Becoming a Photographer – Collaboration

If you’re anything like me, as a creative person (whether you’re a florist, a dress designer, a writer or any thing in between) there’s probably a gap between what you want your portfolio to look like and what it actually does look like.

This is even more true if you’re just starting out and you’re either not getting paid work at all or you’re not getting to book the types of jobs you ultimately want to be working on.

You wish you could photograph/style/write about something in particular but until you’ve demonstrated that you can photograph/style/write about that specific thing, people aren’t likely to pay you to photograph/style/write about that thing because they won’t have any evidence that you’re capable of doing it.

In addition the jobs you are paid to do (if you’re doing paid work at all) might have a very specific brief. You might want to photograph/style/write kick arse rock and roll style weddings but if your portfolio is full of more traditional affairs, you’ll find it difficult to get the clients you want.  If you wait for the right clients/products/jobs to come to you, you might be waiting for ever. If you want it, you kind of need to make it happen.

Personally, there are a few things I’ve done to try to get the clients that I want to be working with and one of them is working on colaborative styled shoots.  Setting up a shoot gives you an opportunity to push yourself and develop, to flex your creative muscles and to meet new people that might become, at the very least, new friends or at best a source of referrals or future recommendations.

So how do you go about making the contacts to set up fabulous shoots with lots of cool props/details, interesting backgrounds and input from people who will make it an enriching and worthwhile experience?

I’ve been involved in two styled shoots now and I have more planned for this year and they’ve all happened or are due to happen because of social networking.  And mostly through twitter.

I guess the process of integrating myself with like minded people on twitter went a bit like this:

1) Follow people from all sectors of the industry I work in/want to work in

2) Chat to people in all sectors of the industry I work in/want to work in

3) Go to tweet-ups/networking things (even though they scare the bejesus out of me!)

4) Make industry friends

As an aside, all of the above steps kind of have to be taken in a non-cynical, uncalculating way. If you are chatting to people because you want something from them, they’re probably not going to be hugely receptive to you. Be nice, make friends, be interested in what other people are up to, not what you can get out of them!

As far as getting involved with shoots goes, I actually suggested the first one to blogger I’d got talking to on Twitter. Sara of Under the Vintage Veil was pretty new to the wedding industry and I thought that a shoot might be good fun and beneficial to both of us.

We got other’s involved by putting shout outs on Twitter, we set up a pintrest board to brain storm ideas and Sara found a venue that would accommodate us.

As well as gaining from the experience by making lots of lovely new contacts, we went on to get the shoot featured on Whimsical Wonderland Weddings, resulting in publicity/exposure for all of the businesses involved, which was an added bonus.

I got involved with the second shoot through Twitter too. I saw people I follow talking about arranging a shoot. And, rather boldly, I offered to photograph it for them and they said yes.

Both times I was terrified. I was WAY outside of my comfort on the first shoot and I really felt the pressure, especially given that there were other industry people involved who were relying on me to get good pictures of their products.  It went without a hitch and I had the chance to do some creative work that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do and I really learned from the experience, so the next shoot I did came more naturally and I had a better idea of the process involved.

I wanted to hear about other photographer’s experiences of working on styled shoots so I had a chat with Fiona Kelly who told me about a collaborative shoot she worked on recently.

Fiona got together with Helen of Helen Carter Weddings and Liz of Blue Sky Flowers to work on a really lovely detail based styled shoot all about succulents.

The aim was to create two very different inspirational looks, one elegant & contemporary and one more rustic & natural, that introduced brides to some new ideas for their wedding themes.

Fiona told me that, for her, doing styled shoots of any kind is a wonderful way to be creative, show new ideas and generally inspire couples and, also, other wedding industry people. It allows you to work with people you admire and develop relationships with other suppliers, as well as giving the freedom to explore ways to work. Fiona said that “it’s something that I loves doing and will continue to do as a way to really challenge myself creatively”.

I couldn’t agree more. Working on a shoot requires a totally different approach to shooting a wedding and taking the time to think creatively and conceptually will then impact on the way you work in the future.

What do you think? Have you collaborated with other industry people? How has it impacted on the way you work generally? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Laura x

Succlent Shoot – The Credits

Photography – Fiona Kelly Photography (www.fionasweddingphotography.co.uk)
Style and Design – Helen Carter Weddings (www.helencarterweddings.co.uk)
Flowers/Plants – Blue Sky Flowers (www.blueskyflowers.co.uk)
Stationery – DIY by Helen Carter Weddings
Furniture, linen & tablewear – Jones Hire (www.joneshire.co.uk)
Picnic Table – The Hire Business (www.thehirebusiness.co.uk)

13 thoughts on “Becoming a Photographer – Collaboration

  1. What a fab blog post! I’ve just entered my second year in business and am planning several styled shoots this year having done a vintage wedding styled shoot with two different sets of people in the past year. I think that working and networking with other creatives keeps you fresh and gives you a creative outlet which is different to the one you get when working with clients. Being a ft photographer can be a lonely business if you don’t make the effort to network and meet people. I hope that this year I can do some different styles with MUAs and designers to expand my portfolio and learn new techniques which I can then bring back into my paid client work. Good luck with your shoots this year, lovely images here. Nat x

  2. Hi Laura,

    This is a great idea for a blog and conversation piece at that! I’m currently having my early life crisis and planning a complete career change. I absolutely love photography and I tend to immerse myself in it most days, either with my camera or by looking at other people’s work. So in terms of ‘going it alone’ I’m still very much at the concept stage!

    My previous career has been in marketing and I can only whole heartedly agree with what you say about networking (whether it be digitally or in 3D). Both in terms of developing your own career but also in terms of building a brand. I used to go to lots of industry conferences and training courses to meet and learn from other people. Plus I would also share my own work and ideas (where I had the balls to do so!) as much as possible. I can’t help thinking that collaboration and bringing creative heads together can only result in good things 🙂

    As a budding photographer, some of the best things I have done is to go on training courses where I have learnt from my fellow pupils and the teacher long after the course has finished. I really love pintrest, photography groups on facebook and flickr for inspiration and learning what the ‘standard’ shots are in a given photo shoot. A professional fashion photographer once suggested meeting up with start up peers from your specific industry (like you have done on the succulent shoot) and forming a network with them so that you all ‘grow’ together.

    I’ve not even got a portfolio set up yet… But I’d like to think it’s going to happen sometime in the next few months. I just need to move out of my comfort zone and put some work out there :-/ However if anyone wants to follow me in the various digital channels here are my deets:
    Twitter: @rophotographs
    Pintrest: rophotographs
    Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bella_lasagne (although user name is rophotographs)

    Good things happen when people come together!

    Ro x

  3. Totally agree with this Laura! Tweetups scare the hell out of me too – but I always pull myself together and turn up, and each time I go I end up with a new contact. After a tweet I put up yesterday, I now also have a new MUA contact who I am going to arrange a shoot with! x

  4. Great article. I’m just starting out as a photographer and I’m definitely in the place you describe in the first few paragraphs – wanting to photograph cool stuff, but not having the experience behind me to get this kind of work. Styled shoots could well be the answer!

  5. Inspiring article ! It’s been 5 months since I’ve done my big career shift to photography. People seem to like my pictures but I am still struggling to get my first paid gigs. I was wondering : how did you started out, Laura ? how did you promote yourself when you were basically a newbie?

    • Now there’s a question! I started advertising on Gumtree at a super reduced rate and I did a couple of weddings at that price to get experience. I then did a few more at an increased rate and was then lucky enough to be asked to shoot a friend’s wedding that was quite different and I managed to get it featured on one of the big UK wedding blogs. I now try to get everything I do featured on blogs as part of my work flow and that has led to bookings but it’s hard work getting bookings that way as people are coming to you cold so you need to really build trust with them. I also get onward referrals from clients and other people. x

  6. Thanks Laura ! I like your blog very much and your shoots always rock ! You have a nice style and groovy touch ! Your experience proves that once again, it’s important to build a solid, trusted network (I’m too shy for cold calling anyway). I have another question 🙂 how do you draw the line between free work you do to get experience and the moment you feel confident enough to ask for money ? I get various ring bells on that matter. My photographer friends tell me to get paid as soon as I can. My models would rather see me shooting for free until I have a solid portfolio. I believe both sides are right but I’ve been wondering how do you know you’re ready … How did you work this out ? And how long have you been in the business ? (I’m living in France but I guess the mechanics work pretty much the same)

    • You know, I still do a lot of stuff for free. All of the styled shoots I’m involved with are unpaid for everyone involved as we put them together in the hope of getting exposure from them. I think the test is will shooting for free benefit you in any way – if it won’t massively enhance your portfolio (i.e by shooting something amazing/different from what you have already) or if it won’t bring you guaranteed exposure (i.e shooting a high profile model/celeb) I wouldn’t do it personally. x

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