I hosted my first-ever styled shoot and it was a BLAST. Along with sharing the itinerary and planning (and photos, of course), I want to tell you all the things that went well and the things that I could do better next time to help you & other photographers out if you're interested in hosting your own styled shoot!
How it came to be
I've done lots of fun/conceptual photoshoots before with my friends. (Did you see the Spy shoot on my Instagram a few months back?) 1 year ago I had done a witchy-themed shoot with just 1 friend and I loved it so much I wanted to do a "coven" of witches this year. I knew the majority of my friends LOVED Halloween so it would be no issue getting them on board with my idea.
At first, this photoshoot was just going to be for me: my idea, my photos, that's it. But...I had been to a few styled shoots earlier this year and have been toying with the idea of organizing one of my own....so, why not turn my witch coven photoshoot idea into a styled shoot?
I'm so incredibly impressed with the outcome of this shoot and the positive response I got from both photographer attendees and my models/HMUAs. So, let me walk you through how I made it happen.
Step #1: Mood Board
The first step in creating any kind of styled shoot is to create a mood board (which honestly is SO FUN). It helps you solidify the style, location ideas, costume/outfits you'll want, and any other elements (some people will have set pieces, furniture, food...etc.)
I used Milanote to create my mood board. I just saved photos from different places on the internet (Pinterest, Google, my own previous witch shoot...) and was able to organize them into different pods which is amazing! I created different areas for witch inspiration, the damsel, and then props. I also added little notes like location ideas, checklists, itinerary drafts...everything could be in one spot.
Why it's important to create a mood board for your styled shoot: not only does it keep you organized, but it can also help you get other people involved! Whether you're looking at asking other vendors to participate or you're just trying to recruit your friends to help you, it shows that you have a vision, you've done your research, and you have a plan. Things can change and shift, but a mood board should absolutely be your #1 step!
Step #2: Day-of Details
Now that you have some fun ideas down on some paper (physical or virtual), it's time to decide the most important details: where & when your styled shoot will take place.
You need to have a date, times, and location set so that you have a deadline and you have event details to share with everyone. Maybe you want to ask a florist to make some bouquets for your shoot. The first thing they'll ask is "when is it?" If you don't have a date to tell them, it will be very hard to secure them.
What to take into account when deciding on Day-of Details:
-Your availability is top priority because you're the one hosting this thing! If you aren't free that day or have enough free time to dedicate leading up the date, then it won't go well.
-Location + weather: I knew FOR SURE I wanted my witch coven styled shoot to take place outdoors in October. I knew Colorado can get really cold (sometimes snowy) towards the end of the month, so I opted for a date in the beginning half of the month knowing the weather would be fairly mild.
-Time of day: especially when shooting outdoors, you have to pay attention to the sunlight. (This is one area I could do better at next time.) I opted for the shoot to start at 5:30 and go till 7:30. We ended up wrapping up around 7:10 because the sun went down more quickly than I had anticipated. I could've avoided this by actually timing when it got too dark a few days before the shoot.
Step #3: Budget & Charging Tickets
Things cost money...unfortunately. You'll want to figure out your priorities then set a budget. What do I mean by priorities? I'll walk you through my train of thought to give you an idea.
I knew I didn't want to spend money on costumes/clothing and instead would rather spend money on props & a space for everyone to get ready in. I knew I wanted 6 models and 2 hair stylists and I didn't want everyone to come squeeze into my parents house where I'm currently living. I rented a studio/conference space with beautiful lighting for 2.5 hours and it ended up being a total around $130.
I also knew I wanted to make sure all of my models were well fed, so I ended up getting a box of Jimmy John's sandwiches for $50, and a few snacks on top of that so it was probably $75 for food for the crew.
I didn't have any other vendors contribute to the shoot. I didn't have florals or cakes or decorations brought in, so I saved a lot of money there. I had all of my witch models bring their own clothes. I only bought the costume pieces for the "damsel" which was probably $45 total (thank you Amazon).
In total, I think I spend around $350 on the entire shoot. But I only charged $30 per ticket for photographers.
Why? It was my first styled shoot and I really just wanted it to be a test-run to see if I liked planning, organizing, and hosting one before I charged a substantial amount of money. With 5 tickets available, I made $150 from photographer ticket sales. That only covered the cost of the studio space we used to get ready and probably some craft supplies.
Granted, that's not sustainable for any business. I didn't make money off this shoot. I didn't even break even, I lost money. And I was okay with that. I wanted the experience above all. If I had wanted to break even, I would have charged $70 per ticket which would've been totally acceptable pricing (other styled shoots I've been to are at least $100, it not more!)
TLDR: decide how much money you want to spend, if you want to make any money, and what is top of your priority list to spend the most money on.
Step #4: Finding Crew & Models
You have a brilliant idea and now you just need the people to make your vision happen!
I always start with finding my models. After all, they're literally the subject of your photos. They're pretty important. All of the models for the Witch Coven shoot I've known previously. No one was brand new to me which was really important in organizing my first styled shoot. I wanted models I knew I got along with and knew they would get along with others really well. 3 of them were friends I've known for years (2 from college and 1 all the way from high school!) The other 3 were all models I had met through other styled sessions or networking events.
If you don't really know anyone or need someone to match a specific description, you can put out a model call on your Instagram story or a Facebook group. (There are TONS for local photographers, models, and HMUAs in your area. Just search something like "Denver Styled Shoots" (or where ever you live) and you'll get tons of interest! Just be sure to share your mood board and day-of details with everyone.
As far as finding "crew" goes, it can be kind of the same ordeal. All I needed were 2 hair & makeup artists. The one I had known from high school (actually ended up modeling last minute, but I'll touch on that whole ordeal a little later) and the other one was a friend of one of the models and we had previously worked together on the Spy Shoot.
My biggest tip for recruiting models & HMUAs or other crew: make sure everyone knows what they're getting into. The date & time & concept of course, but let them know if it's paid or not, how many hours they're required to be "on set", if food is provided (please ALWAYS provide food), and if they need to bring anything with them.
I told all of my models that it was unpaid but that I would be providing food. (Paying artists in food is usually a really good trade, especially as everyone is starting to get their foot into the door of the industry). I also asked all of the models who would be playing witches to provide their own outfits and I gave them a specific mood board for reference.
All in all, just communicate what you are looking for and what you can give them in return! You're bound to find some pretty awesome people to work with.
Step #5: Building & Advertising the Shoot
Once you have all of your plans, your details, your checklists, shopping lists, models & crew lined up, it's time to start building the shoot & advertising it! And the coolest part, you can usually kill two birds with one stone. How?
It's called a "soft opening" in the business world, where you slowly release details and tidbits of information to your audience over a long period of time instead of a "wham bam breaking news" sort of grand opening.
At first, I teased the photoshoot idea to gauge interest and eventually posted a mood board on my story every so often. I did this as I was finding models and also gauging how many photographers would be interested in attending.
I made little instagram stories and reels to advertise and show off "behind-the-scenes" of me building and finding pieces for the shoot. For instance, I recorded myself covering a giant, thrifted book in black wax I used as a spooky spell book and clipped the videos together into a reel. I also posted me trying on the "damsel in distress" dress when it arrived from Amazon.
All in all, I think the "soft opening" for this shoot was almost a month long! Just a few days every week I'd post a new behind-the-scenes or update people on where I was in the process.
Step #6: Selling those Photographer Tickets
There are so many different platforms you can use to sell photographer tickets/slots to your styled shoot. I personally used Session. It's a platform made for photographers which is incredible! Lots of people will use it to organize and book mini sessions for clients, but it worked really well for the styled shoot.
Of course you can just have people DM or email to reserve a spot, but personally it's SO much easier to keep track of anything if it's in some sort of CRM (Customer Relationship Manager). Plus, it makes you look more professional.
PUT THE LINK EVERYWHERE! Make is SUPER easy for photographers to book a spot. Link it in your bio, in your story (please don't say "go to my bio" on a story. Instagram has integrated links that are so easy to use.)
Give everyone a deadline of when they need to buy their ticket by and update on how many slots you have left. This will show a sort of "demand" and "rarity" which is really attractive to any customer. My tip is to offer 1 or 2 tickets less than your goal is. You're more likely to sell out, and then you can always open up 1 or 2 more slots if you're getting a lot of interest!
I absolutely wanted to sell out for my first styled shoot. It looks really good when you can post something like "my first styled shoot SOLD OUT! Want to come to the next one?" It shows an element of supply and demand and if people really enjoyed the shoot, they'll tell their friends and you should be able to book more slots (or a higher ticket price) at your next one!
Step #7: Prep your People
Make sure everyone is in the know about everything! Communication is HUGE and I've seen too many projects fall apart because of lack of communication. The concept could be the most brilliant thing in the world, but if the actual mechanics of the day don't work well, you'll feel it.
Here's what I did: I made a digital PDF guide to send to everyone with a complete day-off itinerary for the photographers and a separate one for models/HMUAs. It included the date, time, & location of the shoot (I left out the location of the studio we got ready at because I wanted to send that to my models through instagram DM. I didn't want that information going out to the photographers too, just incase some decided to show up there too. I didn't want that.)
I also included the mood board, the list of props I would be bringing, and a recommended list of things the photographers should bring. After each photographer booked their slot, I sent them an introduction/informational email with the digital PDF just to make sure they had all the information (and more) in one place.
This is equivalent to a style guide you might give your normal photographer clients. It gives information, shows you are organized, and just feels extra special to receive something once you book.
Step #8: Shoot Day!
It honestly didn't hit me till the morning of that the Witch Coven Shoot was actually happening. I had spent weeks planning and getting people excited for it. I didn't have to be at the studio for hair & makeup until 2:00, but at 9:00 am I was up and moving & grooving!
Morning of, I consolidated all of my props into a box, picked up some snacks and food (Jimmy John's sandwiches...I'm telling ya they were a hit!) I made sure all of my gear was charged and that I had a fresh SD card in my camera and I was just about ready to go when I got the text every photographer dreads...one of my models couldn't make it.
Luckily, I'm a very "go-with-the-flow" kind of person. I'm not easily upset by inconveniences which is a super important skill to have in any kind of event planning. It did take me a minute to gather my thoughts & emotions and figure out what to do. (I did send a little panic text to my best friend who was also modeling because I just couldn't believe it was happening.) I had heard of other photographers saying models will drop day of, but I knew all of my models fairly personally and figured that wouldn't be an issue. Ha, that thought is probably what jinxed it.
Once I got over the initial shock, I quickly texted one of my dance friends to see if they could make it last minute. (They had expressed interest earlier but I had filled all my model slots.) Luckily, they were totally down! Phew, I could breathe.
For about 10 minutes. And then another model dropped.
I had to decide: would 4 witches be fine (the universe apparently wanted it that way), or would I stretch and get 5. Having 5 witches was pretty much the entire point of the shoot. It was a coven of witches, and personally I think odd numbers of people is much more aesthetic than even numbers. (Also, a pentagram is super witchy and you need 5 points.)
So I very last minute asked one of the hair and makeup artists if she would model. Anna was one of my first ever "models" in high school. We'd all hang out as a group of friends and go on photoshoots together so I knew she'd probably be down. Luckily, she was! I literally can't imagine the photoshoot without Ayn & Anna (my last minute models.) They worked so well with the other models and of course were some stunningly beautiful and creepy witches.
After a hectic morning of quickly messaging people, it was finally time to head to location! My best friend (and model), Keileigh met me at my house to help pack up my car. We drove 25 minutes to the studio we booked to start setting up hair & makeup.
By 2:30 everyone had arrived and we were getting makeup looks ready and I was making sure all of my crew were being fed.
We wrapped up hair and makeup by 4:30 (that's when we had to leave the space) and drove over to the photoshoot location that was seriously an 8 minute drive from the studio. Honestly I didn't plan it like that, it was just a happy coincidence!
After some parking issues (it seemed like EVERY photographer in the Broomfield area had family photos at the location that night), we met at the trail head and got all the witches in their black lipstick. At 5:30 we had all the photographers show up and we started shooting! We ended up wrapping a little early (7:10 instead of 7:30) because the sun went down a lot quicker than expected and everyone was getting cold. But overall, the entire shoot went super smoothly. I kept checking in with photographers and models making sure people were getting the shots they wanted and making sure no one was feeling left out or taking total control of a group.
And duh, I'll share some photos with you!
I had SO MUCH FUN with literally the entire experience! From dreaming up the idea, to creating the mood board, to planning all the details & getting models on board, to facilitating day of...I felt very much in my element and will absolutely be planning another styled shoot in the future.
There are a few things I will do differently and a few things I will do again:
What I Will Do Again:
-Feed my crew: holy cow everyone was so thankful I got them food. I did have models and HMUAs scheduled from 2:00-7:30 (right at dinner time) and knew I had to feed them something more substantial than just granola bars. Honestly I'll probably do Jimmy John's sandwiches again!
-Book a studio to get ready in: this was just a really nice touch instead of using someone's house. It felt really professional also let us be super close to location.
-Have backup models: granted, I didn't have an official list or tell anyone more than a few hours beforehand, but it's always nice to have backups or "understudies" if you will.
-Create a digital informational PDF for photographers: I have yet to ask to see if they thought it was beneficial, but I always feel like having all the information in one spot is a great thing to have.
What I Will do Differently:
-Make models sign contracts: ha, yeah, the #1 thing photographers recommend is to have everyone sign contracts. Literally everyone. Even if nothing bad happens, it just helps people be accountable and keeps everyone on the same page. People can break contracts, of course, but it might help alleviate too many people dropping last minute.
-Take more BTS footage: I tried! I really really tried! I thought I got a bunch but after looking at my phone camera roll, I hardly got anything! Just enough to put a little snippet of things together but not nearly what I was hoping for. I might even consider bringing on an assistant whose only job is to get BTS footage....
-Pay attention to the sun: that was entirely on me. I didn't pay enough attention to how quickly it would get dark. If I had, I would have scheduled the rotations of the groups a little differently. Luckily, there were only 5 photographers (including me) total so it was easy to be flexible.
I had an absolute BLAST with this styled shoot and seriously cannot wait to do more! I'm so thankful for my entire team of models and HMUAs for making the shoot possible and as beautiful as it was. Definitely looking forward to seeing all the photographer's photos (and getting to edit my own soon).
I'm already thinking of ideas for future styled shoots. Narnia? Alice in Wonderland? Enchanted Forest? Guess you'll have to stay tuned on my Instagram to find out :)