Fashion Photographer Dixie Dixon on 'Building Your Team'
Our guest for episode 32 of the Artist Uprising podcast is world-renowned fashion, lifestyle, and commercial advertising photographer and director, Dixie Dixon. From her home base in Dallas, Texas, Dixon travels the globe to work with top tier brands like Disney and People Magazine. In this exclusive interview, she shares some exciting career highlights as well as the importance of building your team as you scale your creative business.
photo provided by artist
Host, Cabus, kicks off the episode by asking about the origin of the name "Dixie Dixon." Dixon shares that since she was one of four "Lindsay's" on her sixth grade soccer team, a friend coined the name Dixie for her, and it stuck. Dixon likes that it's memorable and it sounds Texan, which represents her roots when she's traveling abroad.
Dixon was just twelve years old when she first got into photography. As a shy introvert and an only child, she enjoyed taking photos as a way of keeping herself entertained. Her father bought her a manual film camera and helped her learn how to use it, which she says was very challenging at first. She later joined the school yearbook staff where she learned how to develop her own film. From there, she says she completely fell in love with photography as if it was something she was meant to do.
During her senior year of college, Dixon Googled "Fashion Photography Study Abroad" and found a Syracuse University program which allowed her to travel to London and Prague to study with world-renowned fashion photographer, Jeff Licata. It was then that Dixon developed her passion for the fashion photography industry. One of her favorite photos she took during that time was a portrait of a young model in Prague who didn't speak any English. The photo went on to win an award.
Cabus asks Dixon about some of the lessons she learned during her study abroad program. Dixon shares that she really saw the importance of building a team of people who creatively inspire you and who contribute to a positive environment during photoshoots. From the makeup artists to the lighting to the photo retouching, Dixon says that surrounding yourself with the right team makes all the difference.
"Your style isn't something that you have to go out and find—it's something that already exists within you. You just have to keep shooting and keep creating."
photo provided by artist
Dixon says her study abroad program completely catapulted her photography skills. Before it, she was using friends and family as models, but she says the professional models she started working with made all the difference. She was amazed at how the quality of her portfolio skyrocketed once she had a team of professionals supporting her.
Once she came home to Texas, Dixon knew that she wanted to pursue a career in fashion photography, but she didn't have many professional connections. With a Business degree under her belt, Dixon had learned the value of networking and putting herself out there, despite her introverted nature. When asked about the process of building her own team, Dixon says she began by finding local models on an internet model database. The models she worked with connected her with their favorite makeup artists and stylists, and her network expanded from there.
Cabus then asks how Dixon became an ambassador for Nikon. Dixon says she took the advice of her college business coach to join the trade organizations associated with the photography industry. One, in particular, hosted a photography contest, which Dixon entered and won. As her reward, she got to attend their Las Vegas trade show where she connected with a Nikon representative. Since she shot with Nikon cameras, she asked him to take a look at her portfolio. He was impressed with what he saw, so she kept him updated over the next year with what she was shooting.
Eventually, Dixon was asked to shoot a campaign for the release of a new Nikon camera. Nikon was impressed with her work and kept inviting her back out to shoot. When they launched their ambassador program, Dixon was one of sixteen photographers in the United States who were chosen to be a part of it.
When asked why she prefers Nikon cameras, Dixon says she loves how they render skin tones and portraits in a soft, creamy way. She likes this look as opposed to the sharper, more digital look of other brands.
"If you're given an opportunity that you're not prepared for, always say yes, and figure it out later."
photo provided by artist
Dixon says she still enters photography contests when she feels the urge to. She explains that the key with contests is that it's not about winning, but about exposing your work to the judges. If a judge is a creative director for an ad agency and likes your work, for example, you could potentially land a campaign that way, regardless of if you win the contest or not.
Dixon shares that her ultimate passion is helping brands and businesses grow and gain exposure through her photography, which is where her love of business and photography collide. Over the last decade, she has enjoyed traveling all over the world to fulfill this passion, from Ibiza, Spain to Barcelona to Brazil to Venice, Italy.
When asked how the pandemic affected her work and business, Dixon says that travel shut down for her entirely. It was a big adjustment going from traveling 75% of the year to all of a sudden being home bound. But, it was then that local jobs began to come her way. The Hotel Drover, for example, a part of the Mariott Autograph Collection, found her work through a friend and hired her because she lived right down the street. She has since shot many more times with Mariott, both architectural and commercial.
Cabus then asks how Instagram and social media have played a part in her success. Dixon says that while she's not a big fan of social media, personally, it has been a helpful tool for her business. Facebook first launched when she was in college, so she obtained business from posting her photo shoots there. Mostly, though, her business has grown through word of mouth.
Dixon's advice to aspiring photographers is to create a unique presence on social media. She says the more you can find your niche and differentiate yourself from others, the more you will stand out and get jobs. Dixon admits that this has been a challenge for her since she shoots a wide range of subjects. But, social media has been a great way for her to keep her network updated.
"If you can find a niche that's super unique and something that you just stick to and do over and over and over again that's super interesting and iconic, you can blow up on [social media]."
photo provided by artist
When asked if she works with representation or if she represents herself, Dixon says that she does work with some reps but not exclusively. Otherwise, her team handles the entire production process. Dixon enjoys working directly with clients because it allows her to develop ongoing relationships with them, although she says it's also nice to have reps to bring in extra work.
Dixon then shares about her book, Fashion and Lifestyle Photography. When she was speaking at the Nikon booth at a trade show, a London publisher approached her and suggested she write a book. The idea resonated with her, so she collaborated with him to create a how-to book on breaking into the fashion photography industry, getting your name out there, and branding yourself. She says it took about a year to put the book together, and she swore she'd never do it again once it was finished. But, lately, she has reconsidered, saying that a photography coffee table book may be in her future.
Admittedly, Dixon says she was afraid to pursue photography as a career at first because the industry seemed intimidating. True to her Business major, she first applied to an investment firm job after college, though she turned it down because her mentor advised her to face her fears and give photography a try. Although it has been tough at times, Dixon says she hasn't looked back since.
Dixon advises aspiring photographers to just go for it. She says that we're trained in school to essentially be factory workers, so it's hard to go against the grain and pursue the things we love. But, when we do, she shares, the reward is like nothing else.
"You've got to do stuff that feeds your soul."