January 23, 2012

Short Stack: Styled Shoots

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Ever since we started doing our Walk Through a Wedding Workshops we’ve been getting a slew of questions about how we plan and implement our styled shoots. So while Justin & Mary are off in Cabo for a conference (lucky, lucky!!) :) I thought I would kick start your morning with a “little” short stack of workshop planning goodness! :)

Before you start planning a styled shoot, there is one thing, I would suggest you go out and get. A notebook (preferably a cute one!). My workshop notebook, is my lifeline! I carry it everywhere! To the grocery store, to the bank, to the mall, and especially to bed. Inspiration will strike at the oddest times and you want to be prepared. Carrying a notebook, ensures that all of your ideas and inspiration are in one place, I’ve tried the sporadic method: email myself an idea today, jot a note down on an old napkin tomorrow, and make an iphone note the day after that. But that just creates massive confusion, and I tend to lose the napkins :) Nothing compares to having your train of thought documented as the ideas come. Seriously! Try it! :)

Ok, so you have a notebook (and hopefully a pen!) now what?

Stage 1: I know I want to put together a styled shoot, but how do I start?
It seems simple, but the first thing you have to do, is decide on a concise theme. It can start anywhere, song lyrics, a movie title, or even with a color. After you have a basic idea in mind, start jotting stuff down- anything and everything that comes to mind. We often do this as a team exercise- we sit down together and start throwing ideas out into the air or if I’m working from home, Mary will shoot me an email with some of her ideas. Once the theme starts to come alive, then it’s time to hit the internet! Start pulling images (Pinterest is a great resource!) for your design board. When we are putting together a design board for a styled shoot, we try to put it together just as if we are planning a real wedding, so we make sure to include: a bridal gown, grooms attire, a dessert, flowers, a signature drink, a maids dress and some details that can easily be translated into place cards, favors, and decor. We’ve found that a second opinion on the design board is almost a necessity, so as soon as I have one ready to go, I shoot it over to Mary for her opinion! Sometimes the design board is right on the money and sometimes it needs a few rounds to really make it pop. If you work by yourself, send the design board to a friend or family member who has an artistic eye- just to get a second opinion on how all of the details are coming together!

Stage 2: I have an awesome design board- now how am I going to pull this off?
After you have a good theme and your design board nailed down, it’s time to start planning! Make a list of the type of partners you want to work with. I keep a google spreadsheet saved with all of the necessities so I don’t forget anything! Here’s a list of partners that we look for! A venue, a bridal salon (who can also provide accessories!), a florist, a baker, a planner, a paperie, a makeup artist (who also does hair!), a rental company, a vintage rental company, models and interns. That list looks pretty long, but keep in mind, this is a list of all of the potential partners you can work with. When we were out on tour we did a lot of these ourselves! We did most of our own planning, all of our own flowers, and usually found our desserts at a local bakery (or we made our own!). So if the list seems a little daunting, figure out which things you want to handle yourself, and which things you think you might need help with! And then go from there! :)

Once you have the list of partners you need to find, it can seem a little overwhelming to start looking for them. But my suggestion is to dive right in! Chances are, you know a bunch of really awesome professionals in your area, and if you don’t, no worries! This is a great way to meet some! :) Since you already have a theme and design board, look for partners who might be drawn to your ideas. If you are planning a light and airy garden theme, look for a florist who loves to work with wildflowers and a makeup artist who rocks the natural look. If you are planning a super edgy urban editorial shoot, look for an ultra chic loungy venue and a rental company that provides things like leather couches and lucite furniture. When you call or email someone, make sure to tell them why you think they would be amazing to work with for this particular shoot and fill them in on some of the details you are planning. I’m a super shy person, so this was really hard for me in the beginning. But the more workshops we planned in different cities, the more I learned that asking doesn’t hurt! The worst someone can say is no! And I learned that the people who say yes are just as excited for the shoot as you are- and that makes it even better!

After you have everyone lined up to help out, make sure to keep them in the loop as you continue to make plans for all of your details and solidify times! Professionals know their jobs inside and out, so be sure to ask a ton of questions and take all of their opinions into consideration!

Stage 3: OMG, I can’t back out now!
So, the design board has been posted to your blog, you’ve made contact with everyone who is going to help out with the shoot, and now, the shoot actually has to come together! This is where I start to panic! (but only just a little!) Once you have most of the major points down, whose helping, where you’re getting the dress, etc. It’s time to take it to the next level :) This is where all of your awesome ideas start to take definitive form! The idea that “I’m going to make some DIY shoes, that look kinda like the ones Kirsten Dunst wore in the Marie Antoinette movie” turns into full on hot glue gun mode and your vague idea about a chic head table turns into a rectangular table for eight, covered with a blue pintuck linen decorated with white china, white orchids and silver candlesticks.

This is when my notebook comes in super handy! (I also have a google document that I can email to anyone who is helping out). We have a list of details that we need to hit at every shoot and here they are! The head table, the welcome table, the favor table, the dessert table, a photo booth, and sometimes an extra table of props and cool details. I make sure that I plan out each table before hand so on the day of the shoot, there isn’t much left up to chance.

For example: When I’m planning a head table, we need to figure out the size, shape, and type of table we want to use, what type of table cloth we are going to use, what type of chairs, what the place settings are going to look like (glasses, silverware, plates, napkins), the centerpieces, and any additional details we might want to add to the head table decor. Do we want to decorate the bride and grooms chair with an extra detail? Do we want to put a menu, or favor, or additional detail on each plate? I go through this process for each of our staples and start to make lists and draw pictures of what we have in mind. Usually I sit down again with Mary and go over everything and also each of our partners (either by phone or email) to make sure all of our plans can come to fruition!

We also try to include about 3 DIY projects per shoot- these need to be planned out and finished in time for the day of the shoot! So lists, pictures, and plans definitely come in handy! Especially when you are out running errands for the shoot!

Stage 4: It’s really here- YAY!
The day of the shoot is when you see all of your hard work and effort come to life and its absolutely amazing! If you have everything planned in advance, you just have to show up, bring whatever you need , and set it all up! It’s always good to have at least one or two people on hand to help move furniture and set up. My notebook is essential on the day of, things can change depending upon light and space, but for the most part, the tables are planned ahead of time, so that the set up can go as quickly as possible. I can refer back to all of our ideas, lists, and drawings to make sure everything comes together the way we hoped!

And that, in a shortstack, is how we plan our styled shoots! :)

And just for fun, here’s a little glimpse into the craziness that is my Walk Through a Wedding Notebook (check out my awesome drawing skills! LOL!). Can you guess which shoots the various lists/pictures go with? :)

I know I just covered a TON of stuff! So if you have any questions or need any clarification, just pop them in the comment section below and I’ll try to answer them the best I can!! :)


  1. spring

    anything that says shoe boxes and has a drawing of a chair with shoes around it must be the Boston WTW :)

  2. Christa

    What a great post Julia! I still give you kudos on the hats you made at the Alice in Wonderland Walk Through :) I’ve considered styled shoots but haven’t really known where to go once I have the idea. This post has been really helpful.

  3. Emilia Jane

    This is so incredibly helpful!!! Thanks Julia :-D

  4. Rupa

    I was at the first one last year and it rocked – cool to see how it comes together! But the most important question Julia – WHERE did you get that notebook – I must have one – if anything at all just to have the front cover as my mantra! ; )

  5. @Rupa

    LOL! The notebook is from Barnes & Noble! :)

  6. Alison

    Feeling a little sheepish, but I have a slightly dumb question- how do you put together your design boards- more to the point- do you create it in photoshop etc?? Thanks, and great stack!!!

  7. Julia @Alison

    Yup! We use photoshop to put together our design boards! I have a blank canvas saved (700 wide)- then I just pop all of the images in and put them together like a puzzle!

  8. Stephanie Stewart

    Julia, you are amazing! I attended the Chicago WTAW, and was absolutely amazed by all the decor, details, design, and enormous amounts of planning that had to go into making such a fabulous day! So glad I went! Thank you for all of your hard work!

  9. Susan Evans

    Great post Julia! I’m so glad Alison asked the question about the design board – I’ve been wondering that too.

  10. Patience

    Wow! This couldn’t have been a more timely post. We have been thinking about setting up our first styled shoot with a few photographer friends but haven’t really figured out a good starting point. This definitely points us in the right direction. Thank you so much Julia!

  11. Amanda Miller

    Julia, this came at the most perfect of times! Thank you!!!

  12. Jessica Frey Photography

    Love it! I just planned the largest styled shoot I’ve ever done this month and it went off yesterday – only thing we didn’t account for was a blizzard for our outdoor shoot! Yikes! It was amazing though and I count myself lucky to be able to pull off a collective effort between so many local vendors. Now if only we could plan for weather ;) Enjoy your vaca in Mexico!!

  13. ashley barnett

    Love it Julia! :) You always inspire me with the ideas and design boards you come up with. One of my goals this year is to do more in the way of stylized shoots and this is so helpful! I just bought a fun moleskine notebook that doesn’t leave my side.

  14. rich

    holy cow – this is amazing! thank you for sharing

  15. Eric

    Great advice J&M! I’m bookmarking it for future reference:)

  16. Brooke

    I printed this to PDF to read on my iPad on the plane to WPPI, I need it! Thank you!

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