How to Plan a Styled Shoot & A FREE Planning Guide!

[Image was taken with my Canon 5d Mark iii & Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens]

Before diving into the HOW let’s first review the WHY…

What is the point of planning a styled shoot? Why would a photographer, planner, florist, cake designer, model, etc. put so much effort and potentially make such a big investment into creating what is essentially a fake wedding or portrait session? Well, there are different answers, all stemming from the creatives’ needs to reach their goals. For starters, this kind of collaboration might fill a portfolio gap. A photographer or other creative may be aiming to dive into a new market, yet they lack the imagery to create effective marketing campaigns. Perhaps the person planning this pretty day is new to the industry and so desperately wants to work with others. This project serves as a great chance for that creative to really prove themselves and connect their art with those they aspire to continue working with in the future. Many people aspire to be featured on a certain blog or other publication and plan to submit their styled shoot for consideration. Or, maybe this styled shoot is an opportunity for a creative to showcase a new product or service offering. Whatever the reason may be, a styled shoot can hold a lot of value to those involved.

It’s essential that we understand our WHY prior to diving into any planning steps. The reason being because the VISION grows from the why. If the shoot is meant to target a particular market, then the colors, venue, desired vibe and the design elements will all evolve from the style of that target market. If the shoot is to serve as an excuse to work with certain creatives, then maybe the direction of the design will be less about appealing to potential clients, and more about celebrating creative freedom.

Once we define our motive, it’s time to tackle the dirty work – the HOW…

This topic always comes up in my mentor sessions and workshops. How in the world are you going to actually make this vision of yours a reality? Don’t panic. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Don’t quit before you get started. Simply follow these 10 steps and download my Styled Shoot Planning Guide to keep you organized!

1// Communicate the why – When we send out emails, pick up the phone, or meet with other creatives about the styled shoot, we sometimes forget to thoroughly explain what sparked this idea and really outline our intentions. If we do not clearly communicate why we are even attempting to plan this creative event, then we are setting up the team without direction. This can lead to a really scattered design and other misunderstandings throughout the planning process.

Side note – The planner of a styled shoot might have certain intentions for the styled shoot, while other vendors involved may have slightly different intentions. Through open communication and willingness to work together, you can combine your motives to keep everyone happy without compromising the design.

2// Get ahold of your vision – We get really excited about these kinds of projects and attempt to do it all. We want to go big and wow everyone! Although this ambitious energy is great to have, it can sometimes lead to going overboard and losing control of a consistent style within our shoot. By building a defined mood board, organized shot list and location outline, we’re able to keep our decisions in line with the overall design.

3// Understand how the team interprets the vision – A couple years ago I planned my very first styled shoot and oh boy, it was rough. The work that everyone contributed was beautiful, but the final product did not fit my vision or my mission AT ALL. I realized that I never took the time to make sure others involved really understood the full scope of the design. Instead, I sent along an inspiration board and let them go wild with it. This loosey goose approach really backfired, as some creatives took the inspiration too literal while others took it too general. The style was inconsistent and did not represent the direction I was hoping for.

What I should’ve done was met with each vendor a couple of times throughout the planning process with updates about how the overall design was coming together. This is not to be mistaken with being overly bossy or controlling of others’ artistic efforts. That’s not my intention here. My intention is to help them understand the bigger picture and how their unique efforts can add value to the style shoot.

4// Delegate – Put simply: Don’t try to do it all. One of the biggest mistakes I made in the first couple of styled shoots I planned was taking on way too much. I am a photographer, not a florist. For me to take on the floral design role in a styled shoot, means I now have to dedicate attention on another really important element to the design which takes my focus away from what I do best. Delegating responsibilities to those that specialize in that kind of deliverable will allow you to concentrate on your forte.

5// Create a schedule for the day – Let’s be real for a minute – creatives in their happy place without any time constraints will lead to what? It will lead to their continuously trying to perfect their art and taking their sweet time. The light and the weather are changing with every hour, so it’s essential that everyone be on the same page about what will be done and when it will be done so that they can complete their contribution accordingly.

6// Create a shot list – Remember to keep your why in mind. Are you trying to publish this styled shoot? If so, it would make sense to analyze the desired publication and get a grip on what they desire in their submissions. From there, build a shot list that aims to please their requirements, and yet still allows you to be creatively flexible. Also, what matters to the vendors who are participating? Are there any images of their contribution that would mean a lot to them? This is an investment for everyone involved, so that’s something to keep in mind. A shot list is not meant to constrain the photographer, but to merely be a point of reference and offer some prioritization.

7// Continuously review your progress – A styled shoot day flys by. It’s important to pause periodically throughout the day and review the images taken. Are you happy with what you’ve collected so far? Have you made the most of that design or location? Is there anything else you want to try creatively before moving on? Pausing to reflect forces you to take a breather and tap deeper into inspiration.

8// Organize credits ahead of time – Your styled shoot was successful because of everyone involved, not only the photographer. By organizing a credits list ahead of time and sharing that list with the team, we’re able to accurately credit all of the vendors alongside any images that are shared with the world. Crediting on all social media platforms, our blogs, in newsletters, printed materials, etc., allows for additional industry support and growth together.

9// Maximize your efforts – On the day of the styled shoot don’t forget about opportunities to live stream or take photos of what goes on behind the scenes. The creative world, and your ideal clients, love to see you work passionately alongside others in the industry! Think of ways to leave trails behind such as creating a hashtag to celebrate your efforts, sharing Instagram and Facebook easy-to-use copy/paste credit lists for all vendors to include on posted phone photos, a quickly turned around sneak peek, etc.!

10// Learn from your experience – I’m the first to admit mistakes not because I view them as weaknesses but because I view mistakes as opportunities for growth and better decision making in the future. Keep a log throughout the styled shoot planning process to jot down any challenges faced along the way. Write any lessons learned and notes to self so that the next collaboration you plan is more successful.

Wondering how to create a mood board? Confused about how to piece together a blog feature submission? Having trouble creating a shot list? Download my Styled Shoot Planning Guide for more guidance!

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March 14, 2017

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