Those damn stylized shoots and why they need to stop

Firsts things first, I have NEVER done a styled shoot NOR will I either.

Now before I get into this super controversial topic I want to warn you, no fucks are given, bridges shall be burned, backlash will be welcome in open arms and most importantly I will almost certainly lose any referrals from vendors who take part in these…but I could care less, because what matters is you, your moments and your trust. I write how I talk so that’s just a warning to you in case you get all sensitive to this. I need you to listen me though, think first like a consumer when reading this and THEN think like a business owner. Empathy is the greatest power one can have and you NEED to channel it so you can understand it isn’t an attack on you as a human but you and your decisions to knowingly or unknowingly trick clients into trusting you. Got it? Awesome. So today’s write up is THOSE DAMN STYLIZED SHOOTS AND WHY THEY NEED TO STOP. You either know what these are, fell victim to one of the idiots pushing them or had your trust damaged because the photographer you hired didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. I’m going to break down todays topic into a few different areas. First though let me explain what they are to those who don’t know.

A stylized shoot is when vendors get together or ” collab ” on a fake wedding. Planners, florists, confectionaries, hair / make up and photographers. They either rent out a venue or travel to someplace they can set up and hire models to be their bride and groom. That’s what they are in a nutshell…actually that’s exactly what they are. The reason they do this is mostly because they have absolutely zero content, they have never done a wedding or my favorite they are set up as a money grab to those that have zero content and have never done a wedding. Now let me make this perfectly clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and benefits almost everyone in their growth as someone who wants to be in this industry. Truthfully. On the surface they are a great way to hone your craft. But they are fake as fuck and never forget this. Before I got into the industry full time I was a manager at THEE largest investment firm in the US. Everyday was insane and everyday I had to interact with new people…a wedding is 100 times more stressful, 100 times more complicated and NEVER are the same.

So now that you know essentially what a ” Stylized shoot ” is let’s talk about the benefits because honestly there are some. First they are pretty. Fucking SUPER pretty. Like holy hell I must hire these people so I can have the EXACT same prettiness type pretty. Yes I’m sure you can smell the sarcasm in that but it’s true, they are and the entire goal of doing one is achieved. That is awesome and now that we have all of these images we have content = goal achieved x 2. You get to take your time and nail every shot, need more time? No problemo here it is like so many nickels and dimes from my pockets. This goes for everyone, during a stylized shoot there are no hard stops. They MAY have a timeline but it if does it’s super soft and that’s incredible because you literally have all the time in the world ( or as long as the shoot ) to create these light and airy images. When the day is over though you have some choices to make, what the hell do I do with these images. This is where the morals come in and irresponsibility starts to rear it’s ugly head. Some people will sell you on the stylized shoot and say ” this is how to start your portfolio ” or ” now you have content so market to these brides ” and then you do. I’m going to break this down for you below.

Do not do this. The easiest thing you can do is make the wrong decision.

Here is the short and simple ( but please stay around to read everything ) – When you use these images in your portfolio or marketing material you are fucking LYING. Read that again. You cannot argue against that, I mean you could but you’d sound like a moron so don’t do that to yourself. What you are doing is telling the consumer that in any given situation you can provide said quality of product. You are taking one cooking class and then trying to open a restaurant in Los Angeles hoping people won’t tell you how shitty the food is. Real quick let me tell you something, I practiced for two years before I even took my first wedding on. Why? Because I had a shitty photographer at my wedding and I owed it to myself to make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else. So logically I learned my craft, paid my dues and 2nd shot or 3rd shot ( shit I still do this because it’s fun ) until I felt I was comfortable enough to adapt to the THOUSANDS of changing emotions throughout a wedding day. Learning to anticipate, learning angles, learning light and the top spot LEARNING PEOPLE.  You cannot AND should not take a stylized shoot and market it to brides for every single reason above.

Some people think ” If I mention that it’s stylized in my blog then at least I’m not lying “. You’re right, but guess what Marlboro mentions you could fucking die if you smoke them but they still leave your insides dirty as shit and cause other problems. It’s a bad habit that can kill you in the end and no different than what can happen to your business if you start fucking lying to people trusting you on their wedding day. See consumers ( ME INCLUDED ) are a visual bunch. Some generations more so than others but for the most part we rely on the old ” if it looks good ” train of thought. That’s why food looks great on menus, JEEPS are flying at 80mph through the plains in Ireland in commercials…we WANT what looks good. So that little disclaimer that’s added to the images, the fuck it’s going to do? Nothing. Nothing because the average person doesn’t know what the hell it means in the first place.

I had a bride reach out to me last year to do her wedding and she decided to book someone else because of my pricing ( which is A-OK ). A couple months ago she reached out to me to apologize, I was shocked. Not because she felt the need to apologize but because when I asked her who she booked and then looked them up online it was practically 99% stylized images, absolutely nothing showing that they can shoot in low light ( indoors or outdoors ). Their site was absolutely gorgeous though. When I asked her to explain her thoughts on picking that person she said she went to the site, looked at the price and booked. End of case. That’s how we ALL are in one way or another. We go to the store, see the clothes we like and buy them. We go to the restaurant, see the food we want and buy it. We go somewhere and purchase or use whatever is visually attractive. AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, unless your the one in charge of capturing someones once in a lifetime wedding or any other thing where there is just one shot at it. There is an inherent psychology that must be understood about people so you can maneuver through life morally and ethically correct. When you show stylized images on your website you are swimming in the pool of lies and deceit and it effects those who you so call ” want to build relationships with “. Not only that but effects all the seasoned working pros in the industry too.

Ask yourself this question, if you had a busted pipe in your home and it was flooding would you hire someone who had no reviews but showed plenty of pictures of them fixing pipes on their website at a super cheap price point? No you wouldn’t because when it comes to our homes ( our pride and joy ) you want that shit done right because it can cost you literally tens of thousands of dollars later if not done correctly. Why shouldn’t you apply this same thinking to the most important day of your life? Instead of it costing you tens of thousands of dollars it can cost you something else that ultimately is priceless. Sit and think on that, think of all the things you invest in to those things that matter.

Here are a few ways to see through the bullshit that is a ” stylized shoot “

  1. Are the only images you see brides and grooms and no other wedding parties?
  2. Do the details HEAVILY out weigh the portraits with no other people to be seen? ( if yes then caught ya sucka. More on this below )
  3. Do the only images they show seem to be the same damn couple over and over?
  4. In their blogs on weddings do you see any guests?

If any of the above are NO then that may be a red flag that the person you’re dealing with doesn’t have the experience yet to be trusted. One other thing is this, reception. Low light situations are a part of 95% of weddings whether it be outdoors or indoors. Unless you have a breakfast wedding…love those BTW because waffles! Stylized shoots will NEVER go that late so if they don’t have that part of your story in their blog they either A didn’t do a good job at it and wants no one to know or B it was stylized.

Let’s touch on the topic of details shall we. I love details at weddings, the flowers, table dressings and anything shiny but the whole truth of it is this…YOU COME FIRST. If something happens on the timeline and we need to sacrifice time somewhere guess what? That time for detail shots is the first to go or at least get clipped by half. When a stylized shoot is set up there is so much focus on details. Those images are what planners and florists use for their content and that’s not a bad thing. The reason it’s not bad is because they CAN market that and CAN deliver that 100%. For photographers the dynamic changes, we not only need to know how and what to shoot and how and why to edit but we need intangibles as well that CANNOT be taught in a work shop or styled shoot.

So who’s to blame for all of this madness and how can we curb it? I’m inclined to say bridal magazines and bridal media with a quick second place going to the ” hey I have a nice camera now I’m a photographer and want $ ” line of thinking ( I have a later write up on that shit but you know what I’m talking about, everyone knows this person ). Many years ago I started noticing more and more fake weddings being published to the top tier of media in the wedding industry ( places where all the brides go ) and they labeled it Wedding Inspo haha. Soon after though it just became the norm and that’s what people expected to see, other beautiful people with these incredible gowns in amazing places at the perfect time. Let me be the first to tell you, it doesn’t go down like that on the norm, in best case scenario we have good time and we can rock some fashion mag type shit, in worst case scenario we have 10 minutes to rock the spot. This is where having a kick ass planner comes into play AND MAKING PHOTOGRAPHY THE TOP PRIORITY not the second or third priority. Sometimes I have 3hrs with a bride and groom and sometimes I have 10min, either way I’m bustin my ass to make sure we get some rad images. Back to the topic though, these magazines and sites depend on vendors to publish with them and advertise with them so they can make that money. In return these magazines and sites feature those vendors because hey look how pretty. It’s a never ending cycle of bull shit and truthfully will never stop. All I can do right now is bring to attention that they prey.

So for the clients out there who made it to the end of this piece, don’t let saving a buck come between you and a great photographer who know’s what they’re doing. There are thousands of us out there who can kick ass for you and although that may sound overwhelming you will find the right one to rock with. Just be smart about it and know the red flags.

For the planners, florists and hair/make up artists, switch to a different model. Instead of doing a stylized shoot consider paying a photographer to shoot what it is you are setting up. I mean shit you are so against ” work for exposure ” put your money where your mouth is. If you want pretty details of tablescapes and lanterns then pay someone to rock it for you. Same for hair/makeup artists, if you want to showcase your work pay someone to capture it for you. In the end you will be able to post all the pretty and the photographer will have been compensated but won’t be able to LIE by marketing them with a fake bride and groom.

For photographers who do this shit…just stop. You are hurting everyone whether you’re aware of it or not. Pay your dues and work with other photographers to hone your craft. Be a second photographer or 3rd photographer first, learn people, learn moments and learn how to use a camera. Take those styled images off your sites and Instagram or if you absolutely MUST keep them up call them what they are – FAKE WEDDINGS – use the term everyone knows. Don’t try to church it up with words like ” stylized ” or ” wedding inspo ” call them what they are. This way a client can see and understand what they are investing in. I know why you’re doing it so there is no need to explain to me. What I want you to think about is what you would do if the tables were turned or what do you hold dearly that you would be completely shattered by when the thing you invested in failed you.

I should never have to get a call like the one I had before and it just breaks my heart.


While you’re here feel free to check out some of the other incredible weddings I’ve been a part of as well as advice you’ll need when debating that First Look!

May + Mike | FCC Los Angeles Wedding

First Looks. Traditional VS Modern and why you should always choose the latter.

Leslie + Vlad | El Encanto Santa Barbara Wedding

Ryan + Trent | El Matador Malibu Engagement

Emily + Joseph | Hacienda Heights Country Club Wedding

Gail + Brian | Figueroa Mountain Wedding

I want to tell YOUR story and be you’re PASADENA WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER! Chat with me today to see if your date is still available!


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