Images like these, the ones that instantly blow my mind (even though I took the picture) require a team of individuals to create. In this case it was Keith Bryce for the custom designed collar, Steven Robertson for the amazing halo-hair-pieces, and Paula Dahlberg for the absolute genius makeup. Everyone brought a piece of their vision to the table allowing us to create something much, much better than any one of us could accomplish individually. When that happens you know the collaboration was a success… yet not everyone has access to this kind of collaboration… so how do you get it?
Here’s a quote I heard from another photographer about some of my more over-the-top images.
“Anyone could make those, if I had access to your stylists and equipment it would be easy.”
This frame of mind is not unique to this particular person. Many aspiring, and even established, photographers begrudgingly carry this thought around in the back of their mind. It’s not even limited to photographers either. The “I could do that if only…” mentality is absolutely pervasive in our culture. Simultaneously diminishing the accomplishments of others and inflating ourselves to their level. No wonder it’s so popular!
The argument falls apart, of course, when their creations don’t live up to their own expectations as being impossible to copy… of course anyone could pretend to be able to copy something someone else created. I could have done an amazing portrait of Sunflowers if only I had Van Gogh’s free-time and toxic paint fumes, I could have treated your case of syphilis if only I could write a prescription for antibiotics, I could have made a billion dollars by inventing the iPhone if only I had access to Apple’s engineers and designers, it would be so easy!
If you have this thought in your mind then the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath, take a step back and accept this one simple fact…
It is your past that makes your present achievable
Yes, with the same stylists, equipment and ideas you probably could achieve something similar, the only problem is you don’t have those things… and I didn’t have them either, until I put in the work to get them. If you want to bring a team of collaborators together in the creation of your own images then keep reading.
Everyone (stylists included) works for currency
I’m not talking about cash. This would be a pretty stupid blog post if all I did was tell you to gather a wad of hundred dollar bills together and call up a stylist (though that might work). Cash is only one form of currency in this world and the funny thing about cash is it’s value is completely invented. Cash only exists in order to make it easier for the economy to work, but any economist will tell you that at the end of the day it’s the exchange of goods and services that has any real substance. Cash is only valuable because you can trust you’ll be able to trade it for other stuff later… but I digress.
So forget cash and focus on a currency of real value. The currency of talent. It’s the stylist’s talent that makes you want to work with them in the first place right? Well I have news for you, they want to work with talented people too! So skip the cash and work on increasing the value of your own talent… that’s the first thing.
The Anatomy of Talent
In my mind talent is made up of two different, yet equally important parts. A creative vision and the know-how to bring this vision to fruition. I don’t care how amazing your idea is, if you don’t have the means or ability to create that vision into something tangible then the idea has no value. The other side of the coin is all your technical abilities are completely useless if you don’t have an idea worth creating.
It’s actually not all that difficult to spend the time learning the technical craft of photography. All it takes is time. By the same token it’s not all that hard to come up with a “blow everyone’s mind” idea! For instance I think it would be amazing to create a teleportation machine, I could charge everyone $50 to transport them anywhere in the world instantaneously. I’d be a billionaire over-night. Only problem is I have no idea how to accomplish this.
It’s the perfect marriage of these two elements that is rare, the ability to come up with achievable ideas that people care about and to actually see them through to fruition. In other words you need to tailor your ideas to your abilities and simultaneously make them cool enough that people notice.
In that vein here are a handful of images that I created before I started working with a creative styling team. All of these images/ideas were simple collaberations between the model and I, no professional hair styling, makeup or wardrobe stylists were used. Just ideas.
Creating images showcasing ideas isn’t enough though. Stylists want to know that you will be able to show their work in the best possible light (no pun intended?) and that means you need to know classic beauty lighting and composition. This means bright, soft light flooding your image. You’ll need to show you can do it over and over again so make sure your portfolio has lots of these types of images. Over-reliance on photoshop effects and blurring the skin is a BAD idea to get this look, if you need to do that then you’re doing it wrong.
Once again here are a handful from my portfolio, again, all shot before I used stylists on a regular basis… and once again. Notice they show off both technique and creativity? That is important if you want them to be noticed.
When creating these images I did not have an agenda in mind, just a passion for creating them. No money was involved, no class assignment, no commercial job for either me or the models. I think that was the key. Passion is the absolute best kind of fuel to drive your creative currency… without passion there is simply no way you can stand spending the time it takes to build it into something bigger than you are.
You HAVE to love what you do enough to actually go out and do it. If the only reason you’re doing it is for the money then I’m sorry, you’re just not going to get good enough. Shoot what you love so you can love what you shoot. Don’t worry about creating what you think other people want to see… it doesn’t work that way. People sense passion and people love artists that take risks, it may take some time for your passion to catch on to others and it is possible that it takes longer than your entire life (Van Gogh anyone?).
If that discourages you then you’re not cut out for the journey, after all… it’s the journey that’s the most fun.
Here’s the beauty of this system. I was in no hurry to start using styling teams, I was having so much fun that the thought never even really occurred to me. Yet after creating images like these for a couple years I noticed something interesting happen and you’ll probably notice the same thing… your currency becomes valuable enough that it starts to be in demand. When this happened to me I was taken a bit by surprise, and in several ways I’m still surprised to this day. I really had no idea that my passion would translate into a currency that had value. I was making them because I loved doing it, that was it…
Maybe that’s the secret.