My Very First “Solo” Styled Shoot In The Arizona Desert And The Lessons I Learned
CACTI + COLOR: A Spring 2017 Bridal Shower Sunset Photoshoot
I can’t believe it’s taken me 2 freaking years to post this. Well actually that’s a lie - I can believe it … but, in honor of #keepingitreal I wanted to officially share it with you. I was really hesitant to even publish this because of how much time has gone by and then I decided to just get over myself and be honest with you all, because let’s face it, running your own business is hard and sometimes we have to admit that we just can’t do #allthethings at all times; and I’ve come to accept that that’s totally okay! So alas, here I am - yes, 2 years later, posting about my very first styled photoshoot.
You might be wondering why I’ve waited so long and that’s kind of a long answer. But in short, I’ll just say that 1. I wasn’t as happy with the turnout as I’d hoped I’d be (and there’s a reason for this; read on) and 2. I did this shoot in anticipation of starting my wedding planning business and underestimated how busy I’d be learning how to run a new company that I totally forgot to even start a blog in the first place (because this wasn’t P1 at the time). To be perfectly truthful, this is only my 3rd blog post, so you can see it’s taken me a while to get this part of my business up and running. Now that I have my footing, I feel blessed that I have the time to sit down and actually formulate my thoughts and deliver posts I’m proud of. But it was a journey getting here and I thought it’d be a missed opportunity if I didn’t share it with you all.
In the very beginning stages of dreaming up my business I knew at the very least I was going to need some pretty photos to add to my website that represented my style. Funnily enough, I didn’t end up using as many shots from this day as I thought I would, but it was still a great learning experience and I’m so glad I pushed myself to do it. Going into it, I really had no idea or expectations of what a styled shoot should look like. So, to begin I just started to brainstorm like I would with any creative project and went directly to the mothersource of all DIY advice, Pinterest. I pinned to my heart’s desire, snagging images that had a similar vibe, grabbing ideas from wedding planner’s and photographer’s websites that I’d admired and slowly started to formulate my own vision and budget.
Once I had the general idea down, which I was naming “boho dreams”, things really started to take shape after I decided on a location. At the time I was super into the festival scene but also knew that if I wanted to start this business, that I was going to need to save as many pennies as I could in order to get it up and running. So for me, festival season was out. Luckily though, my best friend who lives in Scottsdale was pregnant at the time and was having her baby shower in early April; which I wasn’t going to miss. Having had my flight booked for quite some time, I thought why wouldn’t I leverage this trip where I have access to natural elements that we don’t get out in the Bay Area; cactus. Seemed boho and festival-like enough for me to satisfy my vision, and knowing those Arizona sunsets are always on point, I just knew I found my space.
Then came the interesting part - putting it all together. About a month out I began to look up local businesses that could help support my shoot. I reached out to some Arizona florists, rental companies and photographers; all to no avail. I was either too late to the game because wedding season was about to begin or I just didn’t get a response in general (which I now know why; read on) This was extremely frustrating and a bit defeating. But I was still determined to make it work, so I decided if no one else was going to help me, then I’d just have to do it all by myself. Yes, you read that correctly, all by MYSELF. I am a very creative and resourceful person and I knew in my gut that I could pull it off, it was just going to be a bit more work than I originally had planned.
I found a floral supply company via Google Maps that was close to my friend’s house where I knew I was going to buy some flowers for a DIY bouquet and a garland runner. I also found a local event rental company that I knew I could grab all my furniture, linens and place settings from. With a couple preliminary phone calls and setting up some meetings, I felt confident on the look and style of the shoot. I then realized I was going to need a subject to shoot, because I clearly wasn’t going to be able to be behind and in front of the camera at the same time. I reached out to a college sorority sister who I knew was in Arizona and had recently started her own blog and asked if she’d be willing to be my model and she graciously accepted. I was thrilled! This thing was really happening! Yay me!
When the shoot day finally came (a Friday), I woke up super early in order to get all my errands done and everything set up in time for golden hour sunset. I had to borrow my best friend’s SUV in order to pick up all the supplies I needed, so I dropped her at work and took the car straight to the rental company where I picked out (another mistake; read on) and picked up all the rentals (it was cheaper for me to do this then to have it all delivered), I then made my way over to the floral warehouse to pick out flowers. $600 later, I had my supplies (yes, I WAY overbought). I then stopped at a grocery store because by now it was 2pm and I was STARVING - grabbed a quick bite and then also picked up some treats I could use in the shoot. #macarons #myfav!
Finally, I got to the location (which was out by a trailhead on a mountain preserve that I had only Google Mapped before; didn’t know specifically where I was going and what worked best), parked and started to unload. This was at about 3:30pm. Knowing I only had about an hour and a half before I needed to start taking pictures, I began quickly setting up the table and decor. Once that was all in place, I took the ribbon that I had brought from home and quickly bundled some florals together to create a bouquet. In hindsight, I should have YouTubed how to make a bouquet before doing this, as I didn’t know processing flowers (ie: cutting and pulling off the extra leaves, thorns and foliage to expose and enhance the flower’s beauty; and to make them easier to work with) was even a thing. Nonetheless, I got it done just in time for my model to show up and begin shooting.
She contributed some great shot ideas and was super willing to walk through cactus ridden (and potentially scorpion and rattlesnake infested) terrain in heels to help me get website worthy images. So, shout out to Natalie - again thank you so much for your fearless help! Everything seemed to be going great, except for the “small detail” that this was the first time I was really working with a fancy digital camera (Canon Powershot SX70) and truly had no idea what I was doing. I knew I liked sun flares, so I focused on that a lot. I felt like I was running around like a mad woman trying to find the best light along with the best shot. I tried overhead shots, long distance and close-up details. What I failed to remember was that I had a very specific lens attached to the body of my camera and the things I was trying to produce weren’t all coming out the way I wanted. I’d check the viewfinder thinking everything was in focus and fine, but because I was looking too much into the sun flares, I think my vision was a bit affected and when I got home, more pictures than I had thought turned out blurry. Sad times - which is also why you don’t see a ton of photos up at the top of this post; because I just wasn’t pleased with the quality.
All in all though, I had such a great time CREATING and just being in the moment of trying new things. If you’re a new wedding planner or designer, or even a new florist or photographer, I’d definitely recommend pushing yourself and trying a shoot at least one time in your career, but with the added information of the lessons I learned, below. I’m not saying you can’t pull off a solo-shoot, but had I known what I know now, I don’t think I would have rushed my process in 1 month and I also would have looked up how to do florals and work a camera properly before diving head first. If you want to know more about what I’d definitely do differently moving into another styled photoshoot in the future, then please feel free to read on.
Get A Professional Photographer On Board
My first major fail was that I put all this effort and hard work into a project and didn’t get to reap all the fruits of my labor simply because it wasn’t captured properly. Had I had a professional photographer (or at least someone who knew how to work a camera well) with me, it would have not only guaranteed that my photos would be clear, but would have also freed me up to play with the style, furniture, placement of items, and overall composition a lot more than I was able to. Being continuously behind the camera trying to get as many shots as possible before we lost the light was my main priority, and it shouldn’t have been. It also would have been great to get some shots of me “working” to add to my portfolio for potential clients to see me in action.
Collaborate With Additional Vendors
While I was determined to do it alone, I wouldn’t recommend it. On one hand it was nice not having to listen to anyone else’s opinion, but on the other hand it was also super hard because I had very limited resources. After all, the whole point of a styled shoot is to collaborate with industry vendors to showcase all of your expertise and style in a way that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to do when working an actual wedding or event. It’s an opportunity for you to work your creative muscles and dictate the turnout with a pull of various assets that you don’t use on the regular. For this shoot I did alone, it ended up being super small and didn’t have all the ideas I would have liked to incorporate simply because I did not have the bandwidth.
Your Pitch Is Important
I think this is also where I could have planned better. In reaching out to potential collaborators and vendors, I really was just sending them a cold-call style email asking for their support. #rookiemistake Now that I’ve had some more experience under my belt, I know that it’s super important to send a warm, inviting and very detailed plan and inspiration deck when sending a “cold” email. Now I’m not saying you can’t reach out to a vendor without having met them first, I’m just saying you need to have an offer of what you plan to do, what you are asking of them, and most importantly what you can give to them in exchange. Whether that be a monetary number, trade, or if you’re asking for a free-favor, you need to clearly state your position and expectations. Unless you have something that looks polished and put together, vendors will not take you seriously or give you the time of day.
Find a location that fits within your theme and vibe before you get to the shoot - like actually physically go see the space. I took a big risk only Google Mapping out where I thought I could shoot and I got lucky. It would be terrible if you thought a place was what you wanted only to arrive on shoot day to find that it has been demolished, vandalized, or worse, restricted by law. Be sure to scout early and to see if you are required to have a city permit prior to shooting. Depending on the scale of your project and if it’s outdoors, you may need to clear it with some higher-ups.
Start Planning Early
Research the rentals you think will work best, hit up some florist’s for their opinion on seasonal flowers and/or how easy they are to work with, and chat with photographers on location and time of day that are ideal for your vision at least 3-4 months in advance. More often than not, vendors need a lot of notice in order to hold or place orders on supply and product as well as time to block their calendar to help you. Sometimes vendors will only allow for 1 styled spend per year where they donate their time or assets, others book up super quick for wedding season and if you don’t catch them in time, it may be too late. Book early and get your plan in place.
Stick To A Budget
This one seems obvious, but really try your hardest to set a budget and stick to it. I set myself a budget and ended up spending double what I intended because I didn’t do enough research. You have to account for delivery and pick-up rates, extra supply in case of failure, additional options, and the worst - taxes. I didn’t really think about any of this once I got to Arizona and ended up with “pretty butterfly” syndrome. This is what I like to call it, but other’s may use the term “shiny-new toy” syndrome. I started to see all the things the shoot could be when I was at the florist and rental company that I bought WAAYY too many options and ended up with more things than I could have possibly captured being that I was doing it alone. Vet early, go to the places in advance if your doing it local and choose your items/rentals specifically for your vision, and try your best not to go off course! By selecting things ahead of time, it helps mitigate potential distractions when going in on the day of pickup.
Set Your Vision And Expectations In Advance
Have a meeting or quick conference-call with all vendors involved early on so that you can all feel like your contributing in the best way possible and showing up for each other based on the expectations that you all agree upon. Be sure to create a contract, even if it’s super simple, to state the date and time and what each vendor is delivering and expected to provide so that there is a level of seriousness and responsibility attached to the project. This will also help in advancing your professional vendor relationships, providing it’s a more serious interaction rather than just some friends throwing something together haphazardly.
Ask For Help
There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck and helpless. Ask a friend to be your errand runner, or to help you move items and furniture around at the shoot (like a prop-stylist) or just be there for moral support. Luckily my friend Natalie was there, so I didn’t feel totally alone, but all the prep work prior to the shoot was really taxing mentally and emotionally. I wanted to feel confident in myself and had I had someone there to assist in taking that extra burden of physically setting up ALL the things while taking the photos, I think I would have had a better turnout. I would also recommend trying to get all your errands done in the days before so that on the shoot day that is your sole focus.
Have All The Fun
While I did have fun, I actually had a blast to be honest, I just wanted to write it in here anyway - have fun. Let loose and let your creative freak flag fly! You truly have nothing to loose. A styled shoot is an experimental experience. And while yeah, it would be great if it worked out and you could use the images for your website, or Instagram, or Pinterest, it’s also just a wonderful therapeutic and inspirational time to try something new. So cheers to you and your creativity. I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.
I’d love to learn about any of your experiences with a styled photoshoot - failure or successes! Leave a comment below with your story!
Some of the links in this post are affiliates, where we will earn a small commission should you purchase a service or product from them.
Photography, Planning, Design + Florals (Basically #AllTheThings) Katie Laines design + coordination // Venue McDowell Sonoran Preserve // Model, Hair + Makeup Natalie Fox Klumb // Rentals Classic Party Rentals // Macarons + Confections Whole Foods Market // Lantern Accent Decor // Champagne Saucey // Flower Supply Arizona Flower Market // Skull MGreenhalgh Designs