Styled Shoots – Idea to Action in 16 Steps

Chris Denner is a Birmingham wedding photographer and irreplaceable character in the WUN community. What do we love about him the most? Hustle. The guy has a maniacal work ethic, and during the past year of lockdown has not been complacent.

In this post, Chris takes us through 16 steps to take ideas for styled shoots into action. From coming up with an idea through to making the magic happen, he pulls back the veil and lets you take a peek into the hows and whys of a shoot.

If Chris is new to you, we encourage you to listen to our podcast conversation with him, check out an insane Halloween-themed session we featured previously, and of course follow him on Instagram.

Enjoy this super informative post by Chris, and when you’re done reading it, take action!


Lockdown, Covid, restrictions…like FFS seriously? We`ve all seen our business and art affected by these unprecedented times, and I’d imagine your portfolio may not be as fresh as you’d like it.

So, what can we do? The answer is loads…time to blow the dust off your creative muscles.

Before I became a fulltime wedding tog, I shot a lot of fashion and band work. I absolutely loved the editorial fashion style; I loved the creativity of it and the pace of the work was different from the hectic pace of wedding shoots. These kinds of shoots always had mood boards, ideas, and were always about pushing boundaries.

So, with plenty of time on my hands over this last year and a burning desire to create, I fell back into my experience in this area to set up my own styled wedding shoots.

I had plenty of ideas. Freakish ideas. Ideas no couple would ever go for….so I did them anyway.

What is a stylised shoot though? Like wtf are they? Aren’t they just fake shoots? A waste of time?

You even think that shit and I will slap you so hard. Nothing fake about art. My other creative pursuit is as a songwriter.

Think about it this way, I actually spend nearly 100% of my time practising, writing, crafting my songs so I can get in the studio, or on stage, and deliver the product to the best of my ability.

That’s a huge contrast with wedding photography where its generally rushed, busy, hectic.

When was the last time you practising your portraits on someone who isn’t a client? When was the last time you could make a mistake? When was the last time you were encouraged to step out of that comfort zone and test yourself?

Falling back into my older mindset, over time I have discovered that styled shoots are an incredibly important and integral part of becoming the kind of wedding photographer you want to be.

Not only does allow you to kick out the jams with your creativity when you’re otherwise going crazy, it enables you to shoot content to connect to the right wedding clients for you, AND it also brings you together with wonderful wedding industry suppliers (who may refer you to their clients later on!).

This is all good shit.

Styled shoots also give you fresh content for SM and can be a source of free advertising through wedding blogs, and more importantly, it gives you new opportunities to fine-tune your style.

This last point is super important – it can help present your true shooting/editing style to your potential couples. Whether you currently shoot quite traditionally and want to move into a more contemporary style, you should begin to attract these newer clients as you`ll have loads of beautifully crafted work that they`ll respond too.

Now is the time to connect with other wedding creatives and get those creative juices flowing.

What have you got to lose?

Anyway, I case you do not know how to even get started with this, it’s a good job I put together this little guide. Its no bible, it’s not a gospel, but it may help.

1. Ideas!!!!

The first step of your shoot will be to come up with a concept, or theme. Are you going to shoot something rustic, modern, bohemian, or classic? Think about what kind of couples you want to attract, and that should direct your ideas. And there is no bad ideas. Honestly.

2. Whats the point of the shoot…err why?

Like I mentioned, it’s important to always market towards an audience. So, always keep asking why? Why am I doing that? Why am I shooting it in this way? Why is it important to deliver it in this specific way?

3. Find your A Team…you bring you’re A game.

An obvious decision, but perhaps the most important. The key here is to take the time to look through everybody’s creative output before asking them to be involved. I find there are some awesome FB groups out there looking for creatives to work with. When you find someone who works with similar people, or has a similar aesthetic to you, get in touch with them.

4. Ask People To Get Involved

It can be scary and quite daunting to ask people to get involved with your project; they’ll need to spend energy, and time, and sometimes money on this project. I recommend writing out a plan of the day, including details as possible on what you’re planning on shooting, put together a moodboard, and mention where you’ll try to submit the work.

If they say no, don’t be upset, they might not have the time, or feel like you’re not the best fit for them! It’s never personal.

5. Put Together A Moodboard

This is where you can have fun on Pinterest! Open up a file in Word or on Photoshop and bring a bunch of images into it which act as inspiration for the shoot. This should include the style of wear, an idea of the colour scheme, an idea of the mood ( super important ), lighting, location, and theme.

6. Source A Venue/Location

A venue should be considered as a team member, and it’s important to take the time to think about where you’d like the set to be taken. If you have a venue in mind, think about visiting it to make sure it will fit your theme and your brand and then approach the venue before hand. I often find this works well as you`ll have somewhere to stage MUA/Hair as well as food. If you’re shooting on location, check that the land is public and not privately owned; and that you can get decent access.

7. Have a Bad Weather back up plan.

Most of my styled shoots take place outdoors, so it’s always clever to have a backup plan if the weather is bad. Can you postpone if it rains? Can you go indoors somewhere? Make sure to consider this in the planning stage. See my point above.

8. Choose Your Models/victims

So these are the most important part of a shoot because if you’ve got a weak focal point, everything else falls apart. You could have the most beautiful idea, gorgeous styling, amazing hair and make up, but if the subjects aren’t comfortable or the right look, the whole shoot is a waste of time and you`ll be frustrated.

Consider paying for authentic agency models if your budget allows for it, but if not, spend time finding keen models who have the experience, and will be the right look for your shoot. Again I`ll point you towards various FB groups where you can pop out a casting call using your moodboard.

9. Put together a plan of attack on the day.

Once you have got the suppliers sorted, I highly recommend putting together a detailed time plan of the day into a word document, that can be shared easily.

It should include what time key team members need to arrive, what times they will be required to work, and what will be happening when. If you are shooting at numerous locations, make note of the times you will be moving to each place. Remember to always make room for travel time!

I recommend also including the names of all the team members on this sheet, just so that everyone knows who will be there. And this just lets you manage people’s expectations.

10. Shoot With The Publication In Mind

This is an important one because depending on where you’d like to submit your work, you need to shoot with these people in mind. For example, some blogs require you to submit film photography, and some blogs like a lot of detail shots.

Do your research and go into your shoot thinking about who you’re shooting for; you’ll increase your chances of getting the project featured. Another thing to keep in mind is that publications often have long waiting periods before they can publish your work (sometimes three months) so make sure you are submitting work which will work for them seasonally.

11. Put Together A must have Shot List

It’s easy to get carried away on the day (I’m an absolute nightmare for this) or forget shots because you’re rushing around and generally getting carried away with how badass you are. Do not put that much pressure on yourself, and so you should create a shot list ahead of time. It does not have to be exact and have a stupid amount of detail but knowing what kind of images you want to get out of the day will help you to plough through everything so that you don’t get home and then think “Oh shit, I forgot that!”

12. Enjoy it.

Seems obvious, but you need to enjoy the shoot! Whether you are the photographer or the planner, bring your hard work to life is going to be so kickass. So, give yourself a moment to be a hero.

13. Editing and Culling and Artworking (you know – the fun stuff).

Post shoot you`ll be as high as a kite, so I always recommend taking a day or two away from the images before trying to cull or edit. You will come back to the images with a newer fresh perspective, feel refreshed, and be far more able to pick out the winning shots. Make an initial cull based upon what your end publication will be, then go back through it and cull further.

Edit your images to look like your work (or how you`d like your piece to look), but keep the final publication in mind.

Avoid including too many images which look the same (I’m terrible for the hero shots), and try to make the editorial feel flow smoothly. Balance it out with a wider range of different images as well, such as detail shots.

14. Submitting to blogs and magazines.

Probably the most important part of the submission process is spending the time to get to know the publication submission guidelines.


All blogs and magazines have guidelines available on their websites/blogs, on what size and file type of imagery they are looking for, how many images to send, how to send them, and helpfully how long it will usually take for them to get back to you.

Read them, and make sure you follow their rules. Don’t be a dick about it, even if your shoot is the best things you’ve ever seen, there’s no need to be pushy and bombard them with follow up messages. If its not a good fit, it isn’t. Check them out before hand and avoid the hassle.

15. Veto Social Media

It is so tempting to publish these new kickass images all over Instagram, but hang fire! Many publications will require some sort of exclusivity to publish your work (which means it can’t be seen anywhere online).

I always recommend submitting your work first, and then once you have hopefully been accepted, checking with the blog to see what their rules are about posting to social media.

16. Get it in people’s faces.

Once the images are live somewhere, share, share, share!

Tag all the creative team on your Facebook or Instagram posts, and be sure to get them all the supplier credits as well as the images, so that they can share them as well.

Remember, they will hopefully be tagging you as well and helping to increase the exposure to new couples.

One Response to “Styled Shoots – Idea to Action in 16 Steps”
Leave a Reply