We Need To Talk About Styled Shoots

What Is a Styled Shoot and why do we need to talk about them?

Essentially, styled shoots are mini fake weddings, involving a real or model couple and several wedding vendors to set up a photo shoot that looks like a wedding.

There are are a whole host of reasons you would run or take part in a styled shoot: portfolio fillers, to practice certain techniques, as a source of income by charging to shoot them or educational days, to enter into blogs/magazines, to create the kind of work you want to be doing, to gain experience, to create a more diverse portfolio, to have visual representation...the list goes on!

Why do we need to talk about styled shoots? Personally, I think they have the potential to very damaging to the Wedding Industry...

The Comparison Spiral

A conversation I've had many times with clients is how flooded Pinterest/instagram is with styled shoots, that it makes it hard to find actual achievable inspiration for their own weddings, without making them feel like they need to spend more money, and falling into the pit of comparison that is the reality of social media.

A couple laughing joyfully as their friend leads their ceremony in a room of smiling faces at a real wedding

Aren't styled shoots just people showing their best work?

Totally! And this can be the problem. Real weddings and styled shoots are vastly different landscapes. Styled shoots are fantastic for being able to take your time, work in controlled environment, try things again, focus solely on the present task.

The reality of a wedding day is the total opposite! You are almost always working in very tight time frames, thinking about the next thing to happen, often working with large numbers of people or people who are super uncomfortable at being on camera, and there is absolutely no take two!

The Glossy Feature

You may have noticed that more and more styled shoots are featured in blogs and magazines, and less and less are real weddings.

Well yeah, they can be stunning! The best of the best showing their best. The details, the golden hour, the boat, the 7k dress, the breathtaking flower displays - we can only dream! And that's the issue.

A room of people smile a beautiful couple as they have just had their first kiss at a real wedding, something you would find in a styled shoot

Styled shoots and diversity

This is where I feel the most rage and what we need to talk about more. When styled shoots consistently show us the same thin, 'conventionally beautiful', white, cis-het couple over and over again.

Styled shoots can be an amazing way to showcase bodies and couples that are highly under-represented. We can use them as a chance for us to look at our own internalised biases. Think about what contribution yours is making and be clear in what your message is. If you want to highlight the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the wedding industry, then consult with queer couples and vendors and include their voices! Ky Richardson has created a wonderful resource about how to run styled shoots ethically that you can check out here.

And remember, if all you've specifically used a model couple of a marginalised ethnicity, but all your vendors are white - this isn't representation.

Two alternative brides and their I do crew - the kind of image you would never find in a styled shoot

As a vendor: be clear with your workshop/styled shoots on social media and websites

There is no shame in it! Many big names in the industry regularly run or attend workshops/styled shoots and make it super clear in the captions. That's all it needs to be.

Be sure to always tag all the other vendors involved visibly. Most of the time it's cost them money, and a tag goes a long way!

Talk about styled shoots openly and honestly, and use them to amplify marginalised voices.

As a potential client: do your research thoroughly

Do they have a healthy mix of styled and real work displayed on their portfolio/socials/website?

Remember that so much of what we see as 'inspiration' is not reality, (unless you have an unlimited budget!) and that the best suppliers will work with you to let you know what really is achievable.

A couple enjoying an intimate moment of the dance floor of a real wedding, highlighting how great they are over styled shoots

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

There is absolutely no shame in participating in or running styled shoots. We've all done them! Styled shoots are so great for so many reasons listed, but they can and do contribute towards unrealistic standards, comparison pits, perpetuating stereotypes and body image standards. When used to combat these things, they are so powerful. So let's use them to CELEBRATE a diverse representation of humans!

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