THE *STYLED SHOOT* ARGUMENT + SUMMER WEDDING INSPIRATION … completed on a $100 budget! | Wooden signs, colorful straws, adorbs favors, pretty table numbers, simple florals, seer sucker suits & summery cake!

↑ Get outta my dreams, get into my car.

I often get asked my thoughts on styled shoots, and whether they’re achievable or problematic.  And my short answer is… yes and no.  I know, I know, that’s not much of an answer.  But here’s the thing.  There are A LOT of styled shoots out there, and they vary WIDELY as far as their level of attainability goes.  And I must say, I adore staring into their face’s eyes, and soaking up the inspiration they’re offering, and letting it inspire me and what I do… whether or not it’s easily replicated.

But there’s a lot of concern out there, voiced by brides and bloggers alike, that styled shoots are leaving a bad blemish on the world of weddings, and can be disappointing and frustrating for brides.  I have to say, I agree…. AND disagree.  I DO agree that, when a styled shoot is not *marked as such* and made to seem like an *actual wedding* – that’s a problem.  I have no idea why anyone would do that, though.  It’s highly misleading and pointless to do that.

As long as a styled shoot is properly marked as an inspiration shoot, thereby indicating that the photographer had time to pose the models for hours and ready the table settings and just generally perfectificate EVERY. LITTLE. DETAIL. going on that day, then… it’s more than acceptable, in my opinion.  I really believe that styled shoots can provide incredible inspiration for brides, and lead weddings along new, innovative paths and just generally offer some guidance as to what has the potential to turn out *pretty* in your photos, if that’s what you’re after.  I adore them, personally.  It’s really just about keeping the truth about them visible to everyone.

I’m curious… what do you think about styled shoots?

With all that in mind, I’m super pumped to share a fresh, super cool shoot Kristin of Kristin Partin Photography submitted recently.  It’s inspired by the lemonade stands of summer, and I think you’re really gonna dig it!

Why?  Well, among other things, there’s a bridesmaid look that’s straight out of the local thrift shop from top to bottom, reclaimed accessories, simple table numbers made from recycled cans and small floral groupings, handmade wooden signs, coral straws to match the bride’s coral sash, and of course… lemonade.  This IS a lemonade stand-inspired session, after all.  And the couple just got married in late May of this year, so what fun this must have been for them!

Here’s the rundown from Kristin:

We were inspired by all that is a summer lemonade stand. coral, seer sucker, wooden signs, lemonade and summer pretty things. We made favors, simple table numbers & a yummy cake. ‘Lemonade stand’ was our inspiration and it is the staple to this session. We wanted to give brides some colors to work with and some new LOCAL vendors to choose from. I’m a firm believer in supporting local, fresh business so that is what we did. Rachel & Kyle are the couple featured and were married May 28, 2011 so this session was very real to them. The bridesmaid look features Michele Crowe from Missouri. She flew in just for these photos! A completely thrifted bridesmaid look from the vintage button up white top to the cowboy boots. All in all a fresh session completed on a $100 budget. Such fun!


Our creative community came together to showcase the power of DIY. My stylist adores flowers and combined flowers snipped from friends’ gardens with purchased flowers from a local floral wholesaler. My mom is a genius baker whose fledging cake business is exploding due to word of mouth. Together we collected our favorite personal items to create a sweet, unique look that is loaded with memory and meaning. A process we each put into practice on our OWN wedding days! Favors were handmade from scratch, and by creating different favors, every drop of the most pricey ingredient was utilized (organic lemons were zested to create relatively inexpensive scented sugars & salts, about $1.50 per favor, then juiced to create the lemon curd, around $2 per favor. Variety, but with a thrifty flair) Our bridesmaid model was given creative license to pull together her own look based on the theme. 

By working together with talented friends and enthusiastic, local, woman owned business, we pulled together a beautiful, spontaneous look that captures an honest ‘freshness’ that we believe is a great way to achieve affordability, as well as social connectedness, which in turn creates a really meaningful event. As the blog author discusses-this styled shoot is intended to inspire! Brides on a budget (or any socially, eco-minded bride) get out there! Connect with the creative women in your community! Make friends with your gramma’s garden club buddies! Consider the unexpected & up-cycled! Remember the “something borrowed” – it could apply to a lot of reception time details! Create a day that you can be proud of…your guests will soak up the love & thoughtfulness that you put into each little detail or your special day. No, $100 won’t pull off an entire reception, but that was what we had to spend for our styled session and we happily pulled it off. 

Props: $12

  • furniture { chair, table & nightstand } are all items that belong in my own home. $0
  • decorations { mint bowl as a stand, syrup dispenser, glass jars, clock, pearls } are all items that belong to the designer, Julie, & I. $0
  • wooden signs { taken from my dads shed…white paint taken from moms crafting station } hand-painted DIY $0
  • lemonade pitcher - Target dollar aisle $6
  • coral tinted glasses The Dollar Store $1 each 
  • aqua Sunglasses Target dollar aisle $2 each
  • flower vases - “recycled” glass soda bottles, clean aluminum cans $0
  • straws Target $3
  • Watercolor table signs & favor tags - stylist’s own DIY

Food/Drink: $5

  • produce { 3 lemons } $4 on sale at Fresh Market $4
  • lemonade { 1 Kool Aid mix } $1
  • Cake { My mom is a pastry chef and owns her own cake business } donated the cake for publicity $0

Hair/Makeup: $0

  • Hair was done by the bride before the session in my living room. She pinned up the front and slipped the rest into a side braid and tucked in the tie at the bottom. $0
  • Makeup was also done by the bride before the session as well as a quick coat of coral nail polish, which I already owned. $0
  • Jewelry was grabbed from my own jewelry box $0

Dress/Suit: $17

  • The dress was donated by Sestra Bridal in Chester in exchange for publicity. They used the photos for their website and for their store. $0
  • Kyle (groom pictured) works in the theater department at Liberty University and borrowed the suit from their costume department. We splurged on the bowtie from Sears for $17

Floral: $40

  • hand picked fillers & tulips $0
  • Flower arrangements – 2 petite table arrangements, 2 bridal bouquets, 1 bunch tulips. {Wholesale, foraged – stylist DIY} and wrapped in scrap fabric  $40

Favors: $5

  • Lemon curd – sugar, eggs, organic lemons – about $2 (including jar)
    Lemon salt – peel of organic lemons, coarse sea salt  - about $1.50 (inc jar)
    Lemon sugar – peel or organic lemons, organic cane sugar – about $1.50 (inc jar)

Location: $0

  • Randolph College grounds, public property $0

Total spent $79

So, zee questions:

As I posed up in the writey part of this post all the way up top, I’d love to know what you think of styled shoots and whether they’re a good thing about the wedding industry.

I’d also love to know if today’s shoot makes it feel like the prettiness is actually achievable on a less than Park Avenue budget?  Lemme know, I wanna hear it!

xoxo!  - Alison

P.S. – Many thanks to Kristin for providing the killer pricing breakdown awesomeness.  Best ever!

Photography: Kristin Partin Photography / Gowns provided by : Sestra Bridal, Chester, Virginia / Floral Designs & Styling: Julie Eastwood / Cake: Tracy Partin of Sweeturtle Cakes / Models: Rachel & Kyle Rodgers, Michele Crowe / Session took place in Lynchburg, Virginia at Randolph College

Label(s): Beige/brown, Color, Red, Yellow, {Inspiration Shoot}

Love all of this...


  1. Kristen on August 30, 2011

    I personally like styled shoots as long as they are labeled as such. Many of even the most over the top shoots’ looks are achievable, but we all know that it’s about budget and time. In reality, there just isn’t enough time in a wedding day for perfectly posed shots. What I would like to see is a wide variety of shoots, particularly when it comes to budget. Inspiration shoots are often very high end and I think that is why they are becoming to be perceived negatively. I think it’s time to create and feature shoots on limited budgets as well as the high end ones. Think of what an average wedding costs (about $25K) and go from there. Don’t forget the budget brides either: look at weddings with a less than average budget and develop a shoot that corresponds to that budget.

  2. Elle on August 30, 2011

    I, much like you, believe that when a shoot is labeled as such it can provide beautiful inspiration for brides-to-be. When blogs simply post pictures from these stylized shoots and don’t cite them as such I think they do a disservice to the couples looking to create an image and feel for their day. It also may leave us all with unrealistic expectations of what our wedding photographs may look like as there is not an 8 hour time frame on your wedding day for capturing images of you and your fiance.

    I, personally, can admit that I worry that what we have created will not meet my own expectations, but then I give myself a little slap and move on. :)

  3. Elle on August 30, 2011

    ** ON a different note: What I would love to see even more is shoots that feature brides of all sizes. And this really pertains more to the commercial industry, but my BF was married last year and she is a plus-size gal. She was more than discouraged about the lack of images of brides in her size range. It wasn’t even something I thought about because I am a very average size 6, but when I saw how much she struggled with her own image because she didn’t feel like she fit the image of a bride – it really opened my eyes and kind of broke my heart!

    Just a small suggestion to the photographers out there!

  4. invitation consultants on August 30, 2011

    Totally agree with previous commenters. As long as you disclose that it’s styled, I think it’s helpful. Styled shoots to suit a variety of budgets is great. But, there will always be a REAL wedding that is out of a brides budget – so I don’t think styled shoots are the only ones to blame for messing with expectations.

    That being said – totally love this shoot!

  5. invitation consultants on August 30, 2011

    Great point, Elle!

  6. Laura *You Stir Me* on August 30, 2011

    yes, I love styled shoots! As long as they’re labeled as a styled shoot than I don’t see anything wrong with it. I take so much inspiration from these projects and when I was planning my wedding a year ago, it was the little details I took away from styled shoots (like hand painted lemon signs!) that made my wedding.

  7. Natalie Clamp on August 30, 2011

    I’m torn on this one. Last year, after having a really successful photoshoot that was featured in some great places, I felt like I was doing one styled shoot after another and before I knew it, I myself, lost sight as to what a style shoot was about. I look back at the shoots and realize they look like several shoots that were out there at the time (striped paper straws, mason jars, you get the point). So I took some time to away for a bit and come back more inspired with new ideas.

    That being said, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this shoot. Thanks for sharing with us!

  8. anastasia on August 30, 2011

    As a floral designer, these are a blast to do. It gives me a chance to try something super-themed or a little more dramatic or risky than a bride might choose without seeing it first. It’s also just a great opportunity to practice our art–that’s why everybody gets started in this industry–so why not show it off? Even better than the chance to flex some creative muscles is the chance to collaborate and get to know the pros you’re working with. Wedding days are so busy I barely have the chance to say howdy to my colleagues. The better I know the other pros in my area, the better recommendations I can make for brides.

    As far as the budget goes, here’s the thing–somebody has to pay for the stuff that gets used in the shoots. Certainly, scaled to a wedding with 150+ guests, the costs would be greater, but even as pictured, well, these aren’t exactly free to the vendors participating. There’s a real investment in materials and time (for projects meant to inspire DIY details, services like photography and editing, and design time for folks like me putting together arrangements).

    What would be really interesting and helpful is to get into the nitty gritty details of each shoot featured on a blog. Disclose the budget (at retail, real-world costs), include a buying guide, instructions or a template for a simple DIY, y’know, the stuff that’s not obvious from scoping the pics.

    Phew. tl;dr: I like ‘em, they’re a fun way to connect with other artists, they still cost the team of small businesses involved a good chunk of change, and I think it would be helpful if blogs shared real details about the shoots.

  9. Rachael on August 30, 2011

    I like these shoots much more when I think of them in terms of smaller sessions–like the e-session, the “getting ready” pictures that always happen, first look, stuff like that. That pitcher of lemonade, for example: I’d love to make some fresh basil lemonade for me & the girls to enjoy morning-of, and it’d look cute and realistic in the pictures with 4 or 5 of us, but cute little pitchers like that…they’re not gonna work for 100+ guests! I don’t know how to translate the small-scale stuff to the larger-scale stuff.

  10. Caroline on August 30, 2011

    I love styled shoots just for the sheer guilty wedding porn pleasure of it all. Having a super-duper styled wedding of 100+ is not exactly feasible but hey its fun dream!

  11. Kim Robbins on August 30, 2011

    As a photographer, I think styled shoots are a super fun easy way for me to be creative and shoot what I want in the light that I want for as long as I want. I also think of it as a way for me, as well as the stylist, etc., to let our creative juices flow and do something a little different. Also as a photographer, I want to get I offer stylized shoots for my clients as a different type of “trash the dress” after-wedding shoot. Some people like to try something a little different then they had at their wedding and the inspiration shoots are a fun way to do that. Also, with a “real” couple there’s that added “we really love each other and are not just modeling” kind of thing going on.

    Overall, I think photographers should grab a stylist and a florist and offer to do a fun shoot for their clients!

  12. Carina @ Love Me Do on August 30, 2011

    I’ve done a couple of styled shoots, but typically dont care for them when I see them. Probably because I dont need to inspiration, because I’m not planning a wedding.. which may change when the time comes when I actually need to think about planning a wedding.

    The ONLY reason why I do styled shoots is to highlight another artist (or group of artists). Wether it be a stylist or prop designer, or caterer, or a whole slew of professionals working together. For me it’s a way to mass promote talented artists and professionals to the common consumer who may be overwhelmed with the choices of who to hire. They are essentially photo-commercials for wedding vendors that I respect, and are used to reach the masses.

  13. Kylie on August 30, 2011

    I looove inspirational shoots and I cannot TELL you how many I stalked to get ready for my wedding. Honestly, I think they are MORE helpful to thrifty brides because you see a lot of options, and (at least for me) gave me ideas for how to save money. The thing is, rustic, gorgeous, AND budget-friendly weddings exist – they just require more work and creativity. And you can’t be afraid to compromise or call in favors from friends.

  14. Kim C on August 30, 2011

    When I first got engaged, I LOVED looking at styled shoots for inspiration. However…the closer we get to the wedding and having to figure out all of those pretty little details for our own big day, the more overwhelmed I’m feeling. I think it might be because of blog overload, but also because there’s a level of perfection in these shoots that lead to the thought process “OMG I’m never going to be able to have a pretty, unique wedding that truly shows who my fiance and I are as a couple and that people will love…” and so on and so on. I think the fear of having a cookie cutter wedding can be overwhelming in type-A personality, modern brides, and styled shoots (especially those that aren’t labeled as such) can contribute to our anxiety of being the same as anyone else.

    On the other hand, they’re just so gosh darn fun to look at.

  15. Nora on August 30, 2011

    $100 doesn’t seem even realistic for this… Was the dress donated/featured? Cost for hair/make-up/etc? I definitely agree on a budget break down or an approximate cost for items that weren’t purchased. I love the inspiration though but I still feel that $100 is false advertising!

  16. Chandra ~ Oh Lovely Day on August 30, 2011

    As a (former) bride and blogger, I like styled shoots for inspiration and showcasing vendors skills. But I firmly believe (it is the mantra of my blog) that you should make your wedding YOU, not copy someone else. So if you’re disappointed that you can’t copy a styled shoot or real wedding, I think you’re missing the point (the inspiration) and what’s important (making it you). with my piece said, I LOVE the inspiration from this shoot. the sunglasses, the bow tie, the style, the DIY, the lemons…you can use any of these ideas and make it yours! thanks for sharing, Alison! xx

  17. floralartvt on August 30, 2011

    Like the rest of the cool kids, I agree that as long as they are identified as styled shoots it’s not an issue. Styled shoots are like magazine spreads or advertisements. If you have the time and money to invest in a styled shoot and it gets published, then it may be worth the while.
    Brides often don’t realize that styled shoots aren’t “real”…that’s why some wedding pros have started to distance themselves from them.
    Great topic, Alison!

  18. Kristina on August 30, 2011

    Great topic! I have to agree that if they are identified as such, stylized shoots are awesome! They are so inspirational…from gorgeous and epic to quirky and familiar. However, more often than not, they are not identified, and leaves an unrealistic standard by which brides, grooms, and vendors are trying to attain for every shot. When the styled shoots are identified as such, I have a much greater respect for the blog and the vendors featured because they aren’t trying to fool anyone…Rather, by being open about it, we can see how creative they can be when they have free range. It’s a great opp for showcasing one’s talent, range, creativity and personality, and a wonderful opp for vendor collaboration…so let’s be honest about what is being put out there. :)

  19. Lena on August 30, 2011

    Girl, you are KILLING me. This shoot is all kinds of magic, and makes me fall in love with styled shoots all over again. We have a love-hate relationship, and we’ve probably broken up 8 or 9 times, just like my high school sweetheart and I. But there’s a reason why Stephen still texts me photos of his undercarriage (awkward), and why I always come back to styled shoots.


    Back on topic, styled shoots. I can’t help but feel like more often than not, they’re these gaudy, over produced big budget affairs that no one could afford to reproduce, much less want to. I don’t want a crystal tower centerpiece at the kids table, or all my guests in lace eye masks or everyone sipping from $60 goblets from Anthropologie. And frankly, I miss the realness you get in weddings and engagement shoots, something you can’t replace even when you use real couples who like each other, and even those people’s real friends.

    EXCEPT for this shoot, which makes me smile. How does it do that? It must be the combination of swiss dot and lemons and coral.

    But I also understand that styled shoots are great exposure for event designers, pastry chefs, stationers and photographers, and we might not know some of these talents if not for styled shoots. So yup, we’re “it’s complicated”.

  20. Alicia @CharityWedding on August 30, 2011

    I like styled shoots because they are unattainable i.e. not seen everyday on every blog there ever was. I love to see the creativity that comes out of vendors who can’t easily create a ballet themed wedding or a hippie meets Manhattan chic event. I have never once looked at them and thought, well crap I can never do that. But I have gotten ideas and been inspired by if anything their ability to push the limits and focus on every little thing. And I am always right. So… you be the judge.

  21. Brenda's Wedding Blog on August 30, 2011

    Great topic Alison and I LOVE styled shoots – but only if they are labeled as a styled/photo shoot. Misleading brides is a big no-no. The creativity that comes from vendors teaming up to design something without a strict guideline always amazes me. But, the shoots that go over the top and don’t really have any take-away ideas from them? Not a fan of those. I firmly believe that each shoot should always have ideas that brides can easily implement into their own bridal showers and weddings.

  22. Rachel DeSimone on August 30, 2011

    As a make-up artist who works both in the bridal industry as well as the fashion and entertainment industry, I think inspiration shoots are par for the course. In the world of photography we call it a “test”. As a member of the team of hired wedding creatives and as a make-up artist in particular, I am hired to create the bride’s vision, to partner with her and be on her side. In an inspiration shoot, it’s a whole collective of creativity coming together to create a single fluid concept. So it’s fulfilling for me, on a creative and professional level. From a business perspective it’s also a great way to meet other vendors and to maintain professional visibility in the blog-o-sphere.

    I do agree that they should be labeled as inspiration, but I think inspiration shoots are pretty obvious as there is typically one table setting, no guests and no attendants.

    Many times, brides get trapped into how they think they are supposed to do things and when the blinders are on, it’s difficult to pull inspiration from anything other than pictures of other peoples weddings, magazines, self imposed “rules” and other brides’ make-up… they get this kind of tunnel vision- so it really helps to break up the monotony and bring in outside influences from professionals who are not only at the top of their game, but who are readily pulling inspiration from outside of the bridal bubble and present it to the bridal community to expand the collective creativity pool.

  23. Maegan on August 31, 2011

    Well, sometimes I think it over-romanticizes the whole thing and makes brides to be feel inadequate if they don’t have their own photoshoot or if it doesn’t turn out as “dreamy” as the ones I see online. {also note, I’m more of a realist than a romantic & I’m totally cynical to boot}

    As a non-bride, they’re fun to look at but sometimes I’m like “alright already” … I do wonder why there are so many closeup shots of the bride’s hands holding things though. I see it so often and am not sure I see the point.

    My question is though, referring to all the comments, how do people NOT know that these are “styled”?

  24. Sweeturtle Cakes on August 31, 2011

    I was fortunate enough to be related to the photographer in this styled shoot as I am her mother and cake lady…and I have to say I love styled shoots as it has helped me tremendously in planning cake designs. It’s so helpful to see the taste of the bride and the direction of the style so that I can take all of these poses/pictures and come up with a cake that matches the idea they have in mind. If that doesn’t make sense to you, I apologize…but in my own world it does! I saw Kristin’s flowers and she told me of her lemonade ideas and wooden signs and simple ribbons and lacey dresses…and love of polka dots…and that we were shooting in a park with rustic furniture. From all these details came the idea for the cake. Just like in a regular wedding as it works the same way. It is great to see it all flow together and does my heart good! I, like you all, love to know it IS styled so that I can put it all into perspective if I want to actually portray that look for myself in REAL life!
    Thank you so much for the beautiful blog and honest commentary.
    …and for those who made mention of the budget, it does clearly state where all of these items came from. Some items were donated for publicity, such as the cake and stylist design, as others were borrowed from Sestra Bridal Shop for honorable mention! Many vendors are happy to help in exchange for publicity as it is a cheap commercial for them! God bless!

  25. erin * sparkle & hay on September 1, 2011

    completely and wholeheartedly agree. i actually REALLY LIKE styled shoots! i think they have the opportunity to do things a bit “outside of the wedding box” and can totally inspire brides to integrate a fun new project or look into their weddings. having said that, I do also think that some of them can be a bit “over the top” and NOT achievable but are at least pretty to look at! :)

  26. erin * sparkle & hay on September 1, 2011

    p.s. i LOVE this styled shoot! it is everything that is exactly what I love about them! :)

  27. Heather Gemmer on September 6, 2011

    wow….such a {great} and {timely} question!!

    1. i totally agree with elle! last year, my absolute {fave} wedding was the wedding of a plus-size girl. but, guuuuuurlllll….her wedding was the {bomb}!!! seriously, it was the most lovely affair, and i’m still utterly {baffled} at why i entered it for publication on {soooooooo} many blogs and magazines, and not one publication was interested! unbelieveable!! seriously, because everytime i got turned away, it said “doesn’t fit our focus”! ugh! she was stunning. her wedding was delightful! totally diy and adorable! but….no one will ever glean inspiration from her amazing crafts and such, because she’s plus-size? that’s crap. made me cry. seriously.

    2. styled shoots….i can totally agree with all comments here! some are {way} too over the top and unattainable, however….pretty to look at (minus the gaudy ones)….however, i’ve done a few styled shoots myself, and i’ll add the reason that i personally have done them. mainly: i can only market myself and my style as a photographer based on the clients i receive. however….in an effort to give each client exactly what they want, i sometimes sacrifice what i want to portray. therefore, i do styled shoots to showcase my style….my inspiration….what i want to do more of!! it’s to appeal to a certain {type} of client, so that my body of work becomes a concise portrait of exactly my style and then my clients will know exactly what they will get when they hire me. just my thoughts on it…. {smile}

    p.s. your blog is my addiction! {love}


  28. Lily on September 12, 2011

    LOVE that this was shot at my alma mater, R-MWC! totally gives me ideas for when my fiance and I do our after pictures there later!

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