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The Importance of a Creative Brief

One of the most difficult aspects of being a commercial photographer is understanding what the client wants. You would think this would be easy, after all no-one hires a plumber or an electrician without knowing what they want them to do. But surprisingly for photography assignments, the brief from clients can be vague and a bit wishy-washy! Often clients simply expect the photographer to turn up and do wonders, and then question why the photographs don’t always come out exactly how they imagined they would. It doesn’t matter if they are great photographs – clients can instantly be disappointed if they don’t match what the client envisaged or dreamed of. As a photographer I am not able to see inside the client's head...If I could I would probably have a completley different profession! Ultimately, if a photographer doesn’t deliver on the aspired outcome and the client HASN'T been clear about what that outcome should be, the client only has themselves to blame.

There is an easy fix though – be clear and be communicative – take the time to write a brief that is structured and informative. It will save time and stress later to think about it in advance.

So how do you do that? What information should you include?

The Basics

Start simple. Who are you? What is the project? Where will the shoot happen? What are the start and finish times? The contact details of someone there on the day.

So far, so good, this is basic stuff and I am teaching you to suck eggs, right?

Thing is, you would be amazed at the number of emails I receive that do not have all these details or miss the basics.

The Details

Once you have set the basics it is time to get more detailed. A pro will be prepared for most scenarios and will do some research to ascertain what equipment is required on the day, but the more info a photographer has, the better prepared they can be saving time and effort. Describe your location and the subjects and the more descriptive the better. Is it indoors or outdoors? Naturally or artificially lit? Can the photographer use flash lighting? Is the space small or large? Will people be sitting or standing? Are they all wearing white? Key details will help everyone! This can be done in an email, but my suggestion is that you ALSO have a call to hammer these details out and allow the photographer a chance to make sure they are fully prepared on the day. You should also help the photographer assess risk on location and provide a risk register with possible contingencies, for example, is the shoot at risk of running over time and if so will the photographer be able to stay a little longer?

Project Details

Unless you have worked with a photographer before, give them some background on your branding, your preferred look and colour schemes, and links to website and instagram – assume they know nothing.


What is the message you want to communicate? Be clear about how you want the images to interact with your audience. Who are the audience and how do you want them to feel when looking at the photographs? Wherever possible provide visual examples and detail what you like, but also very clearly what you do not like. It is ok to ask the photographer to help with styling or design a shoot but that is an additional service that requires time and should be done in discussion, its not fair to expect them to show up and create a complex tableau of shots using smoke bombs and a Dalmatian.

What are your requirements? Don’t be afraid to provide a 'key shot' list/'do not miss' list, clearly stating what you need; however, this should be a guide only and then you need to let the photographer do their thing. This is the area of the brief that most often fails. Either clients seem to provide nothing, or they try to control everything. Find a happy medium by hitting the minimum for your brief, so a shot list of around 8-10 shots is plenty unless the project is complex such as a book or an exhibition. A really important point is this - You will not get the shots you want if you do not engage with everyone involved. Often, I have been thrown in, given a shot list that requires some form of co-ordination with multiple participants who have no idea their expected to get involved. We waste more time getting people organised than actually using that time to shoot. So if you want to tick off certain shots you need to help make sure that the relevant people, the time, and the co-operation is/are ready, willing and able: sharing a brief with them is a great way to do this.

Delivery

Be clear about deadlines, timeframes and expectations. Two weeks seems fine to clients at booking and signing the service level agreement, and then on the day they start asking for photos by the following morning for social media, or even within the hour! A photographer needs to plan time into their schedule for edits, downloads and image manipulation, so have the discussion up front. I am usually happy to help with tight deadlines provided I know about them in advance. Also be clear about the sizes and dimensions of the final product and if you are not sure, explain to the photographer where these images will be used so they can help with that; a professional photographer can quickly batch edit a group of photographs into various sizes or qualities for different mediums so make this part of your initial brief.

The above is a lot of work, but it will be worth it. Great images are the result of communication and organisation that is clear and to the point. Some structure actually aids creativity on the day and doesn’t prevent the end product being inspiring or spontaneous, but it does stop the end product being disappointing.

Need help? Click the link below to the studios photography briefing template. Even if you do not use this studio, this will help guide you making sure all the relevant material is included when booking a photographer.

Download Creative Brief

Images from Veolia Wonder Day at Southwark IWMF on 21st September 2019