Can you make glamorous photos on a tight budget? Our 17 tips will help you create a stunning, affordable styled shoot your clients will love!
#1: Use everyday items to create a romantic, affordable styled shoot.
Portraits in Joshua Tree National Park practically guarantee a gorgeous outcome. Add in an elegant everyday item such as an acoustic guitar, and you’ve turned those portraits into a story. Other simple props include:
- books bound together with a leather strap
- a lantern, for photographs at twilight
- balloons (Just don’t release them when you’re done! Remember: what comes up must come down.)
- two bikes or a colorful tandem bicycle
#2: Style your shoot with your own tastes in mind.
Look around your own space and identify your favorite decorative items. Have a thing for cacti? Build your styled shoot around the cactus sculptures you already own. An affordable styled shoot begins with items that have meaning to you and don’t cost a dime. Also consider:
- a bold area rug
- your antique mirror
- the candlesticks given to you by your grandmother
- a cloak you found in a thrift shop
#3: Skip the dress altogether!
If you simply don’t have the time or money to secure a stunning wedding gown, skip the dress altogether! Two grooms are much easier to deck out – especially since the average gentleman owns at least one nice suit. Without a fluffy white dress to chase, you can focus on photographing great expressions, soaring architectural backdrops, and breathtaking landscapes.
PRO TIP: Build your client base with an affordable style shoot.
If you’re still building your client list, use galleries full of styled shoot photos to promote the style you most want to photograph. Simply make each styled shoot gallery Public in the ShootProof gallery’s Settings, and it will appear on your Gallery Homepage for anyone to see. You can require an email address for viewing if you like, or apply a simple watermark for protection and open the gallery up to everyone!
#4: Buy and return.
Don’t go breaking any rules; but a little buy-and-return action can work wonders for your affordable styled shoot! If you find the perfect platter or most darling dishes at the big box store, go ahead and buy them. Take excellent care of the items, don’t remove any tags, then return the props when your shoot is over. (Double-check the store’s return policy before you buy, though, or you could wind up unintentionally owning that $700 leather ottoman!)
#5: Build it yourself.
Look at the latest trends, and analyze what you can achieve with a little DIY. The modern triangle wedding arch is an excellent example of decor you can create on your own. All you need is a bit of ingenuity and a couple pieces of pine. Search the local scrapyard for old wood beams if you aren’t interested in purchasing two-by-fours from the hardware store.
#6: Do a model call.
If you’re in a new market and don’t know anyone who can model for you, do a model call! Print cheap cards that include your information and a description of your needs:
Hermione Granger Photography
Get FREE photos by modeling for me!
Bridal, Wedding, Couples
The next step is the most intimidating, but the most effective. Hit your local hot spots, personally introduce yourself to potential models, and ask if they’ll allow you to photograph them as part of an affordable styled shoot.
“Hi! I’m Hermione Granger, and I’m currently updating my photography portfolio with creative wedding/family/puppy photography. I love your look/your family is beautiful! Would you consider allowing me to photograph you in exchange for a collection of free prints?”
#7: Buy a fake wedding cake.
I never knew fake wedding cakes were a “thing” until I photographed a wedding where the cake was, well . . . fake. The multi-tiered beauty that graced the center table was all foam and fondant, while the real cake was in a sheet pan in the kitchen. It was genius, really, for a bride who desperately wanted the look of a fancy cake without the hefty price tag. You can buy your own fake wedding cake on Amazon or Etsy, for anywhere from $40 – $100.
Fake jewelry – or costume jewelry is also a great way to get some bling in your portfolio!
PRO TIP: Find vendors by showcasing your styled shoot galleries.
It’s tough to find vendors for styled shoot collaborations when you’re the new photographer on the block. Without plentiful examples of your work, quality florists and bakers and designers hesitate to invest time and money into a styled shoot. But crafting your own affordable styled shoot, you create a sample session you can use to convince vendors to participate in future shoots!
#8: Choose one splurge item.
Elevate your styled shoot by choosing one focal point item to splurge on.
- Invest in a photography permit for a venue with whom you’d love to build a referral relationship.
- Pay a florist to create a one-of-a-kind bouquet.
- Buy an incredible pair of shoes for your model to wear. (Worn shoes can never be returned, so this is often a necessary expense!)
Make this splurge item the centerpiece of your affordable styled shoot, and the cheaper accessories will immediately look more expensive!
#9: Purchase invitation designs and print your own.
Through Etsy and other design sites, you can purchase pre-created graphics for printing beautiful invitations. Customize the text for your styled shoot, then take the design to a local print shop or order a small collection of cards wholesale from your favorite lab.
If you or a friend are skilled at hand-lettering, this will add some bonus beauty to any stationary set.
#10: Use elaborate styling to make details look expensive.
Styling determines whether an item looks cheap or expensive. Think about ads for Target and IKEA – both stores with affordable products that are desirable because they’ve been effectively styled.
- Texture adds an element of luxury to any photograph. Look for textured backgrounds, fabrics, and botanicals.
- Shallow depth of field can mask flaws in an inexpensive item. It also serves to highlight the item while background elements swirl in the bokeh
- Color choice is everything! Contrasting colors stand out uniquely: orange and purple, green and red, gold and teal. Alternately, a monochromatic palette can be exquisitely elegant: shades of blue, an array of creams and browns, a blend of grays ranging from silver to charcoal.
#11: Style the shoot in-camera.
Eye-catching photographic techniques can turn a basic shoot into an awe-inspiring and affordable styled shoot. Incorporate techniques both new and old, and show off your creativity to prospective clients! Have fun with:
- Double exposures
- Mirrored surfaces
- Colorful smoke bombs
PRO TIP: Quality matters more than quantity!
A model wearing the crown jewels still won’t impress potential clients unless you’ve also made a technically skillful, perfectly exposed, thoughtfully composed photograph. Take as much care with the technical details as you take with the visual details.
#12: It’s all in the details – except when it’s not.
Sometimes simplicity has more impact than lavish and in-your-face. A stunning gown on a clean white wall speaks volumes about your ability to create breathtaking portraits – even in unimpressive spaces. And though most styled shoots are detail-rich, your more affordable styled shoot can focus singularly on a beautiful bride, a flawless gown, and magnificent light. You might also try one of these classic styled shoots:
- Pair a simple sheath dress with layers of lovely jewelry. Focus on the jewelry to create a series of detail images, then create a selection of portraits for the full editorial compilation.
- Create multiple masculine looks by swapping out jackets – no need to change shirt, pants, or shoes! Add interest by photographing a series of boutonnieres, lapel pins, tie clips, cufflinks, watches, and other one-of-a-kind accessories.
- If human models aren’t an option – or aren’t the point of your affordable styled shoot – invest 100% of your budget and time into a details-only session. Pair thrifted mix-and-match china with a beautiful centerpiece, and scatter the table with wedding paraphernalia such as a velvet-boxed ring, professionally-iced cupcakes, and a freshly-inked ketuba.
#13: Enlist real newlyweds.
Photographs of real couples always deliver the most authentic expressions of love and connection. If the purpose of your styled shoot is to showcase genuine romance and contagious smiles, you can’t do much better than to enlist a real married couple as your models.
PRO TIP: Age is just a number.
Don’t fall into the trap of photographing the same couple over and over. Wedding blogs are already packed full of blue-eyed blonde brides and tall chiseled grooms. Make your work stand out and make a difference by building your affordable styled shoot around a less-represented couple, such as:
- LGBTQ+ couples
- couples over the age of 50
- interracial couples
- differently-abled couples
- couples with more than 1% body fat (so, basically, 99% of us)
#14: Select slivers of locations.
Clients and new photographers alike show preference for grand, expensive photography locations – manicured parks, elaborate hotel lobbies, magnificent mansions. These locations are also, unfortunately, the most expensive places to photograph.
When scouting locations, look for slivers of beauty to use as a backdrop, like the simple strip of marble wall below. Also watch for:
- Open shade. Even light is critical for showing off texture and details.
- Small groves of trees. Sometimes the prettiest parks aren’t officially parks at all!
- Abandoned buildings. No – we’re not suggesting that you trespass into a gloomy, mold-filled, haunted mansion; but the exteriors of well-worn buildings can offer stunning slivers of beauty.
#15: Use silk flowers.
Flowers – and flower arrangements – are pricey! And there’s a reason for it. (Have you ever tried to “throw together” a bouquet? Yeah . . . you may as well try “throwing together” a gourmet meal for Gordon Ramsey.)
If you don’t have a florist willing to collaborate, and you’re not the quickest study when it comes to stems and buds, silk flowers can be your saving grace! Pre-arranged silk florals can be purchased at your local craft store, or you can watch a few YouTube videos about creating a perfect bouquet. When you aren’t using real flowers, you can rinse-repeat over and over again without worrying your flowers will wilt.
PRO TIP: Pick your own flowers.
If flowers aren’t the centerpiece of your affordable styled shoot, you can pick a handful of wildflowers, wrap them with some ribbon, and call it a day!
#16: Thrift shop for props.
If second-hand items give you the willies, you’re missing out on a lot of great ’80s jackets and mom jeans, not to mention a plethora of board games with missing pieces and three-legged tables.
Quirks notwithstanding, thrift shops can be a phenomenal resource for unique furnishings and accessories, like the high-back rattan chairs below. And don’t underestimate the wealth of random items available through the Facebook Marketplace. What might cost you thousands brand-new often goes for mere dollars when you buy second-hand.
#17: Save money by styling organically.
Our world is a magical, magnificent place. Every color you can imagine exists already in nature, and can add the perfect splash of texture and vibrance to any flatlay. The sliced grapefruit below sets the tone for a stunning coral-toned styled shoot, and – unlike flowers – a grapefruit typically costs less than $1. Other colorful, terrifically textured natural options include:
PRO TIP: Get your affordable styled shoot seen.
- First off, upload your styled shoot images into a ShootProof gallery using the Desktop Uploader.
- Next, compile a list of vendors you’d like to work with in the future – on both styled shoots and paying gigs.
- Share your styled shoot gallery with all relevant vendors.
- Get your images on Instagram. If you sourced a cheap wedding dress from WISH, or purchased a fake cake on Etsy, be sure to tag the shops!
- Research your hashtags. The right hashtags on any Instagram post will help your dream clients find you!
What are your tips for a successful, affordable styled shoot?
Special thanks to: Event designer SWOON HOME LIVING, model SEAN MURPHY, 3 LITTLE BIRDS EVENT PLANNING, hair stylist JUST LAGO, makeup artist BEAUTY WITH SARAH MAE, paperie SOMETHING LETTERED, florist FLORALTIQUE (with Alex Meyer Photography) // Event designer THE MODERN SOJOURNER, planner ASHLEY MARIE PHOTOGRAPHY, calligrapher GEMINI DESIGN HOUSE, EDGE HAIR & MAKEUP (with Simply Korsun Photography) // Invitation designer JESSICA THOMAS PHOTOGRAPHY, florist PINE and PETAL WEDDINGS, model KAYLA WILMOT (with Terrie Images) // Florist PINE and PETAL WEDDINGS, venue LAUGHLIN RANCH GOLF COURSE (with Two Mermaids Photography)