In an industry where marketing strategy and professional branding are needed to survive and to “make it” fiscally, we are missing something that should define our artistic craft. Just like in any other industry, collaboration is not an ideal that limits photographers, but one that can propel us personally and professionally. Understanding that photography is not usually seen as a “team sport”, how can we collaborate with each other while retaining our individuality as visual artists?
Here are 8 ways to work with other photographers
#1 Photos – create something together
To varying degrees, we are each protective of our images. We watermark. We utilize Google’s image search function to ensure that our work is not being borrowed. We even occasionally check to see that the photographer down the road is not emulating our brand, or photographic style. Yet, with a bit of deep thinking and reflection, we should understand that there is little in the photographic world that is fresh or new. Realizing this, we are able to detach a bit from our work and open our minds to the possibility of collaborating in the production of photographs.
One example of collaborative creation can be found in the work of Francisco Diaz (USA) and Deb Young (New Zealand). The pair work continually on their appropriately titled The International Collaboration Project that crosses borders and photographic norms. Frank “wondered if disparate individuals from countries halfway around the world could work together in real time as a positive model for creation rather than destruction.” Diaz and Young’s project proves that not only a positive model of creation exists, but that photographers can work together to produce meaningful imagery collaboratively.
#2 Assist another photographer
Owning your own photography business has many perks. Yet, working for someone else does not mean that you have degraded yourself or your position as a pro shooter. Working for someone can be likened to helping. By assisting a fellow photographer, you not only have the chance to learn a new technique, you have the opportunity to give back to the photographic community. With the right attitude, experienced shooters can prove to be amazing assistants and can aid their comrades.
#3 Pose for another photographer
You don’t have to be a hundred pound, six-foot bombshell to be a model. Posing for a fellow photographer is incredibly helpful for both you and the shooter. Your collaborator will be able to test new techniques (such as posing and lighting) with a patient model. Moreover, as a photographer, you will be accepting, and let faux pas like chimping (reviewing the screen after every click of the shutter) slide. Perhaps the most important perk of modelling is that you get the opportunity to see how your own clients feel posing and being directed by a photographer. This empathetic exercise will have immediate benefit as you transition back to photographer.
#4 Constructive Critique
Fairly regularly, friendly photographers and I sit down with a coffee or beer to share and critique our recent work. In addition, each participant shows work that they are currently inspired by. In this way, members of the group gain valuable feedback from their respected peers, and have the chance to view their work from an alternate perspective. Additionally, there is an opportunity to learn about inspirational industry professionals (or hobbyists). By constructively acknowledging one another’s work, we collaboratively prompt each other to improve our craft.
#5 Trade services with another photographer
Every weekend we clean and pack our kits to meet clients for sessions, or to head out to shoot personal work. Yet, when was the last time the camera was pointed at you and your loved ones? Sure, quality photographic services can be expensive (just check your own pricing guide). Why not reach out to other photographers and propose trades? Fellow photographer Dylan Goldby (Welkinlight Photography) and I do just that. We both receive portrait packages of our loved ones that would normally cost hundreds of dollars. Yet, with a collaborative mindset, those lifestyle packages become free.
#6 Send referrals to other photographers
It is important to try multiple genres of photography (landscape, architecture, lifestyle, fashion, nudes, etc.). However, if you have already honed your craft and identified your photographic niche, don’t gobble up every assignment that comes your way. If approached by a client but your “competition” shoots the genre or project better than you, send the client their way. I repeat, send your competition assignments! I promise that practicing this habit will come back to benefit you in the end. Your competition will remember your kindness and return the favor. Generally speaking, those photographers who are considerate of their colleagues have an easier time filling their calendar.
#7 Share – gear and links
Gear is expensive and anyone with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) can testify that it is easy to see a zero bank account balance with one trip to B&H or your local camera store. There is a more economical option of renting gear from a photographic supply store, or better yet, borrow gear from fellow photographers. Need a Wescott Apollo Orb for a studio session? Simple, ask a fellow photographer. Keep in mind that it will soon enough be your turn to lend.
Hint: Under no circumstance should you lend gear to shooters you don’t trust or know well. Also, be sure to add extra care when handling gear that is not yours.
Yet, sharing isn’t limited to material goods. From name-dropping in casual conversation, to displaying the work of others on your Facebook photography page, spread the work of others. By sharing the work of fellow photographers, you are helping generate camaraderie and showing that you are not solely self-interested. An excellent model of this practice can be found in the fine art photographer Mark Eaton. Pulling up Mark’s blog, it is immediately obvious that Mark cares just as much about supporting his fellow photographers, as he does his print sales.
When was the last time you taught someone something? There is an indescribably satisfying feeling gained when you share knowledge. Let’s face it. Everything we know about photography, we were taught. There is no such thing as a “self taught” photographer. Learned about lighting on YouTube? Guess what, a fellow pro took the time to make that YouTube tutorial.
We each have the responsibility to pay knowledge forward. Teaching photographic skills and strategies to others will not increase competition (remember, it takes more than technical expertise to distinguish an accomplished photographer). Take an amateur, or less experienced photographer, on a photo walk. Write a tutorial detailing a technique you use. Instruct a workshop at a local community center. Who knows, you might enjoy teaching so much that this aspect of collaboration becomes part of your business plan. Examples of photographers turned teachers can be found in the great workshops offered by Flash Light Expeditions or the tailored Southeast Asian tours led by fellow dPS contributor Etienne Bossot.
While many of us feel that photography and artistic creation are solitary actions, we should be careful not to isolate ourselves in our vast industry. No man (or woman) is an island. By collaborating with fellow photographers, the opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally, is limitless.
Have you tried any of these things? Do you have other ideas of tips on how to collaborate? Please share in the comments below.