I recently had the pleasure of going live on Instagram with my friend and fellow photographer, Logan Detty. I invited Logan to join me on live to discuss a topic I hear a lot of photographers and models talk about. When do I collaborate with someone vs when do I get paid for my work.
It’s something we all struggle with. Finding a way to balance out collaborative work with turning our passions into a career. And to be honest, there really isn’t an exact point where you just start getting paid every time for your work. Logan and I have both been in photography for many years and as we discussed during our live video, we both still do a large amount of collaborative work, and for good reason.
In order to start building a name for yourself in your area, you have to take on collaborative work locally, and a lot of it, as Logan says. Focusing on your surrounding area is extremely important because in the long run, that is where your client base will form. In my experience, collaborating has been an essential part to my growth as a creator and expanding my client base. Collaborating has allowed me to network, meet new talented people, and get in front of new audiences. At the same time, it’s a great way to increase the quality of your projects. By involving as many others as you can in your projects you can all gain something out of a shoot, ideally a piece that could be used in all of your portfolios. Whenever I do collaborations, I try to include models, makeup artists, stylists, and other photographers so that we have as much experience and expertise as possible. By combining everyones unique skill sets, it makes for a great way to create high quality imagery.
While everyones goal is to get paid for the work they do, it’s important to not get a big head about it. Collaborating and doing small things for others goes a long way. Logan told a really great story during our conversation: That same day, he had a client cancel due to weather, and shortly after had a mother of a young model reach out to him to see if he was available to shoot. This was a past client of his, and since his client for that day canceled, he decided to take on the shoot as a collaboration to fill in his day. At the end of the shoot, he was tipped $50, something he wasn’t expecting, but it was something that made a lasting impression on him. He said that $50 tip for his time and efforts meant more to him than any dollar amount he’s paid for commissioned work because it showed how much they valued him taking time to work with them. I followed up this story with the point that something as small as buying lunch or even a coffee for you project counterparts could make a huge difference in a shoot. It shows you have a mutual respect for the time they committed and the effort they put into the set. Word of a small act of kindness at a shoot will travel much faster than the word of the great photos that were created.
Logan then asked me who the majority of my clients were, and I knew exactly where he was going with it. The majority of my clients aren’t what you see on my Instagram feed. I specialize in portraiture and fashion work, which is what I like to show on social media, but the clients that pay my bills are businesses, brands, and other commercial projects. Logan said it was the same for his business as well. These clients receive the best of the best service, they take priority, and they always come before collaborative work. Collaborations have to be put on the back burner to paid work and that has to be understood for all parties involved. After all, we’re all working to turn this into a career.
We then transitioned into talking about how to move from all collaboration work to getting paid jobs. When I graduated from college, I felt like I should have immediately switched from working for free to getting paid for every shoot. Looking back on it, it was a pretty arrogant way to think. What I came to realize was that I hadn’t proved myself to anyone, I wasn’t able to show what I could offer people. I had to build up my reputation and show the value that I was able to provide. Logan then dropped another great point that you have to have the courage to set your price and charge. You can’t be afraid to lose out on shoots because someone won’t pay you, there will always be people looking for free shoots. You have to be able to say, “I understand, but sorry we won’t be able to make that work. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to set something up. Thank you for your interest.” That reminded me a video I’d watched on Gary Vee's YouTube channel (this one). In this video Chase Jarvis said something that stuck with me since I first watched it. He said that when you transition to a professional you either do work for free or you do it for full price, nothing in between. This makes sure you are in full control of the results of the project. You get to dictate your service and it won’t allow you to conform just to justify a shoot. Don’t get thirsty for the money. Know your worth and stick to it.
Logan made a suggestion that might help some of you out there struggling with getting started. To summarize his point, he said, don’t underestimate walking into a coffee shop and handing out business cards. He took this approach when he was getting started and to this day still does it. When he first started out, he set his prices dirt cheap, and planned to take on as many jobs as possible, and it worked. He booked tons of shoots and began to build his audience and platform on Instagram. He doesn’t believe that it’s a sustainable model for long term business building, but it did help him get the ball rolling into professional photography.
In your first few years don’t set expectations too high. It’s not likely you’ll have a highly profitable business in most cases. I myself will have months with very few paid shoots, and I find it really easy to get down on myself. Other months, I’ll be overbooked with paid shoots and I can tell I’m doing the right thing and heading in the right direction. A good way to begin pricing your work is to talk to other area talent, find out what they’re charging, and price yourself accordingly. Logan and myself both find it extremely important keep your pricing relative to others around you. If you price yourself too low, you may overwork yourself or find yourself not being able to profit off the amount of work you're doing, and if you price yourself too high, you may find it extremely hard to book clients.
Going live with Logan was a great conversation, I was super grateful to have him hop on with me to talk about this subject. There was definitely some really valuable points raised in our conversation. I hope whoever is reading this is gained something out of this post. Even if it was just one new thing, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction.
Also, if you’re not already, make sure to follow @logandettyphoto on Instagram, he consistently provides valuable information to people in his stories and live videos. Before we ended our live feed, Logan gave everyone a tool to help keep track of talent you want to work with in the future. Check out peoplemap.co and start creating lists of talented individuals that you could see yourself working with!
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, I hope you enjoyed!