I don’t for a second take for granted the team I have been fortunate to work with over the last few years. Very early on when I started doing styled shoots it was just me and my dear friend Jamie… a truly talented and gifted make up artist (MUA). She and I would dream and scheme up ideas and concepts we wanted in our portfolio. We had the fire and desire to do it all. Looking back I realize that the partnership we had was so integral. I could not have built my starting portfolio without a MUA I trusted and relied on; I think it’s one of the key relationships a photographer needs to establish when starting out producing styled shoots. There is so much that can be done and shot with just a photographer and MUA (and of course a model, too), to me that was the foundation of how it all began.

You will find that you have to wear many hats at the beginning of building a fashion photography portfolio. From hairstylist to wardrobe stylist (using pieces from both your own closet and from the model’s) to being your own assistant and holding your own lights/reflector while trying to photograph the model. Oh yeah, that’s been done. However, as your portfolio begins to take shape and your images are reflecting more and more of your own “style” that’s when some of those “hats” get delegated and you can start reaching out to others to collaborate with (just a fancy word for working for free).

So, where do you go? How do you get started? Well, Jamie quickly introduced me to Model Mayhem. Now, Model Mayhem definitely has its pros and cons, but honestly for anyone just starting out or looking to do collaborations it really is the best place to begin. If you have no connections, no network, no team then Model Mayhem is the way to go. This site is a resource of photographers, models, MUAs, hairstylists, wardrobe stylists, and more. Once you have established a working portfolio and those around you are seeing your progress and your vision and your style then it really is just a matter of reaching out to others you want to work with. So network, network, network.

Speaking of your “style”, I personally feel as though that is one of those things that you will know it when you see it and is often times hard to put into words or a description. The best and only way I know to develop your own photography style is to shoot what you love. Plain and simple. When you do that you will find your own creative eye and approach. If you love doing still life photography then SHOOT still life… don’t show sports and fitness all over your site. I think when you keep your subject matter and your post process as consistent as possible this allows others to help “see” your style and what you are really good at, thus thinking of you for the next paying gig that comes along.

When I began my journey into fashion photography about 3 years ago I did so by reaching out to those around me who I admired and who’s work I felt were in-line with the work I wanted to produce…and I still do that. Don’t underestimate the power of a random email to someone you think highly of; even if it’s just a compliment on something you saw of theirs that you liked. Tell them… the photographer, MUA, hairstylist, anyone. Make those connections. Engage with and support your fellow artists. Your team won’t be built overnight, but making connections and building those relationships will put you in good company.

I personally feel like I am at this place in my journey where my work is finally starting to take shape. I have awesome industry professionals who I call colleagues and friends who I know will be around for the long haul. Don’t get me wrong though, I still have this long but amazing road ahead of me. I distinctly remember the first time someone I did not know had told me they had “heard” of me. I nearly fell to the ground. I literally thought that it MUST be another Michelle Herrick they were talking about. Shirley they weren’t referring to ME… no way! But, they were and I was overcome with this amazing sense of WOW! I don’t know how else to describe it. I was incredibly happy and proud. To me, it was a small victory.

Moral of the story… surround yourself with people who will support and contribute to your goals. Find peers and professionals who want similar things and align yourself with them. Reach out to those around you and ask questions, network with people you want to work with or whose work you admire. And shoot what you love!

Oh yeah, and just because I feel like waxing nostalgia… the intro photo is from my very first model shoot EVER! From the first click of the shutter I was hooked. No turning back now!