Whether it’s paid or trade photography, eventually you will come to a point where working with a team of people becomes imperative. SO! I’ve written an article based on some of my own personal experiences to act as a guide to those in need of some advice.
Prepare to be the director and leader of your team
When you begin to work with a team of people you have to manage several things at once. The entire creative process leading up to the final photo essentially goes through you. But what is the role of the creative team? And what is the photographer responsible for? To get a better idea, I decided to ask some of my favorite photographers what their thoughts were. These photographers have professional experience in terms of what it means to work with a team.
Tab through each name to see their response! But before you check out their replies, why don’t you check out their amazing work?
Professional Advice From These Photographers
In your opinion, what is the role of the creative team during photoshoots (makeup, hair, etc)? What say do they have in the overall vision? How do trade shoots and paid shoots differ?
Each person in the creative team has their own role although typically we all give input to one another. Sometimes a makeup artist will ask certain opinions on lighter or darker eyes, etc and we can all agree upon it. I typically let my team do their thing because I trust my teams. I treat my trade shoots as I would for a paid shoot, I feel that its important to keep the team satisfied especially when everyone is dedicating time for a trade shoot and not getting paid. I think the most important thing is that the team needs to get along well, that way everyone’s comfortable and the shoot will be fun.
The role of the creative team should be to aid the photographer (assuming the photographer is the primary creator/producer of the image) in creating their vision. Of course, it will vary depending on the team and type of project, but it’s crucial for the team to work together to assess their strengths, and combine their creative elements into a final concept. I would say that the photographer has the final call on what the vision should be – but there is a limit. The photographer can tell the hair stylist the look they desire, but they can’t tell the stylist how to style hair – they know what they’re doing, and they should know to do what you want if you’re working together in the first place. The biggest difference between TFP work and hired talent is the level of criticality. With TFP work, it’s usually much more acceptable to stray from the original vision, and create a concept that satisfies all parties involved – which is exactly the reason why it’s called ‘Trade for Portfolio’ – everyone should receive a final product that satisfies their expectations, so they can add the images to their portfolios. When you’re hiring a creative team, you’re allowed to be a bit more critical and focus entirely on your own vision, regardless if it satisfies the team’s need to build a portfolio or not.
I believe that the entire team has a say in what you’re going to create (after all, it’s a trade and I want them to get what they want out of it!). If I have a specific vision for an editorial shoot, I will show them inspiration photos for the hair, makeup, and styling. I work with people I really trust though, and often telling them my ideas will spur them to create something better than I can even visualize for their own role. However, when it comes to taking the actual photos, I expect that they give me the same respect that I give them. They are ultimately in charge of the makeup, etc, and I am in charge of the photography. I am open to suggestion, but interrupting by posing my model and basically taking over my role is something that I have a hard time tolerating. When I’m photographing with a model, I like giving them suggestions for posing and making them comfortable with me. We’re basically out to have a good time, and if somebody else is being critical or throwing out too many ideas, it ruins the calm mood I am striving to create. For paid shoots, the person in charge is often the person paying, unless they’ve given me free reign. I am a very laid-back person overall, and I try to create that same feeling for shoots, so team members that don’t go with the flow are often ones that I don’t end up working with again.
Ideally, the role of a creative team is to collaboratively utilize personal skills in order to bring a specific vision to life. Whose vision? For me it is almost always one of two things: the vision of my client or the vision of myself.
Let’s start with the first one. Typically, clients have very specific needs and provide their own photography director during a photoshoot. They hire a team: photographer, model, MUA, hairstylist, wardrobe stylist, set assistants, etc… who takes instruction from their director. When requested, team members are also readily able to provide their expertise. Each plays a significant role in image quality level but not always in creative opinion. It has been my personal experience to keep communication open and offer my professional opinion during the sessions so that the client ends up with the best results possible. As a photographer, my role in the outcome of final images is completely shared with the client.
Next topic? Testing. Test shoots that I participate in (such as art projects or magazine submissions) are much different than commissioned client jobs. In these cases, I am both the photographer & creative director. The photo sessions are almost always centered around a ‘rough concept’ that I have personally developed and hope to create with a full team. Being able to bounce ideas off of other artists is priceless. For each test shoot a new team is hand selected, based on who I feel will do the best work executing the specific concept.Past experience, skill level, and professional demeanor are all reviewed when selecting a team. In the end, as a photographer, I make the final team casting decisions, image selections and edits but the opinions & expertise of the full team is always carefully considered and greatly appreciated.
I think you have be fair for the most part and allow the whole team to have a say in regards to how they want their work to look (eg. Styling, make-up, etc,) especially when it is a collaboration and no one is actually being paid. However a commissioned shoot is different, if the creative is paying the photographer then the photographer should be willing to accept requests or suggestions from the client, as they are paying. If the photographer is paying the creative, then it would be vice versa and the photographer should have more of a say on what happens within the shoot.
It all depends on whether it is a shoot the photographer or a particular team member has organized, or an external client. It also is influenced by whether it is a commercial job or for mutual portfolio building. When there is a freedom for open creativity it’s great, because a lot can be brought out into the open for mutual idea sharing and brain storming. When I am just working on creative team shoots, this is often how I work, with giving a general direction, and allowing each member to take on their role and embrace it full force by applying their visions to the shoot. When it is for a client, I like to get a fairly rigid brief, so we are all on the same page about how the shoot should look and feel, and what their ultimate end goal is. This is important in maintaining client satisfaction.
What is the role of the photographer during these shoots? How much input do they have with creative and the overall vision?
I’m always open to get input and suggestions from my team. If the shot doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out and I can move on to the next. One of the first things I do on location is to scout all the potential shooting spots and keep a mental note of how the lighting is, that way I can pair up certain outfit locations with a particular spot that will work best. As the photographer, I feel that its certainly my job to create and execute the vision that I am after. I always make a moodboard for the team before the shoot so that everyone can have a feel for the overall vision for the shoot.
When a photoshoot starts to become a team production, it’s very similar to that of a movie set. The photographer essentially has the same role as a director. If it’s their shoot, they created the vision, and therefore have the final say over everything. If it’s a commissioned shoot, a well prepared client will typically have someone with the ‘producer’ role who is there to aid in the production and make sure the objective is met – but the photographer ultimately still has the creative control, and that’s the way it should be. The photographer can’t tell people how to do their jobs, but they can guide the team towards creating the intended vision. In many ways, the role of a photographer is similar to that of the painter. The painter can choose exactly what types of paint he wants, what colors, what kinds of brushes and canvases and so forth – but he cannot create any of those materials from scratch, nor should he need to. That is not his purpose, his purpose is to create with what materials he has chosen to use, materials that will help him achieve his vision.
I answered this a bit in question one, but the photographer’s role is basically to create good images that the rest of the team can use as well. My responsibility is to capture everything in it’s best light, but if it’s a shoot with a concept, I expect everybody to work towards creating what I contacted them to create. I’m lucky that most of the creatives I work with are excited to see what I will create, and aren’t interested in overtaking my role. As a photographer, I do believe I have a large say in what is happening at the shoot when we’re actually shooting. If something doesn’t look right in camera, it’s my job to fix it because I am the professional in that area.
I think the photographer should always have a say in how the overall vision is achieved (whether it be big or small), they are of course the ones photographing the shoot so they should be able to make suggestions depending on whether they think something might not work out, or something that might work better for the client.
As outlined above, it really depends on what the overall purpose of the shoot is. As someone with experience, it is great for a photographer to inform a client regarding the overall look and feel of the shoot with details such as lighting and angles and how the entire story comes together, however they need to ensure they remain on target for the end product for their client. Industry collaborations for non-profit benefit should be mutual, with shared input and direction to clarify all members understanding of the final product.
What should you do if creative is not following their role or accepting your feedback?
I haven’t come across this issue… yet. For example, in a paid shoot, I usually know what the client is going for whether it is a look book shoot or commercial/promotion type shoot work. There is always moodboards to go by so the team is usually on the same page. However if there is someone on the team that isn’t accepting any feedback or not following their role, they most likely will not be part of the team on the next project.
This is where it really depends on if it’s a TFP shoot or a paid shoot – but in either circumstance, it’s crucial to be respectful of your fellow creatives and their experience/talent. Listen to their advice, and if you’re not willing to budge, politely explain your firmness. There’s nothing wrong with being picky, you should just be respectful – nobody will want to work with you again if you’re an asshole. That being said, it can be difficult dealing with stylists/artists/etc. who try to ‘take over’ the shoot in a sense. If they are being difficult, try to come to some terms for both of you to be satisfied, but ultimately, it may be clear that you do not work well together. There are so many creatives out there to work with, and it can take quite some time before you find the perfect team that always gets you what you want.
Honestly if one of my team members is doing something completely wrong, I’ll try to steer it in the right direction, but there’s a point where I just give up and just try to get as many good shots in as possible. At that point, if a team member is being that disruptive or going off on their own tangent, I will decide to not work with them again in the future. You have to live and learn unfortunately, and not everybody in your area is going to be a good fit for the way you work. However, finding the perfect team that you work in sync with is absolutely priceless and you will end up pushing each other to create more and more beautiful things together!
I think the best thing to do when a team member struggles to meet up to his/her expected performance is to simply ask for adjustment. Perhaps show visuals and communicate more, be flexible, kind, and patient…but don’t compromise your own artistic viewpoint.
Just have a talk with them. Maybe discuss what the overall vision of the shoot should look like and just try to work out a better method of doing things. Stubborn creatives including photographers that don’t want to take any suggestions and won’t budge on their opinons are not really fun to work with.
You need to tackle issues like this early on and nip them in the bud. You need to remain rational and friendly in your demeanor, but firm about what the final product should be. If this is a shoot for a client, who is unrelenting in their concepts and ideas and are not open to other avenues, sometimes the best option is to show them comparatively the visual differences. Sometimes this is the most powerful way to communicate direction and ideas.
Starting to work with creative
Working with a team of artists should be an exciting learning process! You are all there to achieve one goal in the end. So, before working with a team of people, what are some points to consider? I’ve come up with a few based on my own personal experiences!
Make a mood board
I am guilty of not doing this enough. But it helps a lot. Mood boards will help communicate your visuals, and point the team to one coherent idea. Give your shoot a theme, then gather up inspiration images that you are visualizing for the shoot and put them together in a graphic. Having a moodboard will give everyone an idea of what you are expecting and idealizing, and will ensure everyone is on the same page with respect to the overall vision.
I usually go on sites like Tumblr, LookBook and deviantart for inspiration images. I also like to save some of my favorite photos from other photographers and use them as inspiration as well!
I’ve had shoots where I had a set vision and everything fell apart. Starting out excited in the beginning of the shoot, and by the middle of it I was no longer inspired or liked anything that was happening. It was no longer my vision, it was everyone else trying to make the photoshoot their own. The problem was that I was simply telling people a loose idea of what I wanted, instead of being more specific and assertive. TELL, do not ASK.
I’ve learned to straight out tell creative what I am thinking, instead of stuttering and acting shy and embarrassed. I remember when I was doing one of my first senior photos, the Mom pulled me to the side and said, “Listen, don’t ask her if she wants to do anything, tell her what to do.”
Instead of saying: “Only if you want to…” “Could you pleaseeeee” “Maybe if you can do this” “Only if you want too…” “I don’t know…whatever you want…..”
Say: “Please remove that” “It looks better to the back” “Stand back there. Put your arms down”
Exactly to the point. I don’t find that this makes anyone rude, it gets the job done properly.
Eliminate any misconceptions and arguments with creative
Go over what look you are expecting before the day of the shoot with each of the artists you will be working with. Showing photos and referring back to a mood board will assist with this. You don’t want to be in the position where someone says, “well, you told me loose curls” – when your idea of loose curls wasn’t looking like Shirley Temple just got out of a blow-dry.
Give time frames.
Whether it’s the sun setting early, or the model having to leave at a certain time, setting a time frame for the creative team is important. You do not want to compromise the entirety of the shoot because one member of the team is taking too long, as each person in creative needs an appropriate time to do their job properly.
Provide food/breakfast and take breaks.
For most of my test shoots – I usually provide breakfast for everyone when we shoot just because I feel like as the director of the shoot it is my responsibility to do so. In many instances, our shoot will last the entire day, leaving creative as well as the model very hungry. We all know what happens when people don’t eat…and you don’t want any cranky-pants on set. So make sure they’re fed! The notion that every person will be able to have a full breakfast before arriving to a shoot is not promised. No one is expecting you to cater an entire event for the shoot, but a small snack (bagels, fruit, small sandwiches) should be just fine.
Direct the model and offer feedback
Most models I’ve worked with have told me they appreciate the fact that I direct them in posing. Now I’m not one to be a tyrant when it comes to modeling. It’s not about telling the model exactly what to do, bossing them around or telling them how to do their job, it’s to guide them to make sure you take best photo you possibly can, especially with client paid work/editorials. By offering them tips as they are posing you are helping them more than hurting them, as you see things behind the camera different than how they see it in their heads when they are posed.
I always offer tips and constructive advice while they are in front of the camera whenever I feel like the pose isn’t working. Whether it’s telling them to drop their shoulder or pretend to ‘tie their shoe’, giving direction is helpful for both parties as there will be little room for frustration if the model isn’t posing right. Giving positive feedback and constructive posing tips will make the model feel confident and reassure her that she is doing her best. Be careful not to come off rude when providing instruction. Refrain from saying things like, “I don’t like this. You look bad posed like that. You aren’t posing right”, etc. be polite and constructive. “Could you move your hand up? Yeah, just like that. Don’t look directly at the camera. Look towards that tree right there….like it’s the prettiest tree in all the land. (everyone laughs cause I’m hilarious lol jk but I try ;-;) Drop your arm down. That’s perfect! Great! Don’t move.” That’s my approach.
However, I do not direct the model the entire shoot. Directing only when it is applicable and not posing the model for the entire shoot will help keep everything balanced between model and photographer.
Giving instruction and orchestrating an entire shoot the whole way through may make the model feel frustrated, as if they don’t know what they’re doing. Throw out occasional tips and directions when necessary, but don’t overstep your boundaries.
If you take photos and don’t say a word the model will most likely feel unsure if she is doing a good job or not, making her doubtful of her position. Never throw a fit or show frustration while shooting. The atmosphere is created around the photographer, and if you are negative then your photos will show. Not all models are the same, and it is important to remember that no one goes in front of a camera intentionally trying to take a bad photo.
If you work with a model who does not have a lot of experience, be very patient. My advice would be to not guide them as much. Give them things to do! Keeping a subject busy and unaware of photos being taken will result in interesting photos. If I notice the subject is shy or not posing well, I will usually tell them to do something (“fix your necklace, pretend that you just saw a cute person walk by”) or tell them that I’m ‘taking a test shot’, so I can catch them off guard.
Creative should not interfere with your job
It is extremely, EXTREMELY important to be clear and concise at all times. Do not make this mistake. With the exception of small fixes to hair, styling and makeup, creative should not interfere in the actual shooting process. Let me repeat: creative does not belong alongside the photographer while shooting. Unless they are a client, they should be on the sidelines allowing you to do your job comfortably with the model. They should not be directing ANYONE, ANYTHING, nor telling the model (or you) what to do. You allowed them to do their job, so they should allow you to do yours.
When there are too many people involved, the shoot can spiral out of control, and it is ultimately your responsibility to deliver the final product. So! If a member of your creative team is a little too involved in the shoot, pull that person to the side and politely tell them that you have everything handled and their help is appreciated but not necessary.
“I got this thanggg covered so TO THE LEFT PEASANT~” LOL ok kidding. I don’t have the guts to say that…cause I have manners. And a very limited healthcare plan…
If they can’t take your feedback, try to do the best possible job you can under the circumstances. Deliberate in the future if this person is worth including in future shoots. A successful collaboration involves those who work and get along well together.
My own personal experiences… When I come across a person who is essentially trying to take over the shoot, I try to stay as calm as possible and focus on the task at hand. After the shoot, that person really never hears from me again. There’s no use in having someone on the team who brings down morale or causes problems. For me, starting a scene and confronting someone at a photoshoot creates drama and sets a bad atmosphere for everyone else. I won’t ruin the mood for everyone else just for one unruly person. The way I feel about it, as an artist you should know your own boundaries and respect people while they are working.
Seriously though, no one likes to work with a jerk. Have fun. Talk. If you run out of things to say, just bring up Miley Cyrus. Always works for me.
Some people you work well with, some you don’t. It happens! This is how you create your ‘dream team’: through trial and error. Learn from your experiences, and allow yourself to grow from both the positive and negative.