Luca Rajna: How to Plan & Execute a Styled Photoshoot
A well known wedding photographer, with a background in music and a special heart for Venice. Luca Rajna was among the first Italian photographers who introduced wedding photojournalism in Italy. He was also one of the early trend setters who got a website, back in the 90s (so happy he’s using Flothemes now).
Though Luca adores the journalistic approach in wedding photography, he also does styled photoshoots and considers them a fundamental part of his work. A pre-planned photoshoot removes the overwhelming frenzy and non-repeatability of events at an actual wedding. You can focus on your art and skills, better express your own creative personality without the fear of screwing up a shot or not delivering what your clients expect. Since many of you have probably wondered at some point, what does it take to plan and organize a styled photoshoot, we’ve asked Luca to share some of his experience and thoughts with us.
Enjoy and comment if you have more questions for Luca!
First things first, what is a Styled Photoshoot & what does it involve?
A styled photoshoot is a photo session (possibly involving also videography) realized by a team of wedding professionals, joining forces to create specific new imagery and refresh their portfolio.
A styled photo shoot obviously has a specific mood.
The team is usually composed of different wedding suppliers, depending of course on the size of the project. All creative branches can be part of this: photographers, videographers, wedding planners, floral designers, musicians and light specialists, stylists, clothing and shoes brands, hair and make-up artists, jewelry vendors, wedding cake designers, calligraphists, etc.
During the initial creative phase, it is very useful to do a brainstorming meet-up to evaluate all the different possibilities.
This requires a coordinator, which is usually represented by the wedding planner / agency.
Apart from deciding on a theme and location, planning a styled photo shoot involves choosing the color palette that will be used. You need to know some color theory to decide which color contrast you want to use. The color proposal must be include two colors, adding a third one is already an exception and most of the time it is a challenge.
The initial phase ends with drafting the “mood”, a document with stylistic and organizational indications for each partner involved. Usually, the styled photo shoot has as subjects a married couple (two professional models), but it can also focus only on the bride (or groom, though not so common), or in some cases, it may be carried out without using human subjects, solely focusing on the setup.
Are styled photoshoots important? What benefits do they bring?
I organized my first photo-shooting with the stylist Domo Adami at the beginning of 2000. Even then, my fundamental goal was to build an original portfolio. Both of us still use some of those images today.
So it happened, that I devoted myself to wedding photojournalism, and only 2 years ago i rediscovered the power of styled photo shoots – during a collaboration with a Venetian tourist guide.
Today, I think that styled photo shootings are a fundamental part of my work. As in fashion and portrait photography, these photo shoots allow you to express your own creative personality without the problems related to the non-repeatability and frenzy at an actual wedding. In the end, at weddings you shoot for the couple, and deliver what you think they’d most like and cherish.
The ultimate purpose of a styled photo shoot, however, is to get creative quality material that you can publish on your site without having to worry about privacy rights that exist with real wedding clients. This can fundamentally help photographers who are only starting their career, and need material to present their style and value. For well established brands, this is a secondary resource.
There are multiple benefits derived from the realization of a styled photo shoot. Here are three examples:
- Gaining respect in the market
Being published in one or more prestigious wedding blogs allows you to gain more visibility and prestige in your audience’s eye. It also allows you to set up a stronger marketing campaign through social media.
An established photographer uses the styled photo shoots to consolidate their reputation and experiment with personal projects.
- Introduce a new specific geographical area in your portfolio, in which you want to offer your services.
- Attracting a specific niche of customers. In our example it would be clients interested in getting married near an Italian lake with a 60s-themed wedding.
A styled photo shoot is also frequently used in workshops dedicated to wedding photography and portraits, encouraging photographers to register because it allows participants to gain practical experience and acquire new quality material.
So what’s the process of planning & organizing a styled photo shoot?
Partners must obviously be in tune and compatible with each other. Cohesion can also be increased by the degree of partnership experience.
In the case of a “destination” styled photoshoot, having a local partner can be crucial for logistical matters and location scouting.
Knowing the territory is crucial. A local photographer who knows the good spots stands out easily from the ones coming from outside. Social media by the way, is a useful resource for finding new partners.
The best partners do not create problems, they solve them instead! They are those who have a creative and proactive attitude: collaborating to offer solutions and adapt to the group, knowing that they are working as a team.
This is not enough though. The best partners are those who skilfully use social media to their advantage, have successful, engaging profiles and are locals. This will not only make the location scouting process easier, but will also help with gaining exposure and more eyes over your project, during (behind the scenes) and after, when it’s live.
We’ve also discovered how important is to have someone who is involved in writing quality text: a storyteller or a copywriter. This can really make a difference! And a key advice to remember here, is – get a few different versions for the styled photo project description, so each partner can use a different one. Why? SEO! Search engines don’t like duplicate texts, so they’ll only consider one of them, hence you all risk losing traffic and exposure. So, best is to get a specialized copywriter on your team, specifically focused on describing the theme, details, partners, etc.
How are all the expenses and roles divided? Who does what?
A styled photo-shooting requires huge investments (just think that a single span of flowers can cost € 1000 and more!) and time (which also means money). A basic rule is that every professional contributes to the expenses that are related to their specific sector.
Each professional’s financial effort counts equally. In photography and videography, the cost of the photo shoot itself and the cost of the usage rights are two separate quotes.
In some cases a wedding planner could have no expenses, but he/she has the intellectual property of the project.
Sometimes, costs must be shared among all the partners. For instance, the need for a very expensive floral arrangement, if explicitly requested by multiple partners.
It is necessary to calculate the total costs of the project as soon as possible, so that all parties can subsequently decide whether to confirm their participation or not. This is very important, especially when working with a new team, where it is always better to have a written agreement rather than a verbal approval only.
The budget must also be precisely set in advance, to avoid any unforeseen expenses that cannot be covered last minute.
Other management challenges and recommendations during the shooting?
Likewise, time has to be carefully managed. Starting from the models’ preparation (make-up, hairstyling and fitting) which can take a long time, just think of a real wedding! This has to be taken into account.
If it’s possible costs-wise, a complex photoshoot should be scheduled over two days.
From my own experience, it’s a good practice to have all the important parties on set, until the end of the photo session, such as florists, stylists and people required for emergencies.
Another important aspect of the process is having everyone be respectful and responsible about their duties and the tasks of other people. This implies everything from arriving on time on the day of the photo shoot, to respecting deadlines and delivering the photo/video content, as well as making sure that every team member gets maximum value and benefit from this collaboration. A helpful, positive attitude always goes a long way, especially since conflict of opinion and vision can occur so often during such creative collaborations.
Respecting roles is very important, but decisions should always be made by the whole team. Key managers (a project manager, the event planner, etc) must have the maturity to understand that they are in charge of the well-being of each individual and not their own. It is a service, not a privilege.
Also, partners should be divided in two categories: those who provide services and/or materials for free, but do not contribute to the costs, and the main partners (the ones who share the expenses).
The main partners should be mentioned first in credits, while “other partners” will be mentioned after. Any external contracted supplier that has provided paid services should not be mentioned, as they are not part of the project. A courtesy can be made by mentioning the models, even if they worked on payment.
Keep calm and take nice photos.
The project manager should always write down a time schedule that every professional has to have access to and respect. Photographers also need to make models sign a release note for ph. material.
Last but not least, it is preferable to mention whether the service will also include vertical images. Normally I don’t do vertical pictures, but very often wedding blogs require them, so it is important to decide from the beginning whether all pics will have a vertical version or not. In social media, some consider vertical imagery an advantage in communication, hence the demand for them.
What about the post-production life of these photoshoots?
Photoshoot post-production (image processing & editing) normally takes about a week. But, we must take into account the period in which the photoshoot is done. If it is done during a busy wedding season, post-production cannot be guaranteed to start immediately. For example, here in Italy, the best period to post produce is the beginning of May. It’s at the beginning of the wedding season, when you are not fully packed with work yet.
Once, I had the privilege to work at a wedding in Medellin – Colombia, where there are almost no seasons, it feels like spring all year around. Any month is good to get married, hence there is no specific period when all weddings are concentrated, and it’s easier to predict post-production time frames.
Speaking of average waiting time to be published on a wedding blog: recently many have changed their relationships with photographers. In past years, it was much easier to get published. Today’s best known blogs claim to receive as many as five hundred submissions a week. You really need to have a good editorial image collection to be taken into account, or know someone from the staff team members (it gets easier once you get published and start building a relationship with the team).
Some blogs have taken the habit of giving priority to their paying customers, those that are in their vendor list, or to those who subscribe to advertising plans on their social networks. But this is a normal evolution of the market. The question here is – How many blogs are interested in understanding and promoting a new and different type of work, which may not follow existing trends. To be honest, I don’t see a lot of actual variety on wedding blogs. Many featured works, even the top notch imagery, are similar to the point of looking like a repetition of precedents. I think it is worth thinking of being original and brave, to be appreciated by those who are attentive and open to new ideas and styles. Being published today could mean sending dozens of submissions before being selected, but you should not get discouraged by this.
What was your concept for this photoshoot?
Thank you Luca. The last question is for the wedding producer, Caterina Lostia – what was the concept for this photoshoot?
“I chose to define myself a wedding producer rather than a wedding planner because this term contains all characteristics that contribute to the fullest execution of an event: a designer, a coordinator and a planner.
I am inclined to have a global vision for a project. If I choose to operate only in one of these sectors, it would be like working on a puzzle, building only the corners and leaving the rest incomplete.
The photos show us only a small part of what has been really done. The success of an event is the result of many people working hard behind the scenes. The hectic activities of different team members allow each piece of the puzzle to magically fall into place, making the project complete.
My intention was to recreate a real event in motion, an idea that translates into a real situation, not just a “perfect fashion shot”. We had to recreate the whole event, which means a very long set up and dismantling times, scenes changing and a camera trying to capture all of that.
Each photo shoot is very thematic, which allows us to come up with new, original ideas and play with the mood and more extravagant concepts. This particular photoshoot (the image examples you see throughout the article) happened in a theatre, which is not a typical location for an Italian wedding and made it a bit more difficult to manage.
Once the theme and mood are chosen, finding partners relevant for this theme can sometimes be challenging as well. They need to be proactive and understand the mood very well. Given the size of the theater, we preferred to focus the project on the originality of the ceremony on stage, without showing the reception, apart from the few scenes of cutting the cake.
It took months of study to complete the iconographic research of the 60s and depict it in a contemporary way. The best theme in those years were FLOWERS, in all of their expressions: embroidered, sewn, and painted everywhere. A stylist was needed with a theme collection. So the work of Gretel Zanotti, a young and emerging fashion designer from Milan, was incredibly perfect, almost as if it was made for this project.
For the scenic details, with flowers in mind, we chose Chicapui, a creative, young and motivated duo that works with paper.
Coordinating the image with all the creatives involved, can be a complex process. They are all professionals who come sometimes from quite different backgrounds and experiences, hence it may take some time to find a mutually acceptable decision.
Sabbadini, a well-known jeweler of Via Montenapoleone in Milan, had in his collections pieces that were very suitable to be combined with Gretel’s clothes. Rachele Passavanti, the cake designer, interpreted the ’60s in a perfect way, bringing herself in total harmony with the creations of the other partners.
Speaking of partners, the research part must be VERY meticulous when we talk about the setup, because in photography every little detail out of place is much more evident than in reality. Everything must be perfect.
In order to perfectly manage an orchestra of hands, even with a strict control of the execution time, I always suggest dividing the photo shooting into two days.
My suggestion, which is the basis of my own work, is to always be evolving! Interpreting (rather than following) fashion trends, noticing changes, discovering their innovations, confronting with curiosity at an international level.
If you do not propose something particular and distinguishable, the objective has not been achieved. My aim is to make the wedding day full of recognizable contents and references without losing the natural touch and simplicity.
Designing a real photoshoot is the best workout for me, to experiment, discover and do research. It must also be a way to have fun in building a team with all the collaborators. Creating synergies with each partner requires a special skill and grace; and that deep feeling allows you to work with silent agreements also in real events.”
We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief but knowledgable guide from Luca Rajna on how to plan and execute a styled photoshoot that feels natural, allows exploring new styles and ideas, and adds up as a sweet, beautiful bonus to your portfolio. If you’ve always been curious to try, go for it, stop postponing it. With the right team and a strong idea, you can be up against new creative horizons and significant changes to your style, portfolio and the type of clients you attract.
We wish you luck, tons of fun and beautiful imagery!
Luca Rajna Progetti Fotografici
Paper Flower Decor
Additional thanks to:
Jaana Ermacora, Ilaria Gentile, Davide Rosati, Rodolfo Grazzi