To Collab or Not?

Hey friends!

I'm trying something a little new with this blog post. Instead of focusing on a location, I'm going to walk you through my experience collaborating with a talented group of Seattle artists and the work that went into creating this incredible styled wedding shoot at Discovery Park. Why? Because as you know, photography is a HUGE part of my life, and I feel like I've been neglecting that aspect a bit on here. Sure, I capture my adventures, but lifestyle photography is VERY different from a styled shoot, and although I do both, my adventures tend to make more of an appearance on here..

SO, with this post, I hope to open my shutter a bit to let you all into my crazy photographic mind to discover everything I do to prepare, perform and complete a styled shoot. I'll touch on everything from prep and inspo, to camera settings, lighting, and post-processing; so here we go!!

Hanit, a Seattle Girl Boss member, reached out to the Seattle Girl Bosses Facebook group with a styled wedding shoot collaboration idea.

Why Collaborate?

Why collaborate when you could possibly get paid? Read over these bullet points to understand why I'm a fan of collaborations:

  • Networking

  • If you're just starting out, collaborations are a great networking tool. By simply showing up and showcasing your professional approach to your art, you're already leaving a good impression on other creatives in the industry and therefore opening a door to so many future opportunities (and probably paid opportunities at that!).

  • It's also a good idea to share your images with your subjects and others in the collab following the shoot so they can share them on their social media platforms and website (giving you credit of course -it's important to mention that!). Their clients will see your work on their platforms and hopefully remember your name in the future! I'd recommend bringing along a casual contract for other collaborators to sign to ensure they give you credit for all shared images.

  • Explore a new niche

  • Collaborations are another way to get your foot in the door of a new art. This was wedding photography for me. I've shot one small wedding in the past, but thanks to this shoot, I now have a portfolio of wedding-related work that I can share with future clients, and hopefully, I'll begin booking more of these types of shoots.

  • Referrals and Recommendations

  • If you already have relationships with clients or hope to in the future, it's always awesome to have a few recommendations up your sleeve. In my career, I probably would've never casually met and chatted with flower designers and calligraphers, and now I can recommend my clients to them (and hopefully, they'll do the same for you!)

But there's a balance to offering free services. Here's where I draw the line:

The Balance

It is important to note, however, that there's a balance between collaborations and paid work. Like I mentioned earlier, collaborations are great for those of you looking to get your name and work out in the world and build your portfolio, but if you're suddenly known as the "free photographer," it might be difficult to get paid at all.

If you've read any "What Should I Charge" articles, you're probably well accustomed to the usual "Don't work for free because you're hurting other industry professionals," mantra that photographers often preach to anyone willing to listen. It is true, however, that if everyone is working for free (it happens a lot over Instagram and other social media channels), then it does undermine industry professionals that make a living off of his or her full-time photography services and can harm the industry overall. Clients will never turn down cheap creative work so my advice to you is to choose your free shoots wisely.

Secondly, by not charging, you're undermining yourself. Know what you're worth! To shoot, you need gear, and it can get expensiveeeeeee (and no, it doesn't have to be anything fancy, but any kind of tech-related photo gear can easily add up to a couple hundred dollars). So, if you're not charging for your work, you're making it more difficult for you to obtain the supplies you need to deliver a quality product that depicts your style and your expertise in the industry.

So when it comes down to it, ask yourself this:

  1. Do I need to build my portfolio?

  2. Will this opportunity help with outreach and networking? Could it build my clientele?

  3. Are those I'm collaborating with someone I'd like to connect with?

  4. Is this collaboration a valuable learning opportunity? (Thanks to Kristi Hemingson for suggesting #4!)

If you answer yes to all or any of these questions, then a collaboration seems like the right fit for you at this moment!

As for me, the majority of my shoots involve products and portraits. I've done just one wedding in the past, and I saw this as a prime opportunity to get some experience in the wedding/engagements/elopement industry. So naturally, I volunteered my services for that Sunday in September, and I'm SO glad I did.

To make this happen, Hanit described her needs in that Seattle Girl Bosses post:

  1. Photographer

  2. Videographer

  3. Fashion stylist

  4. Hairstylist

  5. Makeup artist

  6. Design and concept guru

When? September 16, 2018

Hanit and her husband will model.

To-Do List for the Successful Photog Collaborator:

  • Introduce yourself!

  • Introduce yourself in the email thread! Include your website/portfolio/Instagram/EVERYTHING. You're not being pushy, you're giving others the opportunity to see who they'll be working with. Aren't you curious about them?

  • Mood Board

  • If there isn't already a mood board, suggest your ideas with one of your own. It's helpful to share what's going on up there in that head of yours. This way, others can build on it and everyone can come to an agreement together.

  • Location and Timing:

  • As the photographer, it's important to think about location and timing. You know when the best light will be, you know which locations will work and which won't, so it's important to speak up! For example, if someone wants to shoot at noon because it's easiest for them, you're probably going to want to advise against that due to harsh lighting, and suggest a sunset or sunrise shoot instead (unless the harsh lighting is part of your creative vision - then, of course, its a-okay!). Your opinion matters! And those in other fields might not understand how lighting and other small factors can make or break a photo shoot because it's not their area of expertise.

  • Pre-Shoot meeting

  • For some, it may be a little uncomfortable, but I always find that scheduling a pre-shoot in-person meeting (if possible) is SUPER beneficial to the entire process. It allows me to break the ice and establish a personal connection with those involved before the big day, and to talk through and suggest ideas to make sure everyone is on the same page and is equally stoked. Phone calls just aren't quite the same!

Day-Of Preparations

  • Clear and format memory cards and charge batteries

  • Pack bounce cards if you have them. They're great for low light or back-lit shots and they're super cheap on Amazon if you don't have any! Check it out!

  • Water bottle

  • Raincoat

  • Umbrella

  • Speaker - for some pump up music ya feel me?

  • DSLR + 50 mm lens - let's not forget those!

  • Snacks - We forgot those and really could've used a pick me up towards the end!

Hanit (the organizer and fabulous model), set a meeting date and time, and Lisa (Bowman Design) and I met with Hanit over happy hour at Oddfellows Cafe in Cap Hill, Seattle. If you've never been, stop in. Seriously. It's spacious with moveable tables and a lot of natural light. In the summer, venture out back for New York-esque patio dining!

We nailed down the details including the date, time, location (or so we thought), and talked through ideas and inspiration. It turned into two hours of chatting and getting to know each other while munching on a meat and cheese charcuterie plate and some jalapeno corn fritters. YUM. The original plan was Rattlesnake Lake on Sunday, Sept. 16. We needed to be ready to go by 4 p.m. to get two solid hours of shooting before the sun set behind the mountains.

The weather forecast for Sunday featured rain and a ton of it. A little rain can actually be great, especially for those moody, foggy, Pacific Northwest vibes a lot of photographers from the area go for these days, but a 100% chance of rain is a little too risky, especially when makeup artists' and flower designers' work are in the mix. So we tossed around ideas:

  • A rooftop garden? Sick views of the city and some epic flora. Could be down.

  • Gasworks Park? Possibly. A little closer to home, and still outdoors.

  • Discovery Park was the final recommendation, and although it's a little more work, the group was down for the adventure.

Sunday came around and I awoke to DUMPING rain. Then it was sunny. Then it rained again. Then blue sky, and luckily, the sun stuck around that afternoon for the shoot. But what we didn't expect or prepare for was wind.

We arrived at Discovery at 3 p.m. to 13 mph winds - yet another challenge thrown our way. The flowers were slowly being destroyed and the vision of windswept hair gone wrong stuck in my head. So, it was time for plan 3: exploration.

Discovery Park is absolutely beautiful so it was no problem finding another incredible location in the park. The problem was parking. We found a little pullout with no "no parking" signs, so we took the risk. I'm guessing the fact that it was Sunday helped us avoid tickets. Cue the music, play a little dress up, and it was time to go! Hair and makeup were done beforehand to avoid any natural disasters in the great outdoors.

Pro Tip: I ALWAYS bring my little portable speaker and some upbeat tunes on any photoshoot. It helps relieve tension and allows the models (and everyone) to let loose, dance it out, and relax resulting in more natural-looking and fun shots! Dancing and a solid album is a win, win if you ask me.

Location #1:

Abandoned yellow houses (barns?) on Discovery Park Rd. Get ready for some boho farmy vibes y'all.

Location #3: To the Beach!

The sun was setting and we reallyyyy wanted some golden hour beach captures, so we packed into the car, drove down the winding road to the water's edge, and prepared for the wind only to find out it had almost completely died.

How this day had magically worked out so well will forever remain a mystery. One last outfit change into a flowy skirt and sweater (even though it wasn't windy, it was still coldddd) for the last location of the styled shoot. I loved how the others turned out, but these are definitely my favorite. I find SO much joy in photographing at the beach or in the mountains; there's nothing quite like it. Check out these captures!

It's Editing Time

I have this bad habit of returning from a shoot and being too stoked about the photos that I edit right away. So I whip out my laptop, plug in the SD card, download the files to my external hard drive first, and from there, I upload them to Lightroom to sort.

I use Lightroom's star rating system to organize my favorites from the duds. For each image I love, I assign a star rating of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 (depending on which smart folder is empty), just to get all those photos in one place. Once I've sorted through the first batch, I like to go through it once more to make sure I'm only editing the ones I'm in love with. But for this shoot, given that it's helping four different vendors, I had a total of 144 images to edit. Yippee.

Once through the eliminations round, I apply my Out East preset, and adjust exposure, shadows, and tone accordingly. Overall, only minor edits were needed after applying my preset, which made editing that much easier!

That's all I've got for you!!

Hopefully, you enjoyed this probably too in-depth look into my photographic mind and maybe learned a thing or two! If not, I hope you enjoyed the photos or, at the very least, used this post as an excuse to escape the demands of life for a hot sec :)

As always, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to submit a comment, send me a message, ask a question, or simply say hi! Thanks for reading and happy creating, my friends! ​

Huge thanks to the wonderful creatives who made this shoot come to life.

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