Whether you are a new photographer just starting your photography business or a seasoned professional looking to expand your business and marketing reach, a great strong portfolio is crucial to your success.

Karthika Gupta Wedding Photographer Ballet Inspired Bridal Editorial in Historic Grandball Room 011

A stylized session for either wedding, portrait, editorial or lifestyle photography is a wonderful way to build that strong portfolio, promote your brand with stunning imagery, help build industry connections and attract the right type of clients. In this article I want to address a few different topics as it relates to styled shoot:

  • What are they? and Why are they a good idea?
  • How to setup a styled shoot?
  • How to execute a styled shoot?

So you may ask the question as to what exactly is a styled shoot. Quite simply put a styled shoot is a planned gathering of a group of vendors or creatives that have put together a ‘mock’ event with a pre-determined aesthetic for the purpose of adding professional photos to their portfolio, and/or submitting photos to a magazine or blog publication to showcase their individual talents. Yes, it is essentially a staged event but that does not dilute the power of this portfolio building opportunity.

Karthika Gupta of Memorable Jaunts How to setup a styled photoshoot

Why are styled shoot a good idea?

In today’s technologically connected world, visual stimulation is still one of the best ways to grab a potential customer’s attention. As photographers we have to realize that branding is so much more than just the product or the service. It is about feelings, emotions and experiences associated with the imagery. Clients always look at portfolio pictures to not only get a sense of a photographer’s skill but also to get a sense of their personality and style. Professional well-executed photos tie the knot between a great product and a great experience. Sometimes either because of client preferences or rushed timelines (especially in the case of weddings) we don’t have the luxury and freedom to practice a lot of creative exploration with our imagery. In such cases, a styled shoot is a perfect way to bridge that gap.

By their very nature, styled shoots are meant to showcase talent of all the involved vendors – both individually as well as collectively. In most cases, this is a group effort so it is a great opportunity to network with vendors in the same industry. Since it is a pre-determined a.k.a planned event, it is great for creative exploration and expression to promote products and services of all concerned parties. To get the most out of a styled shoot, use it as an opportunity to really get creative and try out new and exciting product and service ideas. But bear in mind that just because it is a mock event, does not mean it is stress-free. Use this time and space to learn, practice and grow your skills as well as get new and updated photos/product ideas for your business.

One caveat I will say is that a styled shoot should never be put forth as real client work. Be honest and upfront when you share your styled shoots with your potential clients. It is completely okay and acceptable to mention that the work done by a styled shoot is a exercise in creative expression and show the quality of work that is possible.

Additionally, I feel it’s important to distinctly separate my version of a styled shoot, which I did as a creative, self-driven process to the mass-styled shoot events that have become more popular today, particularly in the wedding industry. Mass-styled shoot are beneficial as great learning opportunities on how the professional style, execute and promote their work, they shouldn’t be used solely for the purpose of capturing portfolio-worthy work that would catapult your career to the next level. For this reason, I am specifically talking about solo styled shoots here. These styled shoots are executed with the intention of developing and designing an idea from start to finish completely on you as the creative director.

Karthika Gupta Photography How to setup a styled photoshoot 01

Getting together with industry peers to create work that you are really proud of is a wonderful advantage of putting together a styled photoshoot.

How to setup a styled shoot?

Almost all styled shoots start with a concept or a theme that the team wants to explore. In most cases the styled shoots are driven by a stylist and/or photographer. When you are looking at setting up a styled shoot, something as simple as fabric to a color to a mood/emotion can be used as inspiration. But the key to remember here is to choose a theme or concept that is simple and not overly elaborate to execute especially if this is your first time doing it. Next figure out the timing and location of your shoot. I like to give myself at least two weeks to plan  a shoot but I have done shoots that have been six months out or even a few days out. Obviously the complexity of the shoot dictates the time needed to prep for it. Research relevant vendors you want to engage with on your styled shoot. This is another reason why timing is very important. Just like you, most people are very busy juggling a multitude of tasks and only because you have a great idea for a styled shoot does not mean they are going to drop everything to participate with you.

Styled shoots are very creatively satisfying projects but all a huge time commitment for all. When you are planning your styled shoot be very clear on what you expect to gain out of the shoot and what is in it for all those who are participating with you. A statement as simple as ‘beautiful pictures for your portfolio’ might not cut it for all. However something like ‘A beautifully styled ballet inspired bridal editorial showcasing all things blush and elegant’ might be more attractive to vendors who want to be a part of this experience. Also be very clear on expectation based on budget and payment. I have done shoots both ways where I have paid models and vendors for their services and products as well as shoots that are on participate-for-pictures trade model. It just depends on what is the end goal for the shoot.

How to execute a styled shoot?

The biggest challenge I found when collaborating for a styled shoot is during the execution phase of the project. In order to stay organized and on top of the whole process I have a few suggestions that will make your life easy as the photographer/creative on hand

a) Compile a checklist – There are a million different moving part to organizing a styled shoot – from models, to pros, to location, to lighting, to gear etc. Have a running list of items and check them as you go along

b) Share ideas and inspirations via visual tools like Pinterest Boards – In situations where not all vendors are local to you, visual tools are a great way to showcase inspiration and exchange ideas. Additional there is no confusion on the exact color of the florals, the size and shape of the cake, the style of makeup etc if everything is accurately documented.

c) Gather all relevant contact information – Keep a running list of names, contract number and social media handles for all the participating vendors and share them with everyone on the team. That way if you need to get a hold of anyone last minute, you know exact where to go to get that information.

d) Collaborate on design and assign tasks – Styled shoots are a lot of work but extremely satisfying from a creative standpoint if they are executed correctly. Maker sure you collaborate effectively as a team and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. I learnt the hard way that I cannot wear all the different hats and be responsible to capture beautiful imagery at the same time. I find it best for everyone’s creative sanity that they are responsible for what they do best.

Karthika Gupta Photography Ballet Dance Inspired Bridal Editorial Shoot in Joliet Union Station Ballroom-50

Photographing for your brand

Since you have gone through all this trouble of planning and organizing a styled portfolio building shoot, make sure that the end result a.k.a photos reflect exactly what you set out to achieve. It is very easy to get carried away on the day of the shoot and just go through the motions of photographing the mock event in any which way possible. But remember this is not the objective of the shoot. When I plan a styled shoot it is for one (or all) of the following three reasons

  • I want updated portfolio for my brand/website/portfolio
  • I want to showcase my talent in doing something I haven’t done before with the intention of showing my work to future clients
  • I want to network with and collaborate with vendors that I want to establish a working relationship with in the future

To that end, I want to ensure that my time and effort is efficiently and effectively utilized, not to mention that of the team I have brought together. To that end I have the following I bring to each of my styled shoots

  • 3-4 branding words that best describe my work – My branding words are bright, airy, fun, fresh, organic and authentic. All my photos try to convey one or more of these words and emotions!
  • A shot list of images that I absolutely have to capture – When you prepare your shot list, pre-visualize how your images are going to can add value, solve a potential customer problem and/or elevate your brand impressions
  • The shoot day broken up into small manageable chunks – What to shoot when I first setup the scene, what to focus on with the model, what to do when we are winding up the shoot.
  • A content strategy plan for using these images and the portfolio shoot – I communicate with the vendors to take behind the scene images and showcase those during the shoot so we can drum up interest during the actual photoshoot. I will then send a couple of sneak peek images to the vendors the day after so they can showcase those to their audience with the appropriate credits and shout-outs. Once the images are curated and edited, I will send all the participating vendors images for their use (if that is part of the working contract/expectations for the shoot).
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What you setup and what you produce has to be in alignment with your brand and the type of clients you want to attract.

Styled shoots are a lot of fun and very creatively satisfying to plan and execute. But they are also a huge amount of work for everyone concerned. It is very easy to get carried away and only focus on styled shoot all year round in an effort to create new and fresh content. But that is not the point of this exercise. You should think of styled shoots as a way to create/update your portfolio but don’t discount all the other aspects of building your photography business. Paid clients and paid work always trumps creative gigs but both are required to stay inspired and grow a profitable photography business.

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How to setup a styled photoshoot for your business or brand

  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for sharing these editorial tips on how to plan a styled shoot! I’ve been meaning to plan my own styled shoot for a while, but it is always so overwhelming – this is really helpful! It looks like you’ve got a great team of vendors in Chicago!

  2. Becki says:

    This is really interesting! I assume you could do this in any genre, right? Thanks for the “how to” and why.

    • Absolutely Becki. I have done with for artists, wedding and even food bloggers. The key is to plan and execute it to showcase your brand and your business to your clients and more importantly potential clients.

  3. Becki says:

    These are some great tips – loved reading through this. I would love to do more editorial photography work and this post is the prefect little nudge I needed. 🙂

  4. jessica montoya says:

    These are such important things for anyone to remember or think of when they’re doing a an editorial photography session!

  5. Heather Scott says:

    I love planning styled shoots! These is just something exciting about planning your own session. These are all really helpful insights and I really enjoyed reading this!

  6. Laura says:

    Wonderful editorial photography tips for creatives. Often vendors aren’t exactly sure how to start with styled shoots and how to gear they towards their style/branding. In particular this would be helpful for newer creative entrepreneurs.

  7. sarah says:

    Ohhhh I love this! So many helpful tips from a great editorial photographer!

  8. sarah says:

    These are all such wonderful and invaluable editorial photography tips!! Totally something I can refer back to. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  9. Meghan says:

    These are super helpful editorial photography tips — thank you! I love the idea of keeping branding words in mind while planning the shoot.

    • Absolutely Meghan. It is so important to keep the brand visuals in mind so that the images really reflect what the brand is all about and the end product will actually be usable by all.

  10. Aida says:

    I am such a huge fan of styled shoots – I have participated in a few as a photographer. It is fun to collaborate and see the end results. You are an amazing editorial photographer!

  11. Amy says:

    So many great tips on editorial photography, I have tried to organize styled shoots several times and it just became to overwhelming. Thank you for sharing!

    • So sorry to hear that Amy. I will agree that there are so many moving parts to a styled shoot but with a little preparation and a lot of planning it can go smoothly. Maybe you can start small and move up the scale as you get more confident in this. Good luck to you!

  12. Fran says:

    this is such a practical blog post! I love how you have filled this post with so much information! I would love to try and give styled shoots a go this year but the thought of styling just makes my head spin!! Thanks again for all the info!

    • Fran it is not as hard as it looks. These steps really help to plan and execute a styled shoot but if it is too overwhelming, a desire or stylist is a great add to the team – they are the glue that holds the whole thing together for sure.

  13. Alison Rost says:

    I am just amazed at how much work goes into editorial photography. However, if it would be for brand promotion, I would not think twice to avail of the services of an editorial photographer.

    • Yes Alison – I totally agree. Nothing beats the quality of professional photos that truly reflect your brand. They just elevate the whole visual experience for the customer and more importantly potential customers.

  14. Meg says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this post! A group of photographers and I had scheduled a styled shoot last year and never actually made it happen! I am going to share this post with them and hopefully we can follow through with it this year! Thank you for the guidelines!

  15. Melissa says:

    I will definitely be leafing this post for future reference when I’m ready to host my own styled shoot. Thank you for sharing this! I know it must have been a lot of work to put together but its invaluable!

  16. Alyssa B says:

    I love these editorial photography tips! it’s so important to communicate your brand clearly

  17. Alyssa B says:

    Thank you for all these editorial photography tips. Do you set up any styled shoots! I would love to attend one.

  18. What a gorgeous blog post on styled photoshoots for your brand. I love when I get the chance to do them as it allows me to get more into my fine art approach and flex my creativity a bit more. Stunning images!

  19. I love doing stylized shoots, so much fun and creativeness is overflowing!

  20. Megan says:

    I love this guide for editorial photography! Learning to style your own shoots is totally invaluable and such a big learning process for most new photographers.

  21. olivia says:

    These are such great tips for editorial photography. I’m always blown away by how much time and talent goes into doing a styled shoot. And it’s always worth it in the end because the images are amazing!

  22. Helen Little says:

    This is such a comprehensive post for anybody looking to set up a styled photoshoot. What a great way to create a portfolio of images that showcase your individual style. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  23. Emely says:

    THESE ARE SUCH GREATS TIPS ON HOW TO CREATE THE PERFECT STYLED SHOOT. I’M ACTUALLY IN THE PROCESS OF PLANNING ONE RIGHT NOW, SO THIS IS PERFECT! DEFINITELY COMING BACK TO THESE FOR HELP <3

  24. Surekha says:

    These are some amazing tips on editorial photoshoot. I take a lot of pictures for the products I am promoting. It’s a lot of hard work. So I understand the process that goes behind. Love all the pictures in the post

  25. I love this behind the scenes look! This is really valuable for people of many professions.

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