My concerns with styled shoots, and why I publish them anyway

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LeahAndMark.com | Styled Shoot
This couple is GORGEOUS… because they're models. Photo by Leah And Mark

Are you familiar with this concept of styled shoots? It's when wedding vendors team up together to create fantasy weddings, showing off what they can do. I totally get why styled shoots are great for vendors — it gives folks a chance to show off the kind of work they WANT to do — but we try to not feature too many on Offbeat Bride, and here's why.

My biggest concern: Styled shoots set unrealistic expectations.

It's easy to have the most perfect tablescape centerpiece… when you're an event designer setting up a table for two. It's easy to get the most perfect photos ever… when you're a photographer working with models on your own schedule. It's easy to have every single element of the wedding feel on-theme… when you're a wedding planner coordinating on a set.

You can almost always spot a styled shoot: everyone looks perfect, and there seems to be a lack of guests at the “wedding.”

Again, I totally understand that styled shoots are extremely valuable public relations and marketing materials for vendors. You guys, seriously: as someone who spent a decade working in marketing and who has now spent seven years working in the wedding industry, I TOTALLY GET IT. Some of Offbeat Bride's favorite vendors do AMAZING styled shoots.

As a publisher with a mission committed to supporting couples wrestling with grueling insecurities and internet-influenced anxieties about an event that's already fraught with family pressures and financial realities, the last thing I want to do is set up unrealistic expectations.

But here's why Offbeat Bride features styled shoots anyway: increasing the visibility of folks marginalized by traditional wedding media

There's no arguing that styled shoots can set unrealistic expectations, but I choose to publish them on Offbeat Bride for a very specific reason:

Sometimes styled shoots to highlight folks who don't get as much visibility in the mainstream wedding media.

I'm very clear on Offbeat Bride's submission page that my top priority for the site is using the publication as a platform to increase the visibility of folks who don't feel seen in mainstream wedding media. This includes folks who identify as:

  • BIPOC
  • LGBTQ
  • Nonbinary / genderqueer
  • Disabled
  • Neurodivergent
  • Older

…and just otherwise NOT the usual skinny, white, able bodied, cisgender, heterosexual folks seen in wedding media.

The simple truth is that styled shoots allow me to ensure that I'm prioritizing the visibility of folks who might not otherwise feel seen. I want people to come to Offbeat Bride and see people who look like THEM, and so sometimes I choose to prioritize that goal over the goal of setting realistic wedding expectations.

I also want to ensure that Offbeat Bride is a platform that amplifies the work of wedding vendors who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ, neurodivergent, etc. So this means that I prioritize sharing their shoots, to support their work. I want my business to be a springboard for the kind of microbusinesses I want to see more of… that means amplifying the work of photographers who are queer women of color, wedding planners who are nonbinary folks on the spectrum, and officiants who are disabled older folks tryna do some good in the world.

So, this means that sometimes you'll see styled shoots on Offbeat Bride… but they'll always be clearly marked as such (look for the styled shoot tag at the top of the post!), and they'll usually feature models or vendors who identify as someonhow marginalized by the mainstream wedding media.

This is all to say: yep, I share y'alls frustrations with styled shoots… and yep, sometimes I feature them anyway.

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Comments on My concerns with styled shoots, and why I publish them anyway

  1. Do I get in trouble for fangirling a link to that photoshoot’s dress? It’s just very budget-friendly and made by a friend-of-a-RL-friend that I Etsy-stalk. >.> (I considered it for my own wedding but I’m too short&curvy for that style.) http://www.etsy.com/listing/84165686/silk-kimono-and-corset-set-alternate

    That said, I’m about a month out and have 90% quit looking at any site that isn’t OBB, because whatever my unanswered questions involve, the search for an answer brings up a styled shoot or a professional event planner, and at this point it obviously ain’t happening.

  2. Love this post. I often find myself laughing at styled shoots that I see on other sites because really, who has the time, resources or wherewithall to make a picture-perfect fern-and-shrub filled tablescape, each person having a log cross-section as a charger plate and a hand-chiseled deer at their seat? Really?

  3. I just want to say thank you to OffBeat Bride for NOT posting styled shoots. I really appreciate it.

  4. This post is a perfect example of what Offbeat Bride represents. I appreciate this on so many levels, the main one being you NOT ACTUALLY BASHING STYLED SHOOTS. I can tell that you really do understand why they exist and that you are simply putting it out there that this particular kind of marketing is not representative of Offbeat Bride’s tone and style. Thankyou for being so thoughtful and consistent. It’s why you guys are so successful.

    Tl;dr – I LOVE YOU GUYS SO MUCH. THANKYOU.

  5. As a small independent vendor for all types of events & celebrations. I can say that a real benefit to doing some styled shoots has been to show a skill set or product that clients don’t know I have yet. I make custom cakes and rarely re-create the same piece twice…with respect to make everyone just a little unique. Not every client I have can afford my potential (maybe I don’t even know my potential yet!), but I really really want to show the world my art just as a painter, sculptor or any other artist would.

    I genuinely enjoy taking part in competitions and being challenged. If I could enter competitions for just the cost of the cake entered that would be fantastic, but NO those all have entry fees plus the cost of your work and travel. So why not challenge myself and team up with some other vendors so that we all share the cost and benefits. Plus remember not all clients have the stomach to let their vendors simply “rise to the challenge”, they might feel nervous about not knowing if you truly can bring that skill set. So yes I do participate in some styled shoots by offering my confectionery art to be displayed and try I gain some experience (a new technique) and insight along the way.

    I know that this has always helped me to grow as an artist and vendor. I have increased my skill set rather than just staying at the level of my real working portfolio as well as gained valuable network opportunities with other vendors. That is important for my clients too, I love being able to have an answer and a referral for a vendor they need to complete their vision.

    On the other hand, I have had real parties featured in online blogs as well. These always come across with more love and emotion involved. I would absolutely love if every client of mine had the time to photograph their events in a way that the submissions would be accepted online so we could read about the real celebrations more, but that’s unrealistic. Sometimes the best part about the real celebrations is just reading their thoughts, memories, and why they chose to incorporate something. You simply don’t get that level of emotion when reading a styled shoot write-up. So yes, I’d love to hear more of the real celebration ideas and the lovely back stories behind them….but I do seek out the eye candy of the styled shoots too on occasion!

    I personally can always spot the difference in the real vs. styled. The romantic artist in me really hopes that the styled shoots don’t go away any time soon, just that everyone takes them for what they are, an expression of what the artist/vendor would like to work on displayed for you all to see. I’ve seen some of the best new products from myself and other vendors come as a result of a styled shoot or showcase concept. It all comes back around to the client and offering more for them….more experience, more techniques, more ideas, more selection, and YES more inspiration!

    I love that you put this topic out here and your perspective on it! As always, this site is a fantastic resource!

  6. We’ve never participated in inspiration shoots, and especially in more recent years, have been more disgusted more with the sheer amount and how they are used misleadingly.

    We had a wedding that we were hired to shoot and the bride was an art student. Naturally, she had a photographer friend at school. This photographer friend asked the couple who hired us to get dressed up again on a different day after their wedding took place to do a styled shoot. The friend photographer then proceeded to not only post this shoot in her portfolio, but use one of the photos as the main first photo in her new photography business portfolio. She also advertised on some of the same directories – in the same city – that we do with pictures of this same couple. I was furious, but worse, like someone else mentioned, this is misleading to couples.

    It is not so much styled and inspiration shoots I have a problem with, it is the lack of transparency. I wish everyone would take a pledge to A. be forthcoming about staged shoots, and B. explain the costs involved for what it would cost to duplicated the styled/inspiration shoot for a real wedding with 10 to 20 tables.

    Tell couples what the cost is not only for the services shown, but the production crew and furniture rentals, in addition to expensive flower packages, wedding dresses, linens and table settings that are the most expensive in rental catalogs, etc. that are involved to make these very beautiful staged shoots. They never tell you that couches and tables don’t put themselves out in the middle of a field and such by themselves, you need a production crew and moving truck for that.

    Yeah, no one is questioning that they are not all fantastic and beautiful ideas.. they are all look great. But 90% are wholly unrealistic either for what the costs would be, or the logistics that would need be involved to make a lot of those ideas work on a real wedding day. Just a lot of misleading inspiration, which does have an influence on making couples think that they are not living up to some kind of false standards for what is typical. What is typical is a 1970s Brady Bunch church and suburban banquet hall with 1980s linens and no windows. You don’t see the real typical weddings on blogs, you see very very very rare exceptional weddings that represent maybe 1 out of 100 actual weddings.

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