Making the illume retreat Styled Shoot: Behind-the-Scenes

April 28, 2015

B is for Bonnie

Back in February, I had the incredible opportunity to style and direct a shoot for the illume retreat, an intimately restful two-day retreat for small business owners I’m hosting in Austin this October. With the help of many talented industry friends, I was able to execute a styled shoot that captured the aesthetic and overall experience the illume retreat will offer our sweet attendees, and since this was an experience slightly outside of my comfort zone, I thought I’d share my experience with those who may be interested in directing shoots of their own one day. Whether you’re compiling a shoot for publication, your personal portfolio or to represent your brand, here are a few of my top takeaways from my own experience!

how to coordinate a styled shoot via b is for bonnie design | lauren carnes photography for the illume retreat

Have A Clear Vision

Before you start emailing photographers or reaching out to stylists, be sure that you have a clear vision you’re trying to communicate visually. For me, I knew I wanted to create a play on the creative business owner’s workspace where she does her best work, so I knew I’d need specific props, vendors and a large, bright space for this shoot. Before I even contacted one vendor about this potential collaboration, I compiled a secret Pinterest board of inspiration to draw from. I decided on a color palette, aesthetic, set a timeline into play, and set a specific set of goals for this shoot before moving forward. With a unique mood board and a strong idea for this shoot under my belt, I was able to easily and succinctly communicate my vision to photographers, florists, the venue and other vendors which saved me precious time as I brought this shoot together.

Reach Out To Vendors

Once I knew what I wanted to communicate and how I wanted to communicate it, I was able to find vendors who meshed seamlessly with that atheistic via industry friends and social media. I specifically reached out to vendors who I knew who enhance my existing vision, and who would also benefit from the exposure from this shoot. I wanted everyone who participated in this shoot to reap the benefits, whether that was from publication on a blog or simply shout outs on social media. I have so much appreciation for every vendor who participated in the illume retreat styled shoot, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ve been singing their praises from the rooftops since February!

Reaching out to vendors can be intimidating, especially since you have no guarantee how they will respond. Instead of allowing myself to be paralyzed by fear or to give into the “what ifs?”, I chose to punch fear in the face and just go for it. Honestly, there were a few vendors who had to turn my down due to existing appointments, but almost every vendor I contacted was more than happy to get involved in this vision of mine! Despite the uncertainty and fear that comes with contacting others about your styled shoot vision, I encourage you to feel the fear and take the leap regardless. The worst thing they can say is, “No.”

Source Props

Once your vendors are on board and your dates are set in stone, it’s time to compile the necessary props to make your shoot shine! For the illume retreat styled shoot, I was able to primarily source props from my own office and home, but a few of my favorite places to hunt for props are TJ Maxx, Target, H&M’s home department, local stores, and other industry friends. Silk & Willow graciously contributed plant dyed silk ribbons for the shoot, along with Blue Sky Papers who sent us a vintage velvet covered album to use. I chose props which meshed well with my organic, feminine and laid back aesthetic. Although I brought more props to the shoot than necessary, I chose to use pieces that conveyed a sense of creativity, femininity, and natural beauty. Whatever theme you’re incorporating into your shoot, be sure you’re staying true to the heart of that vision. It can be all too easy to source props based on current trends that don’t necessarily mesh well with your unique vision. When in doubt, stay true to the heart of your work and keep things simple!

Compile A Shoot List

I’ve found that the best way to ensure your expectations for a shoot are met is simply by making them known. I thought through all the images I wanted to walk away with once this shoot concluded, and I compiled a list of “must have” images to ensure I was styling vignettes and directing our wonderful photographers accordingly. For example, I knew I wanted to have images from vignettes like a creative workspace, a florist’s design table, an artist’s desk and more. On the set of our shoot, I shared this information with our photographers and vendors so we all knew what elements we’d be styling, shooting and working together to create. If you’re working with a photographer you trust, you can actually work together to compile a shoot list that specifically covers the individual images you want to receive from the shoot. Thankfully, I knew my photographers would do an incredible job so I gave them the creative freedom to shoot from whatever angles and perspectives they saw fit. However, I did style each scene purposefully to ensure a consistent level of quality and to share a cohesive story throughout these images.

Shower Vendors With Love

Froms start to finish, I wanted my vendors to know just how appreciated their contributions were. When approaching each one about this shoot, I made it clear what sort of exposure they’d receive and how I’d be compensating them for their time. Once the shoot wrapped up, I mailed each vendor tangible photos of their products or services in action, along with a thoughtfully styled box to celebrate the launch of the illume retreat’s website. For most shoots, it’s important to keep in mind that these vendors are donating their time, talent and/or products to bring your vision to life, so it’s crucial to make sure they feel valued and appreciate for their contributions. As an amateur stylist, I want these vendors to walk away from this experience with only positive memories, so I did my best to shower each one with love. Whenever I share images from this shoot, I do my best to tag each vendor involved so they have the opportunity to connect with potential clients, as well. Sharing truly is caring, friends!

how to style a styled shoot via b is for bonnie design | illume retreat styled shoot | jade reilly photography

What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to coordinating styled shoots? Sound off in the comment bellows and let’s encourage each other to conquer fears, reach for the stars and make our beautiful visions come to life! 

Many thanks to Lauren Carnes Photography and Jade Reilly Photography for these fun behind-the-scenes images from the illume retreat styled shoot!

View the our favorites from the shoot in our illume retreat gallery!


  1. Christina

    May 1st, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Great article- I love seeing behind the scenes stuff! See you in October!!

  2. Stephanie

    November 18th, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you for the great article! Will definitely use your advice when I will style my first wedding inspired photo-shoot!

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I'm Bonnie -- a designer, brand designer + strategist, writer, wife, and pet parent to the most rambunctious golden retriever this side of the Mason-Dixon! I'm passionate about building authentic brands, encouraging small business owners to chase their dreams, and spreading joy through design. It's a delight to have you here, lovely! Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a comfy chair and stay a while, won't you?

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