Creating and Marketing a Stylized Wedding Shoot with Michael Anthony


Creating and Marketing a Stylized Wedding Shoot with Michael Anthony

Four years ago, as a new wedding photographer with a small portfolio and very little new clientele coming through the door, there were two things I was always insecure about when it came to connecting with my ideal clients. The first was how to get people to hire us for their wedding if we did not have images that show what we are able to do for them. The second was how to get vendors to refer us if we have no images of us working with them.

In order to sell it, you have to show it. But without a solid portfolio, how were we going to show clients what we could make for them? The answer was to create a stylized wedding shoot to showcase not only what we could do for potential clients, but also to help us connect with new vendors that could turn into a steady source of referrals.

Now, many people associate stylized shoots with lavish details, trendy poses and wide-open apertures. Our style of photography has never been focused on any of the current trend of glorified wedding detail shots. We have never booked a bride because of a cool shot we took of shoes, rings or a centerpiece. We do shoot these things for our clients, but we do not showcase them. Many photographers do have clientele who look for this style of photography, but it is important that you plan your shoot for your ideal clientele so that your marketing plan becomes more effective.

Now, before I go into how to organize a stylized wedding shoot, I want to clarify a question I know will be on some readers’ minds. Is it a good idea to show potential clients a stylized wedding session as part of your portfolio?

Yes, it absolutely is. You are showcasing what you are able to do for them creatively. There has never been a photo that we have taken during a styled shoot that we were not able to take on a wedding day if given the same exact circumstances. Look at large brands. Do clothing companies show professional models in their ads in amazing locations, or non-models walking through the supermarket without professional hair and makeup? Huge brands put their products in the best light, and your brand should be no exception.

The purpose of a stylized wedding shoot is to show a bride and groom what you are able to do with your photographic skill. There is nothing wrong with telling them that the photos were from an inspiration shoot, but you don’t need to feel obligated to.

Now, let’s talk about the steps for creating the shoot. Keep in mind that there should always be running documentation to keep the shoot organized.

Step 1

Choose Your Theme

A stylized shoot needs to have a central theme. I am not talking about just the details. I am talking about the shoot overall. Is the shoot high fashion? Is it Hollywood glam? A theme can be driven by a shoot location, or even by the attire of the models. The trick is to have a starting point in mind so you can get inspired to create, which brings me to Step 2.

Step 2

Gather Inspiration

Inspiration for your shoot can come from anywhere, not just from other photographers. We recently did a Hollywood glam style shoot after seeing a wedding dress in a shop window that reminded us of attire worn in The Great Gatsby. That was the starting point. The motivation to carry that through to a shoot was what was important, and it should always be the same for you. Always ask yourself, “Will this theme spark interest in our marketing material and ultimately bring us more business?” Pull photos from the Internet and put together an inspiration board. My favorite place to find inspiration for wedding shoots is Pinterest because it’s built entirely for the purpose of sparking inspiration for its users. This is also the step where you should set your budget for your shoot (some shoots can cost nothing, but I have found it to be a good idea to invest in your portfolio if the need arises).

Step 3

Gather Your Team

You are ready to get your team together. That includes other vendors. When we were just starting our photography business, we wanted to network with as many vendors as possible in order to get more referrals.

More vendors often means better photos, but it can also cause more difficulty in coordinating. That is why my first step in setting up my team for a large shoot is to reach out to a wedding coordinator. A wedding coordinator is a great source for referrals, and a talented one has a skill set that ensures a well-organized day. When we’re shooting only for our portfolio, we keep the team as small as possible. Our typical team for a portfolio shoot is the dress vendor, models, and hair and makeup artist.

Check models’ references before hiring them. You need to make sure they are going to show up on the shoot date. Feel free to reach out to past clients to model for you if they fit the look of your brand.

If you are having trouble securing a dress for a stylized wedding shoot, visit a bridal shop and look for a dress off the clearance rack that fits your model. We recently purchased a gorgeous wedding gown for a “trash the dress” shoot at a secondhand bridal store for less than $200. Deals can be found, but it takes some effort to find them. Buy one a bit bigger if you have to, because it can always be clamped in the back.

If you are a seasoned shooter who understands the value in building relationships with vendors you haven’t worked with, setting up a shoot with them is a great way to break the ice. Reach out to them, show them your portfolio and get them excited about the benefit of offering their services to you by explaining how you are going to affect their reach in your marketing efforts.
Show vendors a reason to give you their product or services. If you don’t have a portfolio, then show them your inspiration boards and get them to participate in your marketing plan, which we will outline how to do below.

Step 4

Create a Contingency Plan

If you don’t create a contingency plan, you leave yourself open to damaging your reputation with your vendors. Have a backup model in place just in case. You can make due without a rental company and even a hair and makeup artist if you have to, and you should already have the dress. If your model flakes, you are going to look bad if you don’t have a backup plan in place. Contact a modeling agency to be sure you are getting someone professional.

Step 5

Shoot the Session

It’s game day. Make sure that you are ready for your shoot. You are mainly shooting for your studio’s portfolio and marketing material, but do not forget to shoot amazing photos of the products your team of vendors provided. When we do stylized shoots, my wife, Jennifer, first shoots for our vendors while I shoot for our portfolio, and then we switch. If you are shooting solo, leave enough time for both. Your shoot should showcase your style, and you should not be shooting solely in the hope of getting picked up by industry blogs. Those clients are not targeted, and your images will be lost with the hundreds of other images in the publication. Remember, you are going to use these images in your normal marketing plan, which will help you connect further with your targeted audience and ideal client. Use the same techniques that you feel make your style different. Staying true to your photographic style is the most certain way to benefit from this shoot in your marketing efforts. Trends come and go, so stay away from them.

Marketing Your Shoot

Shooting the session was the first half. Now it’s time to see the benefits.

Many photographers shoot stylized wedding shoots with the intention of getting published by blogs as the sole objective of their marketing efforts. In doing so, they adhere to the current trends in the wedding publication industry. You are doing this primarily for the growth of your business, and staying true and current to your style of photography is essential. Do not get wrapped up in shooting to match the style of publications. Doing so will result in your work getting lost in the crowd. We have been published many times, and I do not remember one client who ever told us they found us on a wedding blog.

Our studio’s photographic style is focused on creative lighting, artistic compositions and balancing our subjects with vast, beautiful scenery. Every time we set up a shoot, we balance two or three of those elements in every photo we publish from a shoot.
Your marketing efforts should be focused and targeted to your audience. If you worked with other vendors on this project, then start your marketing with them. Collaborate with any vendors who want to be involved, and use their reach to connect with new clientele.

Make Your Vendors Happy So They Will Refer You
The first step in your marketing plan is to keep your vendors happy. When we do a stylized wedding shoot, the first thing we do is make sure our turnaround time is quick. It’s no secret that we outsource all of our editing to Evolve Edits, which was the best decision we made when our studio experienced quick growth. Doing so allows us to send off images after a styled shoot, and receive them completely edited and ready to go in five business days.

If you want happy vendors, turn their images around quickly and make sure they credit your studio in all social media usage. Provide the vendors with branded images (most vendors are happy to display your branding on digital images they receive) on a branded medium. Remember, they need to remember who you are. Drop off these images with a branded 20 x 30 mounted print. You are investing in your business, and this is essential for developing lasting relationships. We started off many of our relationships with our most favorite vendors by doing this years ago as an ice-breaker. Many labs offer a discount on branded prints, so check into your lab to see if they offer this service. Everything you are doing in your marketing efforts should be aimed at showing that you offer greater value than your competitors.

Get Social

The world of social media has allowed us to reach more targeted clientele than ever before. Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are powerful tools that can be essential to growing your business. Your shoot needs to be aimed at your target clientele as part of a larger marketing strategy. The goal is to get clients to identify with your style and individuality by associating your name with great imagery. Use Facebook’s powerful advertising features to target your specific clients by creating a call-to-action ad featuring images from your shoot.

One of the reasons I love Pinterest and Instagram as advertising platforms is that both services are completely visual. Use Pinterest’s new promoted-pins feature to showcase images from your shoot, and do the same on Instagram. Use the proper hashtags to help you get found. Credit the vendors that helped you accomplish your shoot.

The goal of posting your content in multiple sources is to create cohesion between your advertisements. Studies show that the greater frequency with which a potential client is exposed to your brand, the better the likelihood that client will identify it as an expert in its field. Your ad copy and headers should be tied directly to a blog post or a page on your website where your full portfolio and contact information are easy for them to access.

Get Published

I list getting your work published by industry blogs last because I think that you will benefit from marketing to your local vendors and to a targeted audience on social media much more than being featured on Sunday morning’s wedding hair inspiration post by a local wedding blog. That does not mean being published does not have value. It does, but not in the same way you may think. The primary reason I like to submit to blogs is for the SEO benefits in the form of backlinks and traffic referrals. One of the factors Google uses to determine your website ranking in search engine results is how many websites are linking to your website, and, more specifically, how high of a rank that particular website scores. This means that a backlink from large, highly visited publications is worth more for your page rank than a smaller, less-visited website.

Be careful, because publications can use a “no-follow” tag in the coding of their website to tell Google to not give your website credit in search rankings, so do some research to see which publications do not use this tag on their contributors’ website links before submitting your work to them. There are many other factors that influence SEO ranking, but these are some of the basics.

First, I recommend Two Bright Lights for submitting images for publication. This tool makes photographers’ lives easier by allowing you to submit images to multiple platforms at once.
TBL gives you the option to submit to exclusive and nonexclusive publications. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Exclusive publications do not allow your shoot to be featured in other publications, but sometimes have a much higher page rank than the many nonexclusive publications. Non-exclusives allow you to be featured elsewhere, but may have a much lower page rank.

Submit to those nonexclusive publications that are very well-known and see a lot of traffic. The TBL submission dashboard contains listings of them all.

If the way you shoot does not fit within the current trends of the wedding industry, your work may get featured less. Don’t allow this to influence the way you shoot. Remember, your creativity is fueled by the way you see the world, so adhere to that, and your ideal clients will continue to find you.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the October 2015 magazine.

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