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Styled Photography Shoots: What is the point of them?

I recently read a blog post on a photography website that questioned the value of styled photography shoots. I proceeded to write a response to the author and, realizing that it was so long, decided that I should probably write about it myself. There are many positives and negatives to styles shoots and I want to address them here.

What is a Styled Photo

A styled photo shoot is when a group of wedding vendors get together and set up an photography session to feature their products. It is, essentially, a commercial photography session.  Wedding coordinators, florists, bakers, you name it, all can be involved in a styled shoot. They all create ideas that they may have not had a chance to create for a wedding client, or feature an item or items that they feel represents their absolute best work. As a photographer, you set up the perfect lighting and get the absolute best shots (well, most do). It’s a collaboration between all of the wedding vendors to highlight and display their ideal product. So, in the end, you end up with the best products, set up in the best way, photographed as good as is possible. A styled photography shoot, in short, is a set up photo session in a controlled environment. As I stated, it’s a commercial photography session.

Is a Styled Photo Shoot Honest?

This is a question that is asked a lot. But I would say that, as long as all potential clients know that what they are seeing is the ideal and was set up as such, of course it’s honest. Where you get into sketchy territory is when vendors pass the pictures off as an actual event. A lot of photographers use styled shoots to build their portfolio which is fine and good as long as their potential clients know that the pictures were taken under extremely ideal conditions in a controlled environment.

On a wedding day, things tend to be hectic, if not chaotic at times (unless you spend time preparing your timeline 🙂 ). Being able to take an hour or more to photograph a reception table, or a table setting, or a wedding cake is just not feasible.  There are times when I might have an hour to document ALL of the reception details, but it’s a rare occurrence. Since my approach is on real moments and candids of the bride and groom and I want to reserve as much time towards that end. Wedding photographers have to roll with the day and with the wedding details that their clients have picked. Most great vendors collaborate with their clients but, in the end, adjustments are made in order to fulfill the clients vision. And that is THE most important thing, if that even needs to be stated. It is the vendors job to fulfill the clients vision. The clients vision, not the vendors, is the only thing that counts in the end.

So What is the Point of a Styled Shoot?

As I mentioned, all vendors involved want to feature the absolute best product and outcome. But it is up to the individual vendor as to how these images are used. In today’s world of social media, feeding the gluttonous and insatiable beast that is social media content, styled shoots are helpful. Obviously, marketing material would be high on the priority list of uses for images from a styled shoot. For new phographers, building a portfolio is one use, although I’m opposed to this. It’s one thing to add to an existing catalog of images. It’s another to start a business solely relying on pictures from a styled shoot. To me, that would be dishonest and unethical. Clients must be told which images are from a styled shoot and which are from a real wedding on an actual wedding day.

I’ve used styled shoots to help vendors get great pictures of their products or venues. I’ve used them to help train my assistants and myself. I’ve use the images from those shoots on my website. But, styled images are very few in my portfolio and  I can point to countless real weddings (over 300) where the reality of the day is reflected. And sometimes the conditions on a wedding day are not always the ideal. All wedding images are created during the hustle and bustle of a busy wedding day. As long as we are being honest about what the pictures are, how they were created, and why they are being used, ultimately, I’m in favor of styled shoots.

What is your opinion? What do you have to say about styled shoots? Leave a comment below and lets get a conversation started.