First things first, personal work is incredibly important. Client work often pays the bills but the most fundamental personal development you’re going to experience is when you take your vision and execute it. I would say that applies to just about anyone and certainly to photographers.
Why is personal work so important? Well for starters it helps you decide your direction, execute your vision as mentioned, figure out your style and make mistakes in a safe environment. Clients don’t want to wait for you to “figure things out” while you’re on the clock and their dollars are the fuel keeping the shoot going. When you’re on your own though? Experiment! Try and try again! Fail and then try some more until it feels right.
Clients are what we all crave and no photographer, especially one starting out, will complain at finding themselves on a client shoot with a budget behind it. Just because you’re being paid to execute the client's project scope doesn’t mean you’re being paid to contribute to the concept though. We can share our opinions and perspectives but it’s ultimately up to the client how far they want to push the creative envelope. Doesn’t sound fun for you? Well, tough luck! Become super famous and maybe you’ll get a little more sway on client shoots and with respect to the mood boards. Until then though, you guessed it: personal work! You are the client, you are the boss, you are the photographer… you do what you want and you can keep doing it until it feels right. There is no truer definition of the word freedom when it comes to having a creative license to explore. Besides, personal work lets you build a portfolio of your own vision, leading to jobs that you would actually like to shoot. Now isn’t being paid to shoot what you love the dream goal?
So what does this have to do with traveling? It’s not click-bait, I swear. I absolutely love traveling and as a creative, it opens my eyes to see more things which ends up inspiring my work. The different cultures, landscapes, and architecture have their own beauty that I don't see back here in my home country. Not that my home doesn’t have its unique elements to tap into, but new is always fun and new is always inspirational. I would imagine everyone can relate to that (unless you live in some gorgeous rolling scenic mountain area!)
This is why as a fashion photographer, I always try to plan my own shoots whenever I travel. Being able to do new work with a whole different pool of talents, with a different background to shoot in always adds something new and interesting to my portfolio. It can be intimidating for sure, and sometimes there are unforeseeable road bumps, but the results are always worth it. Learning how people work in different countries, how they approach their shoots and trying to take little lessons away that I can work into my own toolbox is always exciting.
Planning a shoot overseas is fairly similar to when you are first starting out. Contact the local modeling agencies to let them know that you are interested to test with their models. Find makeup artists and stylists to work with. You can either find them from creative agencies or just some straight up Googling. Sites like Model Mayhem or even avenues like Instagram are all viable options. You have to remember that these people are also interested in expanding their portfolio so you aren’t begging, you are collaborating.
Equipment wise, bring what you can and rent the rest. It’ll be a good lesson on working with as little gear possible. Sometimes I've gone on a shoot with just my camera and reflector. Do your research on locations or contact locals for their opinions. They usually know the best secret spots that aren’t filled with tourists. Just because you are a tourist does not mean you can’t walk away with some really authentic images.
This was shot during my first trip to NYC. I had gotten a big job earlier in 2014 and used the money earned plus savings to fund a trip to NYC to push my portfolio further. In the span of a couple of weeks, I had done 6 shoots so it was a busy and productive trip to say the least. And I try to always shoot on location while traveling. For this shoot, I had emailed in to Grand Central Station to ask if I could use their venue for a shoot. To be completely honest, I did not expect a yes but yay me for asking anyway. Emailing is free after all. This image actually got me a Gold in the Graphis awards.
On the same trip, I had also contacted a really good hair stylist and we had a shoot planned. He then contacted me before our shoot to ask if I would like to shoot another model as he knows her and she was available. That gave me the opportunity to work with gorgeous albino model, Diandra Forrest. We also did that particular shoot on a yacht so that was quite the experience.
The family on my Dad's side is from Hong Kong so whenever I travel there, there's a place for me stay. I honestly should go there more often but anyway, on my last try there I contacted a local stylist to ask if she would be interested to work together. She agreed and with her contacts, got me the opportunity to shoot for Cosmopolitan Hong Kong. We shot at a wetland area that was pretty far out from the city on the recommendation of the stylist, a location I would not have otherwise known about.
Israel was another place that I have had the wonderful opportunity to travel to. At the beginning, I found it very difficult to plan a shoot as I did not speak Hebrew and my emails were not getting replied to. However, I finally found a stylist, contacted him through Facebook and he was able to get the whole team together for me along with suggestion the shoot location. It really went perfectly.
Now on my second trip to NYC, my then boyfriend, now husband came along. Obviously I put him to use and rented an astronaut outfit so he could be part of my shoot.
Also, because I already had a contact from Cosmopolitan HK, I reached out to them again to see if they were interested in working with me while I was in NYC. Thankfully they were and having a magazine backing helped in getting a very high quality team. Everybody loves being published!
I was also very honored when Profoto gave me an opportunity to travel to Stockholm, Sweden for their newest product launch, the A1. Obviously I wanted to test it out more while I was there so I extended my trip and planned 3 photoshoots over my 5 day holiday. Profoto kindly loaned me some equipment and I did another shoot for Cosmopolitan HK and two for my lifestyle portfolio. What an absolutely stunning and photogenic city!
Stockholm had a magically gorgeous garden called the Djurgarden and I would shoot there everyday if I could. Served as a fantastic place for some lifestyle images.
All these images make a huge part of my portfolio and I hope you see the benefits of it and are inspired to do your own shoots when you travel too. I know that this article is a little more focused on fashion photography as that's my main genre but I believe in every genre you do such as portraits or architecture, you will benefit from shooting out of your home country.
Get great images, make new friends, further develop your skills and walk away with a deeper set of tools to work with. Its win-win all around!