When it comes to business, the word-of-mouth referral is still king (or queen). Obviously, your past clients will be a great source of referrals, but one of the best sources of leads for a working photographer is to get referrals from other suppliers. But what can you do to make sure that you are the first business on the lips of local suppliers? The simple answer is to work with them. The best way to do this is with styled photo shoots.
Now, as I mainly work in wedding photography, I will base this article on wedding suppliers. However, this can easily transfer over to portraits and, with a little imagination, various other fields of photography.
How do I begin?
Well the first stage is a portfolio – this is key to working with suppliers. They will want to know that you can deliver the images and that they aren’t wasting their time (and in many cases money) working with you.
What do I mean by their money?
Well, a wedding dress will generally need dry cleaning after a shoot, a florist will have to prepare flowers for the shoot that will die pretty soon afterward. Also, a venue will have to turn down bookings for the day that you hold the shoot there.
Obviously, there are time factors involved for everyone (including you), so bear this in mind. You will tend to work after the shoot on editing, whereas others will be working in the lead up to the day.
If you don’t have a portfolio, you can use friends and family to create your own styled photo shoots. Use a venue you have access to, and minimize your outlay in other ways too. Use supermarket flowers instead of paying for styled bouquets, for example. It’s a hard reality, but without work that you can show people, you won’t get very far.
You have to remember that these people are professionals. Most people do not have time to risk on a styled photo shoot with somebody with no portfolio. It takes time to build, but it is not a stage you can skip.
Next is the hard part for some, contact a supplier you want to work with. I generally find email works best. Politely offer to meet up (I also bribe them with cake) and discuss an idea you have for a styled photo shoot. Make sure you compliment them on their work and be charming and polite.
Be prepared for a lot of “thanks, but no thanks” or sometimes no reply at all. By all means, follow up with a short, polite email a few days later, but that’s it. Some people don’t have time, some have people they already work with, and some simply don’t like your style.
Grow a thick skin, accept it, and move on. Eventually, though, you will find someone willing to chat. Just be patient and try not to get down in the dumps with rejections. It’s nothing personal; it’s business.
The initial meeting
Congrats, you have someone interested. The next step is meeting up.
The important thing here is to go with ideas, but be flexible. Always send a courtesy text or email the day before. A little tip is to call them when you are nearby and see if they want a coffee bringing in, or turn up with some treats. It’s just a nice thing to do, and, personally, I always remember people who give me free treats!
You will probably be nervous, but remember, they wouldn’t have come if they didn’t want to be involved. Talk over ideas and develop an outline plan. If they agree, you are on your way! Always follow meetings up with an email so that everyone is clear about what the idea is.
If you are starting out, a great way to expand your network is to ask the person you’re meeting if they have other suppliers they work with, people who model for them before, etc. Not only does this save you some hassle, but it expands your network as the other suppliers are being introduced to you by someone they trust.
Reading that last sentence back, it sounds like the wedding industry equivalent of the mafia.
Once you have one…
Once you have one supplier on board, it always seems to get easier. Your initial supplier may recommend some other people to involve. Alternatively, you can now email people telling them “Brand X and I are planning a styled photo shoot…”.
Pretty soon, things will come together and you will have a team of people on board. Now comes the hard parts.
Having a group of people wanting to work on a project is great. But, now comes the hard part – coordinating them all!
This can be a nightmare.
My advice is to set up a chat on your social media of choice, where everyone can chime in.
The most important part of the coordination is sorting out a date that works for everyone, which can be a nightmare in itself. There is no advice I can give here. You simply need to throw out dates until you can all agree.
There can be a case for swapping out a supplier if one person cannot make a date. But it is hard to tell people who have committed that you need to look for someone else who is more available.
Patience is key. Be prepared to keep working until you get the date.
Plan B (and C and D)
Problems are par for the course on styled photo shoots, no matter how amazing the final images look across social media.
In my experience, models are most likely to drop out of shoots first, but it can be anyone at any time, for any reason. Try to plan for issues as best as you can. What will you do if it rains on the day you planned your outdoor shoot? Not a problem, you have 3 more dates locked in for such things. What happens if you turn up to your woodland location, and there is a cycle race? (This actually happened to me.) Not a problem, you have two other locations where you can shoot.
Problems can (and will) occur. Just plan for them and be prepared to change to plan B at a moment’s notice. Usually, you can overcome these problems, but only with planning. Speaking of…
Entertaining everyone’s ideas
You need to nail down the overarching theme for the shoot quickly. The person who organizes the shoot (i.e., you) will decide on the theme and its use when initially chatting about the plan.
Once decided, Pinterest is a godsend. Set up a shared board, then get everyone to add things to it. From here, you can all pick a favorite selection to become the final mood-board.
Things will need to be flexible, as everyone has a slightly different vision. Just make sure that everyone feels part of this process. By being invested in the planning stages, people tend to bring their A-game to the final shoot. Make sure everyone is on board, has had their say, and you have come to the final vision together.
Show them who’s boss (or know who is)
Somebody has to be the boss, and as the photographer, often people will look to you for guidance or to take charge. Be firm, but accommodating. You need to be the one to smooth things out when the stylist brings something floral she really wants in the shoot. Or the makeup artist tweaks the hair just a little. People can get stressed, and as the person in charge, your job is to keep everyone relaxed and keep the shoot rolling.
You are part teacher, part parent, part best friend to everyone on the shoot. Just be mindful of everyone’s feelings and try your best.
Now, this may not be your strong suit. You may agree that someone else takes needs to take the lead, but you do need to make sure someone is in charge of final decisions. Otherwise, the little issues can end up in an argument, and everything will go downhill from there.
One of the key things you need to do is get everyone’s details. You need a list of all suppliers, all their social media links, all websites, etc. because everyone who worked on the project should get be credited with any use of the images. Be sure that everyone agrees to this before they use the images.
On the day
Hopefully, everyone turns up at the right time and the right location. Depending on your shoot, you may have all of the suppliers stay for the whole shoot or just a few of them. Obviously, it can be nerve-racking shooting with people around (especially when starting out), but it is something you need to get used to.
Remember, you are the expert (even if you don’t feel like it), and you will create images that everyone loves. Think positively, act positively, and believe in yourself. As a pessimistic introvert, I find this hard, but there is no alternative. Be charming, polite, helpful, and try not to let any panic show.
Once on the shoot, you need to work smoothly. You may be panicking, and the camera may be having a meltdown. Internalize it! No matter what happens, you need to come across with an air of calm and show that everything is fine. Even if you are not the person taking charge of the shoot, as the photographer, you are the person who is in charge of the final product.
Before you shoot, take your time and make sure you are happy with the lighting, etc. Lastly, make sure that you check the details. There is nothing worse than realizing somebody left a plastic bag in the background of the shot that you didn’t notice. Just check carefully and try not to get carried away.
Whilst I would not advise showing every shot to those on the shoot, I would advise to show them some that you nail. Especially early on. By doing this, it shows everyone you have got some great images, and it will relax everyone, yet make them work harder. Always check with the model too. Make sure they are happy with the photos. They may notice some things that you miss. They also tend to relax when they see the first photo of the shoot they like.
After the event
Get the images to everyone for picks as soon as you can after the shoot. It is tempting to put all images up and let people choose, but if you are not careful, you can end up with people all choosing different shots and leaving you with a mammoth editing job.
Really trim the images down. I aim for around 40 maximum from a styled shoot. This way, I put out images that I love. If you add images you are not sure about, someone will choose it as a favorite, and you will regret adding it to the initial edit.
From here, get everyone to make some selections. The key is to ask people to choose 3-5 each that they love. That way, you are not left with a massive editing job. If you tell everyone to pick as many as they wish, you will generally end up having to edit about 90% of the images you show them.
When it comes to editing, start with the ones that multiple people have chosen, then work your way through the rest. Again, the key here is letting everyone know where you are up to.
Try to get a few out straight away, but if life or work stops you from being able to edit the rest quickly, just let everyone know. They will be understanding. But if you don’t let them know, they will begin to wonder. Communication is key in a styled photo shoot, from the first conversation to the delivery of the last image.
When you share images, make sure you credit everyone. Make sure you do exactly what you said you would and make sure that you check everyone is happy. That way, it leaves a good lasting impression, which is what you want.
What do you get?
There is a lot of time, effort, and occasional headaches involved in a styled photo shoot. Is it worth it? Yes.
The aim of this is to spread your name. If the dress shop has an appointment the next day, they may strike up a conversation about photography. If they do, they will likely speak of you. If you do a good job, your name will be the first one that comes up whenever they discuss photographers.
You will be seen on several companies’ social media, which again can turn into followers and customers.
Most importantly, you are putting your name out there as someone who takes great photos, is great to work with and you are widening your network. It may not count as money in the bank straight away, but it will eventually.
The more people who know your name, the more people will speak it. The more who speak it, the better known you become. Add in the fact that they will speak of you in high regard (if you delivered on the shoot), and you have a recipe for success.
Have you worked on styled photo shoots with others? What was your experience? Share with us in the comments section below.