Mastering the Styled Wedding Photo Shoot

January 22, 2015

By Laura Brauer

The business of keeping up with clients can definitely deplete a wedding photographer’s energy, leaving very little room for creativity. These photographers find that doing styled shoots for magazines and blogs, rather than adding stress, actually opens up a fresh channel of inspiration that balances all aspects of their work. The benefits are also practical, allowing them to enhance their portfolios as well as establishing great working relationships with other vendors. For some, styled shoots are not only fun, they’re also great tools for building their businesses.

Brumley & Wells
Durango, Colorado

“On most shoots, we work with a stylist who comes up with the concept and inspiration, and then we help bring it to life,” explains photographer Jacob Brooks, owner of Brumley & Wells Photography. In the instance of “Whispers,” the shoot featured above that ran in Once Wed magazine, Brumley & Wells collaborated with Irish stylist Pearl & Godiva. “The concept here was about capturing those moments before the wedding, when the bride is alone by herself and contemplating the day,” says Brooks. “Our task was trying to show that in a very visual way.”

Getting Published
“To be honest, a lot of editors have come to us,” says Brooks. whose work has been seen in a range of magazines, from The Knot to Modern Brides to Glamour. “I think it’s because we continue to do work that inspires us, and to build up our portfolio in a way in which we have conviction about it. People are going to be attracted to that. When we do work with editors, we treat them with respect and respond quickly to their requests.

Finding Models
“It’s really tempting for all photographers to find someone really beautiful—even a friend or an acquaintance—to model for you,” says Brooks, who sources models from local agencies wherever his team travels for a shoot. “But it’s so important in the collaborative process to find a professional model. A model, just like any other element, can make or break a shoot. I often look for models who fit the style that we’re trying for; we’ll look at that model’s previous work, at her poses. There are models who specialize in the bridal work, but I try not to stay in that cliché box.”

Rustic White
Atlanta, Georgia

Photo © Rustic White

“About a year after we started shooting weddings, my wife, Tiffany, began to reach out to editors and ask, ‘What can we put together for you?’” explains photographer Robert Peterson of Rustic White. “We managed to team up with Mandy Rye of [the blog] Waiting on Martha to style a shoot for Occasions magazine. Once we started collaborating with her, a lot of things picked up. Now, we shoot covers for Occasions, and for blogs like Style Me Pretty.”

Lessons Learned
“[Styled shoots] teach you so much on actual wedding days: we learn what type of light works best, plus working with models teaches us to slow down and be more conscious of our brides’ poses, from her eye line to her hand placement,” Robert says. “Then, you have a portfolio to show to potential brides—it shows people what we can do, here’s our demographic.”

The “Inspiration” Shoot
“Most of the styled shoots we do are pro bono, so we try to figure out how participating in them can be a win-win for everyone,” Robert says. “When we approach the vendors, we say, ‘Hey, I’m putting a styled shoot together, do you want to do flowers or cakes?’ We remember that it costs these people money out of their pockets. In return we ask them, ‘Do you need photographs for your website; do you need head shots for publicity?’ We help everyone who gives their time.”

Prep, Prep and More Prep
“I have a background in film, so I like to have pre-production meetings to help get everyone on the same page visually,” Robert says. “The more homework you do before a shoot, the more preparation you do, the better your photograph will be in the end.”

Stina Kase Photography
Tallinn, Estonia

Photo © Stina Kase

“It’s all about communicating,” says Stina Kase of the publishing arm of her business. “I live in Estonia, where marketing and connecting is so different than it is in the United States. I write editors and designers if something really inspires me, and say, ‘Please let me do the shoot.’ If you have a passion for something, and you really want to do it, people will notice.”

Her Favorite Part—The Process
“When I’m working with a stylist, we discuss before [a shoot] what we are going to do, and then when you go on set, you get to see it all together,” Kase says. “It’s so rewarding to see how a team works.”

Manifesting Creativity
“When I learn what a collection or a shoot is about, I take some time to myself for quiet moments,” Kase says. “I get very interesting ideas and pictures in my head.”

Elizabeth Messina, Queen of the Styled Shoot
Pick up an issue of The Knot, YWD (Your Wedding Day), Portland Bride & Groom, Santa Barbara or Modéle Weddings, among many others, and chances are Elizabeth Messina photographed the cover. So how did she make the jump from live weddings to styled shoots with models in wedding gowns?

“It wasn’t really a ‘jump’ for me, but rather a more gentle natural evolution,” Messina explains. “Some of my first editorial covers were of photos I had already created, either as a personal art project or for a designer friend.” She adds that they were perhaps best described as “stock” images that were selected as a cover. “It was from there that editors and creative directors began to reach out to me, to create shoots for specific magazines.”

Photo © Elizabeth Messina

So where does she find her inspiration? “I fantasize a lot about making images; inspiration for them is often slightly intangible and yet nestled in some deep part of my brain. I respond to light and textures. No matter how much I think or plan before a shoot, the magic unfolds in the moment. The trick is to not be so set on some idea or vision that you miss what is right before your eyes.” Here, Messina’s five ways to get started:

1. Create the images for yourself that you want to make for others. Building a portfolio of beautiful editorial images allows others to see what you are capable of.

2. Be tenacious, never ever give up. I still get way more “nos” than “yeses,” and my feelings get hurt all the time, but I will never stop making photographs.

3. If you are already doing weddings or portraits, consider creating some collateral pieces that showcase only the editorial work you want to nurture; do not mix it in with your other photographs.

4. If you can’t get the fashions you want from designers, go to vintage shops and flea markets. For very little money and a good eye, you can find wonderful things to photograph. I have an extension collection of vintage and found objects that I will sometimes incorporate into editorial shoots; other times I will work closely with an art director to source necessary fashion and/or props. I love to be involved in all aspects of a shoot. My process starts long before I pick up my camera. (Keep in mind that while props can be a wonderful artistic way to enhance a photo, the best photos are often the simplest.)

5. Challenge yourself. Try to avoid re-creating images you have seen; rather, let your own unique point of view come through.

The Logistics of Getting Published
by Jessica Gordon

Stay Local to Start
Rustic White is based in Atlanta, so a Southeastern U.S.-based publication like Occasions was a natural fit. Specialty wedding blogs and magazines exist in almost every region (believe us, we’ve checked), so look in your own backyard.

Get Personal
After reviewing the submission guidelines of publications, it never hurts to send an editor a personal note with a link to your work or embedded image. Say why your work would be a good fit, but remember to be brief (and not clog an inbox).

Enter a Portal
Blog editors love services like Two Bright Lights because they can search for a wedding shoot that matches their needs; photographers love it because they can submit to multiple publications at once. If you’ve never tried it, it’s worth an upload.

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