How Collaboration Can Jumpstart Your Portfolio

One day, while wandering around the vastness of the internet, I came across a video of a woman, Mackenzie Johnson, covering a song I enjoy. I immediately fell in love with her voice, her look, and the way she exuded joy and warmth. It seemed far-fetched that I’d even be able to get in touch with her, but without a second thought I sent her a message.

Next thing I know I’m brainstorming ideas for our upcoming photo shoot!

With this talented stranger’s arrival creeping ever closer, I was flooded with motivation to prepare and plan for our collaboration. I spent the next several days binge-listening to Mackenzie’s music and chatting with her about what sort of images we should create. Her voice is pure and smooth, and I kept imagining her sitting in a sunny forest serenading the woodland critters, Disney-princess-style. I knew I wanted to do at least one image of her playing ukulele, because who doesn’t want to feature a cute baby guitar, am I right? The scene started to manifest from all these little pieces I was pulling from my new collaboration partner.

I asked Mackenzie to bring some clothing that she thought was interesting and made her feel good. As if I couldn’t get any luckier, in addition to having the perfect selection of clothing, it turned out she’s incredibly talented with makeup. In her, I’d found a model, wardrobe designer, hair and makeup artist, and brainstorming consultant all in one. She even provided the music for the shoot – I had her play and sing so that, in the images, it would actually look like she was singing, you know…because she was. Since Mackenzie had many of the creative jobs covered, I was free to focus more on arranging my lighting, determining poses, and dreaming up how to pull off the final edit.

As Mackenzie’s sweet voice filled the studio, I called out different poses and bounced around tweaking lights between shots. With her as my fellow collaborator, we were able to experiment more, offering our individual skillsets to the creation of something bigger than either of us could’ve created on our own. Looking back the hundreds of shoots I’ve done, this one is still one of my all-time favorites, and it never would have happened if I had not reached out to a total stranger.

While I do, without a doubt, enjoy shoots where I have absolute control of every single detail, having someone to bounce ideas off of, or even to hand over parts of the artistic responsibilities, can be incredibly energizing and rewarding. My mind will start to work alongside theirs in ways it never would have when flying solo. You’d be surprised what can happen when you set your ego aside and let another creative brain help to fill in the gaps of a project.

So if you ever find yourself inspired by someone, even if they have nothing to do with the world of photography and/or Photoshop, just contact them. Our brains are strange and wonderful machines and they each function differently. We’ll all find ourselves in a creative rut from time to time, so how do we get out of it? I believe creativity functions much like car batteries; sometimes we need a jump from someone else’s to get moving again. If you find your “brain-machine” has stalled and the ideas aren’t flowing, perhaps you need to ask a stranger for a jump.


Robert Cornelius

Robert Cornelius is a photographer, digital painter, and photo-manipulating-wizard all rolled into one. Employing his film degree from Full Sail University, he blogs about creating his cinematic fantasy composites.

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