Last week Shutterstock Interviewed me for their blogpost about Improvisation and the Business of Photography. The blog has now been published online here.
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Hayley Benoit on Improvisation and the Business of Photography
WORDS By Erica Cupido | March 27, 2020
Editorial photographer and Shutterstock Custom contributor Hayley Benoit knows that being successful in the photography business is about more than just having eye-catching images to call your own.
After studying at both Central Saint Martins College of Art and the University of Brighton, Hayley’s work has been highlighted in The National Portrait Gallery, the British Journal of Photography, iD Online, and many, many more. “I think the most important thing people can take away from hearing about my professional experiences is: ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’”
That’s just one of the pieces of advice we learned during our chat with the London-based creative, who specializes in event editorials for social media and branded content. “I’ve always observed people and found their mannerisms fascinating — which explains why I was drawn to photography in the first place,” she tells us.
When it comes to the business side of her creative career, Hayley says she’s learned from each one of her experiences. Read on to learn more about her approach to balancing different projects and deadlines, defining your brand and coaching talent on set.
Hayley, when did you first become interested in photography?
I have always aspired to do something creative. At a young age, I dabbled in photography but it didn’t become something I was passionate about until I went to art school at Central Saint Martins. I initially studied Fashion Communication and design because I’d always wanted to work in fashion. However, I fell in love with photography along the way and have never turned back.
You work in multiple verticals, including lifestyle and product photography. Do you think taking this approach has made you a stronger photographer?
I think it’s very important to explore multiple verticals within photography since you’re likely to require different skill sets on any brief. Overall, having a broad mindset within these fields helps to develop the image as a whole. It also means you can be as creative as possible on set, something that all clients desire.
You also work as an on-site photographer covering events. What kind of instinct or eye do you need to shoot events? How did you develop yours?
I absolutely believe that you need to have an eye for reading body language in any situation. I’ve had the opportunity to be placed in a variety of environments throughout my career. Those experiences have given me the confidence to shoot events under any circumstance. This has helped enable me to identify certain moments to create the most engaging imagery.
You went to art school, have been part of exhibitions, and won awards. How have these experiences impacted your approach to commercial work?
Every experience I’ve had along the way has most certainly impacted my approach to commercial work. Art school gave me an excellent foundation in terms of networking and having access to facilities. Whereas working on exhibitions helped me establish certain methods to execute a project well from start to finish.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned on the job?
The most valuable thing I’ve learned on the job is to be open to improvisation on the day. It’s very important to plan before a shoot but you can’t always expect things to go as planned. Sometimes letting go a little helps you create something more magical than you’d even anticipated!
We couldn’t agree more! What’s it like being a photographer in London? Do you find the creative community there reflects the city’s diversity?
Being a photographer in London can be tough. There is a lot of competition and a lot of talented artists. One of the things that makes London photography so inspiring is the fact that photographers here are from so many different walks of life. It’s amazing and a real blessing to be part of a community that truly reflects our city’s amazing cultural capital.
How do you advocate for more diversity on sets or in creative spaces?
I don’t specifically incorporate diversity on sets unless it’s mentioned specifically in the brief. People are people and I see everyone as equal. I like to give everyone a chance and try to include people from all types of backgrounds throughout my process. I’ve found that to be one of the best ways to create a strong image.
I love that. Your Instagram is beautiful. How do you curate your feed?
All the images on my Instagram are ones that I have captured over time, from editorial assignments, events, test shoots, or trips. It’s simply glimpses of my career or events in my life that I share with my followers. It’s developed over the years and I have managed to create my own personal style.
At the moment I’ve been using an app to finish off my images — mainly to add a border — but I rarely edit my images on my phone. I hate filters and try to use them as little as possible. I want my images to look authentic, the way they were captured.
Has Instagram helped you promote your work or get new opportunities? Do you have any tips for how creatives can use social media to push their careers forward?
Absolutely! I have found that platforms like Instagram have been really useful in my career as a whole. I tend to update my Instagram before I update my website these days, as most people ask for your Instagram instead of your website. It’s actually easier to upload there, and Instagram gives your clients or followers information instantly about what you are up to.
Overall, I think the best thing a creative person can do on social media is to keep your feed consistent and make sure to engage with your social media community.
P.S. Are you following @ShutterstockContributors on Instagram?
How did you build your client list?
It’s taken me a while to build a strong client list, especially as I have moved around quite a bit throughout my career. Building a relationship with your client is very important to sustain your business. When it comes to gaining new contacts, emailing and calling a lot of people regularly are key. I’ve learned that patience is a virtue and should not be underestimated.
Tell us about why you started with Shutterstock Custom.
I had sold some things via Shutterstock in the past but hadn’t actively gone down that route with photography. I found out about Shutterstock Custom while watching a Youtube video posted by Joanie Simon of The Bite Shot. I was inspired to try a different avenue to gain experience and build my client list. Shutterstock Custom suits me because I work well with briefs and enjoy creating things with a small team. In essence, I love the working process with them.
P.S Have you seen our Artist Series featuring food photographer Joanie Simon? Check out the video here.
What is the best way to prepare for a branded content shoot?
The best way to prepare for a branded content shoot is to look over the brief about 100 times to make sure you have all of the requirements covered. I’m exaggerating, but make sure you go over it a lot! You definitely need to have a fair idea of what each image will look like. You might want to try drawing them if it helps.
Also, communication with the team is vital! If you spot anything that seems unrealistic or needs clarification, being able to work through that smoothly makes everything fun and enjoyable. Logistically, make sure you have factored in all of your expenses, equipment, and props that you may need before going ahead. Finally, prepare for the worst-case scenario and you can’t go wrong.
What is the most effective way to coach talent on set so that you get those genuine expressions and interactions?
Always make sure they have everything they need on set to make them feel comfortable in front of the camera. You’ll need things like drinks, food, appropriate clothes for the weather, and music. You want to have whatever it takes to help them feel most at ease.
Also, make sure you paint a clear picture of what you’re looking for so they know what you are after. If you have trouble describing what you want, try physically showing them as well.
It seems like you’ve mastered the balance between making a living and doing what you love. How do you stay true to your brand while creating client work?
Obviously, you want to make money. However, if something doesn’t quite fit your brand, my advice is don’t take the job. It’s that simple. If you have to take a job for financial reasons, consider not publicizing that you’re working on it. It’s really important that your brand is clear and consistent.
After a while, clients will get the gist and you’ll start getting work that is more suited to your style.
Is there a moment in your career that helped you realize you could successfully pursue photography full-time?
I knew I could successfully pursue this full-time when I was getting paid to do shoots on my lunch break at work and calling in sick all the time. I knew I couldn’t manage to do both and eventually had to take the plunge.
How do Shutterstock Custom assignments fit into your mix of projects?
Balancing everything is currently my biggest challenge. I think it’s helpful to set goals and targets for yourself each day. Block some time in your calendar for specific projects. Even if you have a deadline, make sure you spend at least forty-five minutes during the day doing something that helps other projects move forward too.
What’s something you think you’ve gotten better at through your Shutterstock Custom assignments?
My ability to direct a large group of people within a tight timeframe has definitely improved.
How did you learn the business side of being a freelance photographer?
For me, learning the business side of things has come from many successes and mistakes over time. I’ve had a lot of administrative experience in various creative and non-creative companies, which has also helped me learn about running my business.
If we look forward, is there anything you’d like the chance to tackle more with us that you haven’t had the chance to take on yet?
In the future, I’d love to someday have an assignment where I can travel abroad. I love working in new environments, so travelling somewhere for an assignment would be very inspiring for me.
Cover illustration by Iveta Angelova.
Check out the interviews below to get inspired:
Today my work was published in Brygg Magazine
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WORDS Talor Browne
PHOTO Hayley Benoit
TIME September 24, 2016
In 2011, I saw Simon Griffiths sitting on a toilet with his pants down. Had you followed the right links, you could have seen it too. A grainy feed from a camera pointed at a bearded man wearing a dress suit, pants unbuckled to the ankles. He ended up sitting on that toilet for a whopping 52 hours.
It was all part of the clever marketing campaign used to launch Who Gives a Crap, a toilet paper company co-founded by Griffiths donating 50% of its profits to sanitation projects in developing countries through Water Aid. In those 52 hours, the team raised the $50,000 needed to launch, and now you can spot the fruits of his labour in any household or café in Melbourne, individually wrapped, colourful and iconic. The entire city is unknowingly supporting charity every time they use the bathroom.
Simon is a guy who makes things happen. We met at the communal table at the Melbourne café Seven Seeds, where he introduced himself with the kind of unabashed charm that only successful entrepreneurs manage to utilise so effortlessly. As we lined up to give our orders, he shared a taste of what he had achieved so far: Having spent the last 10 years in and out of developing nations, he had become acutely aware of how the majority is living without access to clean water and sanitation. When landing in South Africa, working on the ground with an ngo, he rapidly became disillusioned with the minor changes he was seeing through working only on a personal level. He felt like he needed to make a greater impact.
Simon’s solution was to usher in a new era of philanthropy, the kind that attempts to alter our perception of who a philanthropist can be. Instead of leaving the funding of important projects to a few wealthy individuals, the whole became the backer, through the purchase of daily staples such as toilet paper and beer. The idea was to let people facilitate change without ever having to ask for a donation. It was one of Melbourne’s first introductions to consumer driven philanthropy, and it was how Shebeen came to life.
A SECOND KIN
It can be difficult to wade through the overwhelming choice of places to eat and drink in Melbourne. The cheap serving licenses, obsession with good coffee and creative undercurrent creates a perfect environment for hospitality to thrive in. Shebeen, whose name is derived from a South African word for speakeasy, has seen success by utilising the brilliant concept of improving something that was already happening on a daily basis: consumption. By harnessing the ethical bonus of the profits being donated on behalf of the consumer, simply being a patron at Shebeen and purchasing a beer, leave those who choose to drink there with the warm glow of philanthropy for a small price.
Around about the time Simon was sitting down to stand up for his beliefs, another entrepreneur was also just getting started.
Not unlike Griffiths, Jarrod Briffa experienced a transformative two years in India, not realising until later how his time there had an enormous impact on his values and perspective on poverty and consumerism.
It was back in 2009 Briffa first reached out to tell me about an ambitious project hoping to combine social change and delicious coffee. I remember holding my reservations until he walked me through a tall wooden door just off one of the main streets in Melbourne’s commercial business district. The hum of the city fell away and I almost turned breathless seeing the space. The amount of work needed was extensive, but the opportunities were endless. His idea was simple: “Someone getting off a train at 7am in the morning is not thinking how they can be more charitable – but they are thinking about coffee. Kinfolk has the ability to leverage everyday consumer needs, like coffee, to create value for the disadvantaged in our communities”.
Jarrod knuckled down, and from that day onwards, with only a lean start up of $10,000 and a significant amount of volunteer time from some key players, the first hurdles were cleared without ever looking back.
From the beginning, Kinfolk’s goal has been to create a community that could utilise business as a force for change. It began with their model of conscious consumption – asking questions about where things come from, and it continued with an inclusive volunteer program supporting disadvantaged people.
The volunteer program’s inclusive nature seeks to break down societal barriers and provide an opportunity for people to contribute, whilst gaining confidence and skills. The open door policy means people are not tokenised for their situation, health or past, and it provides individuals with a chance to escape labels that may be holding them back. Customers can then participate by voting where they want their money to be donated.
A NEW BACKBONE
The Kinfolk model has been so successful that during 2015, they saw the participation of a 100 volunteers and were consequently able to donate over $56,000 to some important Australian charities, like The Cathy Freeman Foundation and Urban Seed.
As Kinfolk has evolved over the years, Briffa has come to realise that their focus is beginning to shift. Whilst the money made and donated will continue to be a significant feature, it is the relationships built and the direct impact Kinfolk has on the lives of its volunteers that has become the backbone of the business.
So much so, that their they are now looking for a second site where they hope to expand into a production kitchen, to extend their abilities to bring people together and create opportunities for those who might otherwise not have them.
Jarrod was aware of the astute nature of Melbourne diners from the get go. Understanding that regardless of the ethos of the place, people will choose to spend their hard earned cash elsewhere if they don’t find what they are looking for. Communicating this to his team, they have been completely on top of it, funding 99% of the business with revenue from trade – demonstrating a pretty extraordinary example of a successful social enterprise.
Briffa believes that social enterprise is the only real way to fund projects struggling to appeal to big money and traditional charity, such as community health and drug rehabilitation. These issues are extremely difficult to address through commerce, and in his opinion, “We need more collaboration between charities, social enterprises and businesses to develop creative responses to the challenges our societies face.”
In an increasingly competitive market with a highly skilled labour force and a savvy bunch of consumers, it’s nice to know there are entrepreneurs facilitating more than just the growth of industry. Businesses like Shebeen and Kinfolk are enabling global change on a local level, one drink at a time.