The Power of Storytelling in Photography for Advertising
By Maddy Budd
For each of our seasonal content themes, we will be asking experts about a topic, this round we have gathered some amazing advice on Styled Shoots. Read about why you should do them, how to plan them and more, from three experts on the topic.
Here is a little about each of our experts:
“I am a photographer based in Southern California. The quickest thing that grew my business was Styled Shoots! I absolutely love attending them, putting them on, and watching the community that grows from them. This is why I created a guide about all my knowledge on how to execute one for yourself!!
I sell a Styled Shoot Guide! Get 10% off with the code -- "NARRATIVE" -- here is a link to the guide -- ”
Michael Toman of Story of Eve:
“Michael Toman of Story of Eve is a photographer and film-maker capturing luxury experiences for brands and couples globally. His work has been featured in some of the biggest publications worldwide. You can find out more about his one-to-one mentoring and see his work at www.storyofeve.com”
“My name is Camila Urrea and my dream is to travel the world with my camera. I’m a destination wedding photographer based in Guadalajara, Mexico, so I guess that dream has already started. Currently, I’m out-of-my-mind excited for my new company’s launch in the summer of 2021, Rise by Camila Urrea. Rise is the way to elevate your creative business. Hope you’ll check it out! - camilaurrea.com”
BV: There are so many benefits of styled shoots. Personally, in my business, the biggest one I have gained is the connections in the community. Immersing yourself in the wedding industry and having amazing connections with planners, florists, hair and makeup artists, other photographers is so so important!! Along with that, the content that I am able to share and market because of the styled shoots is equally as important! You can't shoot your dream weddings if you don't show that you are capable of doing so!!
MT: I get asked this a lot during my one-to-one mentoring sessions about the reasons or advantages of doing styled shoots and my answer is pretty simple; if there’s something missing from your portfolio that you want to shoot more of, then you’re going to have to go out there and shoot some of that before anyone will book you to shoot that for them.
I could give you a ton of other reasons why styled shoots will benefit your business but I feel this is the biggest. If you want to shoot fashion work, then you’re going to need to show fashion work. If you want to be an elopement photographer but all you have in your portfolio is church weddings, then you’ll need a few elopements to show to your potential couples. If you want to increase your prices, show couples how that increased value looks.
It really is that simple.
CU: Styled shoots are your opportunity to try things you wouldn’t normally be able to. For a styled shoot, you can imagine any crazy scenario and make it a reality. Challenge yourself to really experiment and break out of your comfort zone and new opportunities for your business will arise. On various occasions my clients have been inspired by my styled shoots to try something unique and different, making the point that styled shoots are the perfect way to showcase what you strive for in any given job. People will see something new and will appeal to it. It’s like when a brand comes out with a mind-blowing campaign. Most people go crazy about it.
Don’t forget the collaborative part of styled shoots meaning they’re a great way for you to network. Most of the good friends I’ve made in the industry have been through collaborative jobs like styled shoots. You can also really get the feel of the way people work and keep a note for future shoots. Your work and their work will expand your portfolio and reveal to possible contractors the amazing things you can create.
BV: There is so much that goes into planning a styled shoot, the first and most important is having inspiration that sparks a vision. After that; Pinterest board, finding vendors, creating timelines, shooting it, then delivering the gallery to all the models + vendors!
MT: The process for a styled shoot can vary depending on whether you are working with a planner or stylist and how they approach the creative process, however, there are a set of simple steps that I repeat for each and every shoot.
It all starts with the overarching goal or purpose. What is it that you’re hoping to achieve, learn or take away from the shoot? Sometimes, you might be driven by a desire to explore a different style or aesthetic in your work; perhaps it’s more technical and you need experience testing out a new camera system, lens or process of working. Or, it could be that you’re planning to pivot or go in a new direction in your business and don’t have any of that sort of work already. Possibly, there’s a venue or location you’d love to shoot at or a creative vendor whose work you admire and you would love to collaborate with.
Whatever the reason, undertaking a styled shoot can involve a ton of time, money and work so setting yourself a clear goal from the beginning will help to lead every decision going forward.
Ok, so now we know the why, it’s time to start planning!
I’m like a magpie. I’m always snapping, saving and creating folders of ideas on my phone. Colour palettes, photo references, film stills, typography and design inspiration…anything that will inspire future projects.
From my phone, those ideas are then organised onto boards on Pinterest. Most of these boards are public but I also have a number of boards jammed with ideas for future fashion and editorial shoots. A lot of my photo and video work is for brands and the turnarounds for these can be pretty quick so it’s important to have a bank of inspiration at the ready! More importantly, having this bank of ideas at hand means that you can add a planner or stylist to the board and they can instantly see the visual direction and aesthetic you’re planning for the shoot.
My advice for building the wider team is to contact people whose work genuinely inspires you. If a cake-maker, florist, makeup artist or dress designer joins the team, they are giving up their time and resources too so they want to know the efforts they contribute are a valuable part of your overarching vision for the shoot.
Share your Pinterest or mood board with them and communicate your hopes for the shoot and what deliverables they can expect to receive at the end. For instance, will you be providing them with high-resolution images? Will the content be sized for social platforms (Instagram stories, feed, Pinterest etc), or are you happy for them to crop your work? Will you be covering their costs for the shoot? What about travel, accommodation or transportation of props, flowers, dresses etc. - who will look after these costs?
When I am working on styled shoots, I like to create a Pic-Time gallery with a mixture of photo and video content that has been sized accordingly for each platform. Alongside this, I provide clear guidelines regarding who should be tagged and instructions on how they can share. You might even go a step further and prepare a share-plan for when each person will release the work to maximise the reach of the shoot across social channels.
This might seem over-the-top but after you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into a shoot only to see a portrait image cropped to a tight square on someone’s feed then it’s worth the extra time. Likewise, you want your audience and future clients to see the final work so having a clear plan for sharing or getting it published can make a massive difference to its success.
CU: When I style a shoot, before getting into it, I take a step back and think about my personal goals inside my profession. I question myself asking what are my dream projects? Where do I want to go with my achievements? What and who do I want to work with? Most importantly, I never forget to go over how I want to feel when I’m working. With this in mind, I map out my strengths and weaknesses and create a plan to build up whatever skills I’m working on. I truly believe each styled shoot is a world of opportunities waiting to be taken.
In this way, my process begins by elevating the creative inside me to a mindset that can push limits and boundaries to produce something that’s never done before. I take from my own personal inspirations and reflect on the perception of the world that surrounds me. I think of the things I love–the impressionist movement. Monet, Manet, Pissarro and Renoir are all artists that influence the colors of my work and the light I intend to look for. From here, I search for the elements I would like to integrate into my photography. I usually use Pinterest to create a moodboard that I can present to the other creatives that will be working with me on the styled shoot. Communication is crucial during this part. Everyone must be on the same page to assure the desired result.
I always stress that a styled shoot is not only about my growth but about everyone else’s too. Work as a team and do it collaboratively.
Meetings keep everyone happy. So I am always sure to hold more than a couple video calls with vendors, clients and others to make sure everyone approves. This is also a great strategy to get everyone motivated and enthusiastic about what’s going to be done. Keep the hype up, spontaneous and extraordinary things can happen during a styled shoot.
BV: Top tip -- FOR SURE communication!! There is nothing more important than everyone being on the same page about the timeline, budgets, locations, etc!
MT: Final timelines, locations and call sheets should be sent to every member of the team a few days before the shoot. It’s also worth setting up a WhatsApp group in advance so everyone has the ability to ask questions and informally connect before the day.
Organising food, snacks and lots of water is critical to keeping energy levels high. A hungry, cold model isn’t going to be a happy model so look after your talent and make sure the whole team all have time for short breaks built into the schedule. Oh, and don’t forget access to toilets! Mountaintop elopement-styled shoots look amazing but it’s less fun when the rain starts bucketing down and there’s no shelter…or if you need to take a pee. ;)
CU: My biggest advice is to be a rockstar at planning and coordinating. I can’t stress enough the importance of running the final proposal by everyone who’s collaborating on the shoot. Do this with enough time for changes to be made if needed. When everything’s agreed on, make the cut. Print out your mood board, the timeline and begin to scout your location. When you’ve found your location make a storyboard to plan what will be done where. I can’t say it enough–it’s all in the planning! If you plan, you can coordinate, and this way everything will go smoothly.
BV: The total cost completely depends on how extreme you are wanting to be! I have put on so many that cost me nothing more than my gas! Then others cost upwards of $10,000! Completely up to you on how big you are wanting to go, and how specific you want to get with each vendor.
MT: The cost for a styled shoot mostly comes in the form of time. I never think of styled shoots as free shoots. If you’ve set your goal clearly during the planning stage then reaching this goal is the reward. And, as we mentioned earlier, the reward will be different for everyone but it is never a free shoot when you’re working towards something bigger.
Nevertheless, there are some costs to be aware of. The models are usually the most expensive aspect of the shoot and this price can differ hugely depending on what agency and model you choose. You might also need to fly or arrange travel and accommodation for models or team members and this is another expense that is easily missed during the planning stage.
I mentioned food and beverages for the shoot already as well as considering any associated costs for the logistics of transporting props and products. This figure will be very different depending on the shoot theme and story.
Most florists, cake-makers, hairstylists and makeup artists understand that they will cover the cost for their materials, however, you may still need to hire catering, dresses and a myriad of other items if you are creating something like a wedding setup, which often involves renting tables, glasses, cutlery, linens and a host of other products.
CU: The cost usually depends on how much you’re willing to invest. There are styled shoots that I have put together without investing any of my own money. I have found that in these cases you’re forced to be resourceful and ask around for those who want to collaborate in the same way as you. When everyone is in on the styled shoots for the same reasons–growth, creativity, freedom, and amazing things follow. Look for those who inspire and motivate you and don’t be afraid to offer invitations to collaborate. Be genuine about your intentions and people will really resonate with your ideas.
If the styled shoot does comprise a cost, then communication is key. Be firm about sharing the cost with others that want to invest in the costly elements. Styled shoots don’t have to be really expensive or really cheap. Find a middle point for everyone. The right cost is that one that is accessible and feasible.
BV: I go over each communication with each individual vendor in my guide. There is so much that goes into that and I have learned the hard way with so many different vendors!! To put it simply -- find vendors you love, let them know you love them, and put yourself out there either in person, over a phone call, or email!!
MT: Take a leaf out of the Hollywood playbook…if you want Al Pacino in your movie, you’re going to have to tell him that the movie is jam-packed with other big stars. So, you tell him you’re pretty confident Helen Mirren is coming on board, and you tell Helen that Jodie Foster has signed up to play the part of her daughter. In reality, no one has signed up yet but they are more likely to sign on the dotted line when they know the movie is going to be successful; and successful movies need successful people.
With this in mind, reach out to your top wishlist of creatives first. Who is the one person who inspires you most? Maybe it’s the model, the venue, or a certain publication you’re confident you can get the shoot into afterwards. Whatever it is, you need a strong pitch. Your ideas and visuals could be top-notch but it’s still easier convincing people to join the team when they know they are surrounded by other crazy talented people. Don’t tell any lies of course! Just think carefully about the ordering of who you get on the team early and how that might attract or influence others to join.
CU: Push yourself to take the risk even if it feels impossible. Remember that the worst possible outcome is getting a “no” which is the same as if you’d never have asked. So you might as well reach out! Practice your approach and perfect it. People always like compliments so say something nice before. Do your research and show off what you know about their previous work. Make sure to explain why you like their work so that your praise really feels honest. Share your idea, really try to paint it out for them. Show them your own inspiration or mood board and be open about them contributing to it. Last but not least, remember everyone wants to work with you too, so be confident in asking those who do an amazing job as well.
BV: Depending on the vision I have for the shoot, I have done both! I have never hired models straight out of an agency. The only reasoning for that is because I love the more authentic love. So, I find a couple either on Instagram or ask some of my cute friends to model!! They don't have to have experience as long as they are in love!!
MT: Depending on the style and vision for the shoot, you might want to work with real people. For instance, if the story you’re telling involves people having to be intimate, kissing or elements of nudity or undress, then having a real-life couple might help the authenticity of the final imagery or film.
However, the vast majority of styled shoots in the wedding world don’t require this level of intimacy, and instead, professionalism is key. Working with models is my preferred option for styled shoots. They have experience in front of the camera and this confidence will show in the end results. For any photographer who has less experience with posing and directing, I would 100% recommend hiring models over real couples.
CU: To hire a model or use someone you know depends on the feels you want to give the shoot. It all depends on what you want to convey and who you want to appeal to. If I’m working on a project that has to do with expressing something personal or intimate I would go for someone I know. However, my job pretty much always involves photographing real people and real moments. This is why I like to take the opportunity to hire a model and try out something new. Another reason I’ve mostly gone for models during my styled shoots is that I like to practice my directing skills and I find it easier to direct a model. Most of the time models are a helping aspect that can enhance and strengthen your work. They can be collaborators too. Hiring or not, it all depends on your own thing and what you’re feeling.
BV: Do your part! Don't just put on the styled shoot and then never do anything with the photos. Make the time to edit the whole gallery, send it to all the vendors + models, share on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, blog it, submit it to wedding blogs, do everything you can to get that work seen!! You put far too much effort into it for no one to see it!
MT: Lastly, styled shoots aren’t just for attracting couples; brands need shiny new content more regularly than ever before and a styled shoot allows you to showcase your skills, talents and what perspective you and your lens bring to them.
Explore shutter speeds, compositions, directing or posing. It really is a time to play and to bounce ideas of an amazing team of people who are all coming together to create something special.
Dream big and invest in making the shoot as special as you can, but most importantly, enjoy every minute.
CU: Make sure to be inspired all throughout. A styled shoot should be something you’re excited for, something that you’re waiting for to happen. Your ideas are about to be materialized so be passionate about the result. A styled shoot unconditionally falls through when you don’t feel inspired to see the result. Find that inspiration not in other styled shoots other people have done but in your own life, in what you love, what you dream of, what you don’t understand and what you want to figure out.