Styled shoots: Why they aren’t for us

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.

Why styled shoots are great

From a creativity point of view styled shoots are great. You 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 really like doing styled shoots

For us, the main reason that we turn down styled 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.

There isn’t a story to tell

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. There are hurdles and barriers to overcome at every turn.

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.

All a matter of opinion

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 and we would never rule out doing them in future. For us though, for now at least, we enjoy having no brief, we enjoy 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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  1. A very interesting take on styled shoots. Whilst I understand your reasoning, for the photographer learning the art of wedding photography, being able to showcase work from a workshop or portfolio building session, is the only way of illustrating what they ‘can’ do or (hopefully) recreate given each unique setting and conditions. Seasoned wedding photographers will have albums and recent work to show. However, compliance with new GDPR guidelines impacts on what you can, and more importantly can’t, show without the express permission of the subject(s) in the photographs taken at events.. With workshops and styled shoots, the models have signed releases and by nature of their involvement, are happy to share the results.. I would hope that all wedding photographers have at least attended a workshop or portfolio building session prior to launching their business and they should be lauded for doing so. Sadly, a great many photographers in any genre, think they can buy an expensive camera and images will magically appear without any interference apart from pressing the shutter or taking the camera off Auto and call themselves a Professional Photographer. With that in mind, I did check out your gallery and noted that you are true to your description of your photojournalistic style and I personally prefer this approach to wedding photography.