How to Get the Most Out of Collaborative Shoots? - Marketing For Photographers - Northern California Engagement Photographer

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Collaborations. There’s a lot of different ideas surrounding whether investing time early on into a lot of collaborations are worthwhile or not. Personally, I don’t know a single photographer who decided they wanted to open up shop and automatically began booking incredible work and charging prices they could make a living on. As much as I wish it could be that way, there are a lot of steps photographers can take to get started in the photography industry - including collaborative photo projects.

Collaborations were one of the most important things that I did early on to help me grow my business quickly, improve my skills, and express my creativity. But let’s be clear, I didn’t just take free photos for anyone who asked, I was very strategic about my collaborations which ended up being a great marketing tool for when I was ready to go full time.

Here’s a few tips to help you get the most out of your collaborative shoots when you’re starting out:

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  1. Shoot as much as you can. 

When you start entering the world of photography, so much is exciting and new and fun and also overwhelming - like there is a LOT to learn.

Well, you don’t need me to tell you the more you shoot, the better you get. My first year in business, I shot a TON of collaborative work before I started getting paid and even as I started to get paid work, I used my extra days to collaborate and continue portfolio building.

Not only did I get so much better putting in the hours behind the camera, but I was able to get my work seen by a much wider audience. The fun thing about collaborations is that - unless you tell people - they don’t know whether you got paid or not. So if you are putting out good work and people are speaking highly of you, people will keep you in mind for the future when they need to hire a photographer. Even if they aren't hiring right now, you are planting the seeds so in two months or even three years when they need a photographer, you’ll be the first in their minds.

2. Shoot with as many different people as you can.

While we all have that one friend/sibling/acquaintance that we love to shoot with, it’s really important to branch out. Think of it this way… If you were to shoot with 10 people who were all in the same friend group, when they share the photos you take, they are most likely reaching a smaller audience of their friends and family and random acquaintances. If you shoot with 10 people who are from completely different friend groups/cities/workplaces/etc and they post your photos, you will be reaching a much wider audience since there will be less overlap in who they know.

It can be pretty intimidating to reach out to people you might not know well or at all, but it’s a great way to get your name out a lot faster. And get better at working with people you don’t know - which is a super important skill for photographers.

When I started shooting, I was intentional about shooting with a wide variety of people. I worked with friends from high school who were different ages and from different social groups, friends who went to different colleges, people I found on Instagram hashtags, local models and photographers (someday they’ll need a photographer too!). If you’re not sure where to start, try joining different facebook groups and posting about oppurtunities, check out hashtags and geotags on instagram for couples with cute style, go to a few photo meetups, or even ask your friends for recommendations.

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3. Take Advantage of that Creative Freedom

When money is taken out of the equation, there is a lot less pressure involved. When no-one is getting paid, it’s usually just a fun, creative experience. Plus, it’s a good opportunity to utilize other people’s creativity. Some of my absolute favorite shoots have been collaborations where my couple or model brought something totally their own to the session - whether that was awesome styling, a unique idea, amazing props, etc. Combining creativity and strengths can make for some epic photos.

4. Do work that mirrors what you want to get paid for & show clients why you’re worth hiring

If one day you want to book adventurous mountain top elopements but no-one is ready to pay you yet, collaborations are a great way to show people that is something you can do and, most importantly, that you can do well. Most travel photographers will tell you that they didn’t start out traveling the world making tons of money. A lot travelled on their own dime, gave major discounts, or just worked to set up shoots in the places they travelled personally. But once people saw that it was something they were willing to do and excelled at, people wanted to hire them because they started to see them as the expert. Don’t be suprised if no-one is booking you for adventurous elopements when your site is full of urban engagements. While you might be amazing for those elopements, how can your client know if they’ve never seen it? 

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5. Use this as an excuse to practice techniques (on camera and off) and learn how to create an amazing experience for paying clients.

Not only will you improve communication skills, posing/prompting, interacting with people while fixing camera settings and all of that, but you’ll have the oppurtunity to try things out. I’ve tried out lots of ideas that didn’t work, so when a client came to me ready to pay me for my work, I had a good idea of what to do and especially what NOT to do. Collaboration build confidence and competence and allow you to grow. 

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6. Tell People How to Properly Tag

Let’s be honest - one of the most important reasons for doing collaborative work early on is to get your name out. So if people aren't tagging you, then there’s not a whole lot of return on investment.

It’s important to educate people early on and set expectations - trust me, this will be something you will want to do with clients as well! Some people don’t realize how much of a bummer it is to miss out on photo credit or how heartbreaking it can be to see a filter on that photo you spent so long editing. And that’s okay, because honestly a lot of people don’t know any better. But you can (and should) educate them.

At the end of a collaboration, I am super clear on how I’d like my fellow collaborators to use the photos. I usually say something along the lines of… “I just ask that if you post any of the photos - which I would love you to do - that you could tag me! It really helps get my name out and grow my business. Also, please don’t edit or throw filters on the photos. I work hard editing the photos and want the photos to be a true representation of my work.” Because let’s be honest, if they bump up the contrast and saturation, any referrals you might get will not be coming to you for your authentic style. It’s always best to overeducate and avoid any awkwardness that might come from having to tell them after the fact!

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ONE LAST NOTE - Don’t feel you have to offer free work to anyone who comes along in the beginning. Collaborations are exactly what they sound like - collaborative - and should be used for creative purposes - not just as an excuse for someone to save on a photo session. If you’re not sure, my rule of thumb is that if I am reaching out to someone, then I make it clear that I am interested in collaboration and try to send them a mood board or my basic ideas to make sure we’re all on the same page. Make it clear what you are looking for to save you both time and any awkwardness. If people come to me and ask for my services then I send out my prices! It can be scary to ask people to pay you for your art at first, but we all have to make a living so take the leap of faith and learn how to make money doing what you love!

Do you guys have any more questions about the wonderful world of collaborating? If you do, feel free to comment below! 

Thanks to the models in all the collaborations above!

Sunflowers -Hayley & Jake

Cherry Blossoms - Tommy & Cailyn

Flower Field - Riya & Mirthica

Airplanes - Madison & Cody

Chesapeake Bay Photos - Bridget & Ian

Flowers - Dev

Auburn Outdoorsy Photos - Diana & Andrei