How to Write a Photography Brief - 10 Top Tips
Need Help Briefing a Photographer?
Do you need to know how to write a photography brief? Read on for 10 easy to follow steps and finally a template you can use for most occasions. In addition to the 10 points I have also created some scenarios to help explain my points (these are real life experiences).
Every photography shoot is different and even the apparently straight forward ones can have their unexpected challenges. Even if you have worked with a photographer a lot there can still be challenges on every job.
The photography brief is there to inform and also help the photographer, the agent (such as a marketing agency) and the client (of the agency). Sometimes sending the brief, in advance to all parties involved can be really useful. Which brings us to our first tip.
1) Share the Brief With Everyone
The photographer is booked for a full day to shoot. A website re-brand of a plastic moulding company. The day that the photographer arrives the factory is in shut down for maintenance and the production floor is a bit of a mess. The business had just been told a date and a time for the photographer and stuck that in dairy, giving it not another thought. The brief was not shared. So, what does the photographer do now? Walk away and book the client for the full day? Typically, the boss of the company looks at the photographer with a frown and says ‘why didn’t you tell me you wanted to photograph the production running?’.
By sharing the brief with all parties, you minimise the chance for misunderstanding and hopefully everyone is prepared for the day in advance. Your subject, businesses, charity or manufacturer are prepared, cleaned and ready. When people understand what it going to be achieved by the photography they tend to relax. I also have found that once everyone is agreed on an approach a company can really get behind a photoshoot. Arranging the right people with the right equipment beforehand certainly helps my productivity, is better for the photographer and the agency.
2) Travel and Parking
A client tells me I’ll get a brief a week before the job. It’s two days before the shoot and the client (a marketing agency) says a brief will arrive the next day. The night before the photography booking, I receive a postcode for a field about 2-hours’ drive away and a time of 8am. The next day I arrive at the destination and it’s a small airfield which I managed to get opened up by calling the number on the gate (I’m assuming at this point they are flying in). By 9am I’m calling the client but no response. Eventually I get a call saying the helicopter they are travelling in has arrived 20 miles away at a farm and can I get there ASAP? The person I am photographing is in the helicopter with the client and a reporter. They are to visit three wildly spaced locations that day and I have to drive like an idiot to catch up with the helicopter.
Obviously knowing where you are travelling to and the time of arrival is vital. Some jobs require I lot of kit so is there parking on-site? If so, do I need a code or do you need a car registration before arriving. If the job is a 2pm prompt can I arrive 10mins early for a plan and set-up?
3) Have a Shot List
A shot list literally lists the photography you need. As a press photographer I was always taught to get a nice variety of shots on every job. Think about getting the maximum value from the shoot.
Here would be an example for an hour shoot, good and bad practice:
Option 1: Shot List: 15 people – management headshots against a white background (1/2 hour to shoot)
Option 2: Shot List: 15 people – management headshots against a white background, Serious/neutral versions and smiley warm version. ½ portraits, full length portraits (all smiling). (60 mins to shoot)
Do you need wides or upright shots or both? It worth getting a quick exterior of the business on the way in or out. Do you need any shots of the business branding on the front of the building? Most freelance photographers will try and cover all the bases but don’t forget they won’t know your client’s website and business as well as you do.
4) Plan A and Plan B
Weather can change and sometimes a you have to change venues. Maybe the award that you were supposed to photographing hasn’t arrived. Either way its great to have a plan B. A shot list can help in this regard too. Can’t get the big group shot because no-one has turned up? Well you can still get an individual shot of the person and some shots of the business.
I’m due to photograph the new CEO of a business. He is not going to be able to make it. I ring up my super slick contact at the agency and she says “give me 5 mins and I’ll get back to you”. 10 mins later I’m photographing a new production prototype in the R&D lab. These images will accompany a press release that will be sent out in a months’ time. I’ve earned my food stamps, everyone’s happy.
So at least if you brief says ‘Photograph the CEO and some exterior of the premises’ at least you’re not going to get an invoice and nothing to show for it.
5) Needed and Wanted
Sometimes its wise on a brief to state what shots are really important and what are extra. I’ve even had some brief that do an ABC but most often its, we need, we would like and extras. If the photographer is flying solo this is very important. Prioritizing time on those vital shots means the client is going to be delighted. On a large job it may be that if one aspect cannot be done in the morning you can go back to it later in the day and if your ahead of schedule then you can get cracking with those extra pics. Most good freelancers will naturally time manage but why leave it up to chance?
6) Time is Money
Some freelance photographers are booked by the hour, half day or full day. As a PR photographer I’d say 50% of my jobs are 1-hour shoots. On a shot shoot its important for everyone to be prompt and know what’s going on. Sometime if there are delays, I can wait but sometimes I can’t. I once waited for an hour for a management meet to finish as the boss couldn’t step out for 2 mins for a quick portrait. He was not pleased I was leaving as he came out of the meeting but why should my next client be inconvenienced? If he’d have been told before hand it would be literally 2 mins he maybe would have popped out.
If timing is going to be critical on a shoot, such as a flash-mob, make sure you brief is sent to everyone and everyone understands it. Another tip is sending out a brief well before a shoot to allow a company to see what the photographer requires and prepare. If you are unsure how long a shoot will take then ask the photographer. They may suprise you and say it will be less time than you’d think. Also, a curtesy call or email the day before the shoot is great to jog everyone’s memory. (Sorry, I know. More work!)
7) How and When
Let the freelancer know how you would like the images supplied and the deadline. I always create an online gallery as well as use FTP and file sharing sites, such as We Transfer or Dropbox. If I’m doing a full day’s shoot on a Friday I want to know if the client needs the images by Monday morning? I need to know this as, like many people, I have partner and children and need to put time aside over the weekend for editing.
8) Include Invoice Details
Where possible put invoice details including the agreed fee on the brief. Obviously, many agencies won’t want to share a brief giving their photography cost to their clients but at least a billing address would be useful and the correct company name. Don’t forget that important PO number too.
9) Who, Where, When What, Why?
The cornerstone of every news article (or police report) are the five Ws. These little words almost certainly sum up what makes a good photography brief. Here we focus on the ‘why’.
Knowing what the photographs are going to be used for is pretty useful. Is that corporate portrait for a press release that says ‘Corp-Com get new multi-million-pound contract’ or ‘Corp-Com shed 10’000 jobs in economic downturn’? They are very different images. Is the group shot of all the engineers for a website banner, a phone app or a billboard? It might be for all three. In many ways a freelance photographer role is one of a story teller. Knowing the story is therefore vital.
This is one that I have to remember to be more proactive on myself. I get loads of good feedback but do I ask for testimonials all the time? No, I do not. Feedback can be an area both clients, agencies and freelance photographer/videographer are nervous about. We thrive on praise and positives but the thought of a client not liking my work and not telling me makes me feel sick. Feedback allows photographers, or any creatives, to understand what a client really needs. Sometime it may be a stylistic issue or simply that the brief has not been understood. Feedback throughout the whole system fosters understanding. Despite the anxiety of giving positive and constructive feedback it may well be the secret to truly great creative collaboration. (I just wrote that sentence all myself, I’m so proud! Great feedback Doug. Thanks)
So, in conclusion, a good photography brief isn’t everything but it’s a good start. That way a freelancer can relax, be creative and do their best work. It can also be a great way of collating what is actually hoped to be achieved for the photo shoot. When there are clear instruction and outcomes everyone feels more relaxed.
Please let me know if there is anything else that is required in this list and I will amend it accordingly. I hope you enjoyed this long read and thanks for stopping by.
For further reading please see how to choose a freelance photographer.