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Styled shoots: Why they aren’t for us

From time to time we’re asked to participate in styled shoots. Often they’ll involve working at a wedding venue or other pretty location alongside other suppliers.

Usually there’s a theme or feel that everyone will work towards to create an over all look. This can be a collaboration of ideas, or one supplier may provide the brief initially and recruit other vendors who’s work or style matches the brief.

From a creativity point of view styled shoots are great. You often get to explore new ideas, concepts or techniques that you wouldn’t necessarily get to test out on an actual wedding day. You get to stretch your creative legs and, to an extent, let your imagination run away with you.

Collaboratively they’re also fun. You may get to work with other suppliers who’s work you’ve admired from afar, but never had the opportunity to meet before. You also get a bit of a behind the scenes look at what goes into everyone else’s job. The whole thing becomes one big team effort.

After the shoot, if you’re lucky, the session will be picked up by a blog or magazine. In turn you’ll all hopefully benefit from a bit of free publicity.

It sounds great right? If they’re your thing they really are. For the last 5 years however, we’ve decided to politely decline involvement in styled shoots. We’re going to explain our own reasons for this below.

Why we don’t like styled shoots

For us, the main reason that we turn down stylised shoots is because they are not a good reflection of how we work, or the photos that we deliver from a wedding day. As wedding photographers, we don’t work to a brief in the same way that a florist or a cake maker does for example. Our work isn’t couple led, which means that they don’t come to us and tell us what they want. Instead, we work in a particular way and deliver a particular style. Couples book us because of that, because it’s what they are looking for. As such the style of our work remains consistent from wedding to wedding.

We shoot in a photojournalistic way, which means that we’re there all day, in the background documenting moments that collectively tell a story. At the heart of what we do, we’re story tellers.

On a styled shoot, it’s not about telling a story. There isn’t a story to tell. It’s about showcasing your best work, creativity, what you’re capable of. It’s about showing new ideas, providing inspiration. This is all well and good if you’re creating menus or place settings, because the shoot showcases a product. For a photographer who’s work is fundamentally based on authentically capturing emotion, and utilising unique opportunities to be creative, the images that result from a stylised shoot are utterly pointless. The entire basis of many photographers portfolios are the unposed moments, the off the cuff stuff that you just can’t fake.

On a styled shoot you are taking photos of stationary objects, models. It’s more like a commercial or fashion shoot, which just isn’t what we do. Wedding photographers work in an emotional, fast paced environment. The pressure is on to get the perfect shot first time, every time. You’re bound by timeline constraints, you’re “competing” with guests for photos. You’re politely trying to ask the wedding coordinator to stop following you around whilst trying to get some natural couples photos.

On a styled shoot you have full control. You aren’t working with time pressure or available light to the same degree that you are at a wedding. You can retake a shot as many times as you like. And if you screw up, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Basically they are totally different environments.

Is it really about the photos?

Another no no for us is that styled shoots always seem to feel like the photographer is getting a raw deal. If the content is good the photos are likely to be picked up by a blog or magazine anyway, so it’s a great way to feel like a glorified button pusher. How many times have you seen just plain BAD photos featured somewhere- but there was a quirky detail or celebrity guest for example. Content is king!

Styled wedding shoots never really seem to be about the photos. If the content is good the photos will pretty much get picked up regardless. If the content is nothing out of the ordinary they could be the best most technically perfect images in the world and no one is going to touch them.

Homework

You also have to be there all day. There’s no chance of dropping off your stuff and heading home. And when you do head home you’ve got all the culling and editing to do. All the photo resizing and distributing to everyone involved. You may even have the job of submitting the photos for publication. So it’s a whole lot of work if at the end of it all the photos don’t even really reflect your true style. If you’re new to weddings, they’re a good practice exercise or opportunity to network. As an experienced, or documentary style wedding photographer though, personally we don’t feel that they’re good for much else.

Of course, these are just our thoughts. We appreciate that others may feel differently. We also appreciate that it’s nice to do something different every once in a while. For us though, we enjoy having no brief, not knowing what will be coming next. We enjoy the spontaneity that real weddings offer and delivering emotive images. We feel that a real wedding environment is the best way to showcase the quality and standard of our work.

It’d be interesting to hear others thoughts on stylised shoots and whether other photographers who work in a photojournalistic style feel the same.

Sam & Louise

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