How to Plan a Styled Shoot – The Complete Guide

What’s a styled shoot? Should I shoot one? 

How do I get to be in one? Where do you find models?

These are a couple of the types of questions I’ve been asked about styled shoots so I’m going to share with you all about everything I know that is styled shoot related. I’ll be covering why you might want to do them, how to find venders, and what all goes into the planning process. I’m going to be answering these questions from the perspective of the photographer/planner since in my experiences I was both. Lots of photographers choose to work with a coordinator or event designer to plan which would shift the dynamic and is something to consider.


Maybe you are a photographer and you have an idea or theme bouncing around in your head and are thinking a styled shoot could be a great way to bring those ideas to life. I was in this position last year and spent hours researching how exactly to go about planning a styled shoot myself when I had only heard the phrase thrown around by other photographers or bloggers.

Why. A styled shoot can serve many purposes. Some use it to expand their own photographic portfolio. Some see styled shoots as a way to have more control over their final product because they have more creative liberty (ex. if you want to shoot more bohemian brides, you can style and shoot a bohemian shoot to attract those types of brides). Some hope to be featured on blogs or magazines. Most of the time it’s a combination of a few of theses reasons. For me, a styled shoot was going to expand my portfolio, allow me to grow relationships with some amazing local venders, and the added bonus was that I love styling and editorial work which plays into the publicity element of styled shoots. So before you even start planning you have to know your end goal. Is it to be published? Print magazine or blog? Be specific. This is important because this is what you will be communicating to venders when you ask them to join you in your shoot.

(C) Joy Michelle Photography 2013

An Idea. Having a clear set theme or concept for the shoot is a basic step but it’s probably the most important. This pretty much impacts the rest of your decision making from this point out. I started this process by deciding when I wanted to have the shoot and by knowing which season it was in and how long it would take me to have it picked up by a publisher, I could cull down my options for themes/colors/etc. So for example, if you want to plan a styled shoot to take place in the spring, you’ll have to think about what blogs or magazines will be wanting to publish in the summer or fall and if your styled shoot will be something they’ll want to pick up. I had this in mind when I photographed a New Years Eve Party styled shoot in early December knowing it would be pretty likely to be chosen for publishing over the new year- and it was! Style me pretty picked it up. *see the last paragraph for more details about getting published.

To help decide on a theme, colors and textures I make an inspiration board for the shoot. I use pinterest but you could make your own with images from magazines and modge podge together your own inspiration board. This is usually where my ideas start to become more solid and I start to see patterns in things I like and remove outliers that don’t belong.

Stay Creative. During the inspiration board phase when you are looking for ideas, remember to make each idea your own and be original. Re-creating something someone else has done isn’t challenging creatively, and likely wont be published. This is your time to make it your own, and try things that have not been done. Pull creative ideas and impute from fields outside of your own.

(C) Joy Michelle Photography 2013

Budget. Decide ahead of time how much you are investing in your shoot, if anything. Because the styled shoots I’ve done have been for my own photography business and not commissions from blogs or magazines, I had to think about what I was willing to spend. Besides my time, I typically budget to spend money on snacks, food,and water for my models/anyone present day-of and a little thank-you gift for contributing friends or venders. All venders involved were contributing to the styled shoot for free with the understanding that they would be credited in any publications and I gave each of them images of their product/service for them to use in their advertising. It is a trade of services basically. Not all photographers work this way and give venders images, but I did.

Choosing Venders. There are a couple of elements that go into how you choose venders. You’ll want to reach out to businesses who will find mutual benefit in collaborating in your shoot. This oftentimes means reaching out to smaller or newer business in that may really need some quality images for their advertising and would jump at the chance to be in your shoot. Another way to decide is to find businesses in your area who will double as great business contacts and expand your network. Choose to work with venders who share your vision, or aesthetic. I researched the work done previously by venders in each category (via wedding wire and google) that I needed before reaching out to the owners about collaboration. When I decided we could be a good fit, I shared my idea for the shoot, creative vision, hope for publishing and a link to my existing work. This is the time to communicate your goals, expectations, what you will give them in return for their efforts. When you have your team assembled, use a contract. The contract will serve to further clarify expectations and keep everyone on the same page. The worst thing you could do is over promise, be dishonest, or burn a bridge through this process when it should be about making connections and building your business.

(C) Joy Michelle Photography 2013

Timeline. Have a detailed timeline outlined from the time you arrive to the very end of the shoot. A styled shoot is like a mini wedding day, so you’ll have to decide when the cake should arrive, as well as the flowers, makeup artists, models, etc. Depending on who is in charge of creative direction (for my shoots it was me) you will be making this timeline either alone or with your designer/coordinator. My timeline detailed when I planned to photograph specific details or elements of the shoot so that I could fit it all in. For example, I usually photograph the stationery suite and cake while the models are getting their hair and makeup done. I also jot down a quick shot list of each item contributed by venders so that I can reference it during the shoot. Remember, each vender is expecting beautiful imagery of their contribution whether it be flowers or the favors so you’ll be shooting some extras just for them that may not end up in your portfolio.

(C) Joy Michelle Photography 2013

Models. So far I have been fortunate enough to have beautiful friends (and friends of friends) willing to model for me. I put out a “model call” on my Instagram and facebook page which worked well. If you don’t know anyone willing to model, modelmayhem .com is a service that’s another option. You can also try asking within local photography groups.

Getting Published. Both of my styled shoots were published on blogs- the Lavender Garden Shoot was published on Wedding Chicks and The New Years Eve Party Shoot was published on Style Me Pretty. I have used a service called Two Bright Lights before but some blogs like SMP and WC are not on there so I submit directly to their submissions page on their blogs. Getting published could be a blog post all on its own but the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a publication is to know their style and be sure your shoot and style fit into it. Familiarize yourself with them as much as possible and do your research. Another tip: submission guidelines are serious; follow them 100%.

After the shoot. Send each vender photos from their product or service. Be sure to do this as quickly as you can (the turnaround time will be in your contract). I made each vender their own gallery and emailed it to them. I also mailed some products back to venders after the shoot.

(C) Joy Michelle Photography 2013

I will be answering any questions in the comments below, so ask away!

3 responses to “How to Plan a Styled Shoot – The Complete Guide

  1. This is super helpful! I’ve been thinking about doing a styled shoot in the next couple months! Thanks for sharing your tips :)

  2. Pingback: » Powerful mixes to your thing have to have | Eye Opening Literature

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