INTERVIEW: Feature - Shutterstock Online “Improvisation and the Business of Photography”

Last week Shutterstock Interviewed me for their blogpost about Improvisation and the Business of Photography. The blog has now been published online here.  


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.’”

Libertine Blends at Bicycle Junction, Wellington. Image by Hayley Benoit

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 BenoitLondon, United Kingdom

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.

Erik Yvon for Broadsheet Melbourne. Image by Hayley Benoit

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! 

Boom Clash for Fashion Journal Magazine, Melbourne. Image by Hayley Benoit

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.

Office Shots for iE Agency, Melbourne. Image by Hayley Benoit

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.

Plated sushi, anyone? Shutterstock Image by Hayley Benoit

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. 

Greens on green. Shutterstock Image by Hayley Benoit

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. 

Stephanie Downey for Broadsheet Melbourne. Image by Hayley Benoit

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. 

Skydiver Record Store for Broadsheet Melbourne. Image by Hayley Benoit

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.

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