In the wedding industry, we are all, at one point or another, part of what's called a styled shoot. As my mom likes to ask me when I send her a photo of my work "real or fake?" She's referring to whether or not a suite is designed for a styled shoot (a fake engagement, wedding, you name it) designed to give individuals exposure, allow them to create and try new things they can't necessarily do with a real bride, and to encourage networking and community.
A styled shoot will bring together a big group of wedding creatives - planners and stylists, photographers (sometimes more than one), stationers, jewelers, wedding dress designers, florists, and many more (veil makers! ring box makers! hand-letterers!). The results are usually stunning - so many creatives contributing unique, original art for the purpose of one day of photography. Post-shoot, photos are distributed to the creatives involved for use in their marketing materials, websites, ever-hungry instagram feeds, and for publication on wedding blogs.
The styled shoot brings with it a whole host of beauty but it can also host a whole lot of issues - cancellations, reschedules, weather delays, overexposed film, disorganization, the inability to get published, delays in film scans or photo edits being returned. You name it. But in general we all do them because really, what's more fun than making up a fake wedding and photographing all the beauty of it. I think styled shoots are a truly wonderful part of our collaborative culture in the wedding industry, but they also need to operate by a set of ground rules or etiquette to continue being a fun part of our jobs.
Without further ado...
Etiquette for Wedding Vendors Participating In or Planning a Styled Shoot
1. Consider Your Relationship Before Asking for a Contribution
If you're getting ready to ask someone to contribute something to your planned shoot, consider your relationship with them. If you have an established relationship and you work together on a regular basis you will likely approach a styled shoot request differently than someone you do not know.
If someone I've worked with before reaches out (and especially if they refer clients to me, or if we work together on real weddings), I am more likely to to accommodate a time-sensitive request or out of the box idea that may take more time, materials and research. I trust them to return photos back to me on time, to respect my work and my time, and to continue to partner with me in the future.
If someone I have not worked with reaches out, I need some more information. It's always appreciated when I receive a request from someone who knows my work, can refer to items in my portfolio for inspiration for the shoot, and gives me details about the shoot (other vendors involved, publication goals, and more).
If you are asking someone to contribute materials to your shoot - be they rings, gowns, stationery pieces - they should be someone you would recommend to your clients. A styled shoot, after all, is a chance to network and build community. A one-time request to gather volunteered materials without any future contact is not how you build a network and community.
On the flip side - if you're accepting every single request for items that comes your way, you're likely to end up overwhelmed, in the red due to your shipping costs, and you're not being strategic either. Work with vendors that you also would recommend, that you know and trust, and whose style and working style fits closely with yours.
2. Give Ample Notice
In general, I hate rushing anything. It gives me anxiety. It produces less-than satisfactory results. It also causes greater expense, requires I put aside other work, and it leaves no room for error. When you're requesting items like invitation suites for a styled shoot (or anything that takes time to create), providing less than two weeks notice is not courteous. This allows time for mail to arrive safely and even allows for unscheduled delays. It allows the stationer (or other vendor) time to come up with materials, design, and budget for the shoot. It allows them to work on the shoot during down time and doesn't require that other client work be pushed aside to make room for a volunteered project.
On the flip side - if you commit to a project, fulfill your commitment. It's important to give back the level of respect you're asking for. If you say you'll mail an item on Friday, mail it Friday. If you have overcommitted yourself, it is not the requestor's fault - it is something you have to correct while still honoring your commitment. We all have to treat each other's time with respect.
3. Be Mindful of What You Are Asking For
There are many things you might be asking vendors for: rings, gowns and bridesmaids dresses, floral arrangements, signage, invitation suites. Be mindful of what you're asking for and what logistics may be involved with providing those items. If you ask someone that doesn't live in your state for large signage, consider that they will have high shipping costs and if that item is a priority, you may need to reimburse them. If you have given someone a week's notice but require a specific color scheme/palette or non-traditional material ("Can you write this on fabric?" "Can the envelopes be dusty blue" "We need a rose gold ink"), understand that they may not be able to accommodate these requests in your timeframe.
I have had many a styled shoot request where I was asked for a laundry list of items that looked something like this: 10+ menus for the table, a full escort card display of over 20+ escort cards, invitation suites, two love letters, a sign. These types of requests take a lot of time and money to fulfill and usually larger quantities of items are reserved for paying clients. If you're asking for more than one or two of each item, or asking for more than five items in total - you should be reimbursing the person you're asking.
On the flip side - be aware of what you can contribute and be honest about it. If you know you do not have time for a 20 piece escort card display, let the requestor know. If the list is too long for you to accommodate, you may want to recommend another vendor who is interested in a styled shoot or needs some more practice and exposure and would be happy to accommodate the request.
4. Deliver What You Promise (and in the event that you cannot, be honest about it)
There is nothing worse than sending off some lovingly created pieces, waiting to see what beauty is created, and then getting the image gallery back only to discover your work wasn't photographed, or only captured in one image. A styled shoot comes with the promise that your work will be captured by a professional so that you will receive marketing photos, gain exposure to clients and publications, and bolster your portfolio. If you send out goods to someone who has promised this, they need to deliver on that promise. There should be equal attention and care paid to any contributed items from jewelry, engagement rings, florals, stationery, the models, and the venue. No part of the shoot should be considered an after-thought if someone donated items to the shoot for use. Images should be taken considering that someone dedicated time and creative energy into creating something unique and special for the shoot.
In the event that something goes wrong, like a wind-storm that makes photographing the veil too difficult, or an outdoor shoot gets caught in a rain squall and makes the paper impossible to photograph, or an overexposed roll of film makes every image difficult to use - it is so important to be honest about what happened. I've had shoots where I received no gallery, no response from the photographer, and no items back in the mail. I would have so appreciated an update and the due diligence of returning my items. If materials are returned, at least the contributor can photograph them themselves and the work and expense was not in vain.
On the flip side - this is a bit of a no brainer but if you promise a shoot, deliver it. If something happens that's out of your control like a family emergency or a lost package in the mail, just be honest. Let the requestor know what happened, offer an immediate remedy if possible and be sincere. Nothing's worse than disappearing and leaving someone high and dry.
5. If You Are Getting Paid, Contributors Should Also Get Paid
My final tip and perhaps the most important piece of etiquette here - if you're hosting a workshop, doing a shoot for your own branding purposes, or working with a client in a paid one-on-one arrangement, anything that you ask people to contribute to said shoot needs to be compensated. Attendees of your workshop are paying you for your time, materials costs, and expertise. You in turn need to compensate those who are providing those materials to you. I have no other way to phrase this but that it is very rude to expect someone to donate time to something you are directly profiting from. This is akin to you being paid to cook someone dinner but asking a grocery store to contribute all of the ingredients for free (all while promising you'll mention them at the dinner party).
I cannot count the number of wonderful relationships I've built with vendors through styled shoots. We've worked on many a shoot and those have turned into actual booked clients. Some of the vendors from shoots have become clients themselves, asking for Christmas cards or logo designs, or just a hand-scripted quote to gift to a friend. I've also made many an industry friend, learned a lot about myself as a stationer and designer, and been able to push the envelope on design and materials in a safe setting.
I have no desire to stop participating in styled shoots - it would feel like there was a lack of experimentation in my day and I'd feel less creatively challenged. I think we can all continue to create inspirational pieces for our future clients (and do it together), if we focus on all following etiquette that's focused on mutual respect.