Dirty Little Secrets: Beware of Styled Shoots

Styled shoots are something most couples are unaware of. A styled shoot is an editorial wedding photo shoot where a group of vendors get together to collaborate and support each other. There are always an abundance of details, such as elaborate tablescapes, luxurious bouquets and floral arrangements, stylish wedding attire, intricate hair styles, stunning makeup, and much more. It’s a great way for these vendors to create new photos for their web site, as well as marketing images for blog posts, social media, and advertisements.

Have you ever looked at a photographer’s web site to see that every couple looks like models? Are all their photos staged? Do they have an overabundance of detail shots like cakes, flowers, and table settings? Is there a serious lack of bridal party and guest photos? Are there no candids? You may be looking at styled shoots, not real weddings.

Before you come for me in the comments, let me say that I’m not hating on styled shoots. In fact, they can be beneficial for a couple planning their wedding.


You can see styled shoots on web sites like The Knot, Style me Pretty, and Green Wedding Shoes. These types of blogs are perfect for finding wedding inspiration. These types of web sites have expertly curated collections of photos, and they are all on trend. In fact, it’s VERY difficult to get a styled shoot published (I’ve never been successful at it), so if it is on a wedding planning web site, you know it’s one of the best. You can create Pinterest boards and pin photos of hair styles, makeup, head pieces, dresses, themes, decor, cakes, etc.

Finding Vendors

There are several vendors that can really show off their talent in styled shoots: hair and makeup artists, florists, decorators, cake artists, and venues. When using this method to source vendors, be sure you are looking in the right geographical area, where you are to be married. You can find these blogs by Googling in specific ways, such as, “New York City styled wedding shoots.”

First, scroll through them to find collections that inspire you and resonate with your wedding vision. Every published photo shoot has a list of vendors, which links to their web sites. For instance, when you see flowers that stun you, check out the florist’s web site. If you like what you see, add them to your list. Go through as many styled shoots as you like, and create lists of every vendor you love. As you’re searching and sorting, pin images to your Pinterest inspiration boards.

Why are Styled Shoots Problematic for Photographers?

Wedding photography is completely unique from any other type of photography. I talk about this in my blog post How to Choose a Wedding Photographer. Someone might be an incredible portrait photographer, but throw them into the middle of a wedding and they wouldn’t know what to do. They wouldn’t know where to start, how to work the timeline, how to deal with the venue, how to photograph family groupings (SO important), how to photograph a ceremony without being disruptive, or how to work in difficult lighting situations. I’m forced to regroup, change gears, and make the most of tough situations every single time I shoot a wedding. I’ve photographed ceremonies in sunlight so bright it was like we were on the surface of the sun. How did I do it successfully? Expert light metering skills I’ve developed over the course of years of practice. I’ve also photographed ceremonies in the dark. A portrait photographer always has control of their light, whether it’s a studio setup or a golden hour outdoor session.

If a wedding photographer’s web site is full of styled shoots, but totally lacking any sense of real weddings, beware. They don’t have the experience to handle a real wedding, especially when it comes to candid photos. Wedding photojournalism is incredibly important because that’s what captures fleeting moments of memories and emotions. Those are the lifeblood of any wedding. If a photographer doesn’t know how to shoot candid images, you won’t have any of that. You won’t have that photo of you crying and hugging your grandmother on the dance floor, because they won’t be able to catch it before you break apart and start dancing with someone else. You won’t have precious moments between you and your parents as they hug and kiss you after the ceremony. You won’t have the laughter of your bridal party celebrating with you. Don’t sell yourself short and give up these precious memories to save money. I know someone who hired a newspaper photographer to shoot their wedding for $600 because he was a friend. She has NO candid photos of her and her son. Her son was murdered a few years later. Your family doesn’t have a price tag on it. Believe me, it’s worth hiring someone experienced and reliable.

Here’s something I didn’t even know until a month ago: Many styled shoots have a main photographer, then invite several other photographers who are willing to pay a fee to photograph the models and details. I think the biggest problem with styled shoots is the repetition. Tons of photographers end up having the same images of the same models and details, that everyone is starting to blend together. Trends are pretty unilateral, so many styled shoots end up looking the same as well.

How Styled Shoots Help Photographers

I’m not saying you should blacklist every photographer you come across that shows only styled shoots. Photographers do styled shoots for two reasons: to practice their skill and to market their business. If they’ve done a lot of styled shoots, they have practiced their posing in ideal lighting situations. So, if you’re having a simple elopement at golden hour, the photographer might be a good fit for you! If you’re having a destination elopement or wedding out of state or out of the country (like in Yosemite), and you want engagement photos locally, one of these photographers could take care of you. They can schedule your session at a location they’re familiar with, during the day when lighting is most attractive and usable for them.

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