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04 February 2014

Anatomy of A Styled Wedding Shoot ● by Jess

So, after over a month with almost no internet, I'm finally back! And I will say, living without it has almost killed me.

Now that I'm finally able to sit down and write, I thought I'd do a post dissecting some of the components of styled wedding shoots. These sessions are sort of a necessary evil for me. They pretty much run your life, but they are SO HELPFUL in getting clients and making industry connections.

So, shall we?

1) The Planner

The event planner is the life blood of the whole experience. As a photographer, I usually cast the models and (surprisingly) put together the initial mood board inspiration, but other than that, the planner takes care of the remaining logistics and getting the vendors onboard and coordinated. In my personal opinion, being the event planner is a thankless, HORRIBLE job... so I am grateful that there are friendly, hyper-organized, mildly masochistic people out there that are willing to do it. Seriously, you guys deserve a medal.

These are mood boards from a vendor meeting I had recently. I always try to select my color palette from the set of upcoming Pantone Colors for the next season. That way I can make sure I'm on trend. 
The planning process usually takes a month or two. I've planned shoots in as little as 2 weeks and it was nightmarish. Never again!

2) The Crisis

It seems with nearly every styled shoot, something terrible happens within 48 hours of the session. A vendor cancels, a model arrives late, a model arrives hungover, a model doesn't show up (are you sensing a theme?).... I am constantly reminding myself of a card one of my old roommates had on our mirror, 'I am flexible and flowing.'

Taking a moment to breathe is really the only way to manage the stress under the realization that a dozen vendors have each invested several hundred dollars of goods and labor and you MUST produce a viable result. It's pretty high pressure, but it definitely lets you exercise creative problem-solving, which can be a blast, especially when you are with the right people.

While trying to take the above image, the dress fell. This wouldn't have been such a big deal if it hadn't landed on an archway with no access. The designer decided to straddle the void to retrieve her gown. I was terrified she'd fall to her death, so I *naturally* just stood around photographing the whole time. 

From this I've learned to only work with positive people. Its not worth it to deal with debby downers. On one shoot I had a couple of months ago, I incurred thousands of dollars of equipment damage-- so much so that I had to use the model's mobile phone to finish up the session. Everyone was still so happy and excited, even though I was literally falling apart inside. Thank goodness for optimistic people!

3) The Man Candy

Its not all stress and anxiety; there are a few perks to the job. Male models definitely bring a little zest to an otherwise gloomy group of women and can make for the most epic people watching EVER! On one particular shoot, our dress designer was going gaga over our "groom" and her daughter (who was one of our female models) was mortified. "Please mum," she begged. "Stop gettin all pervy on him. It's really gross!" But did it stop her mother? Of course not ;)

4) The Diva

The wedding industry seems to be disproportionately full of divas. Sometimes its fun-- like when you get a fabulous gay florist that makes you feel like a million bucks.

However, sometimes it's not so fun.  Recently we had a makeup artist-- the self-proclaimed "best in England"-- that came on a shoot. I had a bad feeling about her from the beginning, but my event planner was determined to bring her on. The day began with the makeup artist, who was late, calling up and saying that she refused to ride the elevator alone and required an escort. weird.

Then she went on with the makeup of our two female model and one male model. We had 2 hours budgeted... she took four-- 45 minutes of which were entirely devoted to putting on lipstick. While she did a good job with our fair-skinned Asian model, she clearly had no experience with black skin and this was the result:

Between the strangely absent foundation, the bluish eyeshadow, the galactic orange-pink lip color, this makeup job was disastrous

The edited version, which looks most like the model in real life.
After four hours of waiting around, the rest of the team decided we'd just plow forward and I'd edit afterwards. BIG MISTAKE. Every single image had to have makeup edited, which extended my editing time by double. But I couldn't leave it! Our beautiful model looked like a cross-dresser circa 1987.

When the makeup artist got the images back (I sent her both the original and edited versions) she insisted that the makeup needed to be edited further if it was going to be featured in print, while simultaneously maintaining that her original color choices where better. OH MY GOSH! Some people will never be happy.

5) The Team

There are usually a dozen or more people on these shoots and all of them deserve a round of praise. Most particularly my assistants. Lucky for me, marriage provides me with a very convenient assistant. However, when he is working, I get to work with other wonderful individuals (shout out to Gabby Nau-- best photo assistant ever!).

6) The Chemistry

Its really important to me to get the models to look like they have real chemistry-- which you can do a fair bit with posing-- but the BEST way to do it is to get them to laugh. Now, I am not a funny person at all. I've tried telling jokes, but every time one leaps out of my mouth, it dies somewhere in the space between the models and where I'm standing. We all mourn the death by staring at each other awkwardly, wishing it had been funnier. Needless to say, I no longer tell jokes.

Good news is, I have discovered an even BETTER way to make people smile: Flattery. It may sound silly, but when you gush meaningful compliments (not empty praise), you can literally watch someones self-esteem bloom in front of you. They light up and you see genuine smiles and self-confidence. Interestingly, as you compliment the bride, the groom begins to see her through your eyes, and you watch him change his posture and gaze on her (and vise versa with the bride). People, this even works on models!

It also probably helps that I bounce around like a caffeinated toddler in a candy store. I'm sure I look like a buffoon, but excitement is infectious, and it seems to be working....

7) The Editing

After the shoot is done, the burden is really upon me to deliver. I give between 2 weeks and a month to get all the images finished both for vendors and for blog submissions. Generally, which blogs we submit to is a decision made between the event planner on myself. Being in the UK, its usually a trade off between the higher traffic US blogs or the more audience specific UK blogs. US blogs often win out though as the Brits don't seem to like styled shoots as much as Americans.

And there you have it. I could probably write six more blog posts on this subject alone, but that is where I'll leave things for now! Toodle-oo!


  1. That is really interesting! Your writing is delightful and hilarious so don't worry if jokes die mid flight!!
    Miss you!

  2. Glad to have you back online, Jess! Your editing worked wonders on that photo. Cross-dresser before? Yes, so accurate! Your photos show your dedication.

  3. Happy to have you back on the web, Jess! Your altering worked ponders on that photograph. Cross-dresser in the recent past? Yes, so faultless! Your photographs demonstrate your devotion. photographer kentish town