Planning Styled Shoots: A Step-by-Step Guide

November 20, 2019

For Photographers

palouse falls styled shoot

I’ve had a lot of you reach out to me, asking HOW THE HECK to plan a styled shoot! It can seem overwhelming as a new (or not new!) photographer to try and coordinate a shoot with a bunch of vendors that you might not even know. But styled shoots are some of the most rewarding, FUN things you can do as a photographer, especially during your slower season. Which is why I wanted to give ya a little step-by-step guide on how to plan, set up, and execute an amazing, beneficial styled shoot!

First off, WHY plan a styled shoot?! It gives you a way to be creative. To create original content that YOU control, not a client who books you. To form essential connections with other vendors in your area/industry. These are all HUGE things when it comes to being a photographer, especially for weddings or elopements, soooo let’s get to it! Here’s a detailed, step-by-step process/checklist to help you execute your dream styled shoot!

palouse falls styled elopement shoot

Come up with your vision:

Why you’re planning it, what you want to get out of it (Do you want to create specific content? Try something new? Solely network with others? Travel somewhere new? Do the shoot for yourself & for your creative soul? Provide other photographers with an opportunity for quality content?)

Make a moodboard!

Theme. Colors. Inspiration. Location. Makeup. Hair. Accessories. Food. Decor. Calligraphy. Outfits. Flowers. Details. Moods. Tones. Whatever you’re dreaming of including. Make sure you know what YOU are doing before you present the idea to other professionals.

It doesn’t have to be fancy.

Don’t feel pressured to make your styled shoot HUGE, especially if it’s one of your first ones. All you need is a couple, a dress (or not even a dress, depending on the theme of your shoot), and some florals. You can create MAGIC even if ya keep it pretty dang simple!

Figure out 2-3 dates.

that would work for you and that you can present to vendors, because, chances are, not all of your ideal vendors will be available on the same day. 

Figure out a location.

Where do you want to be shooting? A venue? A park/outdoor area? Do you want to shoot near where you live, or somewhere completely different where you’d love to shoot more often? Do you need a permit where you want to shoot? What type of location fits with your brand/what you want your brand to be + appeals to the types of clients you have/want to have? (e.g. if you love shooting more traditional weddings, see if you can find a more traditional venue to shoot at – a church, etc.; if you love shooting in epic outdoor locations, pick a location that draws in people who go hiking, 

Do yo research! Make a list of vendors you’d love to work with.

Do you want to build off of connections you already have? Make new connections where you live? Make connections somewhere where you don’t live, but you want to be shooting? 
Come up with multiple vendors for each category in case some aren’t available!

But how do I even find vendors?! I don’t know any in my area and am so new to the industry!

Instagram is your friend.

Start by finding other photographers in you area. Search through Geotags of pretty places nearby and see if any photographers have posted photos there. Search hashtags – if you’re in Nashville, search #nashvillephotographer #nashvilleweddingphotographer #nashvilleelopementphotographer – and so on. Once you’ve found some photographers, go through their photos, pick out the photos that are tagged at local places (you don’t want to find vendors from a Colorado wedding if you’re wanting to shoot in Nashville, lol), and go through any vendors that are tagged! Go through wedding photos to find wedding specific vendors, but often times even engagement or regular couples sessions may have a hairstylist or MUA tagged. Follow those vendors, check out their work, and make a list of who you might be interested in collaborating with!

Go to their websites, check out their reviews, do a deep dive to make sure they’d be somebody awesome to contribute to your shoot!

Time to reach out to vendors!

Once you’ve nailed down your vision so you can explain it clearly to anybody who asks, reach out to your ideal vendor in each category. Keep in mind that you are asking somebody who is most likely very busy, to give up their precious time, energy, effort, & sometimes money to give YOU content. Be respectful, mindful of their time & talents, professional, and don’t forget to show them your excitement! Chances are, they’d much rather work with somebody who is passionate about the vision they have & knows what they want to create, than somebody who doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing or why. 

What to say:

who you are, what you do, why you’re planning the shoot, why you want to work with THEM specifically, what you love about their work/business/service, your vision for the shoot (theme, moodboard, come prepared), other participating vendors, or others you’ve reached out to so far, will it be just you or will it be available to other photographers, what you’d need from them, what they’ll get out of it

What not to say:

“Hi, I’m looking to get your product/service for free to benefit myself + my portfolio, and there’s nothing in it for you, but would you please spend your precious time & energy on it? Thanks!” (Okay, you probably would never be THAT rude. . . but you get my point?)

An example of what I might write to a florist I’d never talked to before about an elopement shoot (use your own voice, and if it’s somebody you know, obviously you won’t have to introduce yourself!):

“Hiiii there, (name)! My name is Danielle Johnson, and I’m a destination wedding & elopement photographer, based out of Spokane, WA! I’ve been following you for a while now, and have always freaking LOVED your work. I love how you showcase your personality on your page and I feel like I really know who you are, and the way that you put together your unique floral arrangements has always drawn me to you! That’s why I decided I wanted to reach out to you! I’m working on planning a styled elopement shoot right now for (date/time) at (location), and I wanted to see if you would be interested in collaborating on it! I want it to be a shoot that is unique from other ones I’ve seen on social media – something that hasn’t been done a thousand times. I’m envisioning lots of burgundy and plum tones, moody decor, etc. (tell them about your vision here!) One of my favorite things in shoots is unique floral arrangements, which is why I knew I had to reach out to you!! Here is the link to a moodboard I created to help see my vision, and these are the other vendors I’ve reached out to at this point!: (put link + vendors) I’d love to work with you on this because I know you’d kill it, and you’d also get tons of free photos back to use for marketing however you want! Please let me know if you have any interest in creatin’ magic with me, and I cannot WAIT to hear back from you! :)”

Don’t forget to find a couple!

Once you’ve found one or two possible locations + nailed down your vendors, go to Geotags of your location, and see if you can find any couples that seem to live nearby or go there often. Time for a little stalking. You can also reach out to somebody you know who might be willing to model, or post a model call on your social media to spread the word that you’re looking for a couple! If you decide to post a model call, be sure to include your planned date, time range, & location, and what they’ll get out of it (free photos, usually)! Have them sign a model release to make sure they know what you expect from them and what they’re allowed to do with the photos!

Keep everyone up to date!

I’ll usually write out a Google Doc with all the important information to share with everybody who participates  – date, location, link to moodboard, timeline, and a list of the vendor & model Instagram handles (and websites), so that everybody is tagged appropriately. Message participants as the shoot gets closer to verify any times you might need to go in with your models to do dress fittings, pick up flowers, etc. and make sure everything is going as planned!


If you’ve done all of this preparation, you should feel ready to go and super confident when the day comes! You’re going to ROCK it. You’ve worked so hard. Be SURE to get tons of photos of each specific product/setup/etc. provided by every vendor, because you agreed to give them content to use for marketing: if you had somebody provide jewelry, take some detail photos of the piece(s) as well as with it on the model. Make sure that they get usable, beautiful photos that accurately represent their product/service, because THAT is what they are benefitting from, from this shoot! Take lots of BTS photos and be sure to put those on your story afterwards, tagging the appropriate vendors + models so that they can repost on their stories & reach their audiences! When you post photos, be sure to tag appropriately, and when you’re done editing, send them all to the vendors for them to use for marketing purposes and remind them to tag appropriately with the list of handle names you gave them!

Blog about it!

Put all the beautiful images that you created into a blog post, and write about the shoot! Talk about the vision you had, why you executed it the way you did, all that good stuff that kinda helps your audience understand it! And be sure to include handles &site links for each vendor! Another thing I usually do in my styled shoot blog posts is brag a little about each of the vendors and talk about their amazing work 😉

Lastly, maintain those connections!

Styled shoots are the way I booked my first few weddings. I didn’t have any content except for styled shoots, but the vendors I worked with ended up referring me to couples and helping me book my first weddings + more shoots after that! If you create an awesome, personal relationship with your vendors from the beginning to the end and even after the shoot, they’re more likely to want to refer you to clients & work with you again!!

YOU. GOT. THIS!! & be sure to leave any other questions down below!

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