How I feel as full-time professional freelancer about collaborations ...
And why I think we need to have a little chat about it:
Now this is one of those blogs that I've been wanting to write for a very long time. Not because I'm frustrated on a daily base (though yes, those days do happen sometimes); simply because I feel it needs to be adressed as a whole situation because I feel it's tainting the creative industry as I know it now, with a little bit of frustration and drama here and there:
When we talk "collab(oration" or "tf(c)" or "testing" we are talking about working together on a (single) project where no $$ payment is involved for anyone. It's something anyone will and should continue doing; from beginning people to semi-pro to full professionals. Usually, this is on a more or less regular base for a wide variety of reasons (experience, portfolio, fun or simply because one can and want). Sometimes, this includes that people get freebies or some trade happens; but usually (and normally in my opinion) it's more about the process of creating something together everyone can use for some/various reasons. Professional or not. And from various conversations in the past days, weeks & months: it's also something all of my creative (full-time) fellows have agreed with me on:
Now I had my fair share of collaborations; in fact my entire full-time business is build upon this and to this date I'm still collaborating with various hypertalented people national and international to bring concepts and projects to life. It's the fuel between commercial & commission assignments and something I love to do because I'm a most of all creator, my camera is my first medium as artist I succeeded in on a bigger level.
Now before I continue I want to point out I am a professional full-time artist and educator. While this seems like a small detail - even if you're doing this part-time - it's a massive game changer between those who do it for fun & as semi-pro compared to those who actually do this as an actual day time job supporting household, life and business and only that with no other sources of income. I've been through this entire process (doing it as a hobby, then studies, then part-time and finally full-time) and it doesn't really matter when you read this where you identify yourself: I don't feel entitled because I do this as a job, for me the only thing that really matters is how much fun you have with it. But it does matter a lot when it comes to your expectations of the people you reach out too to work with for free. Small change, big difference.
Let me break it down:
When you create something, usually a lot of time is involved: preparations (communication, planning; fitness), gathering supplies (fabric, props, dresses, , ...), actual production (shooting, pattern drawing, sewing, mould making, post-production, ...), after production (retouching, finishing details, painting ....). Its a time consuming and costly matter; no matter for who. I've done 2 years of specialisation in fashion so I know how expensive fabric and sewing supplies are, but I'm now a pro photographer so I know how crazy the investment for a single studio light can be. I've dabbled in modeling and creating unique costumes/characters for my cosplays so I know how long it can take to build something from scratch. Its what also has brought me a great understanding and respect for anyone involved in every production.
Prices only go up if you're higher on the pro-ladder and time gets more valuable to irreplacable as one runs a business. Time spend creating on things non-commercial or collaborative are a financial loss and time loss until the results pay off in new assignments or commission(s). While this is not always bad, as free work can be amazing to charge the creative batteries, we become more careful to protect ourselves and our time/investment (I didn't and it costed me a lot more than some sleepless nights). So when I'm now approached with the typical message of "I LOVE your work, can we work together?" ... I usually ask myself "but what do you offer in return?"
You see, earlier I mentioned something about "instant satisfaction & gratification"; having epic photos for your social media is a must these days. I'm included as that is the face of my business (and generally, I love creating pretty things which I can share with the world. Its why I started creating in the first place). Reaching out to people who make epic work is a very easy way: imagine posting THAT on your Instagram wearing that beautiful dress with that epic photographer behind the camera. ALL FOR NOTHING!
Don't be that person.
My wall on facebook is 99% creatives: models, designers, photographers, wing creators & aspiring professional mermaids. An extremely lovely bunch I'm blessed to know, connect and interact with: with a lot of them being full-time independent businesses as well. I once jokingly said "make collabs great again" after I was involved in a conversation on Facebook about the amount of messages some of my fellow creatives (and me included) get when it comes to asking for "collaborations" or straight up discouns and freebies. Not to mention the many frustrated posts and even straight up sadness from being undervalued as a (professional) craftpeople as well (me included, again).
You see: this entire blog is going up to this point I've been wanting to make for a long time now. And I think it's something anyone should work on, not only in name of creation & art, but to rise up against the instant gratification of todays society so the value of creation is more than an extra like on your social media.
What do YOU bring & offer to the collab to make the person you contact with worth their time except your desires to have the final product/result to satisfy your own needs?
Because in the end: you reach out because you love what the person does. There is no shame in admitting that (actually, only reach out if you really like the work), but there should be some (major) consideration to what you offer in return when you do consider to reach out to someone.
From my perspective now- as full-time professional but there is no harm at all to follow this train of thought if you're doing it as hobby or semi-pro; as it will benefit the results and the general industry as a whole for sure - , beautifully put to words by Somnia Romantica not so long ago, making me fully understand my own feelings on how I should approach the collaborative side of my work; it's a lot more than just "creating beautiful photos for your social media and website". For a professional like me: it's sacrificing days of actual work I cannot spend on paid assignments that I need to cover all of the bills every households get (and no kids, exposure doesn't do the trick).
I will néver say not to collaborate to build & grow, but if you are so madly in love with someone their work: offer something in return that is more than a message filled with compliments and your wish to even kill someone if that means working with you (true story, multiple times. I'm not alone in this either). You don't need to kill someone. In fact, that sounds even véry creepy. Usually, you will get amazing results if you offer something in return that is beneficial for the photographer/model/designer too: just a pretty picture or a nice face or a cool dress is just 1/5th of the work. Do you want to arrange a makeup? Do you know a great location? Do you have your own wardrobe? Can you bring the photographer in touch with an epic designer? Can you maybe give the designer some meters of gorgeous lace fabric you had laying around maybe? Do you as mua know a beautiful model that would fit the photographer his/her folio? Can you take care of things yourself? Are you willing to pay a sum to get things rolling?
Or do you just suspect your work is just show up, get it done and wait for the results/share the results once you feel like it/... without further investment?
And maybe, just maybe (actually, always). If you are approaching an actual full-time professional: don't try. Pay their rate & price. Don't hassle. Don't 'wing it'. Usually, if I see you're pretty damn epic, I will give you a discount or an extra set or do it all for free myself if I feel like it (and my clients know that). It's still my job after all. And if I make a decision, I like to make it on my own as I'm the boss of a small business.
Or at least, if you do want to try: maybe you can ask if they're open for collabs, but always add that line of "if not, can you please give me some information regarding rates of booking or hire". And mean it. Don't approach if you don't want to pay; we remember when the crickets happen. Always.
In my case, a concept has to be pretty damn epic if I want to spend half a working day preparing, a day shooting and a day post-processing for 3 to 6 photos I can share on my social media amongst the hundreds of shots I have waiting to be released and my own projects I'm working on for weeks & months now (which are very valuable to me). Its "my free time" and as a professional & adult; I don't have much free time to spare. And when I do; I want to feel I'm valued as a person and artist. Not to be your instant gratification for social media because I "got it all so whatever". Nobody wants to feel that way.
In the end, it's not even about the business. For actual business owners: yes, this is even more serious. But even if you do it just for fun; be that "good ripple" and make it a movement to appreciate those you work with (again). Small changes, big differences. Make collaborations not something thats only "about you" ; but make it something you work on together. Put time and money into it, offer something valuable and be genuine doing it. Dont do it to expect something in return. Do it because you honestly appreciate the team involved. It's up to you how you do it; but for some its pretty easy and straight forward.
Make collaborations, collaborations again. And make sure everyone benefits from it.
Not just your likes on IG alone.
This blog is ENTIRELY my opinion, salted by experienced and spiced up by conversations I've had with fellow (mostly professional & full-time) creatives. I have made TONS of mistakes in the past regarding this as well but I feel it's important to speak up these days for the general good. I'm not a perfect photographer either: my backlog is big when it comes to collabs (one of the reasons I'm now slowing down for a while) and I've been not-as-respectfull in my early stages as I didn't understand the work involved from parties (I do now). Fast forward to now (I started in 2009; we're september 2017 & I'm in business for a full year now) I've learned a great big deal about it. This is in no way to someone specific; but generally how I feel about approaching collabs (be it me asking someone or people reaching out to me). You can néver go wrong with being respectful and giving room. Testing & collabs is extremely important for anyone, in any stage. But I felt these days it wasn't balanced anymore. Maybe this blog will change something, maybe not. But I felt like speaking up about this. Even if it changes just someone perspective and it can bring one epic collab to life somewhere in this world.
Take care & don't forget: if you shoot for free; make sure its a hell of a lot of fun for everyone. It will only make the results better.