What are “styled shoots” and why they’re disrupting your planning

Monday, November 23rd, 2020



If you’ve ever tried to find visual inspiration for any sort of wedding or party, Pinterest tends to be the go-to (though Instagram is starting to rise in those ranks too). The world around weddings is wild, and it’s easy to get sucked into these elaborate locations, details, ginormous floral displays, everything. It’s no surprise how weddings started to get more and more expensive and less and less personal.

There’s one particular thing you might not know about, with all of these swoon-worthy images you find: they’re not real weddings. In fact, a large percentage of what you’ve found has likely been staged for the sole purpose of encouraging you to design an event that looks like it.

What are styled shoots?

They go by a few other titles too, but styled shoots are this: a fake event put together by different vendors in the wedding industry, for the sole purpose of creating exceptionally beautiful content that showcases their service/product.

So essentially, they’re mini fake weddings.

Why they’re great for vendors

If somebody is just starting out their career in the wedding industry, styled shoots give them the opportunity to have their service/product photographed so they have images to share of their work. It also helps them meet other vendors and get to know the business owners in their community.

They can also be a great source of inspiration for vendors in the direction they want to take their craft, and also allow for more artistic flexibility rather than using somebody’s real wedding day to practice. You can create content for the types of events you want to take part in, to help attract those couples.

Why they’re not great for couples in the middle of planning

Styled shoots are often advertised and posed as “real” weddings, which can cause a host of problems. Styled shoots are easier to photograph/perform than real weddings, so they’re not an accurate representation of how “good” a vendor performs their job on a wedding day, despite the images resulting making it look like they did a really good job. They also create unrealistic expectations when it comes to how weddings actually look – creating bad feelings of comparison, and adding to the pressure to spend more money to meet social standards.

Styled shoots themselves aren’t inherently bad – they can be a ton of fun, and help give practice to people who like photographing products/details, and give product images to those creators that participate. But when searching for “inspiration”, styled shoots make it so you’re essentially looking at a big online catalog of things, and won’t necessarily help you to hone in on what an event specifically for you could look like, or help you to define your values.

How to be mindful of styled shoots when looking for inspiration

So how can you avoid the allure of a styled shoot when you’re looking for details to plan surrounding your wedding? Here’s a few tips:

Try to avoid searching for broad “inspiration” – rather, search for a specific thing you’re looking for inspiration on.

Especially on media sites, searching for wedding “inspiration” will often land you directly at the feet of thousands of styled shoots, hosted by blogs and vendors for the sole purpose of creating content that will get views. When searching for inspiration, search specifically for the idea/area of your wedding that you’re hoping to gain ideas for, and you’ll be able to narrow down the results to keep you from getting overwhelmed (i.e., ceremony altar inspiration vs wedding inspiration)

Try to always add on the term “real wedding” when looking for something specific.

Those two little words can drastically change the results you get when searching for wedding related content. You’re more likely to see images that are from real weddings, real events that people hosted. This helps to weed out the styled shoots, and gives you better ideas of what people can truly pull off at weddings, rather than creating the unrealistic expectation of things commonly seen in styled shoots.

Signs that the images you’re seeing are from a styled shoot

* There’s only one table, and it’s very perfectly and dramatically styled – and no photos of anybody sitting at it.
* There’s no guests or staff in any of the pictures, and if there’s a bridal party, it’s very small.
* There’s little to no candid images at all.
* There’s often no officiant, though couples are posed like they’re saying vows at an altar.
* There’s a lot of posed images with the couple and different decor pieces – the altar, the table, a large floral installation, or strange things you wouldn’t normally pose with.
* The wedding/blog post is labeled as “inspiration”.

Things to remember

Wanting a beautiful event is completely okay, and there’s nothing wrong with looking for wedding inspiration on the internet – but keep your heart guarded, and remember to manage your expectations. Try to close your eyes and imagine your wedding first, and then search for images that reflect that brainstorm. Talk with your partner first about the types of things you value (download my free Values Workbook here to facilitate that conversation!) and then use those values to help craft your event.

Remember this: above all else, you and your partner are getting married.

Everything else comes second.


Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN. 

I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.

This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.

Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.


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