By Tonia Adleta, PBC™, Aribella Events, Philadelphia, Pa. Photography by Danielle Vennard Photographer

Like most good things, “Love on the Rocks” started over coffee, a triple grande caramel macchiato, to be precise. Catching up on life and business with Danielle Vennard, of Danielle Vennard Photographer, we shared our hopes—hers to incorporate adventure photography with wedding photojournalism and mine to do something out-of-the-box, something no one had done yet.

By the time we left our local Starbucks, we were on a mission to create a stylized engagement shoot for a pair of her clients who met while rock climbing.  A few weeks later, juxtaposing the sophisticated styling of the “Mad Men” era with the rock climbing that brought our couple together, “Love on the Rocks” took place and opened the door for me to stylized shoots. Since then, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks and chatted with some amazing planners, photographers, and publication experts to learn from their experiences as well. Here’s how to get started:

1. Identify the end result.
Whether to showcase talent, build your portfolio, have your work published, collaborate with your A-team of professionals, or simply  bring an idea to life, it’s important to identify the purpose for your stylized shoot. That’s exactly how Chelsea LaVere of Orchestrated began. “The creativity of it appealed to me, even if we only did it for ourselves, it was worth it,” says LaVere, who has since created an entire business model around designing and executing stylized vignettes. Photographers pay an admission fee to walk into a ready-made environment and shoot to their hearts’ content.  “A lot of our photographers, especially those who are newer in the industry or who want to break-in equipment or practice a new technique, appreciate having all the elements of a real event to work with, without resorting to experimenting on a client’s event.”

2. Build a story around the shoot.
Robyn Bruns, ABC™, of Red Letter Event Planning, offers this tip. “The story will determine the direction, details, and vendors involved,” she says. Recently, Bruns had her work published in Chicago Style Weddings, Chicago Wedding Guide, and on Brenda’sWeddingBlog.com. “Ink and Pearl,” the most recent Orchestrated event, told the story of a couple who eloped and returned to a black and white dessert reception in a historic venue. “Do you know how hard it is to find desserts that are only black and white?” says LaVere, laughing. And like all stories, the plot develops. “Realize that planning a shoot is not the same as planning an event; the plan is constantly changing and the camera is not very forgiving. Make it as perfect as possible,” Bruns encourages.

3. Determine where you want your shoot placed.
If you are seeking publication, determine which magazine or blog to which you’d like to submit.  Edna Dratch-Parker, PBC™, of EFD Creative, began her career as a creative director in the advertising world in which thematic, stylized shoots are a regular occurrence.  “I spend a lot of time on these and pull in about 20 different vendors, so my expectation is to get published. If I were brand new, I would start to do shoots to show my creativity. It’s all about the portfolio, and it should be balanced. Be careful not to have too many stylized events without having the ‘real weddings’ under your belt as well,” she says. Dratch-Parker’s work can be found on StyleMePretty.com as well as in bridal magazines in the Boston area. Siri Eklund, founder and CEO of TwoBrightLights.com, a software service that provides a one-stop publicity platform representing over 400 publications and 25,000 creative businesses, believes that “creative talent deserves a place to be showcased. Stylized shoots,” she says, “are a great opportunity for artists to freely display their talent, gain visibility in publications, and build relationships within the vendor community.”

4. Be particular about with whom you work.
This is critical, urges LaVere. “Trust the vendors you select and give them freedom to create.”  Bruns adds, “Make sure that the project is a true collaboration and the vendors are willing to put in the time, effort and cost as well.”

5. Identify your costs.
While some elements may be based on an in-kind trade, identify your costs line-by-line to avoid any surprises, or worse, having to cut corners on the end result. In addition to the monetary costs (model fees, catering, cleaning of gowns and tuxes, rentals, etc.), don’t overlook the all-encompassing power of the creative process and the time and energy you will need to invest. “It consumes you like a regular event,” says Dratch-Parker. The results, though, are certainly worth the effort. Indulge your creativity, take the risks, and reap the rewards.  ••

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