Whether you are collaborating with fellow artist, an artist in a different medium, or a brand or agency, clear communication is key to make sure no one leaves feeling like they wasted their time or is taken advantage of.

Collaborations gone bad could possibly hurt your business, so let’s talk about how to make everyone happy in the end.What is it? An artistic collaboration is when two parties decide to work together to create something and there is an exchange of value. Now, we are going to focus on non-monetary value, because getting paid your full rate is just called a job! When you are collaborating, money can be involved, but is usually combined with time and other valuable considerations for either person or not involved at all.

Start by asking questions

The word “collaboration” can oftentimes be misused and what someone really means is they just want you to work for free. In my experience as a photographer, I am cautious and start thinking of questions to ask. I won’t agree to it until I have all of the info. Here are a few things to ask:

  • What do you want from me and what will I get in return?  Example: your skills and artistic talent for: social media following, free marketing to a large audience, access to high paying clients and customers, or something you cannot afford to pay for with money.

    Bonus Tip: For those working with individuals or small companies: make sure you are clear about what type of creative input you are giving. Friends of mine have had issues with their collaborator also wanting them to help or create the project’s creative direction as well. If you are going to be creative directing a project also, make sure that you choose to do it, instead of slowly get roped into it!

  • What will the project be used for? Marketing, self promotion, advertising? For how long?  If it is an album cover or book cover: how many copies will be printed?
  • What is the turnaround time? 
  • Where and how will I be credited?  Who owns the copyright? If they want the rights, make sure you feel really good about what you are getting from the project.  


Here is an example of how S6 artist Leah Flores does it.  When she travels, Leah works with hotels and trades photography for a room at the hotel.  So genius!

“When negotiating a photography trade I try to have the retail value of what I am being offered meet my rate as closely as possible so it is as fair as can be!” And for usage, “Typically the agreements are for web and social use with credit.”

Leah's collaboration with Hamanasi | Adventure and Dive Resort in Belize

Get it in writing

Written agreements are very important and they don’t have to be 10 pages long. It will force both parties to think about what they want from the project and bring up any inconsistencies in expectations before the project has started.  They must be written agreements, no hand shakes, and both parties need to sign and date the agreement.  And if a contract feels too formal, at least make sure that the important details of what everyone is bring to the table is in writing through emails. 

Bonus Tip: Rocket lawyer is good place to start if you don’t happen to have a lawyer on hand to draft an agreement!

Leah Flores: “For each partnership we clearly layout expectations through email and phone, but I have not used a formal contract with any of my partnerships. Often we will draw up agreed upon shot lists to make sure we are covering all of our bases!“

Word Nerd by HelloFriday

Diving into papers by Kata

Do your research

If you haven’t worked with this artist or company before, time to do a little investigating. Research their social following and their website. Who and how big is their audience? Do you want to be professionally associated with them or their brand?

Society6 artist Jacqueline Maldonado has been working with the company Popsockets for 3 years, since they launched their kickstarter campaign.  They have grown fast (267k Instagram followers!) and have become a great repeat collaboration partner for Jacqueline. She recently worked on their Pop for Purpose Campaign:

“The campaign was an internal competition, where the company (Popsockets) divided itself into 6 teams. Each team represented a different charity and they were taking applications for one artist to represent each. The agreement was one sum payment and they would own the rights of the artwork. Since it was for charity, I was happy to reach this agreement.”

“The turnaround time for the project was rather fast – two weeks. Thankfully, they were very happy with what ended up being titled “Bubble Daze.”

Your time is a valuable resource

It is common for the other party asks for more that what is fair.  When cash money is not on the table, it can be a little fuzzier to determine a fair trade.  In my experience, when a collaborator isn’t paying with money, they try to get as much as they can.  Have clear boundaries about what you are willing to give, and especially, how much time you are willing to give for what you are getting.  It is not selfish to think about what you are getting out of it and how it will affect your other paying work.

Leah agrees…

“The biggest concern I have with travel photography is time. I made the mistake with my first few partnerships of not realizing that the agreed upon shot list would take up my entire time at the hotel – so there was no personal time left to go explore. I now make sure that there is a healthy balance of work and vacation. I have a general rule of shooting every other day (2 day minimum at a hotel) to ensure that I am getting a break, have time to edit the previous day’s photos, and get to enjoy myself too.”

Collaboration for trade is a great way to cross network, as long as it benefits all involved. Make sure the other artist/company is bringing something to the table as well as yourself. When you take the time in the beginning to get everything clearly defined, you will be able to effectively spend your time and energy on a collaboration that is valuable to you and your business.  

Story by Mallory Morrison

Cover image by Hands-on!