If you’re unsure what a styled shoot is, you’re likely not alone. It’s a term used within the wedding industry, but very few couples ever hear about them. Let me rephrase that … you see them everywhere and their influence is deeply rooted in new wedding trends, you just may not know they are styled shoots. Until now.
Styled shoots are collaborations between small groups of wedding professionals. Essentially, we get together, decide on a color scheme or theme, and then put together a mock wedding set-up. A professional wedding photographer takes photos, and we use them on our websites, social media accounts, and sometimes submit the photos to blogs or more well-known and larger wedding publications as a way to showcase our work. Sometimes they are done to help promote a new venue space, or build the portfolio of a new wedding vendor. Other times it’s purpose is to introduce a new design concept to the wedding industry. And then sometimes they are done because we just want to get creative and try something new. It's like we get idea in our head that doesn’t quite match what couples are asking us for, but we still really want to try it out, and styled shoots are a great way to do that.
Even without totally understanding what styled shoots are, you may have seen the term, or a common synonym, “inspiration shoots”. Alternatively, you may notice many publications noting certain photos as “real weddings” and that’s to help distinguish between the two. And distinguishing between the two is extremely important. Many couples don’t realize they are looking at a styled shoot, and then for one reason or another aren't able to replicate it exactly for their own wedding. Why? Here are a few common reasons:
1) All of the services are donated.
When wedding professionals collaborate on a styled shoot, often times, they participate voluntarily. We’re not calculating out the costs of our services, so affordability or a couples' budget is not considered.
2) We’re like a kid in a candy store.
Most professionals get into the wedding industry because they are naturally creative individuals. And while they may be putting together bouquets, or tablescapes all day long, the work is dictated by you, the couple. The requests received are often times based on what couples are seeing online and what they're being told is on trend. From the wedding professionals’ perspective, this can mean months of putting together very similarly styled weddings. That’s not a bad thing! We don’t expect every single wedding we book to be blowing our minds with new concepts. It just means that we're still thinking up creative ideas, but we just don't necessarily have an outlet to try them out. Queue styled shoots. When we do a styled shoot, it’s our time to try something new, and let the creative juices flow. And we often get carried away. Hence, reason #1 about affordability not being a consideration.
3) Styled shoots are small scale. Very small scale.
Most only consist of 1 table setting, a few rows of chairs for a ceremony, and the models. Again, that’s the reason we tend to go a little overboard, because we only have to consider making enough for a small area. It’s also the reason we get to use really unique pieces, furniture, and other decorations that may not be available in large quantities. That can really set couples up for disappointment when they want the same look for 20 tables versus just 1.
4) There’s a whole team of vendors focused on these small areas.
To give you an idea of what I mean, I’m going to use a photograph from a recent styled shoot I participated in, which was featured on Wedding Chicks. This is a stunning photo by Photography by Betty Elaine. It's beautiful, right? What you don’t see is the very talented hair and make-up artist, Jen Lagers with The Outer Edge, off to the side fixing her hair before this shot, and me crouched behind the ladder so I could keep the dress fluffed.
Here’s another from the same shoot. We had the model do a dress change and in this shot, pretend to be casually walking through the lavender. But it had rained that morning, and that's a borrowed dress, so what you don’t see is my scarf laid down on the ground so it didn't get dirty. My own scarf was used as sacrifice to get this shot! You may not have an innocent bystander while you’re taking your wedding photos that’s willing to make such a sacrifice, and you likely won’t want to get your dress muddy. I know, I just made myself guilty of setting unrealistic expectations. To all brides everywhere, I’m sorry.
5) We use models.
Let me say that again, they are models. Yes, the wedding industry is just as guilty as the fashion industry. And just like we know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to the fashion models, you also shouldn’t compare yourself to the models used in the wedding industry. Many wedding professionals, including myself, have begun expanding our reach and using real couples in our styled shoots, which is a start. But for the most part, when you’re perusing Pinterest, keep in mind that not only are the decorations put together by a team of professionals, but the “couple” in front of the lens are often professionals, as well. Why else do you think they are so good at looking “serious” while playing dress up in a wedding gown… I mean, let’s be honest, I was smiling from ear to ear in almost all of my real life wedding photos. There’s not a sultry, seductive look in the hundreds that were taken. And that’s ok! I’m not a model. And, the photos perfectly captured my real life feelings about my real life wedding ;)
Hopefully this has shined a little light on a not-so-spoken-about topic within the wedding industry. And the next time you’re searching for wedding inspiration, keep it as that, inspiration. Don't get caught up on worrying about how you'll possibly make your real wedding look as perfect, and certainly don't compare your wedding to them. The ideas you find don’t need to be replicated exactly, but instead take the ideas and put your own spin on them. If you're not sure how to do that, show your ideas to the wedding vendors you've hired and ask them to get creative and put their own spin on it, within your budget, of course. They’ll let you know what’s realistic and what’s not, and I promise it will be just as beautiful.
Thrifty Events offers wedding planning, event design, and day of coordination services.
Candi Block, Founder & Event Planner
Midwest native with big-family roots, now newlywed, entrepreneur, and new home owner in the PNW. Love being involved in the community, crafting, creating, and Netflix binging.