We don’t talk enough about how relationships, or lack thereof, will make or break your photography career. I’m not talking about relationships with your customers. I’m talking about the strong relationships needed with all the support people that allow you to deliver the goods. These relationships must be cultivated and maintained.
Currently, I am in a place where I am overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone who has kept me and my business going over the past few months. The relationships you need to build will occasionally shift more to the personal side. You have to allow yourself moments of vulnerability if you want to be successful.
The relationships that drive my business multiplied when, at the end of November 2021, I signed a publishing contract. The moving parts of my business became overwhelming when I agreed to write and shoot a book on a rushed production schedule, in the midst of a fifth wave that had a huge negative impact on my client base, and we been hit by multiple natural disasters that cut supply chains; entire highways and railroads swept away in an instant. Imagine being a food photographer without having the ability to get food. Additionally, there were multiple health emergencies among family members.
Meanwhile, the importance of these relationships hit home.
When you write a book, you should write an acknowledgment section. It’s standard in publishing to thank all the people whose supporting roles made it possible for you to complete this book. My list includes roles such as assistants, family members, my editor, my editor – which is a job title – book designers, vendors, recipe testers, beta readers, fellow writers And much more. If even one person from this group stopped supporting me, my business would collapse.
You can work with modeling agencies, stylists, wardrobe specialists, post-production people, etc. No matter what your system looks like, there are shared strategies for nurturing relationships that keep you going.
Vulnerability fosters an environment of trust. Everyone on your team should know they can count on every member. There is no time or place for micromanagement. There is no reason to doubt the reliability of those around you. If you’re collaborating with models, they need to know that you’re not going to put them in awkward situations. When you are vulnerable, you not only signal that you trust your team members, but that they can also trust you.
Be slow to anger and quick to apologize
The days can be long and frustrating. Things will go wrong. People are hungry. Build frequent 15-minute breaks into the day’s schedule to allow people to breathe. This helps keep frustrations from turning into anger. But in those times when too many things are happening at once and you can’t hold back, apologize unreservedly or apologetically. Own. Admit that you messed up. If you also practiced vulnerability, everyone will agree with that and quickly move on, without hard feelings.
Give your knowledge freely
It doesn’t matter if it’s a delivery person delivering something to the construction site. If someone asks a question about how and why something is done, teach. Spend those 10-15 minutes giving something of yourself without strings attached. Reward curiosity. Everyone else you work with is already doing the same thing. When you are open and generous, people start creating opportunities to collaborate with you.
Be the student
Pay attention to everything people have to offer you in return, especially in areas where you feel like an expert or close. There are always things to learn. People new to the world of photography often have new ways of approaching things that will enhance your work. Someone who humbles themselves is someone people want to keep working with.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
There are some obvious things you need to communicate. Deadlines and schedules. Plan lists. Equipment lists. Time limit. Security protocols. Artistic direction. In the case of a collaboration with my editor and my publisher, it also implies a production schedule of one year with several delivery dates on which several departments rely.
Then there are the things we may be afraid to communicate that are more important. Events that threw a wrench in the plans. Diseases. The need for help. If we’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that the best laid plans should always have room for a pivot. People learned that things happen and that timelines and deliverables need to be reworked. They’re happy to work with you on something manageable, but only if you’ve created reliable and open lines of communication.
Learn to thrive on constructive criticism
Get critical partners. They will push you and help you grow. When you learn to graciously receive constructive criticism, you also learn to pass it on. As artists, we all want to grow and reach that next level of success, whatever that means for each of us. The people you trust to criticize you are how you will get there and help others succeed.
You need to be vulnerable but not overly vulnerable. You have to be available, but not too available. Check with yourself and make sure you have the bandwidth before taking anything new. Take a break in your workday where you turn off everything work-related. Don’t do things that make you uncomfortable.
When you set boundaries, you are signaling to everyone you work with that you want them to have boundaries too and that you will respect them. In a world where so many people are vying for our attention and vying for our emotions, all team members need clear divisions and strict boundaries that will be respected if you want them to come to work happy to be there.
Just as you will need things to change, respect and honor that the people you work with will need the same. If you’re following up with an action item, start the conversation with something like, “I know things are stressful right now. So just a smooth recording to see how it goes. Don’t preach. Don’t recite a job description and tell them how they fail in so many words. When they come to tell you they need an extension, thank them.
And before you even start working with them, ask them if they need any accommodations at work. You can even practice vulnerability in the process. When I ask about accommodations, I will let the person know that I have autism and live with chronic pain. For this reason, I need to have 15 minutes completely alone and quiet every hour so that I don’t have a real autistic crisis aggravated by pain. It promotes a safe work environment.
Recognize their importance
Let’s bring it back to the acknowledgments you see in books. They are therefore particularly important. People in the publishing world always check the acknowledgments to see if their names are there or if their friends are there. They celebrate everyone’s work and want to continue collaborating with the person who wrote the recognition.
Say “thank you for [fill in the thing they did that made the result possible]goes a long way, especially on days when an assistant is tired from having to play human c-stand in a tight corner all day. Just as the publishing world will spread the word about people who recognize them, the same goodwill word-of-mouth will spread to you as you thank those who keep you afloat.
What are the things you do to build and maintain your working relationships?