A photo project is a format that is beneficial for a photographer, when you can shoot for a group of clients in one day, without thinking individually for each image and location. The client, on the other hand, receives beautiful thematic photographs, and at the same time, he does not need to bother with anything at all — just come. Sounds great…but where do you start? What steps do you need to go through to organize a photo project? We talked to photographers and found out what to consider when choosing a theme, how to find the perfect location and what to do if you were left without a suit the day before the shooting.
Step one: come up with a theme
Anna Grebneva (@paparazzi_kids_), photographer and organizer of children’s photo projects:
“I try not to copy from anyone: it’s not fair to other authors. But in order for my fantasy to work, I watch a lot of films, scroll through Pinterest, study illustrations for children’s books and retro postcards. I love beautifully designed art publications, sometimes I can just look at them.
In order for a photo project to be bought, you need to look at the audience. I try to create one that engages children. For example, I add a rabbit to the project: when the child begins to interact with the animal, it is not difficult to work. Children give out sincere emotions from contact with this bunny. These photos come alive.”
Yana Polyakova (@fotowish), photographer and organizer of photo projects:
“You can get an idea for a project from anything! The image of the heroine from the film, sports (ballet, tennis), art, wildlife… Nature is very inspiring, for example, the location you like is a quarry or a waterfall.”
Step two: work out the image
Yana Polyakova: “The further work of the team is built around the idea: either I order the tailoring of the image, or I rent a dress and props (we cooperate with many costume designers in the city). Also, our make-up and hairstylists work out the future appearance of the participants in advance, and the photographers think over the poses. I think over all the images from scratch myself as an organizer. And I bring costumes and props to the shooting.
We always try to cover the entire range of sizes. As a rule, from 38–40th to 50–52nd. But it happened that a plus-size girl signed up for a project with us, and we sewed or rented a dress individually for her.
Anna Grebneva: “It happens that images arise solely from a color combination. I see, for example, beautiful shades of yellow and brown in a bouquet of flowers, and I want to do a photo project so that the girl has a mustard dress and she holds a brown basket with a dog.
My image is formed instantly. I immediately present the picture I want to get. And so I begin to slowly collect the project. Sometimes I sketch to understand the poses and composition.
When choosing a theme and image, you need to take into account the age of the models. It is practically impossible to make one project for children from one to 18 years old. It would be strange to invite a 16-year-old girl to a baby project with ducks and a fluffy skirt. Perhaps this is the case, but it is unlikely that you will find a large audience. As a rule, the age range of the project is short: from one to three, from twelve to sixteen.
Most of the time I make my own costumes. Their creation is a laborious and expensive process. If you make several images for each height and size, the project will be much more expensive. Clients will not want to pay twenty thousand instead of eight. Therefore, I try to select one set of clothes and adjust it for different heights with corsets, drawstrings, clothespins.
Step three: find a location
Anna Grebneva: “Sometimes I find a location and realize that a project can be made here. For example, a flower field, an unusual tree, a wooden bridge in the park. But more often I first come up with an idea, and then I look for a place.
This is a fun process — often a location appears out of nowhere. So it was with the Alice in Wonderland project. I went through several parks, and still could not find a place. And then I saw an ordinary tree. Suddenly I wanted to bypass it, and I realized — this is what I need! On the other hand, it was incredibly textured, like in a fairy tale, with a large hollow at the bottom, and a horizontal branch grew from it, on which we hung a flower swing,
— Anna Grebneva
When shooting street photography projects, it is imperative to take into account the lighting conditions. I try to shoot either before 10 am or from 6–7 pm so that the light is soft. During the day, it is unlikely that you will be able to shoot something beautiful. Just hide in the shadows, but there is a risk of getting beautiful “green” models, which then will have to be edited in the editor for a long time.
In the studio, I take into account its technical equipment, I look at how things are with the windows. I will definitely find out if there are enough dressing rooms, whether the studio gives additional hours at a discount or free of charge for the installation and dismantling of scenery. After all, if the project is large-scale, then florists and decorators arrive in advance and prepare the location.”
Yana Polyakova: “Based on the idea, we select the location. In our city there are a lot of photo studios with a wide variety of halls for any request.
We also carried out projects in museums (thus we discovered for ourselves and our participants the “Sweet Museum” and the Museum of Soviet slot machines. Sometimes the models themselves suggest places for shooting, and we listen.
In good weather, we go to quarries, forest parks, stables … Unfortunately, it happened that when we arrived at the location, we found a lot of people there. So it was with the Tosnensky waterfall. In these cases, we try not to interfere with anyone’s rest — when processing, we “remove” people from the frame in graphic editors.
Step four: assemble a team
Yana Polyakova: “I assembled the team by trial and error. It all started with the fact that my make-up artist and stylist and I decided to organize the first test shoots. Now I am an organizer, and then I was a photographer. And I shot for free, and then I found out that the makeup artist took money from the models.
And, for example, with two other make-up artists-stylists, we could not work together because of their growing requests. They only wanted to receive without investing in the development of the team.
After such cases, I attracted to the team only those people who were advised by friends and acquaintances. In addition, my husband helps me a lot: he meets the participants, delivers them if necessary, and is always present on the set.”
Anna Grebneva: “I myself wrote to people of creative professions. For example, I asked florists if they would like to participate in the project on TFP terms. And as a rule, those who responded and worked for free at first, then cooperated with me for a long time already on commercial terms. They are just my team.
I use Instagram to search for specialists. It’s nice to be able to see the work right away. I have never used “Vkontakte” or sites to search for specialists.
But the most important part of my team is my husband. He helps me in making props, supports me morally, searches for and rents animals, locations.”
Step five: attract customers
Anna Grebneva: “I recruit participants for photo projects, for example, through a page and a group on Vkontakte. I also have Instagram. There I write posts, offer references, if I haven’t filmed the announcement of the project yet, I tell what will be included in it.
Word of mouth works best. Clients advise me to friends, acquaintances, colleagues, tell me how great it was, what good photos they got.
Sometimes I “turn on” advertising to find new members, but I have a large pool of regular customers who are happy to go to all projects. Usually I write an announcement in a week and recruit several people for shooting. I also have an advertising manager who helps promote pages and manage social networks. I have a very large workload and I can’t cover everything by myself.”
Yana Polyakova: “I got my first clients through friends. Just offered to participate in the filming for free. A lot of participants have stayed with us since the very beginning of our work. According to their recommendations, their friends and relatives come to us.”
Bonus: Successful Cases
Yana Polyakova: “My most nervous photo project is Harpy. I saw at the box office a very beautiful dress with black feathers on the bodice. The owner of the dressing room was from another city, but she came to St. Petersburg with her images.
I agreed to rent a suit, but it was not delivered. The owner of the image was in touch, but at some point she simply disappeared, turning off the phone. Now I think that perhaps the dress did not exist at all. Then for the first time I came across the fact that people can act so dishonestly, “throw”.
As a result, in order not to let people down, we sewed a similar dress overnight and successfully carried out a photo project. But the shock was good!”
Anna Grebneva: “My favorite and most successful project is Ballet. It is suitable for girls of all ages, from one year old to adults. This is a popular project in which many people have participated. I usually do it in the winter because it’s always in the studio.
The hardest thing in this project is to help the girls, who are not related to dance, make beautiful poses, put their arms and legs in a “ballet style” so that it looks aesthetically pleasing in the frame.
This topic is close to me: as a child, I wanted to be a ballerina and could constantly watch ballet. Thanks to my project, I became involved in this art. Albeit indirectly, from the side of the photographer.