Catherine Conner

To collaborate or not to collaborate?

Catherine Conner
To collaborate or not to collaborate?

When it comes to any creative industry, collaborations are a natural part of what we do. It doesn't matter if you're Pharrell collaborating with Adidas to create the latest sneaker line (ok I'm obsessed with them and want them all in my closet asap) or a local stylist collaborating with a local photographer to create a photoshoot, the world runs on people meshing their ideas together to create something greater. Sure, you can do great things on your own and come up with the best ideas in the world, but there's a reason two heads are better than one. 

Everyone has their own idea of what makes a good collaboration. To me, it simply comes down to both parties mutually benefiting from the project. I, by no means, consider myself an expert when it comes to collaborations or photography in general. I don't have years & years of experience but I'm learning as I go. I've done collaborations where I left the shoot feeling used and unhappy with the work we've created but the majority of the collaborations I've done have me feeling empowered and unstoppable. 

I can't even pretend I've never collaborated JUST to collaborate. There are two reasons why I've done collabs I hated. The first one is, It's easy to get caught up in follower counts or what the other person believes they can contribute. My thought process was "Oh, they have 10k+ followers and access to this, this & this? I would be stupid to not work with them!" I quickly realized that someone's follower count doesn't mean any of those people will start following me or support my work in any way. I've had accounts with close to 100k followers repost my work and maybe gain 2 followers from it. Basically, the number means nothing if their audience isn't similar enough to your audience for them to be interested in your work. Quality over quantity, always. The second reason is, especially when I first started, I felt like I should be grateful for any opportunity thrown my way and happy that anyone would want to work with me so I ended up shooting with anyone who asked. Models would message me to shoot and even if I could tell they were only looking for a free shoot or I didn't particularly see their look working with my style, I would agree to shoot anyway because the number of models I had shot at the time was extremely small. After a time or two of walking away from a shoot hating the work I had just creating and feeling like I had just been used for a free shoot instead of them actually valuing my work, I began to get selfish with my time and work. It wasn't an overnight mindset change though. It took close to a year and a half to finally realize that if I was good enough for people to reach out to me in the first place, I was good enough to prioritize my time and effort on things that actually helped me grow. If one opportunity came my way, it wasn't going to be the last. If that one wasn't a good fit, maybe the next one would be but I didn't have to jump at every chance just because it was there. I've had self worth issues when it comes to my abilities as a photographer (along with feeling inadequate in general) but that's deeper than this post is going today. Anyway, know your worth and don't compromise your standards for your work just to collaborate. Don't settle for anything less than you deserve! 

Over time, I've learned a few red flags that usually turn me off from collaborating with someone. The very first thing is when someone hits me up with "let's shoot".... no details, no explanation of who they are, what they can provide, what we're even shooting, NOTHING! Suddenly, I'm supposed to be psychic and know what's on their mind. Sorry but I'm not Raven Baxter, I can't see the future. I'm gonna need a little more info to base my answer off of. Okay this is going to sound conceited but most of the time, if there isn't some sort of compliment or reason you want to work with me, I just assume you're searching around for any photographer who will shoot with you for free. When reaching out to anyone to collaborate, whether it's a stylist, photographer, brand, model, ANYONE, it's best to give as much detail as possible to give them an idea of what you hope to accomplish during the collaboration and why you chose that person to reach out to. Make them feel special, appreciate their talent and skills, show that you value their work! 

Collaborations can be so rewarding if you're smart about who you choose to work with. For example, I recently collaborated with makeup artist Tomarra Buckner, someone who has supported my work & vision from day one (literally! she was the first model I ever shot!), and Dina Baez, an amazing model & one of the sweetest people ever, to kick off a new series titled Colors of Philly. The idea popped into my head one morning on my way to work as I was walking through a side street in Philadelphia and I was inspired by the rainbow of homes along the street. The streets of Philly are what made me discover my love for photography so it felt right to highlight their beauty through this series while also showcasing the incredible people who call Philly home. This project would not be possible without collaboration. I suck at doing makeup and I can't model to save my life so I depend on the talent and skills of others to bring my vision to life. I couldn't do it without them. I'm excited to grow this project with even more models, makeup artists and eventually capture all of the colors Philly has to offer. We all can shine together.