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  • Manon Douard

Wedding photography : wedding and editorial shooting

Hello there,

Today we're going to talk about the difference between a wedding and an editorial shoot.

What are the pros and cons of each format? Is it a problem that future brides and grooms book suppliers who communicate more about one or the other?

To make this (very) long article easier to go through, I'll first explain what an inspiration shoot is, and then talk about the advantages and disadvantages I see for brides and grooms, and for wedding photographers.

Definition of an editorial shooting

une mariée marche dans la rue en tenant son bouquet de mariée

An editorial is a shoot organized by and for wedding suppliers. The aim is to showcase the work of the service providers by creating a scenography that mimics a wedding, except that unlike a wedding, the professionals control every element of the shoot, enabling them to design a potentially more ambitious scenography than on a real wedding in order to obtain exactly the images they need.

It is mostly the wedding planners and/or photographers who initiate the shoot and form the team that will work on the project. This enables them to create images that reflect exactly the type of event they want to work on: indoor or outdoor weddings, in a Parisian hotel or in a Provencal farmhouse.

Why is an editorial shooting interesting for a wedding photographer (or any supplier) ?

In addition to the mastery of images, a photoshoot offers several advantages:

  • Floral decorations are more complex and elaborate than those you'd find at a wedding, since in an editorial shooting you're (usually) decorating only one table. Depending on the amount of money invested by the service providers, the work of a floral designer can be showcased through more ambitious creations than those usually seen at weddings.

  • Models are generally professional or semi-professional, and therefore more capable of quickly and easily pulling off a variety of complex poses. Photographing models changes the photographer's approach, as these are people who already know how to make themselves look their best in an image, and who are not stressed by the lens. For some time now, Editorial style became more and more popular on weddings. Editorial Shootings are an excellent opportunity to go for this atmosphere and add pictures in your portfolio before recreating those on real weddings.

  • En Editorial is not designed to be practical but to be aesthetically pleasing, to create high-quality images. You'll often see scenography that would be impossible to create in real wedding conditions (lack of space, too much distance between the table and the kitcher, weather incompatible with an outdoor dinner, etc.)

  • The photographer has more time than on a 'real' wedding to devote to decoration and detail shots, since this is what en editorial shoot is all about. It is also possible to prepare the compositions in advance and approach the project with a clear moodboard in mind, without the reporting dimension inherent in a real wedding.

The ultimate goal: to obtain high-quality visuals that will attract the clientele you want, who will be able to project themselves in the work you created.

Focus sur la cigarette qu'un marié tient dans la main

Weddings VS editorial shoots on social networks

As the aim of an editorial shoot is to provide suppliers with visuals, it's not uncommon (at all) to see images from shoots rather than real weddings on the Instagram feeds of photographers, planners or floral designers.

In my opinion, communicating exclusively about inspiration shoots can be problematic, for both the wedding photographer and the bride and groom.

Here's why !

The editorial shoot from the wedding photographer's point of view

For this section, I'm basing myself exclusively on my readings, testimonials and discussions with photographers and planners who are used to doing this kind of shoot, because I might as well be straight with you: personally, I discovered editorial shoots very late in my career, and while I've done quite a few mini-shoots to try things out, I've ended up doing (very) few ambitious shoots with full scenography. If you're interested, I tell you later in this article what I got out of this choice (not very common, to say the least), four years after launching my wedding photography business.

The benefits of inspiration shoots for wedding photographers

Accelerate your upmarket positioning

This is the main reason why service providers carry out this type of shoot. You attract clients who recognize themselves in your images, so the more "upmarket" your images, the more you hope to attract clients who aspire to a sophisticated scenography or a substantial floral budget. Some suppliers even shoot abroad to recreate the atmosphere of a Destination Wedding. The idea here is to align your visuals and communication with your target clientele.

une table de mariage dressée en extérieur

Of course, there must be suppliers to suit all budgets, and there's no distinction to be made between big-budget weddings and those with smaller budgets. It's simply a question of business strategy and personal taste.

Business strategy, because wedding suppliers can't duplicate themselves. There are a limited number of weddings that can be covered in a year, so it can be difficult to rely on quantitative growth (i.e., increasing the number of weddings performed each year). Many professionals are therefore considering the option of qualitative growth: offering increasingly expensive services, for a clientele with an ever-increasing budget that comes with an ever-increasing level of expectations. With this in mind, editorial shooting can be a career gas pedal, so to speak.

It's also a question of taste, because depending on the range in which you work as a photographer, your brides and grooms won't have the same priorities or the same expectations. Some photographers are happy to do without the extra pressure and thrive in a range they know and master, while others want to evolve regularly to feel challenged, at the risk of becoming bored in their profession. It's all a question of personality and business strategy.

Working with a wedding planner for the first time

Wedding planners are the Holy Grail of wedding service providers. By virtue of their profession, they are business earners for wedding suppliers. They give you the opportunity to work on beautiful events (because wedding scenography design is an integral part of their missions, and they guarantee the visual harmony of their events), with a hand-picked team of suppliers, and without you having to attract clients yourself (although of course your work must then be suitable for the couples they propose it to).

For planners, having a photographer work on a wedding is not a trivial matter, since they depend on his photos to showcase their work. So it's hard to trust someone you've never worked with before when it comes to an ambitious and complex event. Considering you don't get to work on so many weddings a year, you may want to go with someone you've worked with before rather than trusting a stranger with an event that's important for your business strategy.

Editorial shoots are an opportunity for planners and photographers to work together for the first time before collaborating on a 'real' wedding.

Testing more creative compositions

focus sur le profil d'une mariée avec un gros plan sur son nez et ses lèvres sur fond noir

As a wedding photographer, you work in a constrained environment: everything moves very fast, the expectations of the bride and groom are numerous, and the priority is to give them photos they'll like, not to try out a thousand creative ideas. In an editorial shoot, you become a bit like your own client (even if you obviously have to satisfy the other service providers as well). We can focus on things that wouldn't be a priority for a bride and groom - details shots, more figurative images - but which we'd like to develop in our own portfolio.

It's also an opportunity to work with models and try out poses or portrait compositions that we wouldn't dare try at a wedding. Models are used to following instructions, and you can give them ten in a row without generating stress or frustration. As the bride and groom are not puppets at your disposal to try out 145 different poses, you risk preventing them from enjoying their day and creating a great deal of anxiety. In inspiration shoots, on the other hand, you can experiment with the complicity of a model who's used to the exercise, and who can be a force to be reckoned with because he or she is used to posing!

The disadvantages of editorial shoots for wedding photographers (in my opinion)

An inhibitor of progress

Manon, you're contradicting your previous point.

No I'm not, hear me out on this:

Focus sur le détail des fleurs d'un bouquet de mariée

It's true that an editorial shooting is an opportunity to create images more easily than a real wedding, because every element of the shoot is chosen to guarantee the aesthetics of the final result. This 'ease' feels dangerous to me, because it can lead to heavily rely on editorial shootings to experiment and get beautiful images. You can end up disinvesting yourself creatively on a wedding, where the pressure is greater, where the schedule is tighter, and where the various elements of the wedding are thought out for the smooth running of the event and not just for aesthetics.

Why does relying on editorial shoots rather than real weddings to build your portfolio slow your progress?

  • I find that it's under wedding conditions that you make the most progress. Personally, evolving in a constrained environment has always pushed me to thrive, and I don't feel that pressure on a shoot, where I have more time at my disposal and fewer logistical constraints. I've experienced it on the few weddings where I've 'let myself live' more: I'm less invested and I'm clearly making slower progress as a wedding photographer. It's a point I'm keeping a close eye on at events now as I do not want to let down my clients by being 'half-here', so to speak.

  • Statistically, we do far more weddings in a year than editorial shoots. Waiting for shoots to create more creative images is therefore holding back your own progress, because you're not making the most of the weddings you're working on.

  • Weddings aren't training sessions, but they can become just that, it's all about organization! I always arrive early at my weddings so that I have an hour or two to devote to apply the little lists of exercises that I prepare for myself, depending on the location and what I want to work on. In the same spirit, if I want to try out some flash lighting, for example, I stay later once my performance is over to do my tests and try out new approaches to composition and shooting. A wedding is not, strictly speaking, an exercise ground, but you can adapt your service so that it becomes one when you need it. Experimenting on weddings means you get twenty occasions a year to try out new things, unlike editorial shoots that'll happen twice a year at best.

The widening gap between photoshoot images and those of a real wedding

In my opinion, working on an editorial shoot is infinitely easier than working on a wedding. Of course, there's the pressure of suppliers' expectations, especially if they're hoping to be published, but it's possible to do research beforehand, to prepare compositions and poses to be recreated, in short, to anticipate.

Un couple remonte l'allée de sa cérémonie laïque lors d'un mariage en Italie

On a wedding, there are always unforeseen circumstances to contend with: changing weather, bride and groom's preparation rooms cluttered or poorly oriented in terms of light, a dark church, a delayed or advanced secular ceremony, a shifting schedule, a stressed bride and groom, a dreadful heatwave, and so on. Creating beautiful images under constant pressure and systematically having to deal with an environment you didn't initially choose is the essence (and the real difficulty) of our profession.

And yet, by working a lot on on editorial shoots and communicating mainly with photos taken there, we run the risk of creating a gap between the rendering of our shooting galleries and the rendering of 'real' wedding galleries. Because creating sublime images in ideal lighting conditions, with models accustomed to posing and in a dream setting, having had the opportunity to prepare a very precise moodboard of the compositions to be created beforehand, It's not the same thing as reproducing these compositions in an environment constrained by a schedule, with a couple who need to be kept at ease (because it's their wedding and their absolute priority is to make the most of it) and who need to be guided through the posing part because they know nothing about it.

When we talk to a couple who might be interested in our services, we generally send complete wedding galleries so that the couple knows if they can see themselves in our work or not (I always do this, and I'll never stop advising couples who contact me to make this request systematic). If your wedding galleries don't have much variety of compositions or 'wow' photos because the ones you show on your networks and website come from your editorial shoots only, you run the risk of failing to convince future brides and grooms to work with you because they'll perceive - unconsciously - the difference between your shoot images and the ones you create for weddings. And the worst part about this is that I think that the overwhelming majority of the time, the service providers who fall victim to this dynamic are unaware of it themselves, because I've never met a service provider actively seeking to scam their brides and grooms. That's what makes this habit of communicating exclusively about shoots so dangerous: you can unwittingly threaten your own business.

Let's move on to the bride and groom side!

Editorial shoots for future brides and grooms

The benefits of editorial shoots when planning a wedding

Finding ideas for your wedding

Editorial shoots are Pinterest material, which remains the great ideas box for future brides and grooms. The service providers who organize shoots - planners and/or photographers, generally - give free rein to their desires when designing their scenographies, and try to inspire brides and grooms to do different things, or rethink existing trends. Before appearing on weddings, a fashion trend is usually born on editorial shoots published in major trade magazines. It is then being picked up by other shoots before eventually appearing on real events.

Table des mariés dressée et décorée lors d'un mariage à l'Abbaye des Prémontrés

Brides and grooms can always pick up ideas from real weddings, but editorial shoots are the way for suppliers to show couples how creative they could be on their wedding and set new paths for oncoming events.

Note: the overwhelming majority of Pinterest inspirations that make us dream come from very expensive shoots or weddings, and a priori won't be feasible on your wedding exactly as they're showcased online, unless you have an important budget.

Identifying service providers who have already worked with each other

When photos of editorial shoots are shared on networks, the (long) list of service providers who have worked on them is usually included as a caption. This is an opportunity for you to spot service providers who have already worked together, or if you've already chosen a professional, to get to know the people he or she works with.

If you find that professionals work with each other on a regular basis, you can bring them together on your wedding without fear, with the guarantee that they'll work efficiently as a team!

The downsides of editorial shoots for brides and grooms

Misleading advertising

This is the opposite of what I explained in the previous section. As a future groom or bride, if you've taken an interest in a photographer without realizing that the overwhelming majority of the photos on his website or social networks are from editorial shoots, you run the risk of signing up with someone who doesn't deliver the same work in real wedding conditions, and therefore, in the end, being disappointed, which would be irrecoverable and catastrophic for you and your photographer (it takes years to build a solid reputation as a wedding service provider, and a single problematic event can wipe out that reputation).

Note: as I told you earlier, a difference in rendering between shoot galleries and wedding galleries doesn't mean that the photographer is lying to you or deliberately trying to scam you. In our industry, the most common response given to service providers wishing to evolve is to "do shoots" (I've lost count of the number of times I've been told this in my career), and very few of us are warned about potential abuses or the fact that doing shoots doesn't replace technical training and experience acquired over ten, twenty or fifty events.

As a groom/bride-to-be, how can you avoid this trap?

By systematically asking your photographer for galleries of 'real' weddings.

Are you afraid you won't know the difference between a shooting gallery and a wedding gallery? Don't worry, it's easy to tell based on just a few elements:

  • On a wedding gallery, there are guests. On a shooting gallery, there are usually very few. Even when extras are paid for, there are six or eight, not fifty. Look for cocktail images that show the entire wedding party.

  • Inspiration shoots almost never include night shots, and no dance party photos. If you find any on the gallery, it's a priori a real wedding gallery!

  • An editorial shooting gallery won't go through the entire day, so if you have a kiss during the ceremony, vows, tears, applause, group photos, cocktail party, reception and so on... You're going through a real wedding gallery for sure!

I don't know of any photographer who refuses to send brides and grooms complete galleries, or who takes offence at being asked to do so. It's a totally normal thing to do, in my opinion, and I sincerely believe that a true professional photographer will never take it personally.

Une mariée est assise avec ses demoiselles d'honneur au bord d'une piscine les pieds dans l'eau

It's not the same skill set that the photographer uses for a photo shoot as for a wedding.

The variety on a wedding gallery is very important: indoor photos, outdoor photos, portraits, photos of scenery or details, culinary photos, photos in natural light, flash photos, photos by day, by night, when the sun is shining and when it's beating down on the guests' heads at 2pm, backlit or not... On a photoshoot, there's bound to be less diversity: fewer subjects to photograph, a single table, few large backdrops, no night shots, and so on. On weddings, you also have to deal with an often tight schedule and work very quickly, when you (generally) have more time on a shoot.

There are also requirements for a wedding reportage that don't exist for a photoshoot: ask for a list of group photos, prioritize the bride and groom's VIP list in the photos if they are going for a big wedding, make sure you don't miss any important moments, some of which only last a handful of seconds - the bridegroom's entrance, the discovery, the bouquet toss, etc.

As I said earlier, knowing how to make images in an editorial style with posing models doesn't imply knowing how to reproduce it in real-life conditions. Make sure you always ask the photographer for demonstration galleries.

But how come you've never done an editorial shoot before?

I could say it was a strategic and rational choice, but it really wasn't.

For a long time, I didn't do inspiration shoots because I was afraid of doing them.

  • As a wedding photographer, you can take part in editorial shoots either because someone comes looking for you and offers you a project you like, or because you take the initiative to create something that will help you communicate about your work. I wasn't well enough known in the industry to be approached, and I wasn't confident enough (and probably not brave enough either) to put together a shooting project from scratch and rally service providers around me.

  • I was afraid I wouldn't be up to the job. The few shoots I did were for wedding planners who were friends of mine, and I'd prepared them by telling them that I'd probably suck and that I'd probably do something really really really bad (if you want advice on how to sell yourself, give me a call, I'm super talented, as you can see) or shoots with very few expenses involved, so the pressure was much less than for a big project. It's only now I'm considering working on such projects without feeling like a massive fraud.

  • There's also the financial aspect: an editorial shoot is often expensive. Even if you split the budget between a few service providers, you still have to pay for the flowers, the models... Spending money on something that freaks me out: no thanks!

  • I was also very afraid of booking brides and grooms using images of "fake" events. I thought I might disappoint them, and bring my whole business crashing down...

Photo en clair obscur d'une robe de mariée suspendue à une fenêtre

To sum it up, even if I had overcome my fear of taking part in an editorial shoot, I'd then have to face my fear of communicating about it, that it would work, and that it would attract brides and grooms whom I'd then risk disappointing because they'd booked me on "fake" wedding images (if you want to know what pathological impostor syndrome looks like, welcome to my life). The only two inspiration shoots I've ever had to do were with fellow wedding planners who were starting the shoots themselves, and without their encouragement I'd never have taken the plunge.

I think we can safely conclude that editorial shoots were not the best way for me to progress. So I decided to evolve in a way that made me less stressed and helped me build my self-confidence, even if this isn't the main route taken by professionals in our profession.

Unexpectedly, not doing editorial shootings has helped me enormously. Hear me out: I'm not saying that shoots aren't a relevant way of evolving - it's the case for a lot of wedding professionals, which proves that they're considered useful by many people - but not doing any (in any case, large, ambitious projects) has had a very positive impact on my work:

  • With no editorial shoots to fall back on, I've had to learn to create the images I like under real wedding conditions. In terms of creativity, working constantly in a constrained environment is extremely stimulating. I'm convinced that I wouldn't have progressed as quickly without it.

  • I gained self-confidence by proving to myself that I was capable of making this or that beautiful image, without controling every aspect of the event. My imposter syndrome being my main enemy, this approach helped me to trust myself.

  • I've never been bored at a wedding. To keep progressing, I systematically look for an aspect of each event I really like, on which I challenge myself to communicate no matter what, and therefore to create creative images of this or that thing. Sometimes it's a very specific point, the bride's bouquet, a detail of a dress or a blurred chignon, a couple's session or chiaroscuro because the interior of the estate lends itself to it, etc.

  • I always felt like I was committed to my clients, because all these little exercises help me finding a balance between the little challenges I need to be stimulated and the expectations of a couple who are having an exceptional day and expect their photographer to stay committed, even if they've been to the same place 6 times already this year.

  • Anxious and unsure of myself by nature, I've always been able to reassure myself by telling myself that the brides and grooms who work with me choose me after seeing my work in real-life conditions, and that what I've been able to create once, I'll be able to reproduce. It's psychologically very reassuring for me.

I have zero regrets for the way I evolved as a wedding photographer. I found a way of work that suited me, and I think that my self-confidence on my events (most of the time anyway) owes a lot to this choice.

When I now take part in an editorial shoot, I get to enjoy the creative dimension because I built mu self-confidence enough to actually appreciate it (even though I always feel a lot of pressure when working). It allows me to explore composition and refine the style I want to move towards as a photographer. For example, it was during a mini-shoot on Place Stanislas in Nancy that I first tried out the editorial approach, which I then wanted to incorporate into my wedding photography.

To each his own opinion and method of progression

Portrait d'une mariée portant devant elle un bouquet de mariée entièrement blanc

The aim of this article is not to say that "doing editorial shoots sucks, and if you don't make it in the business by the strength of your little arms, you're not deserving" (when you know that the main reason I didn't do any editorial shoot myself in my early days was because I was scared to death, it would be a bit rich to give entrepreneurship lessons to anyone).

Each professional finds his or her own way of evolving according to personality, and if the advice most often heard in the profession is 'to do editorial shoots', that's because it makes sense for many people and can be a totally relevant choice.

The aim of this article, however, is to point out that it's not the only way to progress, and that although this method is favored by many wedding professionals, I find that it's not without its pitfalls. I'd like to warn you - whether you're a wedding planner or a groom-to-be - against the abuses that can result from an overemphasis on inspiration shoots to the detriment of 'real' weddings, because I don't think they're often talked about, and in the end they're just as detrimental to brides and grooms as they are to wedding professionals.

If you don't agree with this article, don't hesitate to tell me about it in the comments - debates are always interesting! - and I'll see you soon for a new article (once I'll have written one, then painfully translated it, hesitating a thousand times on each sentence).

You can find mini wedding galleries on my portfolio, and if you want to know more about me through facts unrelated to photography, it's over here.

See you soon,


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