Get Real Series
Falling for the Fallacy: The Styled Shoot Tree can be Shady AF
by Kasey Kyprianou
We need to talk about styled shoots.
What is a styled shoot? For credibility, I decided not to dictate what my version of a styled shoot is, although you know I found a definition I agreed with--because well, that’s kind of the point of this post.
Our creative leaders are traveling around the country creating and designing styled wedding shoots (with models, hair & makeup, gowns, flowers, cake, stationery*, reception tables, a beautiful venue, etc... the whole nine!) for photographers to capture beautiful details and portfolio worthy images. Of course, photographers at the shoots are welcome (& encouraged) to submit their photos for publication and use them to help build up their brand and/or the clientele they are after. -Styled Shoots Across America
To sum it up, it’s a mock wedding that creative event professionals collaborate on in order to mutually benefit everyone participating by getting portfolio images and creative liberties to explore new creative outlets.
It’s a photoshoot. Fantasy.
- Event planners get to show off their design and communication skills
- Photographers get to shoot the exact event they want to shoot
- Event professionals get professional images of their work
- Models/Couples get images of themselves
- Everyone gets to flex their creative muscles
And if all goes according to plan: you get published and get to put a .png badge on your website to convince people you know what you’re doing.
Obviously, there are industries that benefit more than others for styled shoots. You don’t often see musicians participate, because well, you can’t hear music no matter how many words a picture may be worth. Videographers add a great social media nugget to the mix, and allow musicians or djs to join the party--but it’s rare to have video coverage, at least that I’ve seen. There is rarely ever a caterer involved because well, it’s all fake. No one is going to eat anything (besides maybe some cold pizza out of frame) and food photography is a whole other ball game. Couples want to try your food no matter how beautifully it photographs, so it’s not really worth the effort it would take for them.
My industry--design of all pretty people things. I design stationery and decor for styled shoots and I’ve had both fantastic and horrible experiences. Stationers have an advantage in that they can send their pieces across the globe to be part of a shoot without actually being physically present. But that means they lose the opportunity to style their work, which, much like a florist would want, makes neck hairs stand up over presentation fails.
Classic stationery designers are known to design beautiful thin scripts in pastel inks on white papers. You can imagine that would require a very refined photographer to shoot and edit to make sure the work is showcased properly. Overexposure is real--am I looking at a hand calligraphy invitation or a blank piece of paper?
Styling the suite is just as important as the final design. Random accessories (why are there shoes with the invitation?), invitations hidden under their suitemates, haphazard layouts and 2 photos as a result of work that took hours are reasons the artist prefers to be onsite and styling their work. Sidenote: I’m the one asking for all the inserts to get captured from different angles (I need the ig content more than anything…) more than a few shots of the whole suite, and some sort of human being holding my work.
Even a shoot with the best intentions has a fairly good chance of being disappointment for the artist involved. But what about the shadiness of the whole idea of styled shoots? Can we talk about that? I didn’t come here to post on how to plan or participate in a styled shoot, I came here to call them out.
I. e x p o s u r e
I am a graphic designer. And if there is anything artists and designers know is that designing for exposure is the bane of our existence--no, really, we can’t feed ourselves or buy a home with exposure, if we could, I’d have invested in that ish way before bitcoin was a currency.
“But Kasey, how do you expect [paying] clients to find you if you don’t get your name out there?”
That’s literally my job as a small business owner. Make people know what I do and do it.
It happens through relationship building, referrals, paid marketing efforts, and maybe some wholesale priced work (still pro-bono if you ask me considering I’m not charging you for your time). I don’t do styled shoots for the exposure alone, because 99% of the time, it’s not worth it.
I have booked ONE wedding because of a published shoot.
As a naïve baby artist, I designed for free. They promised me that once the company took off they’d pay me. Spoiler alert: none of the 3 companies went anywhere.
Styled shoots are just a shady way of asking a professional to deliver premium work without paying for it. And the intention is great, in theory, a rising tide lifts all boats and all.
The truth is, people are out there for themselves. If there is nothing in it for them, they’re ghosts. Now you know why people bail on a shoot after initially agreeing, or if they’re smart, ask the planner of the shoot 99 questions before agreeing to join in.
II. You are not a client.
There are VERY fine lines that need to be emboldened if styled shoots are going to work the way they were intended.
If I’m working for free it’s because it’s a passion project. Full stop.
I am not, by any way shape or form, designing something according to your parameters or personal opinions. If you ask me to be part of, or agree to my request to design for a shoot, you have me on board because you think my work aligns with your vision. Trust in that.
Maybe that makes me sound like an asshole, actually, I’m fairly sure it does, but you like something about this asshole’s work, so you get the whole asshole package.
It’s funny, we tell our couples all the time that despite their family’s contributions to their wedding, it doesn’t give them a right to dictate how it will play out. When they aren’t paying the couple should do whatever they want.
What a concept.
Event professionals get final say on their work for every styled shoot. Unless they are misrepresenting a fellow pro in some way, that’s just how it is.
Because of my work in non-traditional invitation mediums, I often get styled shoot coordinators asking me for a certain medium, which, yes, if it’s not paper, I’m probably your girl, but, if at my discretion, something works better, I get to do what I think is best. We don’t hire a natural light photographer to capture posed shots and we don’t ask for subjective design decisions from a designer.
So no, you don’t get to tell me you don’t like the font or the color of the envelopes. You are not a client. Because if you were, we’d have a much different process. Timelines, contracts, even communication boundaries are much different with clients, because they earn certain rights when they put their money where their mouth is.
III. A real party is not a styled shoot.
I’ll say it again for the people in the back.
A r e a l e v e n t i s n o t a s t y l e d s h o o t .
This happens when I get asked to design for “shoots” that aren’t weddings. Or maybe they throw a pair of people in there as models to take photos of before the real event gets started--yeah no, not a styled shoot.
This is the shadiest shit I have ever seen.
Photo Credit - Amber Robinson
My work is heavily specialized in non-traditional mediums. This means that it can be especially tricky to photograph the details of woodgrain, the texture of fabric, and the visibility of clear acrylic. I partnered with one of my local professionals to get dedicated lay flat shots of my work for web and brand use that weren’t part of a styled shoot. The best part was that I had control over how my work was displayed, and we worked together to get the shots I needed.
You are asking a fellow creative to work a real event for nothing.
I have been told shoots are shoots only to get deeper in the process and find out that wasn’t the case. My red flag is when I get asked for a digital design or more than a couple copies of a suite.
Sorry, but 85 invitations are not for a styled shoot.
It doesn’t matter if you’re submitting it for publishing, it would be under the real weddings category if it were a wedding.
This is some grade-a bullshit right here where people ask their professional network to be part of a personal event for them with no intention of paying for their work. It honestly blows my mind, especially when we all would come to bat when a couple asks, “Is it more expensive because it’s a wedding?”
OF COURSE IT IS.
I spend 4 hours of design time on average for each real wedding. My couples get 3 rounds of proofs with unlimited changed and at minimum, 12 weeks of me as a professional resource.
Non-wedding designs are the bastard love child of an idea and a designer--not 2 consultation calls and a details questionnaire that takes approximately 20 minutes before I even open up adobe creative suite.
If it’s for an event with real guests, pay for the work you’re asking for.
IV. Stop saying yes.
I didn’t do styled shoots for a bit. They cost big money to create the batshit crazy ideas I come up with--seriously, I have a sample of one invitation that cost me $150 wholesale. Even now, I’m exceptionally wary of the ones I say yes to. I honestly do them for fun, when clients are sparse, or both and I need a hit of that sweet sweet gratification that comes from a gorgeous professional image of my work. I ask if there’s an interested publication and who--everything must line up with my scope.
I’ve also said no.
It’s lead me to be asked more often about better opportunities. It’s earned me respect because I don’t bail unless circumstances change.
Styled shoots are shady business. Don’t get burned out there. Be your own asshole.
*Special thanks for the spelling edit of stationery from Styled Shoots Across America. It's important to use right titles of your fellow industry professionals. For more on stationery vs. stationary, see my blog on common stationery terms here.
Kasey Kyprianou is the owner and founder of revelry + heart, a custom design studio for couples that revel in their authenticity and crave design that evokes conversation. In a past life, Kasey was a graphic design student who interned at a stationery store in Greenwich, Connecticut. It was there that she worked on projects with the likes of Brenden Fraser and Flo Rida. Now, a seasoned business owner, she owns her own studio and designs for her own celebrity clients around the world. She's an envelope-pusher, a family treaty peacemaker, timeline expert and non-traditional stationery queen.
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