As a budding professional photographer, you should know by now that the key to attracting future potential clients is to have a well-rounded and eye-catching portfolio. To create a stunning portfolio eventually you’ll need to reach out to your industry peers and seek their help. Collaborating with others in the same field of creative work as you can be rewarding, but sometimes overwhelming. In this article I am going to go over how to reach out to other industry professionals and the expectations on working with a collaborative team.

Knowing Where You Stand

It’s easy as an aspiring photographer to want to jump in right away and start shooting with top models and other professionals, but hold on cowboy, before you start emailing modeling agencies looking to test their models there’s something you should know: You have to possess the work to back up your desires. I’ve seen far too many budding photographers get discouraged when they reach out to agencies only to be rejected for test shooting. You need to already be an established photographer before an agency will let you shoot their models for test shoots.

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BTS shot of Jess Guidry in Dallas, Texas

Don’t disparage when I say words like “established” or “experienced.” Being experienced and the amount of time you have been shooting are not necessarily mutually inclusive. I’ve met some photographers who only have a few months of shooting under their belt that have amazing work and then I’ve met some photographers who have been shooting upwards of 20+ years and their work is still quite lacking. If you know your photography needs a little bit more work or you’re just learning, then trying to book a professional model for a trade shoot is probably not going to work out.

If you don’t know if you’re coming off as creepy to a model or not, chances are you’re probably a total creeper.

Trade Vs. Paid

There is a common misconception that just because a model has done trade work in the past that she’ll trade with any photographer. I have personally seen photographers become genuinely insulted when a model says no to trade work or tries to give the photographer his/her rates. Models are not work mules, and the more professional they are the less they’ll be as eager to work with aspiring photographers. They know their worth, just as we all should. They’re only going to collaborate with someone that they know will be worth the time and energy expended. All trade work should be mutually beneficial for both parties. If not, then the party with the most to gain from the shoot might be either turned down for that trade work or asked to pay the other party’s rate, which is not only fair, but should be expected.

So, when you approach a model with an offer for a collaborative project and she declines with a “No, thank you. I’m not interested at this time.” The worst thing you could possibly do to not only your career, but also your personal growth as a photographer is to get offended. You should never assume what another person’s motivations are for declining an offer. Perhaps they’re completely booked, maybe they’re taking a break from modeling and are concentrating on other aspects of their lives, or they can see that perhaps your skill set needs a little bit more fine tuning.

You should never assume what another person’s motivations are for declining an offer.

When I first started shooting in my local community there was one particular model that I was itching to shoot, Sara (George) Longoria. She had experience on “America’s Next Top Model” and was one of the more professional models in the area. When I first approached her I was very politely turned down. I took the rejection with as much grace as possible and worked on honing my skills instead with other more inexperienced models. A few years later after I had built a style and brand for myself I approached her again and she accepted my offer. Now, she is a great friend, professional ally, and my go-to model for my experimental personal projects.

Don’t be THAT Guy

I know that this has been said multiple times in a multitude of different ways, but guys… don’t be creepy when approaching a model. If you go straight to a model asking for inappropriate snapshots or ask if she does nudes right off the bat, expect to be either ignored or brushed off in less-polite ways by the model. If you don’t know if you’re coming off as creepy to a model or not, chances are you’re probably a total creeper. The worst is when you are insistent on getting a model to work with you and can’t take no for an answer. A model should have the right to say “No” without being questioned on why or guilt tripped into working with you. Learn to take rejection with grace, because you’ll be facing a ton of rejection throughout your career.

I don’t know how many times I have to say this, but models are people that are not there solely for photographers’ whims and fancies. They are not property and you don’t own them or their services. Sure, they can be muses to your work, but you should never assume that a model will only model just for you. It would be a disservice to their careers. So don’t be “that guy” or become saddled with the title of “GWC” or “Guy With Camera.”


Working with MUAs (makeup artists) and Hair Stylists

To really start producing high-quality personal projects, eventually you’ll need to bring in other people to your collaborative art team. The most obvious choice would be bringing in a makeup artist and hair stylist. Sometimes they’re one and the same, and other times they’re separate. It’s like photography and videography; there are some people that tackle both and some (like myself) that only offer photography. It’s the same concept. I cannot stress how important it is to utilize professional makeup artists into your portfolio work. If you rely on the model or subject to take care of their own makeup it could very easily lead to a conflicting look for your project and extra added time to post-production which you want to avoid at all costs.


Deshea Exclusive by: Heather Deshea Harrison

Now, the question that gets kicked around a lot on social media is: Should MUAs/Hairstylists do portfolio/collaborative work for free?

The answer is very simple: Never.

As photographers and models we are contributing our time, our skill set and creativity to a shoot. MUAs (and hairstylists) offer the same, as well, but they in comparison use consumable product. That makeup kit that they’re lugging around costs money and sometimes some serious dough. Have you ever walked into Sephora and tried shopping there? If not, I suggest you do, especially if you’re a male photographer and don’t have a very good understanding of how much makeup costs. I can walk out of a Sephora and have spent over $200 easily on three products of makeup. Now you may be wondering what’s the difference between our photo equipment and their makeup kit. While we do spend quite a bit on equipment, for the most part it isn’t consumable. MUAs are constantly having to replacing items in their kit and that can lead to quite an investment. A lens will last us years, a lipstick will only last a few weeks for them.

As photographers we’re so quick to jump on the “F*ck You, Pay Me” train, but when another industry professional asks us to pay for a portfolio project, it’s asinine. Do you see the hypocrisy?

Most professional MUAs tend to have kit fees for collaborative work. Kit fees are discounted rates for their services that are set aside for working collaboratively with other people in the industry. The fees will vary depending on the experience of the MUA and the quality of makeup in their kit. If the MUA is using products from a local drugstore, expect that kit fee to be considerably less than someone whose kit has high-end brands like Urban Decay, Dior, Stila, and Chanel.

One of the things that I hear in my local community that irritates me to no end is that a MUA will be approached for free work in exchange for the finished photos and that MUA will inform the photographer of their kit fee only to be mocked or scoffed at. If you do this… stop now. You as the photographer are approaching them for a discounted rate and if you’re expecting free work then automatically you’re disrespecting that artist.

Drop the entitlement.

As photographers we’re so quick to jump on the “F*ck You, Pay Me” train, but when another industry professional asks us to pay for a portfolio project, it’s asinine. Do you see the hypocrisy?

If you do agree on their kit fee, please pay it in advance and in full before the shoot. Just like their clients and your clients have to pay a retainer the same should be said for their collaborative work as well. I should also mention that if you do pay a kit fee you still need to be open to their ideas and opinions on the project.  It is called a collaborative project for a reason. If you approach a makeup artist with a very specific look or idea and are not open to input or changes then expect to pay the MUAs full rate. The only exception to this rule is when a MUA is donating her time to a good cause, which should never be confused for your personal, portfolio building, project. Obviously if a MUA is offering their services for free then that’s their prerogative, but never assume or feel entitled that they should. 

Final Thoughts

To wrap this up, the main point I wanted to raise awareness of is expectations. We all can have different expectations on how things should work when collaborating with other industry professionals at the beginning, but if you take the time to understand mutual worth and respect in the industry the more approachable you become as a photographer. You should always aim to be as approachable as possible to people you feel are worthy of your skill level and even to those you don’t. You never know how that person might develop over time and kindness goes a long way.

The main point I wanted to raise awareness of is expectations.

I find that as an industry, we tend to grow our art styles and experience together. If you approach models and other industry artists as equally important pieces of your projects and with respect, you’ll quickly learn that it will be returned. Learning to work with others in your field of work can not only help you build a well-rounded portfolio, but your reputation, as well. Your reputation is your biggest attribute and nurturing relationships within your industry will only positively affect it.

[Feature Image: Rebecca Thiemke shot by: Rebecca Britt Photography]