Can we please stop using workshop images and styled shoots in our wedding portfolios?

Can we please stop using workshop images and styled shoots in our wedding portfolios?

Can we please stop using workshop images and styled shoots in our wedding portfolios?

Over the last few years I’ve noticed a growing trend of photographers in the UK using Workshops and Styled Shoots to boost their wedding portfolio. It wasn’t as prevalent when I started shooting weddings 6 years ago (following many years of documenting my own life with a camera), and I’m glad, because if I’d not been as savvy as I was today, I might have been fooled into thinking those images were from real weddings. And from someone who’s only had a camera 6 months? wow!

Only now when I look at them, I can spot a styled shoot a mile off. Or a workshop day, especially when I see the same bride and groom on several different wedding photographers websites. Wow! They must have spent a fortune to hire that many photographers… Maybe not.

Now, I’m not hating on workshops or styled shoots per se, I think they’re fantastic! I just don’t think we should be pretending they’re part of our actual wedding portfolio.

What is a styled shoot?

For anyone not aware, a styled shoot is a collaboration between several vendors – putting together a photo shoot that shows off each element as well as the photographer. You’d typically see a wedding venue, hair stylist, make up artist, dress shop or maker, florist and photographer come together with a couple of models to showcase exactly what they can all do given the freedom and time to do what they want.

They’re really popular with wedding blogs as they include a huge amount of inspiration for people planning their weddings.

And I have nothing against them at all! I just think they should be presented as styled shoots and not real weddings.

Why I like Styled Shoots and Workshops

Before I go on to say *why* I don’t think we should be using styled shoots and workshop images in our wedding portfolios, I’m going to say what I *do* like about them.

They’re brilliant for networking, getting to know other vendors, other photographers and venues you might already work with, or want to work with. They’re fantastic for trying out new things, taking risks, and taking your time to really hone some of your skills. Be it posing, off-camera flash or anything else you might want to refine.

You can get some beautiful images, and learn what works and what doesn’t work. Want to get better at lighting a couple with off camera flash? Try out your new gels, prisms or something really different? Brilliant! Go for it! Post them on your website big yourself up. Show what you *can* do given the time to do it.

So what don’t I like about them?

They’re not real weddings and therefore, they don’t have the same real constraints.

Your couple are models, who know how to pose and require zero direction. Perfectly styled by your stylist minutes before the shoot. There’s no time limit, no guests waiting for the couple, no food getting cold, no first dance to get the couple back to. No distractions and you have hours to refine things and get things “just so”.

Pulling off a perfect shot when you’re in control of everything is so much easier than pulling the same shot off on the big day when you are working to a timeline.

And you know this. So why pretend any different?

It shows what I *can* do.

Is the usual defence.

And I agree, it does. It shows what you can do when there aren’t the constraints of a wedding day. Otherwise, you wouldn’t need them, because you’d be pulling those shots off at every wedding, right?

But here’s the thing, this could get you into trouble too. If you’re not honest with your couple and they assume you can pull a meticulously planned shot off at a real wedding when you have 10 minutes to get it right, rather than 3 hours.

What if you can’t?

A little bit of honesty goes a long way

The thing is, if your couples do think that the images can easily be replicated at a live wedding, they’re going to expect it. And if you can’t do it, you’re going to get into trouble.

But, if you present them on your site as a styled shoot, and your couples ask you about it. It’s much easier to say “oh yes, we can definitely do something like that, but I’d need at least <insert number> of minutes with you to get that shot”. That expectation is much easier to manage. And then guess what, you have done it a  live wedding. Stick that one in your portfolio and you’re golden.

Advice for couples searching for a photographer

Images from styled shoots and workshop days are usually incredibly simple to spot. Beautifully styled wedding, gorgeous couple, zero guests. If you suspect a wedding isn’t real, simply ask to see more images from it, a photographer should always be happy to share more.

Does it mean you shouldn’t book someone? Probably not. But I’d want to see a good selection of images from a real wedding covering the whole day, to ensure there’s consistency throughout. And I’d ask about those images if you want them, and what it would take to be able to reproduce them on a wedding day.

What do you think?

As a photographer – do you agree or disagree with me? If you disagree, I’d love to know why!

As a potential customer – what do you think of the practice? Were you aware it happens? Do you think it’s fine?

2 thoughts on “Can we please stop using workshop images and styled shoots in our wedding portfolios?”

  1. Starting out trying to gain experience as a photographer in the wedding industry, I would look at other photographer’s portfolio and pricing. I thought they were all real weddings! Then when I learned about styled shoots, I felt a bit let down by my fellow potential industry mates. I also understand from the point of view of someone just starting out that it helps to have a few images in your portfolio so potential future clients can see your style (editing/composition). It is hard to get those images without shooting real weddings and who will hire you if you haven’t shot anything before? (mostly only family and friends and craigslist customers). If you second shoot with someone, if you get that chance (without having any wedding portfolio), they usually won’t let you use the images for your own portfolio (which I understand and if I were them, I would not allow the same). It is also a bit of a trick on the clients as well because I agree, you are not shooting under real circumstances. What would be your advice for someone who wants to start, cannot find any second shooting work, doesn’t have any wedding portfolio images? I guess maybe the only way is to manage to book real weddings for free or cheap (which is also not liked by many a wedding photographer as it undercuts the industry)?

    Love the site by the way!

    1. Many of those who belittle photographers for being cheap, started cheap themselves and I think it’s a lousy attitude to have. I believe there are customers at every price point and someone charging a couple of hundred £ for a wedding isn’t competition for me. I’m happy for those cheaper photographers to exist, it’s how I got started after-all! As long as your prices don’t stay that low, and why would they? Then I don’t think it undercuts the industry at all.

      I think the issue for me, is less the use of the images, but the honesty about it. If you’re going to set up shoots, that’s absolutely fine, just be honest about your experience. Because shooting real weddings can be hard work and you don’t want to mislead people about your experience, because if something doesn’t go to plan and you’re not confident in dealing with it – you’ll come quickly undone and it’ll do more damage to your reputation than being honest about not being very experienced would have done in the first place.

      Seconding is a hard one, because if a client is paying for me to provide a second photographer then I’d want to have a second with me that I knew shot in a similar style and quality to me so the end product was cohesive. While I’m more than happy for seconds to use images on their own sites (with some rules around timing of usage), equally, I don’t have the time during a live wedding to actually coach anyone.

      If you don’t want to shoot cheap weddings, and struggle finding seconding opportunities then shooting real couples would be the next best thing in my opinion. Real situations, not models who can already pose and not styled to within an inch of their life. Just real couples in real situations, and be honest about your wedding experience when speaking with couples 🙂

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