The Photography Farm & The Catastrophic Rise of the Styled Wedding Shoot

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The Photography Farm is a three-day workshop for wedding photographers, hosted by Lisa Devlin on a beautiful 12-acre farm near Gatwick. I’ve been involved with The Farm since it’s inception, helping to style the shoots and speaking to the ‘farmers’ about blogging, working with wedding blogs, advertising & marketing and building a successful online brand.

I love The Farm. It’s quickly become my home away from home, a place I look forward to escaping to and somewhere I get to meet a whole host of new and exciting emerging wedding photography talent. I always leave the safe confines of the 16th century farmhouse with a head full of ideas, a new jolt of inspiration and a renewed invigoration for where the UK wedding industry is heading.

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At each workshop, we pull together a styled shoot concept for the farmers to practice the techniques that Lisa teaches them on the first day. However never wanting to keep things simple, we always strive to come up with a creative idea to really get those farmers excited. For this latest shoot we had newlyweds Hannah & Iwan as our models.

There has been a huge shift in how the wedding industry views styled shoots. When I first started doing them (remember these?! – look at that baby face!) there was really no such concept. Styled wedding editorials were the reserve of glossy wedding magazines with their big budgets and large teams. But over the past few years there’s been a huge shift, and now hundreds of small groups of wedding suppliers are gathering together to showcase their skills and play with new themes, trends and ideas. They’re featured on wedding blogs daily and even the wedding magazines, for the most part, have cut down on the number of editorials they shoot, opting to instead publish the offerings of these eager-for-publicity contributors.

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All this means that it is a very creative time in the industry, but the flip side is that the concept of a styled shoot has, for many, been getting a bit of a bad rep… and honestly I can see why. With the dream of a big feature if they can pull together something trendy, it can often seem like everything you now see has all been done before. The flipside is that these shoots can also put an immense amount of pressure on brides and grooms-to-be to make sure their wedding is similarly ‘blog worthy’ (but that’s a whole other topic in itself and one I could write about for days). I’m all for suppliers coming together to create something magical and new, but if I have to see another flippin’ cupcake, or retro theme, or vintage whatever styled shoot I might just scream.

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What I love about the Photography Farm, is that Lisa and the team always, always strive to come up with something unique, and an idea that hasn’t been done before. We don’t look to everyone else to see what’s popular, instead we look at the couple who will model for us and create a story or concept around their relationship. It might be an ambiguous or unobvious link, but the key is that it is always there and means something to the people in front of the camera. Lisa & Alex were married in Las Vegas and so their shoot became an airstream dream (just in a field, not the desert!) with nods towards the weirdness of mid-century suburbia, Rachel & Jamie love to travel and so their concept was a hippy, nomadic travellers aesthetic… and as Hannah & Iwan love foxes & Fantastic Mr Fox, the idea for this shoot came to us with relative ease. Lisa, who drives the whole thing, already had a nugget of an idea about wanting to do something to do with animals. All she needed was the right couple to base it around.

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“The first step is to ask the couple some questions about their relationship and the things they love”, explains Lisa. “I then pick a little seed of an idea from something that they’ve said and nurture it into the full styled shoot. Often what ends up being the theme can seem quite abstract to an outsider looking in, but what’s important is that for the couple themselves the shoot has greater meaning. We used the styled shoot to express an aspect of their relationship through a narrative, but at the heart of that is always their own love story. In my opinion this is where a lot of styled shoots fall down – there’s no emotion, no authenticity – it’s just a bunch of pretty ‘stuff’.”

“To illustrate my point, this is how we got to the story of Hannah & Iwan’s shoot. I was looking at Hannah’s Facebook profile picture which is her wearing the Fox ears hat that we eventually used for the shoot, and thinking about how we could build a narrative around it. Then I read the story of Jemima Puddle Duck which goes a little something like this: Jemima lives on a farm and wants to hatch her own eggs, but the farmer’s wife routinely confiscates the eggs to allow the hens to incubate them. Jemima tries to hide her eggs, but they are always found and carried away. She sets off along the road to find a safe place away from the farm to lay her eggs. On her travels she meets a fox who persuades her to rest her eggs in his shed. She lays them down and the fox suggests a dinner party to mark the event, but his real plan is to eat them. Our shoot wasn’t to be a literal interpretation of the story, but having a narrative like this to guide us really helps keep everyone on track.”

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The Photography Farm is a magical place. I’m so honoured to be involved in such an innovative wedding photography workshop. If you’d like to see some more shots from this shoot, snapped by some of the latest Farmers, you can do so by clicking their respective links below the gallery. And if you’re interested in reminiscing over the past Farm shoots you can do so right here. I’d love to know which your favourite is.

Be sure to check out more shots from this set, taken by the other ‘farmers’ Tony WhitmoreAlexa Loy, Rebecca Douglas, Kerry Diamond & MM Photography.

The next Photography Farm will be taking place on May 7th-9th. This workshop will be slightly different from previous events, with a guest segment from design and branding expert Melissa Love. She will be sharing some insights on how great design can boost your business. She will be discussing branding, showing you the steps you can take to create an engaging brand and one that carries across everything that you do. For further info or to book your spot, check out the Farm website or contact Lisa directly by emailing lisa@devlinphotos.co.uk or calling 01273 231047. Lisa is currently offering an earlybird discount, if you sign up before April 15th, of £100 the ticket price.

Suppliers

40 comments

  1. Thanks for such a great farm – gorgeous images Lisa 🙂

    I can’t really put into words how inspiring the Farm was. My head is still bubbling away full of ideas and I am just so inspired.

    Mwah! xx

  2. Nadine

    I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on the pressure to make weddings blog-worthy . .

  3. Beautiful. Hannah is so gorgeous here, just like a delicate flower! And I just love Hannah’s work, I wish I had known about her when I got married!

  4. Every shoot that comes out of the Photography Farm is so original and eclectic.
    This one is no exception and I am completely in love with the furry headwear and the eyelashes. Absolutely stunning!

  5. Styled shoots are a great combination of people that come together & showcase their talents. Collective imaginations creating a styled shoot ~ these images show how inspiring they are.

  6. Hi Kat, great post as ever. You know my feelings on shoots from a business point of view from my own blog last year, however it is interesting (and important) to think of them from what all of our clients aka bride and grooms are getting from them, as you say a HUGE subject. Like you, I am totally opposed to creating shoots/stationery in our case, to suit a ‘theme’, sure we consider colour, but we would never design to the bridesmaids wearing purple, in fact any time a new couple comes in and starts off on this route of following their vintage/circus/shabby chic/purple theme, I stop them in their tracks and get them to start at the beginning in order for me to fully understand their ‘story’. This is particularly useful when on the flip side clients come in not having a clue as to what they would like saying ‘but we don’t have a story’, it’s amazing what you have an hour later once you ask the right questions! Design/photography I feel always HAS to come from a story/concept, which is what we and you guys there are trying to do, I feel so passionately about this it does deflate me when some planners come to us set in stone with their ‘theme’ and not willing to budge. Having created illustrative stationery purely based on couples lives together, including their pets being laser cut out of their invitations (!), it makes my heart sing that you address this in the form of photoshoots too, concept is key. We are in the process of re launching our most popular style of wedding stationery as a collections to make it all alot easier for brides/grooms based entirely on their story, perhaps a little collaboration with Lisa for the Farm is on the cards…! I will send you info once we’re done 🙂 loving your posts right now Kat, you’re on form and the latest photos of you show just how far you have come from those early days too! Chat soon Helen

  7. I think these photos are visually fantabulous and the newly weds who feature in them must be utterly thrilled with how brilliantly gorgeous they look. Let the creativity flow! I am sooo getting myself booked onto one of these sessions!

  8. First things first– GORGEOUS shoot. Always a huge fan of Lisa (and when you two collaborate!) and the Farms have always come up with the most boundary-pushing shoot concepts.

    But as a stylist (and blogger) I completely agree with you… when I started styling shoots back in 2010, NO ONE in my market was doing them, so coming up with concepts was easy and fresh and innovative. Now that everyone and their grandmother does a style shoot every week, creating something new and seeing our world with fresh eyes is becoming quite difficult. We’re all looking for ways to do something “different,” but it’s frequently the same old shots, the same old angles, the same old images. We might be desperate for a move away from styled shoots…

  9. Tiffany Grant-Riley

    This is quite a big bug-bear of mine. Styled shoots. I’ll get to why in a minute but when I first started out in business I did them to boost my folio and they were great as additional editorial when I contributed to magazines etc. I was completely on my own in this virgin territory where I really had to convince dress designers etc to allow me to borrow gowns, I did my own flowers/cake/whatever and used whatever stationery samples I could muster. They served a purpose.
    Then I started working with collaborative teams on creative projects which I saw as a great excuse to broaden my experience, but as the concepts grew larger and more complicated I began to realise that (a) they took a great deal of my time for little return and (b) they did little in some cases to inspire the brides/couples they were pitched at. Now these shoots are everywhere and some are truly embarrassing (it makes me quite cross actually). Good shoots start with a back story, are planned well and executed professionally. Creativity & collaboration is always a good thing but it’s worth thinking about the reason for doing them first before jumping in for the sake of it. I’ll get off my soap box now.

  10. “if I have to see another flippin’ cupcake, or retro theme, or vintage whatever styled shoot I might just scream”

    Well quite. Styling shoots around that concept was fine when that concept was new but a huge proportion of couples are incorporating those elements into their wedding days now – that concept is out there and, frankly, it has been done to death.

    I do a few styled shoots each year and the aim for me is to flex my photography muscle (if that’s a thing) and to produce something totally different from the weddings I am shooting. I don’t even really do them to get featured – I do them because I like to experiment and push myself creatively and have the space to play around with photography, outside of the realms of a normal wedding day.

    I also think shoots where there is a concept that is really different can be valuable to couples because they can give them inspiration and show them what can be achieved with the right styling but trotting off to the woods with some bunting doesn’t cut it.

  11. I used to post styled shoots on my blog every week. Then I did a readers survey last year and one of the main things that came out from it was my readers just didn’t like them. The feedback was they found them unrealistic, unattainable, and put a huge amount of stress on brides to make their weddings ‘blogworthy’ and stylistically perfect.
    I then decided to only post a styled shoot, if it as something that blew me away, either with the photography or the actual content. I think since then I have featured only 3!

    I can see the point of them for a creative point of view in regards to photographers wanting to push their own boundaries, and also for suppliers to get together and work together, BUT I am seeing so much of the same old same old, as you say ‘cupcake, or retro theme, or vintage whatever styled shoot’ That they are all beginning to blend in with each other! and are not proving to be inspiring at all.

    Personally I wouldn’t advise a supplier to do a styled shoot, unless they had a clear vision and a real reason for doing it!

  12. Interesting topic.
    I love styled shoots personally, because it’s a chance to flex creative muscles, experiment with new techniques and potentially create a portfolio direction that business owners want to go in. It’s an opportunity to take creative risks and do something exciting and different, in a way you simply can’t do with paid work. It’s also brilliant for building relationships with other people in the industry, more so I think than any other networking event.

    I do wonder though, whether the increase of styled shoots has come as a result of the demand – namely through wedding bloggers. If you’re a new business owner, you can be doing well, have a great body of work, you work hard and you love reading blogs, but you may not have weddings that bloggers want. So what to do? A styled shoot can potentially be a creative response to meet the blog requirements. I know there’s a whole debate to be had about “blogworthy” and you’ve touched on that yourself, but I do wonder (and I feel quite open minded about this!) whether there’s a correlation between the rise of the styled shoot and the requirements set by blogs. If blogs are setting an exceptionally high submission requirement, and featuring more styled shoots (and being sent more styled shoots!) then perhaps it says more about the blogger in question and how they respond? It’s interesting to see a decrease in the number of engagement shoots that bloggers are now featuring, in favour of weddings, styled shoots and supplier spotlights. Not a bad thing, but I can imagine a turning point coming where bloggers could start rejecting styled shoots too.

  13. A great write-up Kat. You hit the nail on the head with the whole “being original” thing. It’s hard to know what has been done before unless you have time to read every wedding blog ever. 😉

  14. Sasha

    First time commenter here :). I love your site, Kat, but snark about “cupcake, retro, vintage” isn’t warranted. You always say you hate wedding trends and that couples should go with what speaks to them, so I’m a bit confused. How can these themes be out of style then and who cares if that is what speaks to a couple or photographer? If it’s supposed to be a reflection of them and their taste, I see no issue with it.

    I think the reason people like retro and vintage themed weddings is because they can be interesting and unique to the couple while still being somewhat classic. With all due respect, not everyone has such adventurous taste as some of the couples featured on here. Also, to be honest, I’d rather see a well done vintage or retro (which you do feature a lot of, ahem) wedding than something that looks like it tries way too hard to be edgy and different.

  15. Post author

    Hey Sasha – for sure. 100% agree that a couple should plan a wedding in whatever style speaks to them. However a styled shoot that shows a theme, like cupcakes or retro, or vintage stuff that’s been showcased over and over again, in my opinion, isn’t that exciting or innovative.

    My comments are not on how people want to style their weddings – who am I to tell anyone how to have their wedding – but on styled photo shoots that seem to serve no purpose than to put a nice pretty set of images out into the world.

  16. Ang

    Agreed Sasha. It seems the bigger the blog gets, the bigger the bloggers ego gets too. The reality is, couples are looking to wedding blogs for inspiration more and more and these elaborate, ‘subject led’ styled shoots are just unrealistic. The blogger has to take some responsibility for images they project and the influence they have on the viewer. I wonder if the bloggers/suppliers are more concerned about elevating their own status within the media instead of concerning themselves with their audience, who put them where they are in the first place. Styled shoots are cool, but when I am looking back at my wedding pics in 50 years time, I will be more concerned with seeing the love and fun in the images and not, whether the artistic content was edgy enough! The wedding blog industry is getting a serious chip on it shoulder!

  17. Post author

    Ang – my thoughts are that I want to share weddings and shoots that give my readers exciting and new ideas for their weddings, and things you don’t see represented in the mainstream media. If you want to see more of that there are plenty of other blogs of wedding magazines posting the stuff I started Rock n Roll Bride to avoid.

  18. Sarah

    I think Ang & Sasha have totally missed the point of this post. Firstly Kat says she doesnt post that many styled shoots cos they all end up looking the same – why would you want to read a blog that posted shoots or weddings for that matter, that all looked the same as each other?
    Secondly, if she did that she’d lose readers cos she’d be the samne and everyone else. right?
    I love rocknrollbride cos its mostly real weddings that give me great inspiration for my own wedding next year (eek!) but the odd styled photo shoot is ok too, as long as they dont take over. i find the real weddings much more inspirational for my own wedding than photo shoots… but saying that this is gorgeous and its obvious that the couple are a real couple and in love and as long as they love the photos, who are we to judge?

  19. Lynette

    For what is worth, how we style our weddings is not really what a wedding is about, its about the people and two very special people coming together and showing their love,

    A vintage wedding really would of been about getting the whole family involved in the wedding, so we can style our weddings, we can have cupcakes, bunting (sure I did) but what really makes a wedding is the LOVE following through the day, the words which are said, at our wedding nearly two years ago firstly I was unhappy with the choice of wedding dresses out there I did’nt want a strapless dress, I think wedding blogs have made the bridal market open up more to see that dress are calling for a different style of dress, I’m loving seeing the choices that are out there now, I love that weddings have become less formal and more lets go with the flow, I’ve been attending weddings since 2005 and must of watch over 100 couples declare their love for each other and what gets me each time is the look of love in the grooms eyes as he is standing waiting for his bride or our proud dad looks first time he see his daughter, not have pretty the hall looks, or how much detail they have, people see this stuff for maybe 5 mins then its all about the people.

    For me I think weddings are still a little to formulated, couples are told you should have this style flower at a wedding, this is what you should have as your favour, you must hand out gifts to your whole bridal party and parents during the speeches (why does it have to be done at this point everyone else in the room sits there bored) making your wedding guest incluvisies in your wedding is what I think is important, having music that everyone can dance to, atmosphere what makes a wedding a turly great day and one everyone will remember.

    At our wedding we had a photo booth set up during dinner we gave the children an activity pack and they were keep entertained taking pictures in the booth, and as the evening went on our guest started going into the booth,

    we left gifts for our bridal party with a hand written message on their chair so they got as soon as they sat down

    we only had one group shoot which meant we was free to walk and talk to our guest, I pretty certain I spoke to 80% of my guest at our wedding after our ceremony because we deceided not to have the group shoots, I don’t regret this one bit, because it meant I could talk to our guest,

    we had confetti juck at us as we walked back up the aisle not staged latter

    we thought long and hard about our music which started with 50’s music and then went through the ages,

    we did not invite 100 extra guest in the evening meaning we was with 100 most important people all day and we did not have a set menu our venue allowed us to choose what ever food we wanted, at 10pm we served bacon rolls.

    On everyones place name we left a post card of a picture of a place we had been to together and asked all our guest to write us a message, we got 85 back and the comments on these postcards I will treasure forever.

    You may guest I loved my wedding, and it had nothing to do with the details but more to do with the people and the love and the feeling, what we should be calling for in the wedding industry is more for couples to be free and not stick to the norm, but this I mean

    you must do x y z at a wedding, break the norm, if you want to just have one group shoot so you can then spend an hour talking to your guest do that

    if as a groom you don’t want to wear a hired suit don’t

    if you don’t want to give mums flowers during the speeches (because thats what you do) don’t

    If you want to serve something other then a roast for your wedding breakfast tell your venue you don’t like what their offering

    I say be brave be different. and don’t feel pressure that your wedding won’t be special if you’ve not filled it with detail, fill it with love,

    ask the right people to give reading or make a speech, who said one father of the bride, groom and best man can make a speech, (at our wedding my sister did the father of the bride speech and my hubbie brother also did a speech, my brother announced us into the reception room and my mum gave me away) we broke all the rules

    I dare you to break some rules to and really make your wedding about you and not what the wedding industry say it should be.

  20. I love a styled shoot, when its creative,(as this shoot is) when its inspirational(as this shoot is) and when its attainable for brides ( as this shoot is).If we start thinking.. “oh we cannot shoot this way because its not commercial, or its not going to appeal to the mass wedding population” then we will lose our creativity, we will have sold out and done what everyone wants or expects. We dont want to do what everyone wants , we want to do what one or 2 want, and if that 1 or 2 turns into 40- or 50 then bonus!! We want to inspire and give brides confidence to think I effin Love this!! I am gonna do it! We get so many brides telling us how they love our shoots, that they can see themselves in our gowns. I don’t think for one minute Kat means this is the end of the styled shoot or that you cannot have whatever you want for your wedding, she just wants to see creative people be creative and inspirational…
    I have got involved in projects from a purely creative point of view, thinking it might not sell hundreds of gowns, but I love it the concept, I wanna get my teeth into it and see what we can actually do and it allowed us to stretch our creative muscles…and because we weren’t concerned with the commercial constraints we could really get involved with the concept and create something totally organic. The shoot pics came back, they were so awesome.I love them…and subsequently 2 brides totally bought into the concept and ordered versions of that dress.
    So styled shoots? keep ’em coming and keep them creative!

  21. Post author

    Totally Lynette, a wedding is all about the people, not the ‘stuff’. But I feel there’s been a bit of misunderstand for some about the nature of this post. my comments are about styled wedding photo shoots being samey etc etc, it’s nothing to do with what people are doing with their actual weddings!

  22. The difference between a styled shoot and a wedding is the love you see in a real wedding, and the connection you feel with the couple, particularly if you are approaching your own wedding; it leaves you with something whereas a lot of the styled shoots that are out there are simply a pretty girl in a nice frock and it’s hard for that to leave any lasting impression. It’s bubblegum for the eyes, no story, nothing that sweeps you up, nothing that makes you feel.

    On the flipside, there’s nothing wrong with consuming images simply because they are beautiful – fashion magazines have done very well on portraying fantasy and people buy them for that very reason.

    This shoot is the perfect example of this – most people might not incorporate many of the details but I’ve still been able to spend a good 30 minutes getting lost in the story they tell, however abstract.

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