I’m a wedding photographer, and I don’t do styled shoots.


I know, styled shoots are all the rage, and lots of brides like to look at them. Why would I not want to be involved with such a popular aspect of wedding photography?

There are a few reasons, which I’ll lay out here, but I first want to say that I’m not bitter or rolling my eyes at any photographers who choose to include them in their repertoire. Since we are all unique artists and businesses, what works for some may not work for the other. I’m sure there are photographers who can explain exactly why styled shoots are a perfect fit for their business. Here, I’ll explain why to me ….well, they just don’t make sense.

Pittsburgh Wedding Leeann Marie Photography

They just don’t make any sense!

I can’t explain to you how many styled shoots I see that literally make zero sense to me. Why are the bride and groom feeding each other chocolate milkshakes with pink-striped straws? Why are they sitting on macrame swivel chairs? Why is there no one else at this faux-ceremony? In what world do a bride and groom snuggle on a roller coaster, or toast to their vows at a head table in the snow?

Ok, I get it – a lot of this is for inspiration, but I’m conservative and realist, and these things just make no sense to me. I like taking little bits and pieces from the work I see, but I the overall ridiculousness of the setups often blurs my vision of the small details that, perhaps, a bride could use.

The idea of showing up to a styled shoot and taking it seriously is just really difficult for me. How can I not giggle at some of the over-the-top ideas? Call me boring, but the artist in me can’t even get it. I prefer real-world inspiration. Light. Color. Twists on modern fashion and architecture.

You know who does real-life inspiration really well? WEDDING PLANNERS AND DESIGNERS. I have worked with a few in the city who do this so, so well, and I always find new, fun ideas from their work.

So.. let’s take that a step further. Are you saying “Well, that’s because they’re inspired by styled shoots!” Perhaps. But designers are also inspired by so much more than the wedding industry. Even I am! I love filling my Instagram feed with fashion, makeup, art, children, and architecture. Seriously – the other day I discovered SUSHI DONUTS (Google it), and if someone brings that idea into the wedding space, I am all for it.

I’d rather show up to a real, inspiring wedding and take it VERY seriously.

pittsburgh engagement photographer

I’d rather network in other ways

Other professionals have argued that styled shoots are a great way to work with other professionals you’d like to have experience with. I can’t argue this one, but I can say that in my 300+ weddings I’ve had a lot of experience with others in the area that I love, and so styled shoots for a ‘networking’ perspective just don’t make sense to me personally.

I can also say that I have worked with professionals in a stress-free environment (wonderful!), only to have them cave on an actual wedding day (not so wonderful!). If any wedding vendor is recommending a photographer based on their experience with them at a styled shoot – that’s not real experience.

Weddings are tough. They are busy. They are a million moving parts, and not 3 hours to photograph details – more like 3 minutes some times.

Weddings are not models. They are real people.

Wedding vendors are not given the luxury of choosing dates, times, locations, people, and details. How I work with someone on a true wedding day will speak volumes over how I work with them at a styled shoot. I want to work with people who are the real deal. Period.

And! I love networking outside of having a camera in front of my face! I want to meet people at networking meetings and industry events – like the BurghBrides bash or over coffee! Having a camera with me is still work, and my mind splits between images and conversation. Being able to dedicate my time to someone is much more of a networking opportunity than chatting with them as I photograph an upside-down periwinkle honey-margarine flavored wedding cake.

Noah's Event Venue Wedding Leeann Marie

How can I better use my time?

Now this is obviously personal, but I have two little kids at home. I don’t have all hours of the day to do my job for free. Time is our most precious resource, and I want to make sure that the investment of that resource is powerful. So, how can I best invest my time?

I can focus on my actual clients

My clients, like me, tend to be fun but conservative. They are busy professionals who understand that time is a limited resource. They are realistic, and if I presented them with a styled shoot they’d say “That’s cool and pretty”, but that’s likely it.

Investing my time in my clients by providing them with ample communication, organization, and swift editing – now THAT is something they can all get behind. That investment produces happy clients AND referrals, which is ultimately how my business grows. That investment, and those wonderful people, are the essence of what I do.

wedding pictures at nemacolin woodlands resort

I can make a difference

Are there other ways to skin this cat? I’m going to propose more volunteer work in our industry. A wedding for people in need. Family portraits for struggling groups. Packing bags at a food pantry. Giving our time and talents in other ways.

I do volunteer my time in our industry, in ways that are truly making a difference in someone’s life. When the tragedy of the Synagogue shootings happened, numerous wedding professionals in our area joined up in Squirrel Hill to hand out flowers and show the world still had happiness. I’ve volunteered my time over numerous evenings for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep – and organization that provides portrait photography for families who have just lost infants due to illness or miscarriage.

There was an event a few years ago here in Pittsburgh called Forces of Nature, which was like a GIANT styled shoot. AND I LOVED IT. Proceeds from the event went to Event Pros Take Action, which is an organization helping families in need after natural disasters. THAT I can get behind.

Oglebay Resort Wedding Leeann Marie

Use real weddings as inspiration

I think that the best, and most realistic, source of inspiration for today’s brides are other REAL WEDDINGS. Weddings with a budget, and a set venue, and a real guest list. These are weddings where decisions had to be made, and style and function had to mix.

Styled shoots may set up brides for disappointment, because they’re not rooted in reality.

Basing inspiration in actual experience is the best way to utilize modern ideas, and then put your own twist on them. How did the donut wall really work? What kind of cake do guests like? How can a bride and groom arrange a head table so that it’s not only beautiful but functional? How did the bride do her hair in a way that was gorgeous and sensible?

Looking for real-world inspiration? These are just a few weddings I photographed recently that are ACTUAL, BEAUTIFUL weddings – and great sources of inspiration!

Pittsburgh Real Wedding Inspiration from Priory Hotel by Shayla Hawkins Events
Annemarie and Luke at the Priory – design by Shayla Hawkins Events
White Barn Wedding photography Prospect PA November inspiration
Kristen and Josh at The White Barn
Riverfront Weddings inspiration modern photography pittsburgh river wedding ceremony and reception
Kristin and Steve at Riverfront Weddings
Renaissance Hotel wedding photography red details inspiration design Pittsburgh
Claire and Andrew at the Renaissance Hotel

What do you think?

Brides. Photographers. What are your thoughts on styled shoots? How have they helped you? What do you like about them, or dislike? How do you feel on this topic?

I’m open to all feedback, because I know that they’re not a one-size-fits-all kind of experience, as I mentioned when I’m open. For me, they’re going to be a no, because I want to invest my energy in other ways.

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