Now that I have a couple of styled shoots under my belt, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on what I’ve learned this year. I think these few points are valuable lessons that will help shape my planning for future styled shoots and ensure continued success in creative projects in the future (of which there are some exciting ones coming up)!
1. Think super creative
There are a ton of styled shoots being done these days and the goal of most professionals is to get ourselves published! With the hundreds of publications out there, there are lots of options, but there can also be a ton of competition, especially if you choose to do a shoot with a theme that is popular that season. For this season the big thing was 1920’s, which is what we tackled at our shoot in July. And even though we strived to make our shoot stand out by using a same-sex couple and shooting in a rustic location, it wasn’t enough for many publishers. We were rejected a couple of times before we found a publication home for our styled shoot.
To make sure you stand out in the publishing world, choose a theme that isn’t so mainstream. Draw inspiration from movies, books, TV shows, international holidays, local festivals, stores, magazines–but put a spin on it that keeps your shoot original. It needs to stand out, not only for its beauty, but for its originality. If there is one thing Pintrest is good for, its for figuring out if something you want to do has been done before. If it has, you can bet you’ll find evidence of it on Pintrest. Then you can find ways to make yours different.
2. Start planning early, but not too early
It’s important to plan early enough to allow included vendors time to work their magic. They need to plan, shop, design, and create and you want to give them the time to craft something that meets their best standards. However, many vendors aren’t booked as far in advance as photographers, so its important that those on board also have time to manage their own clients and business. By giving them enough time to plan, but not approaching them so far in advance that they have no idea what their schedule will look like come shoot time, you ensure that they’ll be creatively focused and excited about the vision of the shoot. I’ve found that four to five weeks before the shoot is an excellent time to nail down collaborative vendors.
3. Book the venue early in the process
Once you decide on a theme and a timeline for the shoot, I’d recommend booking a venue early. Many wedding venues won’t be available on weekends, so plan your shoot for a weekday, keeping in mind that the venue may be closed a couple of days during the week to compensate for being open on the weekends. Once you have a date and venue, it’s much easier to reach out to potential collaborative vendors. Putting the big details in place early shows vendors that you have a plan, you’re organized, and you’re committed to the shoot, so they’re more likely to want to commit themselves too.
4. Find a way to secure your models.
Whether its by paying them, offering them trade for photos, or making a deal with someone you know and trust, make sure your models are committed to the shoot. The last thing you need is for your model to decide to pick up an extra shift at work because your shoot doesn’t pay and their job does.5. Plan extra time into the day
As much as we photographers love to shoot in the ‘golden hour’ before sunset, trying to plan a styled shoot to finish then is a surefire way to shoot yourself in the foot. Traffic may be bad, hair and make-up might take longer than you anticipate, you may have to set up things as you go if the weather is bad, thus taking away the ability to simultaneously shoot one thing and style the next. All of these things happened to us at our 1920’s styled shoot. And while we managed to make it work, we did have to do some shooting after dark with a video light and I had to use high ISO’s for the last 20 minutes of the shoot.
For shoots moving forward, I’ll be planning the timeline to finish at least AN HOUR before sunset, thus giving us contingency time. My mindset going forward will be to finish all important shots (especially details!) by that hour before sunset time. Anything after that is pure bonus.
6. Always, always, give the finished product to your vendors.
I knew this before I even thought about my first shoot, but its worth mentioning. Your vendors put in a lot of time, effort, and hard work and they deserve un-watermarked photographic evidence of their talent. They deserve the right to use your photos in their marketing efforts, whether on their website, Facebook page, business cards, brochures, etc. Hopefully they’ll credit you, but even if they don’t the relationship you build with them throughout the process will be far more valuable than a tagline on a website page.