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If you’re anything like me – a freelancer working for yourself – then you probably don’t get to collaborate that often. I mean I spend about 80% of my time working on my own. That’s the nature of the game I guess. Photography is, in the main, a solo pursuit.

Sure, when I’m on a shoot I’m with my clients and subjects (which are mini-collaborations in themselves), but even then I’m often working alone before the shoot and then behind the camera (unless the budget allows for an assistant).

When I’m editing it’s hours (days more often) in front of the computer with just Photoshop, Deezer and coffee to keep me company.

The plus sides of working this way are that you just get on and work. There’s rarely anyone to wait for or delegate to. Any decisions that need to be made on the whole can be made in the time it takes to brew another cup of coffee then go ahead and take action.

The flip side is that often we can get overly used to regular ways of thinking and routines which can get stale, safe and comfortable. And over time that can lead to reduced energy and creativity.

As we all know, the best ways to learn and grow are to get outside our comfort zones and challenge those feelings of safety and comfort.

That’s why I jump at the chance to collaborate with people as often as I can.

It’s why when talented make-up artist and stylist Lucille Dee (www.lucilledee.com) asked me to work on a shoot with burlesque performer Lady Marmaduke (check out her Facebook page here) in order to showcase how Lucille uses Urban Decay cosmetics (www.urbandecay.co.uk) and get some publicity shots for Lady M, I said yes straight away.

And it was, as I anticipated, a breath of fresh air for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was working with people engaged in their passions, what’s hugely important to them and, above all, they do it with dedication and always to the best of their abilities.

Secondly, I was called upon to work with minimal preparation. Lucille was organizing all the styling and looks, the props and the location (Patterns bar/club on Brighton seafront). Plus my schedule wouldn’t allow for a recce of the location in advance, so I’d have to make decisions about kit from what info I could glean from Lucille in advance and a quick search of the venue’s website. Then trust the equipment I had with me on the day, rather than carting every item of kit with me ‘just in case’.

Finally, I’d not worked with the subject/model Lady Marmaduke before – and that is always an immediate challenge: breaking the ice, making them feel confident and comfortable, and building trust and complicity between you.

There were a lot of potential pit-falls.

But one thing I find that when you dive in: things happen. You reinforce your skills and learn new ones.

And it’s one of the beauties of working with other creative people: there’s a freshness that comes from combined ideas and effort; working things out in real time with an idea or two in mind to kick start from, seeing where you are led along the way often influenced by unforeseen elements in the shoot.

Take for example the two wildly coloured images (above and right): these were shot in the ladies toilets and lit by three small overhead lights (a red, green and blue) that are part of the decor. It was actually very dark in there. However the light was so exciting to us that we had to try and find a way to make it work. To me they came out pretty good I think (with a bit of post-production work thrown in).

Or in the more ‘panoramic’ dressing room image below: actually a reflection photographed in a huge wall mounted mirror that gave a more of a wide-angle view than we could get if we’d tried shooting it in the normal, straight-on way.

And there’s other things to enjoy: other people’s ideas, their time-frames, what they propose in the moment all must be taken into account and worked with. So by remaining flexible and not ‘stuck’ to every one of your own ideas, then collaboration is ultimately challenging and fun.

That’s great.

And best of all it shows in the end results.

One of the additional benefits of collaboration of course is that you build your network and even start building potential teams that you could work with again and again. And who knows where that could lead?

So, if you’ve never collaborated on a project of any size, then have a go. It’s worth it.

And if like me you have, then do it again whenever you can. I know I will.

If you have experiences of collaborating I’d love to hear about them and what you’ve learnt.

The tech stuff:
All images shot on  Canon 5D MKIII with Canon 35mm, 50mm & 85mm lenses and a 110cm EXPRO hand held reflector. Edit & post-processing done in my usual mix (collaboration?) of Adobe Photoshop and Alien Skin Exposure 7.

All images © James Bellorini 2016. All rights reserved.

James is an editorial and documentary photographer working for the commercial and consumer markets. He started shooting professionally in 2013 and has since worked with advertising agencies, design agencies, entrepreneurs, performers, musicians, DJ’s, singers, models, and culture and entertainment organizations/brands. Recent clients include: Innovision, UKTI, Siren Design, Glyndebourne Productions Ltd, Stone Nest, The Old Vic etc. In September 2015 he joined the Redeye Network’s Lightbox programme for emerging photographers.