How to Approach a Calligrapher for a Styled Shoot
Styled shoots have been one of the most rewarding experiences for me as I’ve built Shotgunning for Love Letters. They’re great for a ton of reasons. I have beautiful photographs of my work--documented from the beginning of my career until now. I’ve met vendors that have turned into actual friends from across the country and I’ve gotten to try new things before going all in on a wedding. Early in my career, I said yes to everything. Now that I’ve gotten deeper into solidifying my brand and learned a few things about styled shoots the hard way, I've gotten much pickier and find myself saying “no” more often. I’ve compiled a list below to elaborate on some of the reasons I say “yes” or “no” to participating in a styled shoot as a calligrapher. These opinions are obviously my own, and their based on my experiences.
The more information provided, the more likely I am to participate. I actually have a form on my website dedicated for styled shoots and editorials. The form includes all the questions I need to be answered in order to make an informed decision about whether or not I’m the right fit for a shoot. While I appreciate the way Instagram has brought vendors together within the wedding industry, it’s not always the right venue for asking someone to be part of a shoot. Of course there are always exceptions, especially if you’re already a friend with that vendor or have worked together many times--you may approach them with an idea before filling out a form or providing all the information needed. The form is crucial because it collects information such as date, shipping address, mood board, vendors, number of place settings, etc. Filling out a form, or asking the calligrapher how they like to collect this information, whether it’s their website or via email, helps to keep all the information organized. I found myself countless times searching Instagram, my Facebook messages, texts, and e-mail to find a shipping address. This is how deadlines don’t get met.
Before agreeing to a shoot, I will consider the date as well as the needed-by date. Does this shoot fit into my schedule? Am I already overwhelmed with weddings? Can I devote the time needed to create something fresh? I can't tell you how often a vendor reaches out within a week of a shoot asking for a fully custom suite. It takes time to procure materials for a shoot. I don’t keep an endless stock of expensive handmade paper, canvas, vintage stamps from France...I purchase them and wait for them to arrive. While I love the rush I get from a late night creating beautiful things when I have a deadline, there are some things that cannot be rushed.
Secondly, if I'm being approached last minute for a shoot, it's usually because the vendor's first choice didn't come through. That isn't fair to the back up artist because it doesn't allow time needed to create something fresh. It can also feel a bit like a diss if not approached carefully. It sounds something like "This person didn't deliver and I was wondering if you could overnight me something?" A few things wrong here. I might not have time, and with this time crunch, even if I could make something, it may not fit into the overall aesthetic of the shoot if I have to send something I already have and won't get the attention needed on shoot day.
The mood board is a key element I review before agreeing to participate in a shoot. I want to be sure a shoot aligns with my brand. I won't work on a shoot that is too great of a departure from my brand because I won't be able to use the photos for my website and social media. Shoots should always be mutually beneficial and while I really admire some styles, they won’t necessarily work for me. From the mood board or Pinterest board, I should be able to gain a sense of the color palette, the type of venue, and the overall aesthetic. I don’t love anything too literal. In fact, sometimes I cringe when boards are a little too specific (more on creative freedom later). Most importantly, I want to understand the feeling of the shoot so that I can create something unique to enhance the mood. You really cannot blame a vendor for sending something that doesn’t fit in with the shoot if you weren’t clear about the direction you’re headed.
It’s important to me to know who is participating in the shoot and what their body of work looks like. There's nothing more disappointing than sending your work away to be shot and receiving 1-2 photos back that you're unable to use. I absolutely would not say yes to a shoot without knowing who the photographer and planner are because they are the foundation of the shoot. It’s important to me that my style aligns with the team members. While I may admire someone else’s work, I may not be the right fit for this particular shoot. I’ll also go on their Instagram and see how they have tagged or credited past vendors for their shoots. Is everyone listed below or just tagged in the photo? Are they careful to include everyone’s work that was involved in that shot? If not, it’s a no for me.
I used to say yes to everything when I was in the early stages of building my business. I've gotten much pickier. I'm looking to work with vendors that want to be creative with styling and who's style reflects my own. I'll look through the vendor team's Instagram accounts and websites to see styling they favor. If it looks like the paper was just as an obligation, I'm not into it. I love to see paper styled a few different ways and have other vendors such as a florist or caterer looped in. I want the shots to stand out and be a true collaboration.
A styled shoot is an opportunity for vendors to shine. What I want is a mood board, and creative freedom. I won't say yes to a shoot if the vendor is uber specific about what they want or if they want me to recreate someone's work. I love to hear ideas the stylist has and in the past, just chatting and talking through the direction of the shoot with the stylist has sparked some super fun ideas, like these pictured gilded apples for a wedding with East Made Event Company.
There's a reason (I hope) that you approached a certain vendor and it's important to let them do their thing, and create art. Each vendor is an expert in their own field and should be treated as such.
I always consider what the vendor is asking of me and if it's something I can afford. I never want to be approached as if someone is providing me with an opportunity. Let’s be real, we’re both giving something and hoping for something in return--again, styled shoots are mutually beneficial. Handmade paper, printing, silk ribbon, vintage stamps, shipping, and my time are costly and don't necessarily yield business outright. I don't participate in a "styled" shoot because it's going to make me rich. I decide to work on a styled shoot because it's a chance to be creative, meet new people, try new ideas, and receive beautiful photographs to show potential brides. It's also very important that the vendor is upfront about their needs. If vendors are being paid for their participation, they should offer to cover costs of materials. It’s important not to assume anything and clearly communicate your needs and what the calligrapher (or any vendor) will receive in return.
Credit is an important part of styled shoots. Before saying yes, I’ll evaluate if the vendor provided me with a clear picture of who is involved with the shoot including their name, website, and Instagram handle. I’ve participated in many shoots where I have to compile this list myself by guessing based on who the vendor tags online. This isn’t cool for anyone involved. If I had to search out the names of participants, who knows if everyone else is doing the same. This leads to me discovering photos of my work online without credit...which is one of the reasons I said yes to the shoot in the first place. It’s important to educate all vendors on who participated in the shoot, and how they should be credited. Send an e-mail the week before or when the gallery goes out with a list that can be copy and paste right into Instagram.
When I first started working on styled shoots, I hoped everything would be published and I didn’t care where--then I set a goal to be in specific blogs and publications. Now, I have certain publications I live for, but I’m also really happy to just have some beautiful photographs for my website. For example, there are some shoots I created stationery for over a year ago that still have not been published and I haven’t been able to use the photographs. I’m inclined to not participate in this type of shoot again because my style has changed in a year span, and I no longer would want to use the photographs in my portfolio. Publication is great, but not at the expense of the vendors. Timeline could probably use it’s own paragraph, but I’ll just add that it’s important to respect each vendors timeline and be upfront about how long it will take to shoot a product, and send everyone photographs.
I’ve certainly made some cringey mistakes of my own when it comes to styled shoots. I’d love to hear some of your stories and ideas in the comments below. What I’ve learned is that while it can be awkward, clear communication is key when working with vendors, especially vendors you’ve never met in person. Ultimately, styled shoots are about getting creative and having some fun. Pull your information together, and get out there!