How I Planned the Shot: Top 10 Tips for Stylized Engagement Shoots with Alissa Zimmerman
I really hit the jackpot when I found this job. It is fast-paced and ever-changing, so I never have to worry about not being challenged or getting bored. It is full of never-ending opportunities to take an idea and bring it to life in the blink of an eye. It is a place where I can learn something new every single day.
Most importantly, I found a boss who trusts and believes in me, and the team we have built between the two of us is exactly what a team should be: balanced. I love nothing more than planning everything around a photo shoot, and Sal loves nothing more than approving items here and there, but mostly having the ability to walk onto a shoot and have the confidence that everything will go as smoothly as possible.
There are two key parts of my job that I love more than anything else: providing incredible experiences for our clients that build lifelong relationships, and planning creative photo shoots. When we get the right kind of client in our studio, we are able to change the routine a bit. Pitching a destination engagement shoot to a client is actually really simple. I mean, who doesn’t want their engagement pictures taken in a one-of-a-kind location?
Now, take that a step further. Pitch the idea of a stylized portion of their shoot. The right client will go crazy for this kind of concept. What do I mean by “right kind of client”? The client who sees photography as art. Last month we had the privilege of meeting a wedding couple of ours in Las Vegas for their engagement shoot. Las Vegas offers an endless supply of unique shooting locations and opportunities, so we blocked off an entire day to make the most of our time with the couple. That’s the sort of thing our clients expect.
Here are my Top 10 tips for planning a stylized engagement shoot.
- Get a feel for your clients.
Pitch the idea to your client, and then listen to them. Don’t let your vision overpower what they actually want. Do they seem to be into the idea, or are you strong-arming them into thinking it’s cool? If there is any hesitation in the response after the initial pitch, I back off.
- Paint a colorful picture.
You never want to downplay a pitch to your client, especially when it’s something creative that can provide an unforgettable experience and an opportunity to build your portfolio with unique locations. It’s all about the initial pitch and getting your clients excited. Paint the picture for them. Send them screen shots of the location and wardrobe/accessories you’re envisioning. Make it so exciting, they won’t be able to say no.
- Travel for free.
This is something we offer that really stands out. We are constantly traveling all around the world for work, so when a client expresses interest in a destination shoot, we send them our list of booked travel dates and locations. If they want to meet us in one of the cities, we don’t charge them anything extra. The only time we charge our clients for travel is if they want to do a destination shoot on a date we don’t have plans to be in the city they want to shoot in (or if we can’t make it work with our schedule, we sometimes are able to schedule a layover in a city we are flying through).
- Communicate clearly and frequently.
For most of your wedding clients, an engagement shoot is their first time being in front of a professional camera as a couple. There’s a lot of pressure tied to getting the best engagement pictures possible, and added pressure in hoping they made the right decision to do a stylized session. Take these people under your wing and make sure they feel comfortable and confident throughout the process. How can you ensure this? Consistent, quick and clear communication. Respond in a timely manner. Explain yourself thoroughly. Set expectations from the beginning, and make sure they understand your studio’s process fully. Leaving any gray area only creates an uneasiness with your client and unnecessary tension—ultimately leading to a subpar experience.
- Build a relationship.
This is my favorite part of stylized and destination engagement sessions. Typically when we shoot in our city, we book five to six sessions in one day, just cranking them out from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s exhausting, and doesn’t allow any time to talk to our clients and really get to know them. With stylized and destination engagement shoots, we block off more time and book only one shoot for the day so we aren’t rushed, and can actually hang out and build friendships with our clients.
We like to go out for dinner and drinks with our clients after the shoot (if we’re not dead tired). We also try to document behind-the-scenes shots and goofy selfies throughout the shoot to post on social media so their friends and families can follow.
- Be realistic.
You are the trusted advisor—when it comes to stylized shoots and collaborating with your clients, most will have enough unique ideas and locations and outfits to fill an entire week of shooting. You have to be the voice of reason, but you can’t be this until you’ve done your research and can speak with factual information.
Locations: Have them narrow down to their top three picks, and then drop each into Google Maps to put together an itinerary with the order of locations: Where will they meet you? Where will you end the shoot? You’ll need to factor in travel time, traffic, walking, etc. into this itinerary so they don’t expect any kind of time traveling from location to location.
Transportation: We encourage our clients too hire an SUV or limo that can drive us around so they are able to leave their extra outfits, makeup, etc. in the car while we hop out to shoot. This is also extremely helpful because we don’t have to worry about wasting time (and money) to find parking, especially in big cities packed full of tourists.
- Listen to your clients.
Don’t get so hung up on your vision of the stylized session that you stop listening to what your clients want. Bounce ideas off of each other, and make sure you get a read on what they are reacting positively to and what isn’t getting them excited. You have to be willing to adapt your vision to accommodate their interests and make sure they love the idea and the images.
- Invest plenty of time into the location research.
The worst feeling in the world is scheduling an entire session around a location and pulling up only to find out you needed a permit and they won’t allow you to shoot there. Trust me, I’ve done this, and it wasn’t pretty. A situation like this ensures your clients will look at you and your studio as sloppy, unprepared and unprofessional. As much as they fake-smile and say things like, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” trust me…it’s a big deal. Take the time to make sure you have your locations 100 percent solid.
- The devil is in the details.
Anyone can put on a pretty dress and call it a stylized shoot. There is so much more that goes into the vision for a true stylized shoot. You’re taking a part of your clients’ personalities and telling a story—not only of the day, but of their relationship. Add accessories, rent vintage cars, dress up a gown with unique jewelry. And don’t take your first shot until every detail is perfect, down to the little piece of hair across your bride-to-be’s forehead. It makes all the difference when you client sees how closely you pay attention to these details, and puts them at ease knowing they will have you to take care of these things on their actual wedding day.
- The experience is everything.
I can’t stress this enough. Sure, these shoots are a great opportunity for you to travel to cool parts of the world and build your portfolio, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re there for your client. Making sure they have the experience of a lifetime should be your number-one priority. Joke around, compliment them, get them to relax in front of the camera—they will remember this day for the rest of their lives.
Like I mentioned earlier: It takes a special kind of client to pitch a stylized engagement shoot and get a positive response without hesitation. This client understands the opportunity at hand for one-of-a-kind artwork, and you should too.
That means you need to pay attention to your surroundings. Take advantage of the incredible locations you spent so much time scouting, and make sure you’re capturing the scenes in a way that lends to big artwork for your clients’ homes. Imagine that 30×40 acrylic or metal that will be a centerpiece in their home for years to come.