I have to say - I'm super psyched to share this interview with the incredible Boston wedding planner and designer, Kelly Golia of Kelly Golia Events.
If you're anything like me when I was starting out, vendor relationships feel like a little bit of a mystery, and planners (especially ones who have been around way longer than you!) feel super intimidating to reach out to!
In this interview, Kelly spills all the deets on getting on preferred vendor lists, how to absolutely slay the styled shoot game, and how to make each other's lives easy (and fun!) on wedding days!
Plus, we whipped up a gorgeous FREE printable styled shoot mini-guide + shot list so that you can make sure you're serving your fellow vendors SO well, they'll all be dying to recommend you! Click the button below to snag yours!
Em: What kind of approach do you find makes you most likely to say yes to a collab?
Kelly: As a planner, it's not only my job to plan logistics and make sure an entire event is beautiful and cohesive, it's my passion! In order to say yes to collaborating, I need to know first and foremost that a shoot will enhance my portfolio and give me room to flex my creative muscles in order to showcase my skills and talent.
It always means a lot to me when a photographer asks me to be a part of a styled shoot, so I hope that all vendors know that they shouldn't be shy about reaching out! Ultimately, I ask the following questions of myself and the photographer before saying yes to a shoot:
- What does the photographer see my role being in the shoot? Planning? Design? Both? Purely day-of logistics? In order for me to say yes, I need to know that they see me playing an active role in the conceptualization, planning, overall design, and execution of the shoot. Every planner is different, so be sure to ask them what their approach is, what their priorities are, and how they typically manage shoots to make sure the collaboration makes sense for both of you!
- Does the photographer's style match with my brand/aesthetic? Don't take this one personally! In this day and age, everyone seems to understand the important of maintaining a cohesive brand and appearance, which means that not everyone's styles mesh. And that's okay!
- Has the photographer already selected a venue and vendors? If so, do I know them or trust from their portfolio that they'll deliver a quality product that is cohesive with the look and feel I want for my portfolio?
- Do I have enough time in my schedule to give this shoot my all? Sometimes I simply have too much on my plate and the timing isn't right. If I can't contribute my very best to a shoot, it's not fair to me or the other vendors for me to say yes, so I might have to say "maybe later".
- Will it be a truly collaborative experience between me and the photographer? It's VERY important to me that the photographer is someone I can work closely with from start to finish, and that the shoot fulfills their goals as much as it fulfills mine. I find that when a photographer approaches me to collaborate on a shoot, they already have somewhat of a vision in mind, so I want to work together to bring that vision to life in a way that reflects us both, as well as the other vendors. I do my very best work when I can bounce ideas off of someone else, so I want the photographer to be prepared to be involved a bit in the process!
Em: What makes a styled shoot worth your time? Are there any no-no's photogs should be aware of, whether it's before, day of, or post-shoot?
Kelly: A shoot is worth my time when I feel trusted by the photographer to do what I do best - plan and design a really beautiful and cohesive setting for all vendors to showcase their best work in a way that helps take everyone's portfolios to the next level. I've been in situations where myself and other vendors didn't feel trusted to do our jobs on a shoot, and it unfortunately made for a sour experience. If you choose vendors you trust, listen to them! They know their craft! And if they've done shoots before and its your first one, they likely have a lot of wisdom to offer about the process, so take that to heart:
Before the shoot
- Don't leave key players out of the loop. If you're working with a planner, include them in all decision making processes. Try not to make big logistical or design decisions without their input. It will only lead to confusion! After all, you asked them to come on board for a reason, right?
- Don't over-extend yourself. Especially if it's your first shoot, start small. I 100% understand that it's exciting to plan a shoot and it's a huge opportunity to take photos you don't normally get to take! But your first shoot (or any shoot!) should be a learning experience, and should be relaxed and fun for everyone involved! Start with one couple. One tablescape. One location. A few simple details that showcase vendor work. Plan for 4-5 hours max, including setup and breakdown. Trust your planner to create or collaborate on a timeline with you. Make sure that timeline works for all vendors before finalizing (in fact, ask them about their timeline requirements BEFORE creating it!).
- Don't ignore your team's opinions and concerns. If someone brings up a concern, listen. Fostering vendor relationships is just as important as the final outcome of the shoot, so make sure everyone feels respected, heard, and trusted. And of course, make sure everyone's having fun!
Day of the shoot
- Don't forget to feed people! If you're planning the shoot, consider the timing, especially if it falls within a typical meal time. Bring bagels or treats or other snacks. Let people know if there won't be a meal provided so they can plan ahead (this is totally okay!). I always try to at least bring a case of bottled water for everyone - shoot days are long and tiring and it's important to stay hydrated!
- Don't get too caught up in one type of shot. If a planner is present, they can absolutely help you stay on track with the timeline, but ultimately as a photographer you should be trusted to know when you've "got the shot" and move on. After all, if it was a real wedding day, you can't afford to spend too much time on couples portraits or details shots! As a planner, I actually rely heavily on photographers to help me create day-of timelines for real weddings since they know timing and lighting best, so I see shoots the same way.
- Don't forget your vendors! Make sure you have a shot list ahead of time, and ask each vendor if there are specific shots they'd like of their work. Make sure you remember to get shots of vendors in action - this means a lot and goes a long way. For example, get shots of hair and makeup artists at work, shots of the stationer setting up their flat lay, the florist pruning their centerpieces, and the planner setting the tablescape! Sharing these photos with vendors is an added bonus, and one that will mean a whole lot.
After the shoot
- Don't deprive your vendors. As photographers, shoots are a big job for you, and we all know and respect that! While no one expects all photos to be culled and edited within a day (though I've had some photogs do that and they are absolute champions!) make sure you share a few sneak peeks that will mean something to each vendor. Everyone has worked so hard on this shoot and will be eager to see their work. They'll likely share on social media or their websites, which will bring some immediate exposure to you! That's part of the point, right?!
- Don't leave us in the dark. Along the same lines, give us a timeline of when we can expect photos to be done!
- Don't forget to keep everyone posted. If you're submitting the shoot for publication, let people know where you plan to submit, when you have, and what the outcome was.
Em: What role do planners play in the styled shoot process?
Kelly: Every planner is different, so it's important to ask them! For example, I am a wedding planner, but I'm also a designer and that's where my passion lies. Some planners focus solely on logistics, so their role in a styled shoot might look different than mine. This is why it's so crucial that when you ask a planner to join your team that you ask them (or at least, listen to them when they tell you!) how they typically approach shoots.
Here's an example of what my role in a styled shoot typically looks like:
- Select venue
- Create a mood board and cohesive design plan
- Reach out to vendors (I usually start with the photographer if they haven't approached me first!) to gauge interest and availability
- Set a date with venue and vendor availability in mind
- Create a list of all of the elements of the styled shoot
- Create a list of which elements each vendor will include, and the shots that are important to them
- Create a day-of plan and timeline
- Source and execute decor not contributed by another vendor
- Arrive early day-of to greet vendors and organize set up
- Answer vendor questions
- Make sure every vendor has everything they need to be successful
- Set up different shoot setups (tablescape, dessert, flowers, invitation suite, etc.) so that they are ready to be shot when the photographer is ready
- Manage clean up (I always try to be the last to leave!)
My overall approach to planning in general is to have a solid plan for how things should go, but to be flexible and have fun! I want all vendors to walk away happy and feeling like they had a great time getting to know and work with each other, and that they're proud of the end result.
Em: Do you prefer to submit styled shoots? Or do you prefer the photographer to do it?
Kelly: This is pretty case-by-case for me. Most of the time I find that the photographer is willing to let me take over submitting on the team's behalf, in which case I'm happy to do that. With that being said, if the photographer is happy to manage submission, I certainly won't say no to it! Most submission sites function under the understanding that the photographer is submitting, so either way, I believe it's important to work closely during the submission process to select the best photos from the day and tell the story well.
Awesome! Let’s talk about real wedding days.
Em: What can photographers do before the wedding to make cooperation between the two of you easy and mutually beneficial?
Kelly: Communicate and collaborate! I always start my day-of timeline by talking to the photographer first, since they have the best understanding of how long it takes them to get certain shots, as well as the best lighting throughout the day. My most successful working relationships with photographers have been when they're not only communicative about timeline and logistics, but excited about the overall design of the day and willing to collaborate closely to learn the special and memorable details beforehand. Most of all, don't be afraid to let me know how I can best serve you as a planner! That's what I'm here for!
One case in particular that stands out to me is on a recent wedding I planned and designed in Charleston, South Carolina. The couple chose the photographer on a recommendation from a friend, and she was an absolute dream to work with! She was extremely communicative months before the wedding and asked a lot of questions about the details of the day, which meant a lot to me and the bride. We were able to connect so easily and early on, and I could tell that she was as invested in the visual details as much as she was in the emotional moments - a hard balance to find. She got that every visual detail was a reflection of personal memories and interests of the bride and groom, and she understood that each of those details was the result of hours of conversations and design brainstorms between me and the couple.
By taking the time to get to know me, the design plan, and the couple early on in the process (even though we were planning from far away!), she was able to capture every single detail perfectly day of, without missing a thing. As a designer, sometimes I find that those details can get lost on the list of priorities on the day of the wedding (after all, those family moments and special memories between the couple are of course the most important!), but the fact that she took the time to care about the details meant I felt she was even more invested day of, and I knew without a doubt that I could trust her. So did the couple! Not to mention, she helped keep the bridal party on time like an absolute champ during photos - down to the very minute!
Em: How about on the day of? Is there something you wish all photographers knew, or something some photogs do that really stands out to you in a positive or negative way?
Kelly: I wish all photographers knew that they can lean on me as a planner. I almost always have at least one assistant with me at a wedding, so if the photographer needs an extra hand wrangling bridal parties or answering guest questions, one of us is always more than happy to help! I'm always so impressed by how hard photographers work and I see part of my job as supporting them when they need it. Something that really stands out to me is when a photographer can be on top of the timeline and keep open communication with me if things are running early or behind - it makes all the difference!
Em: And after the wedding?
Kelly: For weddings that I've provided Full Planning and/or Design Services for, I'm almost always going to want to submit for publication (with the couple's permission). At the very least, I'll be eager to share photos on my website! I know that the bulk of the photographer's work happens after the wedding, so I always want them to know that they can come to me for support with rounding up vendor lists or submitting photos.
Em: Let’s talk about preferred vendor lists - how do you decide who to recommend? What can photographers do to earn a recommendation from you to future clients?
Kelly: I can (almost always) only recommend vendors to couples if I've worked with the vendor before, which is why collaborating on styled shoots is so important if we haven't had the chance to work together on a real wedding yet. I always look closely at a client's budget and try and determine which photographers will fit within that. If I know a couple is more shy, I might try and match them with a photographer that I know is really good at making people laugh and feel comfortable. If a couple is super laid back and easy going, I might match them with a photographer who is super skilled at following a timeline in a way that doesn't stress people out. Every photographer I get to work with has something unique about them that they bring to the table, and I really see my job as a planner as somewhat of a matchmaking service, ha! Overall, I recommend photographers that have more of a documentary style of shooting - not too posed, super candid, and in a style that is classic and timeless without being trendy. And in case you couldn't tell yet, I love working with a photographer who's excellent at photographing details!
Em: Anything else you want to share about the photog/planner relationship?
Kelly: I want photographers to know that I want a relationship with them! I know firsthand that a couple is more comfortable, and a shoot is more successful, when a planner and photographer know and trust each other. If we haven't worked together yet, don't be shy about reaching out! And remember, while a photographer's work is showcased by the quality and style of the photographs they take, every single detail of the planner's months (sometimes years!) of hard work is showcased within those photos, so they're just as special to us as they are to the couple.
SUCH great info from Kelly, right? I wish she could have sat me down and told me all these things during the first few years as a wedding photographer!
And don't forget to grab your free printable styled shoot mini guide + shot list we put together for you below!
Have any other q's for Kelly? Leave a comment here or send her a DM on Instagram!
Big thanks to the vendors who made this styled shoot gorgeous!
Planning + Design: Kelly Golia Events
Makeup: Jocelyn Mariah Makeup Artistry
Hair: Red Carpet Ready by Sarah
Dress: Amy Kuschel via Flair Boston
Vintage Rentals: Vintage and Swoon
Table + Tabletop Rentals: Boston Rustic Wedding Rentals
Cake + Treats: Oh Miss Kate
Models: Gabrielle + Steve