A Portrait Photographer Is Only as Good as the People They Work With

A Portrait Photographer Is Only as Good as the People They Work With

As a group, we photographers tend to like to do everything ourselves. I think it is something about depending on someone else that pushes against our most basic instincts. However, great portrait photography is always a team activity. This team can range from just you and your model all the way up to a full production, but one thing remains consistent: without a team, there is no photo.

A Great Team Ensures Quality

You are not the expert of everything. I'll repeat that just in case you missed it: You are not the expert of everything. There is no human in the history of civilization who was the master of all, so don't kid yourself trying to shackle yourself with the burden of chasing an impossible goal. Have you ever wondered how many of the top photographers end up creating images that seem so perfect? One of the keys that they leverage to do this is by only doing what they are great at while seeking out others, who are also respectively great, to handle every other aspect of the shoot. In the case of many shoots, the photographer's job becomes one of a captain who must navigate a tumultuous sea with the best possible crew at his back. Find that crew who is as passionate about creating great work as you are and pour every ounce of energy into creating something that none of you could have had a hope of creating had you been alone.

Amazing Contacts Open Doors

There are two primary strategies to getting what you want, when you need it. The first is having an endless supply of wealth, which, naturally, is pretty rare. The second is by having a powerful network of contacts who you can trade favors with when the moment arises. Don't be that photographer who sits at home and never bothers networking or you will quickly find yourself chasing tumbleweed when facing a challenge that you can't overcome on your own. Take, for example, the image below. We wanted to shoot on the rooftop of a skyscraper. I didn't own any skyscrapers. One of my contacts, however, was on the board of directors for a condo tower. Thanks to a long and very mutual relationship he was eager to help us gain access to this particular roof on short notice.

Wonderful Friends Inspire You

The journey of an artist is one of the more bipolar roads that one can choose to walk. The ups and downs of being an artist range from moments of glorious triumph to ones of soul crushing defeat. In the face of your darkest moments one of the deciding factors that can not only lift you from the darkness but also give you a boost to renew your focus is the power wielded by someone who genuinely cares for you.

A Strong Network Accelerates Your Reach

A man, standing in the center of a stadium, can scream until his throat is raw while never sounding like more than a mouse to someone at the top of the stands. However, a large crowd can quickly bring that same stadium to a roar. The same applies to your life as a photographer. Don't scream into the void, instead craft a chorus to reach far and wide. This applies to everything from sales to building a following to finding new people to work with. A broad network is like a road map stretching out in all directions in great detail.

Never Forget To Pay It Forward 

The foundation of a great network always begins with mutual benefit. Don't be the leech who is only looking to gain from your relationships. Sure, it may work for a while but in the long run you will lose access to many of the most important people that you may have to work with. Instead, give back as much or more than what you ask to be given. Be the person who everyone respects because you are always eager to stretch out a hand because it is in the clasping of those hands that true strength is born.


Portrait photography — as well as most other forms of photography — is always going to be a team sport. Train yourself to think of it that way so that you always prioritize the health of the team so that you can ensure that your journey, as a photographer, is capable of achieving the greatest breadth of quality that you could possible want. And never forget, great teams are made up of amazing teammates who support and push each other to stretch well beyond what they believed to be their limits.

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Spy Black's picture

"A Portrait Photographer Is Only as Good as the People They Work With"

That's all professional photography in a nutshell.

Correction/Addition(?):That's the entire creative arts in a nutshell.

Spy Black's picture

Depends. Many painters work alone, but I get where you're coming from. ;-)

Michael Kormos's picture

Well, except for landscape and still life photographers. They don't work with people :-)

Ryan Cooper's picture

It could be argued that landscape photographers can gain a lot by working with others as well. ;) Some of the most impressive landscapes are effectively inaccessible on your own unless you want to take some very serious safety risks. ;)

Mark Bilodeau's picture

Elia Locardi (landscape) and Rob Grimm (product/still-life) might disagree with you there. ;-)

Dave McDermott's picture

When it comes to photographing models that's definitely true, as the photos above appear to be models who are used to being in front of the camera. For the likes of family portraits or children's portraits however, I think there's more onus on the photographer to get the best out of their subjects.

Spy Black's picture

Possibly, but how's a children's portrait photographer going to get "the shot" of a crying baby without the consoling mother? Teamwork. ;-)

Trevor Christopher's picture

Try a big red nose, big floppy shoes and get ready to make a clown of yourself. That's for the mom. ;-)

Joshua Barnes's picture

Thats life in a nutshell

Joshua Davis's picture

wow there are some really solid quotable lines in this article! I've been thinking about this concept for a little while and this really solidified the realization that I need to put these ideas into practice. Thank you!

Trevor Christopher's picture

Agreed. The work load is doubled when one of the whole is just not on top form and you can see it in the images. For me the reward is when you can see the model is just not him or herself and you manage to draw them out.

Great advice Ryan. What type of people do you have in your team?

Ryan Cooper's picture

The best kind! Of all sorts! ;) hahah It varies from project to project but I adore the people I work with and I think thats what is most important. There are plenty of talented people out there but the most amazing collaborations happen when you work with talented people who you connect with an can share a consistent vision.

Chris Himstedt's picture

A Good portrait photographer is usually better than the people they work with. To be good, you have to be able to roll with every client to make them "look/be" better. Otherwise wouldn't we only be average and not good?