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styled shoots -vs- REAL weddings : what brides should know | southwestern, pa photographer

By December 15, 2011 One Comment

Like many of YOU, my new addiction is the newest craze-Pinterest. Some of you are scratching your head thinking, “ohhh geeze, let me guess….yet ANOTHER social media platform I need to learn.” For those of you who aren’t familiar, according to Wikipedia: Pinterest (Pin-tũr-ĕst) is a vision board-styled social photo sharing website and app where users can create and manage theme-based image collections. The mission statement of Pinterest is to connect everyone in the world through shared tastes and the “things” they find interesting.  So if you are a bride, you can collect and manage your inspiration into multiple folders within Pinterest to refer back to or to help those helping to plan your wedding and create your dream come true. For example, one of my 2012 brides has several “boards”. She calls them: cake inspiration, dress inspiration, shoe inspiration, decor inspiration, and so on. Her bridesmaids can “pin” (or place photos into her folder) anytime they come across things, ideas, inspiration they think she would like. She ultimately is planning her wedding based on ideas and inspiration from Pinterest. So you’re thinking…what’s my point? I’m getting to it I promise.

As a photographer or any other creative human on the planet we are always thirsting for inspiration to help inspire us on upcoming shoots. It’s a way that we try to keep fresh with the latest trends in photography, fashion, etc. so that we can create our clients the best images possible. I’m addicted to looking at sites like Style Me Pretty, The Knotty Bride , The Knot, June Bug Weddings, Kiss the Groom, Green Wedding Shoes…(just to name a few) and seeing gorgeous photography, theme ideas, amazing details. If you are planning YOUR wedding, I’m sure you are equally if not even MORE addicted to these sites. I mean, what it boils down to is that you want that to be YOU in those pictures. So you go searching for a photographer that can bring your vision to life…RIGHT?!

Several weeks ago I wrote a blog called “keep these in mind when choosing a photographer“. I talked briefly about human interaction, photojournalism, their style, getting a contract, a budget, and using memberships to beef up their reputations……but something I forgot to mention was “expectation“. I got to thinking after skyping with my good friend and wedding coordinator Nicki Ann, do brides outside of the photography industry understand the difference between “styled shoots” and “REAL weddings” in terms of what their photographer can offer . And this my folks is the point I was getting to. As a photographer within the wedding industry, I understand that photographers and other vendors often collaborate on what is called a “Styled Shoot”. The purpose is to not only showcase their products (flowers, cakes, favors, table linens, invitations, photographs, etc. etc.) but also to get inspired. So what’s the problem with that you’re asking?  There isn’t….AT ALL. As a matter of fact, I too have shot some styled shoots and they were among some of my favorite photographs creatively AND  it helps to get the creative juices flowing. Here’s is where the problem stands when brides don’t undersigned the difference between a styled shoot and a REAL wedding when searching for a photographer. It can be a bit misleading if you don’t understand the difference and even quite possible leave your expectations somewhat unattainable for the photographer you hired which will lead to dissapointment. BOOOO to disappointment when it comes to your wedding photos. Let me explain:

When looking at styled shoots on websites such as the ones I listed above OR on any photographers websites, please keep a few things in mind:

#1 For the Detail Shots: They were probably shot at a scheduled time in the day for the maximum advantage of light-something that can not always be planned when it comes to weddings. If the lighting was bad from one angle, they would simply pick up the table and move it around so that they could get the best shot-again, something you just can’t do on a wedding day. Ohh excuse me mr. guest, can you stand up we need to rotate your table so that I can get the best shot. I can see it now! LOL There are usually “backup” props incase one of them doesn’t photograph well or a million other reasons-I don’t know about all of you, but most of my brides don’t bring “back up props” so that we can shoot the details.

#2 The Models: Of COURSE all of their wedding pictures look stunning…they.are.models. and they KNOW how to pose. THAT’s their job!-YOU on the other hand, may not be a model, maybe you have another day job where you, I don’t know are a nurse, an engineer, a doctor, etc. and may need guidance on how to pose. You don’t “model” for a living. Photographing models versus photography everyday normal people is completely different. Not only that but with styled shoots you are often not on a constraint for time. A great photographer can take an average person and make them look like a model. Keep that in mind.

#3 Timing is everything: For example, on a real wedding day, if things go smoothly, photographers might have 45-1 hour to bang out the family shoots, bridal party shots and the portraits of the bride and groom. Which puts photographers in a time constraint-I mean you can expect your guests to wait 4-5 hours while you “wait for the golden light” On styled shoots you can ultimately take your time with the models, try a million different ideas. If I had that luxury on a real wedding day…..I’d be in heaven. The truth is most wedding photographers aren’t given the luxury of time. We are often go-go-go on the wedding day so the images you could possibly create on a styled shoot and the images you would want the time constraint to create on a wedding day may be a bit misleading and is extremely different logistically than say a styled shoot organized by a planner/florist/designer/photographer.

#4 The Stylist: Have you ever noticed that in any of the style shoots there is almost never  guests eating and drinking and celebrating. No unpredictable weather conditions, vendors who cancel last minute, scheduling conflicts it’s like the perfect little world…and that’s why I love them! BUT on the other hand, the misleading perception is that it was easy to make everything look like that when in reality it took a team of people or a stylist to pull it off….it doesn’t just happen. A trained professional stylist was behind the creative theme, etc and collaborated with a team of other vendors to pull it off. Does your wedding have a stylist…if so then this may not be an issue, everything will surely look fabulous. BUT for those of you who are like any other average bride and are designing your concept yourselves….you might want to keep this in mind.

#5 The learning process: Often times when we are trying to improve our craft we will sign up for workshops. These workshops will usually contain a bit of lecture from a mentor of ours and then at some point we get to do some hands on activities which may include a “styled shoot” or a shoot that was set up with purpose for us to learn. Perhaps lighting techniques, posing, etc. What is misleading about this when photographers use the images from the workshops on their websites without noting that they were workshops or styled shoots is those shots were set up and created by someone else for the purpose of teaching and so it’s not a true representation of what that photographer can do. Now with that being said, if they were to take the information and knowledge they learned while attending that workshop and applied it to their own shoots-that’s a whole other story.

#6 The Budget: let’s face it, most of these styled shoots don’t have a budget and most of the time are done with “at cost” products. Vendors donate their products (usually the best of the best) to have them photographed in order to display, sell, or advertise their products, ideas, design talent. With that said, realistically speaking most brides don’t have an unlimited budget nor do they have access to these types of products. Yes, we have the do-it-yourselfers, but even then there are budget restraints. You may not be able make those really cute favors you saw on Pinterest because you don’t have to budget to buy the exotic fabric they were using….or any other number of reasons.

#7 The Final Images: We get excited to show off our work. We are visual artists and we want you to SEE our work. So after the shoots we will often blog about them, put some images up on our websites, etc. And this is where it becomes misleading. YOU as the bride have no idea whether what you are seeing is styled or REAL.

What this all boils down to is: when meeting with your photographer and as you look thru their portfolio either in person or online, ask them if what you are seeing is a styled shoot or a REAL wedding. Seeing images of the REAL wedding will give you a better expectation on what your images will look like under realistic time restraints. If you have your heart set on an idea you may have seen on Pinterest or any of the other wedding inspiration websites, talk to your photographer. TRUST ME, they will probably LOOOVE to talk about your ideas, I know I would! If you put some time into your portrait time of the wedding you can have some amazing images. Remember photographs just don’t happen….thought, energy and inspiration have to be put into them. Knowing the difference between what is an isn’t attainable on the wedding day is critical and can help set your expectations.

And because every post is better with a few photos. Here are a few images I shoot during one of our “vintage carnival” inspiration shoots from this past summer! Just to be clear, this is not from a real wedding, these were simply images shot for all of our participating vendors:

Here’s who was involved in this shoot:
Nicki Ann Events
Cake Creations by  Hillary
Urban Gypsy
Newlyweds Tara + Mike Gaston (not models per say, but they WERKED IT!)
Schenely Park  and the PNC Carousel
and myself- jen mcken


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One Comment


    Thank you so much for this little nibble of transparency. I think so many people get caught up in the magic of pinterest, fantasy and perfection, that it’s disappointing for them to look around at their wedding and be sad by how imperfect things are. But that’s life.

    I have had Pinterest Brides apologize for not having certain things at their weddings that they wanted to DIY from their boards, or apologize for not looking the right way.

    I have had to start adding a verbal disclaimer to our client meetings when people say they love some of the concept work I’ve shown them to make sure they understand that things were done under ideal situations, which might not occur on their actual day… though we do try to make it happen.

    Anyway, thank you again! Well said.


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