Hey you! Are you a creative human needing help knowing how to plan a styled shoot?! Are you not sure where to start? I’m not going to pretend I know everything but I’m here to help break it down so that it doesn’t seem so daunting. These same steps can be applied to styling a classic wedding, intimate wedding, or elopement. The photos below are examples from an elopement styled shoot but its just one example of endless possibilities.
First thing to note is that I, as a photographer, planned this shoot but you can take any role as the organizer. You can be a planner, a florist, a photographer, a rental shop owner, a model, etc! You can be someone super new in the industry (holla!) or have been doing this for a decade. Spoiler alert: there’s no rules when it comes to styled shoots.
Step one: create a vision board. Whether this is on paper, on Pinterest, or Photoshop make a visual of what you’re hoping to accomplish. This should include a color palette, various styling elements, backdrop, floral, and anything else you are wanting to include. If you’re lost – go to Pinterest and you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with. This vision board is what you will use to invite your collaborators. The example below is what I sent out to vendors for our elopement styled shoot.
Step two: decide on a date and location UNLESS there’s one or maybe two vendors that you have decided must be a part of it. Then reach out to them first and decide on a date. Consider time of day. For example: our shoot was outside so we started a couple hours before golden hour and continued into sunset. If you’re shooting inside what’s the window light like? Is there a time of day that may be better at said venue for photos? If it’s open to the public what time of day or even what time of year might be more conducive to your styled shoot and have less bystanders? For ours we chose a location we knew had little to no other people on a weekday evening.
Step three: find your vendors! Maybe you have a photographer that you’ve been eyeing, or love a certain florists work. Reach out! Tell them you are putting a styled shoot together with your mood board, explain what you’d hope to get from them, and maybe offer to cover certain costs. If you don’t have any vendors in mind then go to Instagram and search for vendors in your area. No one is out of reach and it never hurts to try.
Be prepared to spend some money – obviously you can set a budget for yourself. Some rental companies will charge you say 50% of the rental fee for borrowing equipment or if you want a real cake they may charge for that. Don’t expect to be given handouts or you may be disappointed. There are always ways to save money too if thats a priority. Some ideas: go to your local flower market and do them yourself, check Goodwill to find decor items, or find a used bridal gown store (see ours tagged at the end of the post).
Step four: design and plan. This is the part I love. The creative juices get flowing, you are chatting with all your vendors to come up with a plan, and it starts to come together. Again, no rules. Think outside the box. Think about what might catch a potential bride/grooms eye. Through this process you’ll start to finalize details like rentals, cake, floral, models attire, etc and start to come up with a timeline. I always give myself extra time on a styled shoot because it’s nice to not feel rushed. For example: this shoot we gave ourselves 2 hours to arrive on site and set everything up, and then about 3 hours to shoot. We even had some downtime half way through shooting where we all sat down, had some snacks, and waited for some less harsh lighting.
Communication is big. Keep in touch with your team, exchange ideas, send out group emails to make sure everyone is on board and on time.
Step five: execute! You’ve made it to the big day and you have an amazing team coming together to make something beautiful. You roll with the punches, bring lots of supplies (candles, scissors, tape, pins, extra everything), and just have fun. Give yourself time to setup and play with design, ask for help when you need it, and magic will in fact happen.
For this shoot we had a mock “ceremony” setup as well as a mock “reception” picnic style setup as well. We had real cake and champagne and tried to make things as real as possible. However, if you’re going for a more traditional styled shoot you might have a ceremony setup with chairs and/or a full table styled as if it were set for guests.
Tip: having a real couple model helps so much. The connection is raw and authentic and that’s what we want. Model couples can work too but I just love the chemistry I’m able to work with when its a two people in love.
Ok you have your steps!!
Hopefully not so scary anymore!! Not going to lie, it takes a lot of work and setup but its not impossible by any means. I’m already thinking up my next one for the winter. I think one thing to note too is that although this idea may have come from you originally, you are still working with a group of creative professionals so again that communication with a dash of open-mindedness and flexibility is key.
Last bit of advice is to have fun (cliche, I know). This is not a real wedding. There’s no pressure – use the opportunity to play around and try something new. Crank up some tunes and dance it out if you want to. You can do this. You can plan and execute your own styled shoot. I believe in you!
Last but certainly not least I need to shout out my amazing team that collaborated with me on this shoot at Government Cove in the Columbia Gorge.
If you’ve made it this far – you’re amazing. If you have any questions or feedback comment down below!
Kelsey Straus is a PNW Elopement +
Intimate Wedding Photographer
based in Portland, Oregon