Chelsea Nicole Photography – Las Vegas, Southern California and Destination Wedding Photographer » The latest work from Chelsea Nicole!

How to Plan a Styled Shoot :: For Photographers

Styled shoots are a photographers best friend! I’ve used them in my business to keep inspired & fresh, test out new ideas & techniques and to collaborate with other talented professionals. As creative entrepreneurs it’s important to constantly grow and push ourselves, and styled shoots are an awesome way to do just that! And it’s also one of the best ways to take your business to the next level, helping you book more of the work you love with your dream clients. :-) In short, they rock!

But maybe you’re feeling stumped on coming up with a unique enough idea? OR, you have an awesome idea you’re totally stoked about, but just aren’t sure where to start? I’ve been there too. With my first styled shoots there was a lot to figure out – as well as hiccups, stress, and pressure (though, each time, it was all totally worth it in the end!) But with time and experience I’ve refined my process for how to plan them and wanted to share it with you in hopes that some small tid-bit will help with your next shooting adventure!

In my latest YouTube video I talk about my method for organizing & plan a styled shoots. I’m also breaking everything down in this post and as a bonus sharing my personal Styled Shoot Checklist!


Have you already created styled shoots before but want to start taking a more active role in the planning and design process? Or do you want to plan your first and are unsure how to approach them. In either case I’ve got you covered! Here are my five TOP tips to help make the process a whole lot easier AND more fun!

1. Start with Intention

Before you do anything else: Set an intention so that you know exactly what you need to get out of this shoot to make it a success! So step 1 is answering the question: What’s my end goal?

Some of your goals might be:

  • Building your portfolio, or transitioning into a new market with your photography
  • Testing out a new technique(s) – Learn something new! New gear? New Lenses!?
  • Networking – Build new relationships with awesome people!
  • Getting featured – Get your work out there!
  • Refueling yourself creatively – Bring back those sparks!

Whatever your main goal(s) are, it’s important to define them early on since it will play a big role when planning for the shoot.

2. Decide Your Level of Involvement

While your level of involvement will differ from shoot to shoot in how you break up and share tasks and how complex or simple the shoot is, there are two general levels of involvement: 1. Show up and shoot, 2. Actively involved.

Show up & Shoot: In this scenario, you’re usually brought into the shoot by another professional (often the planner). You’re time commitment is usually limited to the day of the shoot & post-shoot (editing, delivering to the team and possibly sending out for submission.) While the commitment is less on the front end, you’re still going to be pouring a LOT of your time and creative energy into this shoot. So it’s important to make sure it fits the goals for your business & photography. Show up & Shoot scenarios are fantastic when your end goal is networking and building relationships with vendors that are in line with your company, or if you trust and love the vision of the people planning and styling the shoot. Preferably a combo of both of these! :)

Actively Involved: In this scenario, you’re often acting as the ‘Art Director’ of the shoot and taking an active role in the vision, planning and design. This is my favorite type of shoot since it allows for the most creative expression as an artist, and also enables you to have more control over the end result.

You can also be actively involved while sharing the Art Director role – starting with or bringing in another person early on in the process (often a planner or stylist) who you will work with closely and split tasks with. It’s important this be someone you trust and who shares a similar vision. When things sync up right, this scenario can be fantastic to bounce ideas off of each other and have two creative minds working together. :)

Pro tip: Don’t invite ‘too’ many cooks int0 the kitchen! A focused vision is always better!

“There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams

3. The Creative Process

To kickstart the creative process, you’ll want to start collecting inspiration. One of my favorite tools for this is Pinterest, but inspiration can be found everywhere. Photos, paintings, music, music videos, magazines, movies, poetry, locations, fashion… Basically anything that ignites your imagination.

Once you’ve collected your ideas, you can start to narrow in on an idea or concept to frame your shoot around. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a theme, it can also be based around a mood, style, location or something you find inspiring. 

Another way is taking two or more disparate concepts or themes and merging them to form something unique. Below is an example of inspiration I pulled for a Pinboard I put together with the contrasting concepts of Feminine and calm vs. BOLD and Alluring, inspired by the ebb & flow of the sea.

Many times the best shoots will include a story element to them. This adds depth to the shoot, giving something for everyone on the team to latch onto, get excited about and revolve around. This is also helpful to give model(s) a ‘character’ or vibe you’re going for. Don’t get too hung up on this – keeping it a bit rough allows for your collaborators to bring their own creativity and imagination to the shoot. 

Next I will put together a moodboard to convey the general mood and direction for the shoot. I use this to share the color palette and overall vibe for the shoot. I’ll share this when pitching the shoot idea to collaborators, and it also helps keep everyone on the same page. Having a visual guide allows everyone involved to express themselves creatively and do what they do best, while also ensuring everything comes together in a cohesive way. 

For the shoot in this example, I put together two moodboards: one for the overall style and color palette, and a second, more focused one to share the mood with the model.

4. Collaborators + Models

After you have your overall vision nailed down, you’ll start putting together your creative team of collaborators.

Depending on the scope of the shoot and your goals, this will vary. You can keep it super simple with just model, hair and makeup & attire. Remember complex doesn’t necessarily = better. I love simple shoots and find they really allow you to focus on your craft and trying out new techniques. If you’re new to photography, this may be your best option to get good work in your portfolio. 

From there you can scale up to create a shoot with more layers to it, or go all out with a full blown styled shoot. This might include a planner or event designer, florist, stylist – designer – or bridal shop, cake designer, invitation and stationary designer,  calligrapher, rentals company, and more. When choosing your team it’s important that you share similar goals. Since everyone is trading their time and resources, it needs to be mutually beneficial. And you should also share high resolution copies of the images once the shoot is done (or after the feature, if the magazine or blog wants exclusivity) for everyone to use on social media and in their portfolios.

One of your most important collaborators is your model(s) since they will have a major impact in the end images. There are many professional modeling agencies if you’re more established. However you can also find models at sites such as Model Mayhem, through social media, friends (or friends or friends).When searching for your perfect model, it’s good to have the vision and vibe for the shoot in mind since their ‘look’ will play a major role in the end images. For example: If going for an innocent look you might look for a model with large eyes, slightly rounder facial features, fairer skin, maybe even some freckles. If going for a lifestyle, carefree vibe I’ll usually stray away from models with a ‘high fashion’ look and pay attention to their smile and how they carry themselves. In the images above I was looking for someone with a feminine yet bold look: strong eyes, yet soft lips and an ability to move effortlessly. ‘Ebb and Flow’.

5. Location

Last, you’ll need a location for your shoot. Usually I’ll have an idea or two in mind by this point and even start my search early on in the Creative Process. For this shoot I knew I wanted a beach that would provide a rocky backdrop to play off of the blue and peach hues and add visual interest to the compositions. I started my search in Malibu, and ended up going with El Pescador Beach. It was fantastic, fairly easy to get to, and inspiring.

So that’s it! Combine those five steps together and you have the makin’s of a great Styled Shoot!

1. Start with Intention, 2. Decide Your Level of Involvement, 3. Rock the Creative Process, 4. Find Your Collaborators + Models, 5. Lock Your Location

Hope you found this helpful! I know that’s a bit to remember, so to help you out with your next styled shoot, I’m sharing my Styled Shoot Checklist. It’s everything you need to focus on, all collected nice and tidy on one simple sheet. I put it together years ago to help me stay organized & streamline the process of planning styled shoots. I use it for every shoot I put together because it helps me know exactly where I’m at in the process, making things more efficient and saving a ton of time!

If you want to know exactly what to do, click the big purple box below and keep it in a handy place!

Definitely drop a comment if you have any questions! I can’t wait to see the next awesome styled shoot you plan!

CREDITS for featured shoot: Planner: Festive Event Planning • Photography: Chelsea Nicole Photography • Hair and Makeup: Ting Makeup • Flowers: Emlily Floral • Bridal Shop: Solstice Bride • Dress Designer: Odlylyne the Ceremony • Headpieces: Naturae Design • Stationary: Cast Calligraphy • Model: Diana Bednarz