For influencers to attract sponsorship opportunities, the photos on their feeds need to look polished. That extra glisten comes from hiring professionals — which in turn has changed the photography industry.
This week I spoke to Julia D’Agostino, a 25-year-old photographer based in Stamford, Connecticut, who works mainly with lifestyle and fashion influencers. “My first ever postcollege client was actually an influencer — I jumped right into the world,” she told me. She now has a growing Instagram account to feature photos she takes of social media creators (such as Eva Amurri of @thehappilyeva, a lifestyle blogger and Instagram influencer with over 189,000 followers), and also to modestly start building her own personal brand online, which is a fascinating new layer to all of this.
Julia said lifestyle shoots have changed subtly, but in very revealing ways, over the last few years. In, say, 2015, a standard fashion shoot with an influencer client would be fairly formulaic. “We were primarily styling outfits and photographing them in a cool location,” she told me. “I would photograph the shoes up close, grab a detail of a bag, a nice shot of the headband, make sure to grab a full-body image as well.”
Today, because her clients are open to all kinds of spon, things are more complicated. Her job is a meticulous game of making sure the necessary products are featured, but that she, and the influencer, are then not intentionally pushing other products in a photo.
Often Julia is working to highlight multiple items — say, a soap, a blanket, or a battery — while shooting at a specific location and keeping the background clear of any other brands. The whole time they’re trying to ensure that it “still reads as a lifestyle image without coming across as a true #ad,” she said.
Because influencers and photographers are often self-employed, their unique business relationship is usually one that has to be mutually beneficial.
“Most of the time when both sides of the stick are new to the game, there’s always a trade in mind to help each other out, which I love,” she added. “I think it’s great for everyone to learn from one another.”
The work also fosters an intimacy that she’s really grown to appreciate, especially over the last two years. “When I’m photographing with influencers, especially through COVID, I am invited into so many different homes and families,” Julia said. “I know their husbands, their children, even their own parents. It’s a very personal world. Sometimes we take a 15-min therapy sesh while changing outfits in the car — we style together, we brainstorm together, we get through it together.”
As much as the influencer industry has created more jobs for photographers, there are new hurdles too. Common learning curves for influencers are best crediting practices and navigating image rights. It can feel intuitive that if a photo is of you, that you retain some rights to it. Influencers can accidentally issue rights to use their image freely, when that picture actually belongs to the photographer. Julia reminded us that a good, collaborative relationship between creator and curator means drafting up a clear contract — and setting the standard for proper photo practices. For one, always credit the photographer, like @thehappilyeva frequently does, in the post caption.
“I think the digital age is a challenge for everyone to understand copyright and the buying and selling and usage of imagery,” Julia said. “If you’re just starting as a photographer, it’s always a good idea to create a contract with your lawyer. If you’re just starting as an influencer, it’s always a good idea to credit your photographer if they require that for the usage of their imagery. This also includes passing along their photo credit information if you are sharing their image with another brand.”
Her unforeseen career trajectory to working exclusively with influencers has also made Julia respect how tough a gig it is. She gets particularly miffed when so many people on the internet disparage her clients’ livelihoods, since she’s seen firsthand how much effort goes into a photo shoot.
“I’ve known from day one how difficult it is to be an influencer,” Julia told me.
Influencers are putting themselves in “the most vulnerable place” when they’re posing in front of a camera and conceiving how they want to narrativize their brand, Julia said.
“There’s so many people out there who throw comments around like ‘I can be an influencer,’” she said. “Well, OK, then do it, and I’ll be there to cheer you on the whole way.”
Over the last three years she’s worked with Eva, Julia said she’s grown to appreciate how tough-skinned women creators have to be to continue to talk about extremely personal facets of their lives and motherhood, in order to generate revenue — and keep supporting her own business. It’s a paradigm that deserves to be examined and also appreciated.
“Eva shares her life with everyone,” Julia said. “She tells everyone about her highs, lows, her stories, her own life lessons, and listens back to everyone’s feedback.”
The reason you and I, and others, are not actively pursuing an influencer career is exactly because that work is particularly onerous. And it’s why some of us prefer to be behind a camera, or a computer screen, capturing and writing about influencers instead.
Until next time,