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Styled Shoots vs Real Weddings: What To Look for When Vetting Your Wedding Photographer

This post I think is a long time coming, because I know so many photographers who have mixed feelings about attending styled shoots, and those feelings have nothing to do with styled shoots themselves. It’s all about other photographers misrepresenting themselves (ie telling or implying to a potential couple that a styled shoot is real wedding).

For those who don’t know, a styled shoot is a very put together version of a wedding, however, it doesn’t have the same timeline that a real wedding would and there isn’t any pressure to get a specific shot, a lot of photographers used styled shoots to get shots that they would never have gotten otherwise or to network with other photographers and vendors (I was able to shoot a beautiful beach wedding last October with a photographer I met through styled shoots). Newer photographers will use them to gain content for their portfolio as well. Your other vendors use styled shoots as a way to get content for their website and social media. It’s virtually impossible for vendors like florists, makeup artists, dress or suit shops, to get that kind of content without styled shoots. Most couples don’t think to send those vendors links to the full wedding gallery once it’s delivered.

Typically a styled shoot is going to look much more extravagant than a real wedding. It’s a chance for vendors to shine and showcase their best work, but not all couples can afford thousands and thousands of dollars worth of florals. Below is an example of a floral setup from a styled shoot that was done last summer, as much as I know I would love to have a floral installation like that at my wedding, I know it’s just not in the cards, but it’s beautiful to look at and wonderful to see what this florist is really capable of.

A married couple sitting on burgundy couch with two large floral arrangements, the bride is looking at the camera while the groom nuzzles her cheek
taken by me at a styled shoot set up by Ashlyn Hughes Rogers in June 2020, florals by Ruffled Willow

Okay, so now let’s get into the real point of this post. How to tell if your photographer is pretending that a styled shoot is a real wedding. I honestly hate that I have to even acknowledge that some of my fellow photographers would lie to potential clients, but I’ve seen it happen first hand 😢

  • First things first, ALWAYS ask to see a full wedding gallery before booking your photographer. If they send you a styled shoot and say it’s a real wedding it’s very easy to tell the difference. A styled shoot isn’t going to have any reception photos, it’s also probably not going to have anyone else except the couple. Not even an officiant (if it’s an elopement, they had to have an officiant, which should show up in the gallery).
  • Second, check their instagram. An honest photographer will tag styled shoots in their caption, it’ll likely look like something like this:

Some photographers will get around this by tagging the vendors only in the images (styled shoot etiquette is to tag everyone in the caption and then tag the vendors visible in the image). You can check to see if this was a styled shoot by clicking on one of the vendors, like the florist, and taking a peek at what else they’ve been tagged in. If you see a bunch of photos from the same “wedding” but by different photographers, then it was a styled shoot.

  • Next pay attention to when they post stories from weddings (I saw one photographer post a story that said “just finished my forth wedding of the year” it was a Monday, and it was a styled shoot, I know because I was there, but this photographer to this day when posting images from this shoot implies very strongly that it was a real wedding) Sometimes weddings can happen during the week, but it’s still pretty uncommon for them to be Monday through Wednesday, this might change with the rise in elopements from 2020, but as of right now it’s still very rare for couples to have their wedding during the beginning of the week.
  • Lastly, ask your photographer a lot of detailed questions about your wedding and their experience, ask them what they would do in certain situations, like how they handle formal portraits. Ask them about timing for photos, watch how confident they are with their responses. Ask for examples of situations. If they’re an honest photographer and they’re newer to the industry, they’ll tell you. And most of all, trust your gut. Ask for links to reviews (for example if you found them on Instagram and they have a listing on The Knot as well, ask to see it, there might be reviews on there! If they have any negative reviews, how did they respond? Was it professional?)

A photographer is one of the most important vendors you can hire for your wedding, they are the ones who will make sure that your wedding lives on forever.

If this was helpful at all, let me know! Or if this was non sensical rambling let me know that too 😂

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