Don't Short Change Your Team: The Rules of Collaboration

Don't Short Change Your Team: The Rules of Collaboration

Building a skilled team is a sure way to up the production value of your shoot and improve the quality of your work, but if you’re collaborating with other artists, you’d better give them what they need.

Collaboration is the name of the game for photographers building their portfolios or adding personal work to their repertoire. Depending on genre, you could be looking at gathering models, makeup artists, hair and clothing stylists, set designers, costume, clothing or prop designers, boutiques or other stores that lend clothing or props, assistants, retouchers, and more before you have a finished image in your hands. Unless you’re at a place in your career where you can afford to pay each member, you’ll need to attract a team by the strength of your work and the promise of your vision. If you want to keep those members on your team though, you’ve got to give them what they need.

When you gather a team for collaboration, it’s understood that finished images and credit are the compensation for their work. Unfortunately, I’ve heard too often from team members that they’ve worked on shoots and received unusable images, not because the images are poor quality but because the photos don’t show that members work in a way they can use to attract new clients.

Here are some rules for creating collaborations that everyone can benefit from.

Team behind the scenes: Model Emma Eckenhausen, hair stylist Cecelia Kirby, and makeup artist Kat DeJesus.

The Rules of Collaboration

  1. Communicate the goals of the shoot clearly
  2. Find out what your team members need from the shoot
  3. Deliver the goods

1. Communicate

Make sure that when you pitch your idea to a potential collaborator, they understand exactly what the goal of the shoot is and what they can expect. Here are some things you want to make sure to cover:

  • The purpose of the shootIs this for publication, for portfolio work, for Instagram, a blog post, etc? Make sure everyone knows why they’re working to create the photograph.
  • How many images you expect to finish - If you are shooting specifically for a series of three images that tell a story, make sure the team knows that you expect to deliver three images. If there are more than three shots you love, then you’re more than welcome to over deliver, but make sure you set expectations.
  • Turnaround - How long will it take you to deliver the images?
  • Rights and Usage - How are the members of your team allowed to use the finished images? It’s generally understood for trade or collaboration shoots that images are for promotional purposes only, but those parameters are set by the photographer and everyone should understand their rights. If a model is willing to shoot if she can use the images in a calendar and the photographer decides it’s worth it to work with the model and allow her those rights, it needs to be agreed upon before the shoot.
  • Delivery method - How will your team accept deliverables? Do you send a WeTransfer, hand over thumb drives, use a Dropbox, or some other method?

Checking out the files after the shoot, making sure everyone got what they needed.

2. Team Members Needs

This is something that gets pushed to the side all too often, and it’s a sure way to turn people off of working with you again.

When someone works for images, you need talk to find out what they need from the photographs. A makeup artist often needs a final image that shows his or her work close enough that potential clients can see and appreciate the work. If the model is so far from the camera that the makeup can’t be seen, it won’t likely do the makeup artist much good in bringing in paid work.

If a designer lends their clothing, jewelry, or other accessories for a shoot, the final image won’t benefit them if the designs aren’t shown properly.

A photographer needn’t change the images they intend to create by trying to accommodate every team member in one shot, but something as simple as adding a closeup for the hair and makeup artist or changing an angle so the earring is shown could be the difference between giving your team members images that help bring in paying clients, and giving them a pretty shot that was, essentially, a waste of time and effort.

Make working with you a benefit to the artists who pour their time and effort into helping you create your vision, and you’ll not only get stronger images but have a talented team of people who are eager to create with you.

3. Deliver the Goods

This seems like simple common sense, but too often team members are left hanging when a photographer gets overburdened by too much work and doesn’t deliver the images in a timely manner. If a test shoot is agreed upon and the images aren’t delivered until several months later, the model may have changed their look in the interim which makes those test shots basically worthless.

If you know that you might be overwhelmed with work, let the team know, but if you’ve agreed to deliver six images within two weeks, keep your word. It’s the professional thing to do, and it also shows your team that they can trust you when you ask them to collaborate in the future.

Model Emma Eckenhausen and makeup artist Kat DeJesus.

Additional Notes

Everyone has a different way of working with a team but, from my experience, people collaborate best when their voices are heard and valued. This doesn’t mean you’ve got to compromise your vision, but it does mean that these artists are specialists in their fields (that’s why you wanted to work with them, remember) and they have valuable input. Talk to them, find out why it works best to start with a very clean makeup look and graduate to something more complex, or why starting with wet hair and moving to something curled and frizzy is going to complicate the shoot schedule. If a team member has a suggestion or a preference, listen to them. You’ll often find that their suggestions will make for a stronger image.

If you absolutely must have everyone complete your vision to a T despite their preferences, reservations, advice, or what they need in a photograph, then consider saving up your money and hiring them instead.

A talented team is the foundation of stellar shoot. Make sure you respect them for the skilled practitioners they are, appreciate the fact that they’ve taken time away from paying their bills to create new work with you, and make sure that their time and effort are well compensated with work that will benefit them. Do this, and you’re sure to have team you can always count on who will value you for the work you create, and the way you elevate each other.

 Lead image used with permission of Krystyn Slack.

Model: Emma Eckenhausen, Makeup Artist: Kat DeJesus, Hair Stylist: Cecelia Kirby
Nicole York's picture

Nicole York is a professional photographer and educator based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. When she's not shooting extraordinary people or mentoring growing photographers, she's out climbing in the New Mexico back country or writing and reading novels.

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1 Comment

I find that writing a detailed proposal often helps me get my ideas down in the detail. Although tedious for me helps me be more concise and on point. That way when assembling a team I can include what I hope to achieve and then make sure I gather everyone else's needs.