Don’t wait for the perfect wedding to fall in your lap. Create a styled session! We’ll help you build your ideal portfolio so you can book your dream clients! (Featuring: JUDITH STOOP)
Weddings come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and every wedding is perfect when the couple is perfectly in love.
As a wedding photographer, you know and value this truth. You passionately pursue the intimate moments, and energetically document every joyful experience. And though you adore every couple you photograph, you have to admit: your portfolio is ready for a change.
Whether you’re craving a lavish affair dripping with diamonds and silk, or an earthy celebration inspired by sunshine and tall grasses, there’s no need to wait for that client to book you. With a stylized session, you can create your own “perfect wedding,” complete with a stunning couple and all the dream decor you can imagine!
We reached out to the very talented Judith Stoop, a wedding photographer in Munich, Germany, to learn more about how to craft a successful styled session – and finally start booking your dream clients!
Create Your Dream Portfolio
Before you get started, prepare yourself: planning a styled session is a LOT of work. But it will be worth it!
“With a styled shoot, you can…
…let your creativity flow without worrying about a client’s tastes.
…show off your full artistic potential.
…collaborate with like-minded vendors.
…network with creative colleagues and even make NEW friends.
…visualize and influence new trends – not only for potential clients, but for the whole wedding industry!”
– JUDITH STOOP
Plan Your Stylized Session!
There are five elements to planning a successful styled session: the theme, the rules, the budget, the collaborators, and the showcase.
We’ve streamlined each step to help you avoid the most common mistakes, and tackle any obstacles you may encounter.
#1: Develop Your Theme
You probably already have a general idea of the concept you want to pursue. Now it’s time to hone in on the details of your idea!
“For me, creating a mood board is the easiest way define my concept. I add pictures of colors, scenes, and things that inspire me. I also delete stuff when it doesn’t fit anymore.” – JUDITH STOOP
PRO TIP: Build Your Mood Board Online
Consider one of these online “mood boards” for developing your theme and communicating it with your collaborators:
As you fine-tune your theme, narrow down to three of each inspiration point:
- three colors (e.g., navy blue, sunset red, and ivory)
- three keywords (e.g., “Bohemian”, “moody”, and “whimsical”)
- three scenes (e.g., outdoor lounge, forest ceremony, dinner table)
- three props (e.g., dreamcatcher, flower crown, antique aisle runner)
By focusing on the most important visuals and keywords, you’ll most effectively communicate your vision to your collaborators.
Keep Reading & Get Your FREE Styled Session Planner!
Put your theme in writing and seal the deal with collaborators!
#2: Establish Your Stylized Session Rules & Terms
“We’re all adults here! Do we really needs rules?”
As a matter of fact, you do! Though you aren’t being paid, a Styled Session is a business transaction and should be treated as such. It’s important that everyone is comfortable with their responsibilities, and understands the goals and benefits of participation.
“Be clear about what everyone gets. Edited pictures? Five or 500 pictures? Can vendors use them online? On social media? Are you going to send the photos to a blog? When are the pictures free for sharing? Do they have to credit anyone? Defining these terms up front prevents conflict and confusion in the end.” – JUDITH STOOP
PRO TIP: Keep Your Rules Reasonable
Everyone involved in your Styled Session will be working hard and investing resources, so make sure your terms are truly rewarding for them. If the photos can’t be shared right away because they’re being submitted to an exclusive publication, make sure you limit the sharing restriction to, say, no more than six months. For example:
“If the Styled Shoot has not be selected for publication by Super Fancy Wedding Magazine within six months of the photography date, the collaborators will be free to share and/or publish the photographs with no restrictions.”
#3: Budget Time & Money
“Time & money: you’ll need both! Even though a styled shoot is free, it costs me a full day of shooting time, and many hours of editing. I also buy food and drinks, pay parking bills, and invest other small amounts that add up quickly!” – JUDITH STOOP
In addition to hours spent photographing and editing, you’ll also invest no small amount of time into:
- planning and communicating
- picking up props, wardrobe items, etc.
- setting up and styling
- cleaning up and returning borrowed or rented items
Prepare for these contingencies, and make sure you have a plan for every element of the Styled Session.
PRO TIP: The Best Things In Life Aren’t Always Free…
Have your heart set on a venue – but they won’t let you shoot there for free? Determined to feature a specific bakery’s pastries – but the baker wants to be reimbursed for her wholesale costs? Decide which items are worth shelling out for, and what can be substituted with an alternative.
#4: Curate Your Collaborators
Selecting your collaborators is both fun and challenging! Sometimes your dream team comes together like liquid; other times, you’ll struggle to confirm all the key players.
Start with another Top Three List, and name your top three picks for collaborators in each category: florist, wardrobe, hair and makeup, invitations, venue, etc. Email the first names on your list, and ask them to respond to you by a specified date. If you don’t hear from some your first choices, email the second names on the list, and so on.
A COLLABORATION EMAIL TEMPLATE
Dear (Collaborator’s Name),
Hello! I’m (Your Name), a wedding photographer here in (Your City), and I’m working on a project I hope you’ll be interested in!
I’m currently developing a Styled Session to create a series of images for use on the collaborators’ websites, social media, and marketing materials. I also plan to submit the session for publication in/on (Magazine or Blog) and other highly-acclaimed outlets.
The theme is (Theme Name), and I’ll be photographing at an (Adjective) location, featuring a (Adjective) couple, and highlighting gorgeous florals, fashions, and designs. This session is unique from others, because (Description)! You can view my Styled Shoots Mood Board here: (Link), and my website here: (Link).
I’m enlisting the talents of a small number of like-minded creatives, such as yourself, to help bring this to life. I would be so honored if you would be part of my team!
If you’re interested in joining my first planning meeting, please reach out by (Date) so we can discuss the possibilities!
– (Your Name)
#5: Showcase Your Styled Session
You have your team in place and your Styled Session is planned. But what will you do with the photographs once they’re edited and ready for public consumption?
Share Them With Your Styled Session Collaborators!
No one is more excited about these Styled Session photos than the people who helped you make them! Even if no one can share them yet, make sure your contributors get to SEE them! This is a great opportunity to remind everyone of the rules of sharing: WHEN they can share, WHERE they can share, and what CREDITS must be given.
Promote Them To Publishers!
Two Bright Lights will connect you quickly to the industry’s top publishers. You can also submit directly to most publishers, using the guidelines they have published on their websites. Look for Contact or Submission pages with those details.
It can take a few weeks to hear back from some of the most popular publications, so be patient. And if your stylized session is rejected, don’t despair! It may be a better fit for a different publication.
If, after two to three months of submitting, your shoot hasn’t been selected, release the images to your collaborators for sharing, and proceed with the next step…
Make The Most of Them On Social Media!
- Plan a Launch Day with your stylized shoot team.
- Agree to publish the blog and social media posts on the same day at the same time.
- Flood the market with images from your stylized shoot!
- Include social media tags and post backlinks to all the collaborating vendors for ultimate SEO results.
“Every share can lead new visitors to your site! And links from high quality, wedding-themed websites REALLY helps. You’ll rank higher in Google search results!” – JUDITH STOOP
PRO TIP: Model Releases Are A Must-Have!
Don’t forget: you’ll need model and property releases before you publish the photographs from your stylized shoot! Our Styled Session Planner includes a couple of general releases; or, for a more targeted release, visit the ShootProof Marketplace inside your ShootProof account and get your releases signed online!
Our Styled Shoots Planner Keeps You Organized!
Keep reading for your FREE download!
Are Stylized Sessions Misleading?
“Some people feel very strongly about being open with clients about what is a real wedding and what is a styled shoot, while other photographers don’t really care. For me it’s important to be honest with my clients. I don’t want to overwhelm them or set false standards.” – JUDITH STOOP
You aren’t misrepresenting yourself with a stylized shoot. After all – you did create the photographs! The only difference between a real wedding and a stylized shoot is that, at the stylized shoot, you had total control. Educate your clients about the difference so their expectations are appropriately set.
Can I Craft A Stylized Shoot On A Budget?
If you don’t have high-quality vendors falling all over themselves to contribute, and you can’t afford to pay outright for their goods and services, here are three lower-cost solutions:
#1: Photograph Your Own Clients
“Ask a befriended client-couple if they want to have free pictures made. Most of them are happy to be asked!” – JUDITH STOOP
Real couples make the best models, anyway. They actually love each other, and won’t be awkward together in front of the camera! And if it’s a couple you’ve already photographed, you already have a great rapport with them, and know how to make them smile and interact naturally.
#2: Think “White” Not “Wedding”
Any dress can be a wedding dress if it’s well-accessorized and beautifully-photographed.
“A woman doesn’t need a fancy wedding dress. Look for white maxi-dresses online! If you treat them carefully, you may even be able to send them back! I have about five white dresses at home just for spontaneous shoots.” – JUDITH STOOP
Beautiful veils, hairpieces, shoes, and jewelry can easily be borrowed – and costume versions can look expensive on camera!
#3: Prioritize: #FocusOnWhatMattersMost
“You can buy flowers, or go for a simple, vintage look and pick wildflowers!” – JUDITH STOOP
Maybe you really want to showcase a truly stunning bouquet against a simple gown. So you splurge on the flowers, while everything else is low-key and DIY. Or maybe you rent an elaborate dress, then pick wildflowers and have the bride do her own hair and makeup.
When facing limitations, select one focus feature, and build your entire stylized shoot around that element.
“Photographers tend to try to add as many details, brands, or participants to a stylized shoot as possible; but these shoots often don’t run smoothly, because too many people are involved. It’s better to start simply – with a nice couple, a pretty dress, and a beautiful location.” – JUDITH STOOP
Consider a Stylized Shoot Workshop!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and nervous, consider a stylized shoot workshop! Stylized session workshops are held around the world by various gifted educators and image-makers. They can be a bit pricey but will introduce you to the experience of stylized session photography without all the responsibility.
But don’t overthink it! Take Judith’s advice:
“It’s not hard to start small! Ask some friends to be your models, go somewhere nice, take your dog, be relaxed, and don’t forget to have fun!” – JUDITH STOOP
Comment below with YOUR Stylized Shoot tips & links!