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How to Set Up a Perfect Stylized Photo Shoot

If you are a new Celebrant or Officiant, it can be hard to get your name out there without several weddings under your belt. And you can't get several weddings under your belt without your name out there! You just don’t have those gorgeous photos to post on your website showing you "in action."

How do you stop the cycle of being a Newbie?

Putting together a stylized photo shoot is a fabulous way to network with other industry professionals to establish much-needed connections in the wedding industry. Just like any business, word of mouth referrals and testimonials from happy customers is your best marketing tool! We tapped into our network of seasoned pros to see how anyone just starting out or looking to expand their services can make those magical photos happen on their own! 

If there isn't a photo of it, did it really even happen?

Of course it did, practice is always a good idea! But these days for online marketing, you do need photos and video. We first spoke to Christina of Nina Lily Photography, to ask her for manageable tips to setting up a stylized shoot to capture the images that will best sell YOU online and in print. Christina is a fabulous photographer based outside of Philadelphia, and has organized a number of stylized shoots that are off-the-charts jaw-dropping!

We asked Christina how she makes it happen...

What are the goals of a stylized photo shoot?

Social media and online journals have taken over as the most accessible means of advertising in the wedding industry and new content is constantly needed for brand recognition in all markets. Participating in styled shoots is a great way to create content, thus introducing your voice and vision to a larger audience who connects with what you do. Goals of creative collaboration include:

  • Connection! Making authentic industry connections leads to organic referrals
  • Experimenting with new technique and/or materials or equipment outside of contract
  • Honing your visual aesthetic in an effort to attract your ideal client
  • Creating brand specific content for a cohesive online portfolio including social sites
  • Publication via wedding blogs and print leads to more industry cred & exposure
  • Boost SEO - linkbacks / hashtags / IG partnerships all lead to higher web traffic
  • Supporting other small businesses is a way to build up your community

As the lead person in need of content, who should you contact first?

Once you’ve decided that you want to organize a styled shoot, identify your individual business goals. While some of the goals listed above will inherently happen, it’s important to identify what you personally want out of the project for your business. Your goals will help you identify your team.

Here are some things that I think about in the early stages of planning a shoot:

  • What is the “product” or end result of the shoot? Do you want to submit the work to a specific publication? Will the imagery be featured on Instagram only? These questions will inform the scope of the shoot.
  • Is there a specific concept or even industry values that you want to promote?
  • Are there professionals that you want to work with?
  • Is there a new aesthetic that you want to adopt or expand?
  • Is there a venue that you would like to work at more? Think preferred vendor lists.

Now that you’ve identified your personal business goals, approach a collaborator that will help promote your vision. This could be a venue coordinator, wedding planner, photographer or florist. Each one of these professionals should be willing to refer additional professionals to collaborate with. I personally concept many of my shoots with a jewelry designer. There is no right or wrong professional to start with; we are all in this together! As you choose your team, be clear about your goals and the end result of the shoot. Everyone will want to be well represented and feel appreciated and compensated for their contribution.

How important is it to use a couple that is really in-love?

Very important! This will of course be up for debate, however, I personally only want to shoot real couples. I have worked with models as well as IRL couples in the styled shoot format and love wins everytime for my brand. Many of the scenes that we create within the styled shoot are meant for inspiration; we create an idealized vision of a shoot concept and run with it. By including real couples, I hope that my clients will also find inspiration in their love and not just in the details. 

When all vendors involved can benefit from the content, who is in charge?  

My gut tells me that whoever concepts the shoot is the professional in charge. Before approaching other vendors, figure out what you can contribute to the project and what you will need from others to execute your vision. Identify who will be contributing the most financially (generally the florist) and who will be contributing the most time (generally the photographer). Be really respectful of this so that all vendors are treated as collaborators.

Trust that you have brought this like minded group of professionals together to execute a concept that speaks to all of you. Give people the freedom to be creative within the context of your vision and you will likely be thrilled with the results. 

During the planning phase, be clear about your goals. Put together a mood board that can be shared with vendors early on so that they can relate to your concept. Ask for input and if it doesn’t fit with your vision, be vocal. Perhaps that idea could lead to a future collaboration. Consult with your planner and photographer about timelines and best light. Remember that being open and flexible will ensure a great experience and great outcome for everyone involved. 

Be really clear about responsibilities before, during and following the shoot. Should you take charge of the project, expect that your team will likely anticipate you taking lead on communication,  planning, scheduling, day of coordination, image delivery and shopping to publications. If you aren’t up for all of this, it’s perfectly acceptable to delegate. 

And if you don’t want to be flexible… hire your team to execute your specific vision. Perhaps a work for trade agreement isn’t what you are looking for. Investing in your team financially negates the collaborative edge and completely clarifies who is in charge. 

How do you approach participants?

Once you’ve identified your shoot goals, it’s time to gather your team. I like to note how I’ve interacted with the vendor in the past. Have we worked together on a particular wedding? Are you in a common networking group online or in person? This information could inform how to approach some vendors. In those instances it’s easy to bring up those common connections. Mention how you appreciated the way they work with your mutual clients. Recognize their contribution to your networking group, etc.

In general, I like to contact people the way they like to be contacted. For instance, have you corresponded via email in the past? Is the vendor really active on Instagram? If so, maybe IG messaging would be best initially. Once you’ve reached out virtually and set your intention of collaborating together, set up a phone call and really connect at a time that is convenient for them. Remember that you are asking for something, so making things as easy as possible for collaborators is important. Alternatively, if you do not have a connection with the vendor in advance, simply let them know that you admire their work. Let them know what speaks to you about their work. Be clear that you are looking to collaborate with them. Either way, share a few details about the shoot; be sure to mention where the participant would fit in and don’t forget to let them know what you can do for them. 

Do I need a social media/brand aesthetic before I style a photo shoot?

Since styled shoots are portfolio builders, I don’t think it’s necessary to already have an established aesthetic in place. However, that would definitely be a goal to work towards! Consistent branding attracts the clients that appreciate your aesthetic. 

Regarding creating an inspirational experience, it is important to have a clear vision about aesthetic before designing a styled shoot. You will need to be clear and consistent when approaching and expressing your vision to your collaborators. This is what will make people excited to work with you! 

Any final thoughts for Celebrants and Officiants new to the wedding business?

For better or worse, imagery created outside of contracted wedding work has changed the scope of the traditional portfolio. Styled shoots have done wonderful and also damaging things to our industry. While many beautiful connections have been made as a result of styled collaborations, one side effect has been an unrealistic concept of what can actually be accomplished on a wedding day. While I love working on styled shoots, I keep in mind that this format is meant to be inspirational. I have adopted a new transparency with my clients regarding their amazing day. It is my job as a wedding vendor to educate our clients about the beautiful things we CAN offer within time and budget constraints. Be ready to take responsibility for your styled collaborations. Bringing your clients into the collaborative spirit of your styled shoots will give them even more trust and confidence in the unique voice that you bring in helping them execute their own wedding vision. 

Creativity. Collaboration. Connection.

These projects will be just as authentic and rewarding as you make them. Enjoy the process and lean in!

WOW! Thank you Christina! Follow her on Instagram to stay inspired and meet all her talented pro-friends!

Here are 12 Quick Tips to get the content you want!

  1. Contact a photographer you know or would like to work with
  2. Don't be afraid to talk about potential costs.
  3. Communicate your goals upfront.
  4. Establish clear post-production goals timelines.
  5. Recruit REAL LIFE couples to be in the photos.
  6. Pick a time and a place with good natural light.
  7. Be respectful of other's time and financial investment.
  8. Pack props that show a variety of ceremony rituals. 
  9. Confirm next steps before you wrap up.
  10. Repurpose the photos in various ways online.
  11. Give credit where credit it due by tagging others.  
  12. Start a vendor contact list and keep in touch!

Now that you're a super-networker with a thriving business, check out 7 More Simple Networking Tips!



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