting Call” on my Facebook page which, to this day, was my most viewed post ever. I received a ton of emails from people who wanted to be involved. The key here is to have them attach a recent photo, and briefly describe themselves. At the end of the day, you want to make sure you have the right models with the right personality, because they truly can make or break your shoot.
5. Putting it all together
I grabbed a large coffee and headed to my mother’s a week before the shoot. We pulled out box after box of decor, and tried hundreds of combinations of dishware, linens, and accessories before it was just right. There were a few things that I knew I had to use the second I saw them, like the antique dresser we used for the cake table.
The key is to bring your camera and look at every combo from behind the lens, and even snap a few photos. When I left her house I had decided on one set of dishes, but after getting home and looking through my photos, I decided on another.
6. The BIG Day
If you’re in Oregon, pray for good weather. We were lucky to get a perfectly overcast day, but it was freezing. To warm up, my dad built us a fire, which we ended up using in the shoot, which produced one of my favorite images from the whole day. Be ready to have a backup plan for your day, in case the weather isn’t cooperating.
Focus your shoot in sections. We focused the first half mainly on the models alone, and then at each set-up. After they had left, we went back and got hundreds of detail shots. If you have several set-ups you want to use, it may be helpful to write out a shot list ahead of time. We had a cake table, a dinner table, a bed, a chair near the pond, a room scene, and we had vendor props and decor at each set-up, so it was important that we got enough quality photos from each area.
7. Post Session and Editing
If you’re anything like me, you promise yourself that when you get home, you’ll take a hot bath with a glass of wine and relax for the rest of the night. But without fail, you get home and run upstairs to start downloading your memory cards. Then you say you’re going to just look at a few, and before you know it, it’s 4am and you haven’t moved in hours.
It’s super important, after you’re all finished with your shoot, to keep lots of choices. Remember, you have to make your vendors happy, and give them a lot of images to choose from. Keep your editing consistent with your theme. So for my shoot, “The Enchanted Forest,” it would have looked as good in muted colors, dull greens or black and white. My theme was all about magic, so I wanted my images to pop.
8. Submit That
Finally, if you plan to submit your session for online or printed publication, you’ll need a write up about your session, and a full vendor list. Be sure to include everyone, and if your work is accepted, let everyone know the good news! I just recently got a Two Bright Lights
account, and I have to say, so far I am SO happy with it. If you think you will be submitting a lot of your work, I would recommend you look into them, as it will save you tons of time with the process.
After all is said and done, be sure to give all the images to your vendors, your models, and encourage them to use them however they want, but you would of course appreciate photo credit.
Now here is a sample email that I use sending out to vendors as we planed our shoot. Feel free to use this as a template and customize it however you’d like! We cannot wait to see what you come up with!
Hello (INSERT VENDOR),
My name is (INSERT YOUR NAME) and I’m the photographer and owner of (YOUR BUSINESS NAME). I am in the process of combining a wonderful team of professional creatives to help produce a wedding photo shoot. We have collaborated with models, dress boutiques, and hair & makeup artists. Everyone is volunteering their time and talent to make this happen! We are so grateful and so excited for you to join us as well.
I will be submitting the photos for publication, and would give you full credit as a featured vendor. I would also give you all digital copies of the photo shoot that you could use for your own advertising and marketing. Is this something you could help me with? I know you do great work and would absolutely love to include you if you are interested. Here is a sample of our last stylized session. (LINK SESSION HERE)
Thank you for your time.