Today, I thought I’d write a post aimed more towards newbies in the wedding industry or indeed anyone who designs their own product and is just beginning to build a portfolio. If you’re embarking on this journey or updating your work you’ll no doubt have a lot of networking and marketing to get stuck into. If your work is visual and relies on strong imagery (you might be a dress or textile designer or budding stylist even) then you’ll be wanting beautifully shot and styled images to promote you on the pages of your website and, in effect, do a lot of the basic marketing for you. So, when your budget is zilch and you’re cack handed with a camera, what are your options? Collaborative shoots can be a great way to achieve this and kill two birds with one stone-you network and build relationships with like-minded creatives within your circle and you should come away with a strong selection of images that everyone involved can use for their benefit. But, it’s not always as cut and dry as that as I’ll tell you from my own experience during six years as a wedding planner before I embarked on styling full time.

This is a shot from my first ever shoot which was to act as a taster for my website until I had enough portfolio to use. I learnt a LOT! [Image © Antonio Sanzari]

When I first started Grant-Riley Weddings back in 2007 I had nothing but a bunch of folio images from my days as a stage manager-no bride was going to look at these and envisage how I could bring the vision of her wedding day to life. I knew no one and technically I was “no one” and I had no weight to my name. So what did I do? I started contacting bridal designers, a venue and a photographer and pulled together my own shoot one beautiful autumnal day in Richmond, Surrey to come up with some images that I could use to demonstrate my style at the time. I really had to persuade some designers to lend their gowns to me, a complete stranger and the concept of inspiration shoots was quite unheard of then. I was even turned down by one, which makes me smile now when I think that I’ve since gone on to work with gowns designed by the likes of Ian Stuart, Sassi Holford and Matthew Williamson. Excuse me while I blow my trumpet. Twitter didn’t exist so my job was harder when it came to hunting down contacts. I had no florist onboard as I felt very uncomfortable asking for their flowers and time for free, so I negotiated a deal for cut flowers with a local market trader and did them myself out of my own pocket. I ended up with chrysanthemums and purple statice as centrepieces and brassicas (boy do they smell!) as accents for place settings. Some of it worked, a lot of it didn’t!

On another occasion, I cancelled a photographer last minute because the weather was set to be a wash-out and quite rightly made her very upset because she’d cancelled a holiday to see family in Sweden for me. I ended up working with another photographer in the end, but we’re still friends!

[Image © Antonio Sanzari]

I’m hoping the following tips will guide you in the right direction and save you a lot of time in the long run so that you avoid the certain pitfalls that such shoots can create.

1. Have A Purpose
Collaborative “inspiration” shoots are ten a penny these days, particularly within the bridal industry. There are some exceptional examples of well devised, well executed work in which all parties involved have pulled together as a team and produced a clear, inspiring set of images. And then there are those that, well, don’t. They might look perfectly pretty in every way but somehow underneath all this something’s been lost in translation and the story or purpose has been lost leaving rather cloudy results. So how do you make yours stand out?  My first piece of advice is to have a purpose. If it’s the next season’s collection of cushions you’re shooting, don’t waste time scouting for models to hold them- the cushions need to be the focus here. If you’re focusing on a particular trend, then choose a few key elements in which to show it in action and don’t become distracted with another. If it’s a Downton Abbey inspired bridal shoot, don’t be tempted to sneak a little 1950s in. It looks amateur. A simple concept is a strong one.

2. Tailor Your Content
If your ultimate goal is to have your images featured on a well known blog or printed in a national magazine for exposure then start by researching the aesthetic of where you’re submitting your work. Is it a good match for you? For example, a DIY interiors test shoot might be better submitted to Mollie Makes than Good Housekeeping, or a dark, gothic inspired bridal shoot would suit Offbeat Bride or Rock n Roll Bride better than somewhere like Style Me Pretty.

It’s also a really good idea to think about the format you’ll be shooting in-does the publication tend to prefer portrait over landscape? stand alone shots or duos? Are there certain colours they don’t like to use?

Kat Williams of Rock n Roll Bride [Image © Eliza Claire Photography]

3. Trade Your Skills
Just because you can’t afford to give anything with monetary value it doesn’t mean you can’t skill swap instead. This way you’re demonstrating that you are serious about your craft and that you respect who you’re working with. If you’re a florist, offer your photographer and model (if you’re using one) a free bouquet to the value of X amount or something to show willing. If you make a product, gift one of your cushions or prints instead. Working for free has become one of those situations that we’re all too quick to accept because we feel we have to (hell, I’ve done it a LOT in the past for folio) but remember to try and ensure you’re paid for your time in some form.

4. Schedule Your Time & Delegate
In the lead up to shoot day you’ll be busy sourcing, planning and coordinating. Make sure that you give yourself enough time to pull everything together and don’t forget to factor in the time it takes for collections and returns (in some cases I’ve spent several days doing this). Choose someone to manage the overall process-if you’ve instigated the project then it ought to be you. Communicate with your team. Is everyone else pulling their weight? Is everyone on the same page?

Let’s not forget scheduling your shooting time on the day itself. Ask yourself…

• How long will it take you to dress and style each set up?

• How many set ups do you have and realistically, how many shots would you like to walk away with?

• Which order will you shoot in? I find it’s best to start with the most complicated scenes first.

• How long will it take for you to break down your set, tidy and leave the premises?

Based on these answers you should be able to draw up a running order. It’s best to be as flexible as you can to allow movement if for whatever reason you have to change plans-it could be that the light isn’t what you expected and you need to wait or location, or perhaps a model bails on you and you need to double up a look on another.

For Oxfam’s 70th anniversary with Love My Dress [Image © Eliza Claire Photography]

5. Over-Plan & Be Prepared
A good stylist always brings a lot of props and product on set, more than they’re likely to get round to using, but having options is absolutely key. You might have a certain set-up in your mind or roughly sketched out, but once it’s in situ something might not sit right. Having alternatives to swap around takes the pressure off and can be the difference between getting “the money shot” and something half baked. Try not to promise too much if you’re borrowing items from other designers or makers, but if they’re disappointed their product didn’t get used, perhaps agree to write them a blog post or use something else in their collection another time. It’s inevitable that you can’t use everything and keep everyone happy, but you can show willing which encourages people to want to work with you again.

[Image © Nobu Yamaguchi]

6. Distribution & Use of Images
This is an area you really need to discuss with your photographer before you start the project if you can. How soon can they edit the images after the shoot? Are they happy for their images to be used by everyone for their own folios? Do they have any other stipulations?

Agree a realistic time frame in which the images can be made available to everyone for download. This is generally what the pay-off is for your team so don’t leave everyone waiting for too long afterwards, but give your photographer enough time to edit comfortably-they’ll be juggling this with paid clients’ work too.

Another area to note if you’re trying to get featured is whether the publication have an exclusivity clause or grace period before your images can be used anywhere else-this includes your own blog. Be clear on this first because it can be the difference between getting featured and not.

[Image © Nobu Yamaguchi]

7. Credit, credit, credit!
It’s after the event, your photographer has selected and edited your shots and they’re ready to go. Congratulations! You’re not quite done yet though. Now you need to get your credits done, thoroughly and correctly. If your shoot is being featured online and there’s opportunity to, you need to make sure you credit everyone involved with a link to their website. Keep a list of featured product in each shot to include and don’t forget your photographer too!

If your images are going to print and it’s just an image to two other than a full spread, it’s not always possible to credit everyone, in which case the photographer is usually the only one you absolutely must highlight, unless of course the focus is on product too.

So there we are. There is still heaps to discuss on this topic, but I wanted to keep it fairly precise and to the point for this post. I know that lots of you out there (some of whom I’ve worked with!) will have your own tips or opinions on this, so feel free to leave them in the comments below. I hope this has been a useful topic to cover and that it’ll help you think twice and get the results you’re aiming for before you head into the wild! A useful thing to remember, though, is that you’ll learn more with every shoot that you do and you’ll continue to do so-it’s one of the things I love about the job!.

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