creative control

 Letbe honest, the wedding and portrait markets are tough at the moment. The increasing number of photographers in an arguably shrinking market means that we are all competing for fewer jobs, and due to the reduction in a client s disposable income this competition centres around who can provide the better deal. Portrait photographers struggle against a client s monthly living costs, whilst wedding photographers fight for a slice of an ever-shrinking wedding budget pie.

These factors combined mean that it is becoming harder to get noticed by prospective clients and the industry.

Mandy Carter, the main photographer from the duo Dottie Photography, certainly does not have that problem. Although she may be Dottie by name, Mandyphotography and strong creativity is anything but dottie by nature. When it comes to standing out from the crowd she not only has the physical height, but also the personality. Regularly appearing in bridal magazines and on wedding industry blogs, Mandy and her business partner Zoe are the of the styled photoshoot’. I went behind the scenes to find out how they approached each project, and how styled shoots have helped Mandy and Zoe to both grow their businesses, and get noticed by prospective clients.


Dottie Photographywork first caught my eye when they ordered an album for their seaside themed wedding shoot. My day job exposes me to a multitude of photographers, and these images instantly stood out for their quality and creativity. At first I thought the photographs were from a real wedding because, unlike many of the styled photoshoots I have seen, the album had such a strong story and theme. want our shoots to look like they are the day, with a clear start and finish,”said Mandy, focus on the story not only brings a structure to the day, but it also gives magazines an editorial hook”.

This editorial hook is important. Magazines want details and images that both they, and their bridal readership, have not seen before. For example, the Cluedo shoot that they created had a booth’as opposed to a booth’and feathers instead of confetti. The weddings’section of magazines mainly feature traditionally styled weddings, so Mandy believes that these Dottie shoots perfect for bringing something creative, unique, and inspirational to their readership.”Mandy and Zoe create everything from the look of their and groom’to the cupcake cases, signs, invitations, etc, and all of the colours, slogans and moods of these pieces tie back to their chosen theme.

Styled shoots captivate both Mandy and Zoepassions: real weddings are lovely, but they do not always have enough quirky details for magazines. Itgreat to have the opportunity to create a wedding from start to finish with lots and lots of beautiful things,”says Mandy, would love to do styled shoots all of the time if I could, but unfortunately it does not pay the bills. It does help us to increase our target market though.”Mandy did not have a magazine lined up for this first shoot but she had spoken to Kat at Rock n Roll Bride wrho agreed to take a look when they had finished. Kat loved the shoot and posted it on her blog. This generated interest from smaller blogs and magazines such as Stamford Living, and Kat even used the images in a magazine article of her own to show other photographers the kind of photographs that arc desired by magazines. Interest in Mandyshoot didnend there-Wedding Magazine saw  it on the Dottie Photography blog and printed a four page spread in their latest issue.


Dottieseaside-wedding themed styled shoot grew from the location itself, Carrington House, and the colours of its decor and beach hut. Colour is an important factor in their shoots. Everything is styled so that the natural colours of the surroundings, and those of their own Dottie Creations, all work together. Post-production is also considered at this early stage since Mandy understands that whilst certain colours complement her style, she does have limitations: try to avoid certain colours at all costs since they donalways compliment my style of post-production, especially if I had to introduce flash into the shoot.”

The colour scheme is at the centre of both Mandycreative process, and the moodboards that she and Zoe collate to aid the design and visualisation of the final shoot. First Mandy will rifle through her magazine collection, and Google various ideas, saving anything eye-catching into a Things’folder. This folder then becomes an on-hand reference for when she creates a moodboard in Adobe Illustrator. The moodboards contain ideas for everything from the hair and make-up, the colour scheme for the Dottie Creations products Mandy and Zoe will make, couple shots that emanate the mood Mandy wants to recreate, cakes, venue rooms, slogans and even movie clips and posters. Mandy then shares this moodboard with Zoe who heads Dottie Creations, the stationary side of their business. Mandy and Zoe arc both designers, which enables them to create the artwork they need for their shoots. Their background allows them to think at the same creative level and visualise the shoot in the same way to bring it into full-blown Technicolor life.

Mandy and Zoe then approach and bring on board the suppliers they like and trust, after picking apart the moodboard until they have the full conception of the styled shoot. It is an easy pitch to make since suppliers, just like the venues, typically want to be involved for the images the shoot produces. Mandy is very specific with her suppliers and rarely expands creative freedom outside of her and Zoepartnership: I see isngoing to be the same as what someone else sees, I need to keep creative control. I canjust let go since itour creative baby, we have to steer it through right to the end or it woncome together.”Mandy is a perfectionist in the true sense of the word, believing in the mantra: can never have enough details.”

 Dottie Creations


From the publication of this first styled shoot Mandy said: magazines and bloggers followed us on Twitter, checked out our blog, and wanted to feature our work. Brides called us for wedding bookings and we created some lovely albums to showcase our work.”These styled shoots may be a passion but they definitely help with promoting both the Dottie businesses, and it doesnstop there.

Industry blogs love this kind of shoot and both Love My Dress and Rock & Roll Bride picked them up causing the shoots to filter down to smaller blogs and outside the UK. increases the links to our website and generates more traffic,”says Mandy, allowing them to optimise the search engine phenomena, and the bookings and enquiries that result from the printed and web-based publicity also promotes Mandy herself.

Mandy says it is to be in the magazines, it is something that I can shout about and show to brides. It instantly places you as an industry player and I cannot emphasise enough the need for quality detailed shots.”Mandy puts her success down to the fact that she and Zoe can design all of the details, truly ensuring that everything is photo ready.


I spent the day with Mandy at her latest styled shoot which had a Jubilee theme. Mandy aimed, and succeeded, to be innovative and set herself apart. When she saw the dress her creative spark ignited, resulting in a truly unique vision. The whole process from the conception through to contacting suppliers and creating artwork took around three to four weeks. The artwork alone took three to four full days of work. Mandy planned to do something , madder, and better than before; something that could be described as dottie posh.”

On the shoot Mandyawareness of accuracy and attention to detail amazed me, but it now seems obvious as Mandy says: is nothing worse than getting back and during post-production realising that a wine bottle was turned the wrong way, a prop was wonky, or something was incorrectly placed.”The styled shoot allowed Mandy to slow  everything down, taking the time needed to make everything perfect. the great thing about styled shoots,”Mandy admitted, have lots of time and you arenrushed, you can get everything set up exactly as you want it and work to your own timescale.”

Mandy and Zoe started to coordinate the style whilst the models were in hair and make-up, setting up tables and props, ensuring the locations were picture perfect and photo ready so that Mandy could shoot the details before the models were ready to to the stage’.

Before bringing in the models, Mandy checked to make sure not even a hair was out of place. In her back pocket she kept a roll of torn magazine pages, what seemed like another of her quirks turned out to be the key to her ability to utilise the models. On these tom sheets Mandy had varied inspirational couple shots so she could show the models exactly what she wanted from them, rather than having them conceive their own version of the pose from a description. This show, rather than tell, approach certainly worked. As soon as Mandy whipped out the relevant pose the model instantly knew what to do, once again proving Mandy does not relinquish an ounce of this creative control.

Mandy shoots most details on a 100mm using anything from f/8 up to f/16. really want to see the details not artistic shots,”Mandy admitted. For the outside shots she mainly uses 70-200mm lenses, and generally goes down to f/4 and sometimes f/2.8 unless the background is stunning in which case she closes it down to f/8. When natural lighting needed a boost Mandy used flash and had Speedlites and Bowens flashes ready and waiting in her kit bag which she often used with a beauty dish. After the shoot, the post-production begins. Mandy does everything in Photoshop, and has actions that she accumulated over time and has worked into action recipes which give all of her images that certain look she loves.

Everything was planned down to the smallest detail, with nothing left to chance. After watching Mandy in action it is easy to see why she is the of the styled photoshoot’. Her inspiring creativity, and finely tuned creative control, ensures that her unique vision comes to life in all of its glory. Her meticulous planning and attention to detail guarantees that there will not be a prop missed out or a hair out of place. Mandy is definitely an inspiration and a worthy role model to styled shoot photographers. I had a fantastic time going behind the scenes of her latest shoot, gaining first hand experience of her creative passion and how she makes her vision a reality.

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