How to Effortlessly Organize and Plan a Styled Photography Engagement Session

Was the title a little click baity? Perhaps. 😉 

I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. Styled sessions do require a lot of effort. However, they can be done seamlessly and I want to tell you not only how you can make it easy on yourself but also how you can make it an effortless and enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

So that your vendors will want to work with you again and again.

  • Are you here because you’re new to the photography industry and would like to build your portfolio?
  • Maybe you’ve been in the photo biz for a while and would like to explore your creative genius?
  • Perhaps you’re working your way toward your goal of collaborating with that top dollar wedding venue so you can better reach your ideal client?

Whatever your reason, this blog post is for you. I’m going to show you how I conducted a styled engagement session seamlessly from start to finish and how you can too.

WHAT STORY DO YOU WANT TO TELL?

What is your grand idea or vision for having a styled session? What story are you trying to tell your ideal client? Your ideal vendor? Your favorite magazine publication?

Like I mentioned above, there could be many reasons for conducting a styled session. Here was mine:

Since I’m new to the industry my vision for this styled shoot was to explore my artistic potential, strengthen my relationship with other creative professionals, and (most importantly) create a beautiful portfolio of images that told a story to my ideal client.

The three words that describe my authentic brand are romantic, effortless, and timeless. I want portraits that reflect all things beautiful, lovely, and intimate. I decided the vision for my session was that of a romantic winter photography experience. That was the story I wanted to tell my future clients.

I’m a couples photographer in Michigan (where it is very cold and snowy for a majority of the year) so I knew I had to work with what I got – winter.

Often times people shy away from booking winter sessions, but I wanted to show how it could be filled with ease and a lot of fun. 

In order for my clients to see a romantic brand about simplicity and timeless beauty I ALSO needed to create an effortless experience for ALL the vendors involved. It was important to me that they could witness how stress free it is to work with Ashton Leigh Photography and thus reflect that experience in my images.

HOMEWORK (Optional): Take 5 minutes to jot down your thoughts!

  • What is your vision for your styled session? A dark and moody ‘woodsy’ elopement? To tell a story to your ideal client? Are you trying to branch out of the box and photograph something you’ve never done before?
  • If your goal is to speak to your ideal client, what three words do you think describe your business brand? What story do you want to tell?

CREATE A VISION BOARD

My ‘Vision’ Board

Pinterest and Instagram are your friends. I searched ‘all the things’ for inspiration. Romantic winter engagement sessions, florals, outfits, hair styles, venue inspiration, etc. Although I saw many lovely photos for inspiration I wanted to add my own personal twist. 

HOMEWORK: Create a Pinterest board and/or Instagram Collection for inspiration. What color scheme are you going for? What type of session? What hairstyle or makeup look fits the story you want to tell? Create a collage to present to future vendors. Have fun!

WRITE DOWN YOUR GOALS

Goals of course stem from your vision. For example:

  • As a new photographer I had little to no budget. I needed to make this as affordable as possible.
  • I needed models, a hair stylist, make up artist, florist, secure locations, create a shooting schedule, create a shot list, etc.
  • I wanted to get enough diverse content for Facebook, Instagram, Blog Posts (ta-da!), and my Website so I could market to couples in my area.
  • I wanted to build solid relationships with other vendors in the wedding industry as well and give them a styled session experience that was simple.
  • I wanted to get this done in February so I had portfolio images ready for wedding season.

HOMEWORK: Write down your goals! What is your budget goal? What vendors do you need to secure? What images would you like? How would you like to use them? When would you like to secure vendors by? When would you like to conduct your session? Etc.

Now, here are the following steps I used to make my vision become a reality:

#1 “LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION”

Securing a location is without a doubt the most important first step that you can make for your styled session. If you put this off last minute you may find yourself struggling to find a place that truly matches the look you are going for (mine being a romantic winter engagement session). Often times your theme revolves around a location. It’s good to start this process at least a month in advance.

As a small fish in a big pond I did try reaching out to some well-known wedding vendors that I would love to work with, however, they were booked so far in advance I decided it would be best to start small and find a location with easy access and free of charge.

I decided on the University of Michigan Law School in downtown Ann Arbor. The campus was built in 1859 and had this old romantic castle-like-charm that I was going for. The second location I chose was a nice local trail, Nichols Arboretum, for some images out in the snow. These locations gave a beautiful winter scene that I wanted to add to my portfolio.

HOMEWORK: Create a list of different locations/venues you would like to work with. Write down why you love their work and why you are drawn to them. Use Google, Facebook, Instagram to search for locations.

Side Note: If you would like to use a wedding venue, send them a nicely written email, introduce yourself, and share your vision. Explain why you love their venue and how their location would be the perfect fit. Most importantly, explain what is in it for THEM. (Usually Full-Res Digital Images with printing rights to use for their website and promotional materials). If they don’t respond right away, follow up in a couple of days with a phone call. Some venues may require that you have business insurance and may need a contract.

#2 CONTACT OTHER VENDORS “IT TAKES A VILLAGE”

What other vendors resonate with you? Not sure where to begin? I used Instagram and Facebook to aid my search.

Since I was new to the photography industry I didn’t have a whole lot of connections, so I found a group for styled shoots in Michigan on Facebook. Many people are in the same boat as you and are trying to gain exposure for their business whether it be their own website or social media platforms. Groups like these are a great place to start.

I created a mini vision board (see vision board headline above) and pitched my idea to the group to see what vendors were interested in helping make my vision come to life.

To my surprise there was a lot of interest and to be honest I was a little overwhelmed, but I looked into the vendors who expressed interested and chose people whose work matched the romantic style that I was going for. I made sure they had good reviews and were an actual human being (yep ladies, you bet I did a little Facebook stalking for my own protection, lol!).

Once I decided on what vendors I wanted to partner with I created my own private Facebook group and invited them in so we could all stay in the loop, set expectations, and get to know each other! Together we finalized:

  • The session schedule, time for hair and makeup, time they needed to arrive, when they would receive their images, etc.

I picked up the wooden florals beforehand (don’t they look REAL??), one of the photographers graciously hosted our ‘getting ready’ site, all our vendors arrived on time, and our models came ready and were so excited for their photo session.

HOMEWORK: Make a list of vendors you would like to work with that match the style you are going for. Send them an email or give them a call. Share what is in it for them. If you don’t know who to reach out to, find or start a Facebook group for ‘styled photography sessions’ in your state. You’ll be amazed at how many people would like to help make your vision come to life!

#3 FIND MODELS

There are many different ways to find a model for your session:

  • Search in Facebook modeling groups or styled session groups
  • Reach out to close friends
  • Do a model call on your business page

I decided on a model call. I shared on all my social media platforms that I was offering a complimentary styled romantic winter engagement session. My post included:

  • Session Date
  • Session Time Duration
  • Session Location
  • What Was Included (Hair styling, makeup artist, and an amazing photography experience with some free photos too!).

Once I secured my models we scheduled a quick FaceTime so I could introduce myself and we could get to know each other! Our models could not have been more perfect and I couldn’t wait to give them an incredible experience. <3

To finalize everything I had my models sign a contract and model release form (that way I could use their images for marketing purposes). I like to have my clients sign their contracts well in advance so we don’t have to worry about it the day of their session.

HOMEWORK: Find your models! Consider having a quick chat on the phone so you can ease their fears and answer any questions. Make sure they sign a contract and model release form too.

TIME FOR YOUR STYLED SESSION!

Once you’ve secured your models and have ironed out the details, make sure to take a deep breath and HAVE FUN!

HOMEWORK: Get your items ready the night before, fill up your tank, and make sure to pack some business cards for networking. The day of make sure to eat a good meal. I like to bring snacks to share with vendors as a way of saying thank you. (:

AFTER YOUR SESSION – EDITING/CULLING

When you get home don’t feel like you have to edit things right off the bat. Make sure to take a moment to kick your feet up and grab a glass of wine because you just worked your bootie off! You have much to celebrate!

(Let’s be real though I was pretty dang excited to edit them images… so no judgement. Ha!) It’s always better to approach editing with a full cup instead of an empty one.

EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE

Make sure to say a huge thank you to all of your vendors! Tag them in your posts, hand out their business cards, send a thank you note, etc. They sacrificed their time and resources to make your dream come true!!

BLOG IT BABY!

To be honest, I had so much fun organizing this session. I met some of the most amazing vendors in Michigan who were the legit DREAM TEAM (listed below), incredible photographers, and two wonderful models who became my beloved clients!!

I’m so glad I could share all of this with you! I hope it was helpful and equips you to totally rock your first styled shoot. I could not have asked for a more wonderful experience and I can’t wait to plan the next one.

COMMENT BELOW WITH ANY QUESTIONS! FEEL FREE TO SHARE A LINK TO YOUR BLOG SO I CAN SEE YOUR STYLED SESSIONS!

I work with devoted soon-to-be-married couples and fun-loving families all over the state of Michigan who get an effortless photography experience, their very first family album preserving their everlasting love, and joy filled memories to last a lifetime.

You can find me on instagram @ashtonleigh.photography

Providing portraiture for the Tri-Cities (Saginaw, Midland, Bay City) and destinations worldwide. Inquire by filling out this brief form, I can’t wait to meet you. Now booking 2020-2021 weddings!

  1. This is so amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this! There is a ton of good stuff in here and I will definitely have to try this! <3

    • Ashton Rogers says:

      Thank you!! You’re so welcome! It was a blast and I can’t wait to see what you create! <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.