Building a Team: Advice from Lifestyle Fashion Shooter Dixie Dixon
Commercial fashion photographer Dixie Dixon is one of the sixteen original U.S. Nikon Ambassadors. Just a few years out of college, the 20-something has established herself as a business-savvy lifestyle fashion photographer. Last week, she shared her wealth of knowledge with audience members at a PDNedu panel at PhotoPlus Expo called “Creating a Sustainable Career.” Dixon’s advice ranged from personal anecdotes about building a career in the industry to finding passion in your work.
Dixon, who holds the title of director, speaker and educator, has a new accolade to add to her long list of accomplishments: author. Her new book, Fashion & Lifestyle Photography: Succeed in the Commercial World and Become a Stand-Out Photographer (Ilex Press) details, as she says, “literally everything I’ve learned thus far, including my heart and soul.” The following excerpt is from a chapter in Dixon’s book about building a team and choosing when and who to bring with you on set.
Excerpted with permission from Fashion & Lifestyle Photography: Succeed in the Commercial World and Become a Stand-Out Photographer, by Dixie Dixon and published by Ilex Press.
Consider the following when choosing members of your team:
One of the biggest aspects of building your team is figuring out who is the right creative for the job. For instance, when you’re choosing your wardrobe stylist, you want to see their portfolio to see what they specialize in. This is so you can find someone who has worked in the style you’re after. Some stylists are great doing high fashion, or editorial. Some are better at putting together edgier looks than natural lifestyle. Of course it’s always wonderful if you find someone great at everything, but that often is not the case. Some makeup artists are best at avant-garde editorial makeup, while others’ speciality is natural. You should always hire the makeup artist who fits the style of imagery the client is after.
What is also paramount in all of this is personalities. When putting a team together, personalities are crucial, among your crew as well as the talent. By building a dream team, you’re building a team people want to be a part of and a client wants to work with. These are people with whom you want to spend your day or week (or however long the job goes on for). When a client hires you, they’re hiring you initially perhaps because of the work that you’ve done. How you get hired again by that same client is not only the images you give them but also the experience they have on the shoot. Often that can be even more important. When it gets down to it, it’s about who you want to spend your time with.
I have often found crew members through local photography studio rental houses. The rental houses usually have these contacts for you. When I travel and do shoots outside my area, I’ve found rental houses to be a great resource for finding additional crew members.
When you have this huge group of people on set, it is a balancing act to make your shots happen while pleasing the client and people involved. Just keep in mind that you are there to do what you do best and the crew is there to help you succeed. There will be some shoots where you have more creative freedom than others, but ultimately the feeling of creating magic in the lens through collaboration with an amazing team is a huge adrenaline rush and a great experience. There is nothing quite like it!
HOW TO BUILD YOUR DREAM TEAM
So how does a photographer begin to build his or her team in the beginning? The key is to start small. Most of us begin with only our vision, our camera, and our subject, and it’s during this time that you master your gear and find your shooting style.
When I started out in college, I had only one camera and lens—the Nikon D70s and a NIKKOR 50mm ƒ/1.8 lens. This challenged me to make great pictures using the simplest of gear. I was shooting personal work constantly and would find subjects on campus and ask them to pose for my pictures. I would do their hair and makeup and put together a wardrobe by combining our closets, so to speak.
The time spent shooting personal work is an important step in your career because that is when you will define your style and goals. You will also begin to realize that in order to take your images to the next level, you will need to be able to focus on the photography, while allowing other creatives who specialize in their crafts to collaborate on the end result image.
I began sending my subjects to the MAC makeup counter to get their makeup done before the shoot. This saved me a ton of time on set as well as in the retouching.
NETWORKING & COLLABORATION
After a while, I started to notice that I really needed a hair and makeup person on set during my shoots to touch up the subject, especially when on location. This is when I discovered a website called modelmayhem.com. It is a networking site for the fashion industry where new photographers, models, makeup artists, hairstylists, designers, and wardrobe stylists can post a profile, begin networking, and set up shoots with other creatives. I would come up with ideas and concepts, pitch them to creatives on the site whose work I appreciated, and we would go shoot.
Facebook is also a great tool to find other creatives in the industry, as well as source props. When I need a certain location or a big prop such as a car or an airplane, I will post the need on Facebook to see who might be able to help. This is the nature of networking today and creative possibilities are endless, given the tools of social media.
A few important things to consider when developing your team:
1. Creating a team takes time, so be patient—You have to work with lots of different people to find the right people. This is why shooting lots of personal projects when you’re starting out is useful.
2. Hire good problem-solvers—The team you choose to help you pursue your vision can truly make or break a shoot. When on an actual job, you want to be sure that you’ve hired a team that can produce results, no matter what happens.
3. Personality is key—The people you hire for each job should inspire you creatively and your personalities must complement each other.
4. Talent is a given—You want to make sure that each person you hire has the talent to pull off a certain job. Every job is different so it’s helpful to know lots of makeup artists and wardrobe stylists who specialize in certain styles. For instance, I have a go-to makeup artist for the natural look and a go-to wardrobe stylist for high-fashion looks.
5. Networking is powerful—The more creatives you know, the better—each and every person you meet on jobs or during networking events has the power to introduce you to other creatives in the industry, so always be enthusiastic and open to new opportunities.