These seven talented photographers share how they organize successful collaborative photoshoots. Learn from their best tips on teamwork.
Creative collaboration can boost our motivation and productivity. In fact, one recent Stanford study revealed that people who were primed to work together as part of a team enjoyed their assigned tasks more — and performed them better — than those who didn’t. They were also forty-eight to sixty-four percent less likely to give up when the task was challenging.
For many photographers, collaboration with stylists, makeup artists, art directors, and other creatives is more than just a fact of life — it’s also a source of inspiration. “I recommend using any chance you get to work with a team,” Shutterstock Contributor AnnaTamila suggests.
“I usually get the best results when I’ve worked with a team of specialists, whether that includes a makeup artist, an assistant, an art director, or models. Plus, it is usually much more interesting than working alone.”
Read on for their best tips in ensuring everything goes according to plan.
1. Do Your Research
Social media platforms are a great place to find talent. Run a search of popular hashtags like #MUA (for makeup artists) or browse Model Mayhem (for stylists). You can also go directly through a creative agency if you’re looking for something specific.
Regardless of where you find your collaborators, make sure they share your aesthetic and point of view as an artist. Browse their portfolios, and look for work that inspires you and gets your creative juices flowing. “Don’t be afraid to contact specialists you admire,” AnnaTamila advises. “Working with these people is how you get better and raise the level of your photos.”
Also, remember to go into the collaboration with realistic expectations. Contact people only if you’re sure they have the expertise necessary to do the job you have in mind. “It is not worth giving someone an impossible task,” KOBRIN PHOTO adds. “The people you collaborate with should fit your niche. For example, makeup artists who specialize in weddings can’t be expected to do makeup for a Halloween photo shoot.”
2. Discuss Usage Before the Shoot
“I think one of the most important things for a photographer to do is communicate clearly about both the process and the delivery of images,” Ukrainian-Dutch photographer Katja de Bruijn of iconogenic tells us.
“All team members must be 100 percent clear about where the images are going to be used. In the case of stock photography, for example, you need to be clear about the fact that publications are possible but not traceable, since you won’t know who purchases the images.”
3. Answer Any Questions About Compensation
Many commercial stock photographers work with makeup artists and stylists on a time-for-prints basis. That is, in exchange for their time on set, collaborators receive prints and image files to use in their own portfolios. Others prefer to pay fixed rates.
Whatever the case may be, it’s important to iron out those details well in advance of the shoot. “To avoid any disappointment, we always make sure that the rules of engagement are clear before the shoot,” Marcin and Sylwia Ciesielski, the creative duo behind Quality Pixels Photography, explains. “Most importantly, we discuss who gets what out of our collaboration, how they will be compensated, and what rights and obligations everyone has.”
4. Send References
“To ensure a smooth collaboration, we exchange ideas before the shoot,” the Ciesielskis tell us. “We want people to picture exactly what we have in mind, and for that, we use reference photos, movie or book references, and simple drawings — anything that helps. This process naturally transfers to the studio, where most of the pieces fall together. Usually, we all do some last-minute brainstorming and, quite often, new ideas are born in the process.”
5. Create a Mood Board …
Organize all your references in one place before sending them out to your collaborators. “A mood board is a visual road map for a photo shoot, usually consisting of images and descriptions,” KOBRIN PHOTO tells us. “A good mood board captures the idea and conveys the right mood to your creative partners, and it ensures that your photographs meet your expectations.
“Remember that a mood board can include all sorts of things: photos of makeup, accessories, clothes, locations, color palettes, poses, etc. The more material you can include, the easier it will be to accurately express your ideas and keep everything organized.”
6. … and Invite Everyone to Contribute
Once you add your references, open your mood board up for everyone to contribute their ideas. “Pinterest is a great place where you can create a secret mood board and invite your team members to join,” de Bruijn explains. “That way, they can share their ideas before the shoot takes place.”
Two of the photographers we interviewed also recommend opening up a temporary WhatsApp group where everyone can chat and brainstorm new ideas.
7. Provide Clear Instructions
“When a photo shoot is my idea, it’s usually my responsibility to create a mood board and present the idea to my collaborators,” AnnaTamila tells us. “Together, we then discuss the details and agree on who is responsible for what. We go over every detail, from who’s responsible for makeup and clothes to who will choose a location and who will bring food and water.”
Double-check with your team members to make sure everyone is crystal clear on what they’re doing, so nothing falls through the cracks. The more detailed you can get with your directions, the better. Stylists and art directors are professionals, but they aren’t mind-readers.
8. Be Proactive
If you’re not working for a specific client, you’re in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly. “It’s very important to keep the whole team together, and that’s your responsibility if you are a photographer organizing a photo shoot,” Russian photographer and makeup artist Olga Ekaterincheva explains. “The key is being enthusiastic and inspiring, but not bossy.”
9. Avoid Micromanaging
While clear instructions form the foundation of any successful collaboration, it’s equally important to give people the freedom they need to execute the job properly.
“Before I entered the field of stock photography, I worked at advertising agencies, and we had a very clear procedure for collaborating with directors, makeup artists, and other creative people,” Russian artist Katerina Kovaleva tells us. “I still follow that procedure today.’
“There are three essential steps. First, you choose a person for a reason. It might be their portfolio, a particular piece in their portfolio, or their experience or résumé. Second, you tell the person why you’ve chosen them for the job. Third, you let this person do the work. That’s it. Either you trust them, or you don’t.’
“In Russian, we use the expression ‘zakat solntsa vruchnuyu,’ which means, ‘a manual sunset.’ It’s used to describe a situation where you’ve expended unnecessary effort when things could have just been done naturally. Give people the space they need to do their jobs naturally and organically.”
10. Learn How to Listen
“You probably know more about photography than anyone on set, but you also must understand that your team knows their role better than you do,” de Bruijn advises. “If a great makeup artist tells me something, I listen. I’ve had great experiences with my creative shoots, and I can’t recall any frictions on opinions. I think that’s because there’s never any competition on the set. We’re joining forces and tapping into the unique traits of each creative person for a beautiful result.”
11. Provide Food and Snacks
More than one of the photographers we interviewed mentioned the importance of checking with your collaborators about their dietary needs and preferences. If a stylist is vegan or a model prefers not to wear animal products — like leather or fur — make sure you have alternatives for them to eat or wear on set.
“We work often with hairstylists, makeup artists, models, prop makers, and designers, and we always try our best to create a good atmosphere on set,” the Ciesielskis explain. “We usually have sweets and music in the background, and sometimes one of our cats is even running around.”
12. Keep It Positive for Everyone
“One of the most important tips I can give emerging photographers is to avoid gossiping on set,” de Bruijn tells us. “If someone starts, just change the subject in a subtle and non-judgmental way. Gossiping and negativity never do a project any good, so never talk badly about people and colleagues behind their back — even if you’re doing it anonymously.
“Spread good energy. Focus on what people are doing well. Tell the model she’s doing a great job and you can’t wait to start sorting the pictures. Tell the stylist how inspiring her vision is. It’s your responsibility to make sure everyone has a happy and productive day.”
13. Invite Feedback
“It’s always helpful to hear other people’s opinions of your work,” Serbian photographer Igor Sinkov stresses. “Forget your ego. These are creative people whom you trust and who can help your work pop. Use their feedback — and the sum of your creative energy — to create something that stands out.”
14. Leave Room for Surprises
Even if you’ve already laid the groundwork for a successful photo shoot, keep an open mind on set. If your collaborators come up with fresh, impromptu suggestions, hear them out. “Even if everything is well-organized, I never get a result that is 100 percent planned,” AnnaTamila tells us. “Part of the process is leaving space for ideas to develop spontaneously and unexpectedly — and I like it that way.
15. Deliver Everything on Time
Even if you don’t have to answer to a specific client, your collaborators will often come into a photo shoot with expectations of their own. If you’ve traded time for prints, make sure you’re taking photos your partners can use.
“A photo shoot is never about one photo, so we try to make sure that everybody gets something they can be proud of,” the Ciesielskis tell us. “It’s essential to look at the project from multiple perspectives and give everyone a chance to get something from the project for themselves.”
Before any shoot, clarify when and how everyone can share the images. If there’s an embargo, for instance, outline the rules clearly so everyone understands. If there’s no embargo and it’s a personal shoot, it’s up to you what people can post.
“When possible, my tip is to let everyone take their selfies, photos, and videos for Instagram,” Ekaterincheva says. “This helps people to get instant pleasure on set, enjoy the process, and get excited about the final photos.”
16. Build Long-term Relationships
“What we like most is working with a team of people that we know,” the Ciesielskis say. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and preferences, so we can mix and match various people for various ideas and assure the smoothest collaboration. We believe it really helps if you work with people that share a similar style. It helps to be on the same page in what you want to achieve.”
Be professional with everyone you meet and. In time, you’ll earn the trust and rapport needed for a fruitful, long-term collaboration.
Cover image via Marcin Sylwia Ciesielski.
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