(shh don’t pass it on)
I’ve had comments from fellow photographers who have admired my ability to beg, borrow and steal the talents of the creative world for my photoshoots, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences in this regard.
My first ever shoot was a bridal themed shoot to get some photos to help promote the wedding side of my business. As part of this I cast my net wide for models and approached a number of different bridal suppliers. The model casting sites, Purestorm and Model Mayhem provided a flood of potential candidates, from which I selected 6 and 5 turned up in the end for the shoot. The begging e-mails found traction with one dress shop and the owner was kind enough to loan some of her dresses, accessories and even to come along and help style the shoot. So the photographs turned out well, I shared them with all concerned, as had been agreed and all was well.
During the process of searching for models, I’d found out about an event held at Dreghorn Photography Studio in Glasgow for Red Nose Day. They’d roped in some models, a designer, MUA etc. and organised a shoot that photographers could donate and join. Once again, being presentable, sociable and sharing the results lead to some general goodwill. One model from the event was involved in setting up an events company, now sadly defunct, and was seeking photographers for her upcoming fashion show.
Once again, I turned up, took pictures, shared with those involved. This lead to some more contacts with those involved in the show. In particular sharing the resulting images with some of the designers built up some further goodwill and thus began my fall into fashion.
A few more fashion shows under my belt and my network of designer contacts is quite wide. A few more shoots and the makeup artists and models involved in shoots have also blossomed into a wide range of acquaintances in the field.
I even talk to other photographers sometimes.
Did all this networking cost me money? Well, yes, the time to pop in and chat with folk as you’re passing, the back and forth to arrange collection and return of garments and then the shoots themselves are all in the negative column as far as expenses are concerned. I’m not a regular attendee at the fashionable clubs and gatherings, so I try to target who I contact and when. Catch them early and the goodwill is there for the future.
Did all this networking make money? No, not necessarily. But then, this aspect of my photography was not entered into so much for it’s return as for the love of being able to do creative things and broaden my skills, which feeds through into those shoots, weddings and events where I do get paid.
So my tips for networking.
If you help someone don’t assume that that gives you a right to get help. It does no harm to ask (politely) and move on if the answer’s no.
Don’t ignore folk. Just because you may not want to talk to person A, you don’t know who they talk to and the world of fashion in Scotland is a narrow one, with several cliques that keep in close contact with each other, with some designers crossing the divide between cliques. Be nice, don't spread gossip (an amusing anecdote doesn't always travel well by Chinese whisper)
Don’t burn bridges. If you take pictures at a show and someone would like them for their portfolio, work out a way to share the images, with appropriate credits. After the newspapers, magazines or other press have had their fill (usually from their own representatives), it’s unlikely that you would make money from these shots and better to share and make folk aware of you (in a good way) than not.
Don’t diss the competition. Once again, it is a smaller world than you might think, don’t name names or gossip (beyond the usual exchanges of news).
Be respectful. If some designer does decide that you are worthy of borrowing their wares, then be grateful, treat the clothes with respect, don’t damage them and make sure they are safely returned. If there’s likely to be any delays in sharing images, returning clothes or suchlike, then make sure everybody knows it before the shoot, not 2 months later. If the designer requests a deposit or security for the loan, then this is perfectly understandable, given their own investments in their products.
Be respectful. Makeup artists and hair stylists, working TF or paid, have usually trained for some time in their art. You need to give a clear brief if it’s your shoot and make sure they know what is expected of them. Once again, sharing the results for their portfolios (paid or tf, I still think there is room for portfolio sharing as long as it is clear what usages are allowed) is important. If you don’t like the look they’ve created, don’t be afraid to speak up, just do it gently, with grace and humour and make sure that you don’t critique the model’s makeup in a way that will make the model uncomfortable.
Be respectful. Models are skilled workers too, some more than others admittedly, but treating them with respect before, during and after shooting is an essential part of being respected in turn. Some models may surpass you and drop off your radar or some may drop below your own, but this does not mean you should ever treat them without respect.
Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t reply or just says no. People have busy lives and are often approached from several directions at once, whether they be designers, models, makeupartists or other creatives. They may have actively decided not to reply to you, but this does not make them evil people, even if it can be frustrating sometimes.
Plan and inform. Providing your creative team with a clear plan, good information about the shoot, the aim of the shoot, the post shoot timelines and the usages for the images are all good practices. But all plans must be flexible, don’t throw too much of a hissy fit if something does go awry. I myself do tend to overplan sometimes, but at least it ensures that everybody involved in my shoots knows what’s going on, except when I don't of course.
Networking. Make the most of networking events and social gatherings. Stay for the after parties if you’re invited and if you can. Mix and mingle, don’t be afraid to talk to folk and don’t stand in a corner with the three people you know and ignore the rest of the room. Once again, be nice, be pleasant, be approachable. While you need to promote you as the centre of attention, try not to be boastful, at least amidst a British crowd, different cultures have different norms.
I am rubbish with names, but have a good memory for faces, so a nod and a smile of acknowledgement can at least place you in people’s memories when you knock on their door and ask to borrow their 2,000 GBP dress.
Talk to people. As a photographer you sometimes miss out on the gossip and chat of the makeup room but this does not mean that you can’t chat and joke with folk in between shots. Act the fool if required and be open to ideas from the other people involved. Bear in mind that your humour may not suit all occasions though, tone it down when shooting or dealing with people for the first time.
Remember. If you’ve spoken to people before or worked with them before. Reference your connections. If you have mutual acquaintances or have worked with fellow professionals you can use them as a point of reference for chatting. Avoid referencing random personal posts on FB, unless you know the person from before, as it can give an impression of cyber stalking!
Support. If you’ve had someone help you in your projects, don’t be shy in supporting them in theirs. I’m not advocating that you switch your belief system or work for free, but it does no harm to promote a fashion show on your facebook or share calls for help. Once again it’s all about the goodwill you sow that you might be able to reap in future.
Some of it is just luck. Being the right person in the right place who has the pictures and managed to find a gap in everybody’s schedule.
Be assertive. And no this doesn’t contradict the cry to be humble. Assertiveness is not about making demands of others. It is about a general positivity in your approach to your work and the people you deal with.
Don’t nag. Ask once or twice or every now and then, but try not to pepper people with mail/calls or posts.
Don’t bad mouth the folk who let you down. I have done a lot of my creative shoots on a TF basis, where those involved are seeking to generate some pictures that will improve or enhance their portfolios (or enhance their network of contacts in some cases). Part of this TF agreement is the understanding that sometimes the models, makeup artists and others might not be able to make it on the day of the shoot, due to other commitments. Take it on the chin and move on, don’t use it as an angry step to stamp on and berate the person who let you down. Yes it’s inconvenient, but this person was going to be giving up their time for your project, yes they would have got some images at the end of it, but just because it was important to you, doesn’t mean that they had the same emotional investment in the task. You can choose whether to work with someone again or not, if you have been let down, but you should not go out of your way to make that person’s life difficult or broadcast their unreliability. I must admit to being no angel in this regard, but I do try not to name names.
Having said that, if a fellow photographer asks me about a recommendation or referral for a specific person, then I will unemotionally discuss the cancellation. I will mention the degree of notice given and reason that was given for cancelling, without editorialising with my own observations, imaginations or comments. It's a small world, if you commit to something make sure there's a damned good reason for pulling out if you do.
So my rambling essay on networking basically boils down to be trustworthy, to be nice to folk, talk to folk, don’t be nasty to folk and trust folk. Or to sum it up even further "be excellent to each other."