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How to write a photography brief, from a commercial photographer.

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

I can’t stress the importance of a photography brief enough; it could be the difference between getting the right tenants to view your rental property or maybe a couture fashion shoot gone rogue.

Almost every photography shoot needs a brief, whether you are a bride to be or a Mad Men ad agency, the reality is if you want the best out of your photographer, you need to brief them. There is no exact template or rules you should follow when briefing a photographer and every shoot requires something a little different. What I am going to do here is provide you with the key areas you need to think about when approaching the task with a rough guide of what you ought to be putting into the brief.

As a caveat, I am a commercial photographer shooting mostly food and product photography, as such this blog will be most heavily oriented to that field, though still valuable for anyone trying to gain insight on the subject matter.

I will be going through some slightly technical parts here too, and I realise not everyone knows the answers to those parts. However, it is important that you are thinking about these as you will need the photographer to help you in determining the answers.

What is a photography brief?

A photography brief is essentially the outline for what it is you need from the photographer, a vague definition I know, but that is briefs for you … vague. Well sticking to this guide, we will ensure that you are able to put together a thoughtful and precise brief. This way there will be no need for timely and costly reshoots.

What you need to think about in creating a brief:

1. Set Goals and Objectives.

The first thing to do before writing a brief is to sit down and outline what it is you want out of the shoot. What is the wider marketing purpose of the image campaign, what are you trying to achieve when creating the imagery?

Set SMART objectives, if you missed out on the secondary school classes on this one you can get a little insight here. Using this method will ensure that your objectives are of value and can be interpreted by the photographer.

Here is an example of an objective I would set for the photographing of a new menu launch:

- To produce 20 images of the new menu which receive a 15% average higher engagement rate on Instagram, images to be delivered within one month.

2. Who are you?

It is important to illustrate to the photographer who their client is. As a business what are your values, what is your market proposition? It is important to demonstrate this as it allows me or any other photographer to ascertain the needs of the shoot.

It has happened before that a client has tried to appear more successful than they really were, consequently, I believed they had the resources for a much grander shoot, as such my proposal was way off. This wasted time for both me and the client, it also eroded the trust in our professional relationship.

The key here is to be honest and clear.

3. Who are your audience?

This is vital. What makes a commercial photographer different than someone who can take a neat picture is the understanding of the marketing needs of imagery. For a photographer to get their head around this, they need context.

For example, say I’m shooting a piece of jewellery for middle-income millennials that are sustainably minded; I’m going to shoot the jewellery with a very different aesthetic in mind than if I was creating imagery for a very similar product, that was going to be marketed to middle-aged women of significant wealth, who value premium quality bespoke products.

What I recommend you outline is:

- Demographics (age, wealth, gender etc.)

- Values

- Likely social connections. (married, friends, children)

- Interests.

4. Where do you intend to distribute the imagery?

One of the key determinants of how images will turn out is where they will be distributed. By this I mean where will they be posted, are they for print on a billboard or is it a magazine ad? Are they images of shoes for your eCommerce store?

It is not only important to answer this question for your photographer, but it is essential in asking yourself as a business, getting the best value out of the imagery campaign is about distributing them not only in the place they are going to be seen, but seen by the correct audience and provoke the correct reaction.

With this in mind, the photographer will optimize the images with the distribution platform intended.

5. Shot list:

The shot list is simply a list of the images that are needed for a particular campaign, now that you have thought about all the proceeding factors this will be a lot simpler. If you have several different images, then it is best to divide them into groups.

So, let’s say you are an ecommerce brand, you have evaluated what you need::

Ecommerce photos:

- 3* images per product. White studio background 720p*720P 400 items.

Website content:

- 3* Flatlay banner images 1920p*360p.

- 16 * Blog content images 1080 * 1080p.

Social media:

- 100 * Instagram optimised images 1080 * 1080p

This way it is evident what images should be included in the final delivery and there is no opportunity for mistakes or miscommunication.

6. Brand guidelines, aesthetics, mood board:

Being on-brand with visuals is of the utmost importance, a consistent brand is about a consistent voice, speaking from many places telling the same story. This is how consumers buy into brands. The whole point of branding is to have something intangible that the customers instantly recognises, that they trust and hold value to, confusing visuals is going to mean consumers simply don’t know who is talking.

Not every business, campaign or shoot has guidelines, and it can be hard to think about these things, it’s what you pay us creatives for. Hopefully, you have had these put together for you in the past by my peers. Failing this you should have some idea of the type of style you are looking for, again leaning on your photographer here to assess your current branding will help in making those decisions.

So, to make it simple, you should think of some keywords to describe your brand aesthetic: organic, muted green tones, minimalist, rustic, earthy. As simple as that and we already have a vision starting to from. From this, with all the rest we have in place the images will begin to develop.

For those of you who want an even more refined vision, one thing I always recommend to my clients is to create a mood board (I always recommend Pinterest for this, it even allows you to pull in content from across the web and Instagram now.) With this, you can really help the photographer to visualise what it is you are going for and ensure deliverables are exactly to your taste and brand.

7. Timeline.

Let’s outline the dates for each part of the process. Though your initial reaction may be to ask for just a delivery date by identifying milestones you can ensure throughout the process everything is running on schedule so that when the deadline arrives all is delivered on time, to spec.

Here is a timeline for a small product photography campaign for an eCommerce brand, we will only include the photography section here:

Day 1: Brief delivery.

Day 3: Photographer delivers proposal.

Day 4: Client delivers feedback proposal.

Day 6: Final agreement, contracts delivered.

Day 8: Goods delivered to studio.

Day 10: Shoot takes place

Day 12: First draft imagery delivered.

Day 13: Feedback on the first draft delivered.

Day 15: Amends and final delivery.

Day 16: Feedback.

Day 17: Invoice.

I have been more detailed than is necessary here, but I am trying to give you an idea of what you ought to be thinking about in this process.

8.Image specification:

This section again is where you may need to liaise a little more with the professional. Image specifications are basically requesting the file formats that will need to be delivered, the biggest difference here is between having images delivered for print and for web use.

Print images need to be the highest resolution possible, at a 300ppi in a low or non-compressed format like PNG or TIFF. This is because when we print, the printer can print at a much higher resolution than screens. Using lower resolution images will cause it to look unsharp. Print photography may also need to be produced at a much larger scale than your typical phone or computer screen.

For web: compressed is best. Almost no image is going to be viewed at more than 1920px across, that is the maximum resolution of most standard laptop screens, it is exceedingly rare that your image is going to fill the entire width of the screen anyway. But more importantly, big files load slow and Google, nor users for that matter, like websites that load slowly, so big slow files deter users and negatively affect your SEO ranking.

So here are the key things you need to outline for each image and some examples:

File format: PNG, TIFF, JPEG Aspect ratio: 1:1, 4:5, 2:3, 16:9 Colour space: RGB, CYMK Resolution: 1080px*1080px, 360px*240px Pixel density: 300ppi, 240ppi, 152ppi, 72ppi

9. Licensing?

When you have imagery created you don’t then own it, you become the licensee of the imagery, where the photographer retains ownership of the photographs as the licensor.

The importance of this is that there can be different terms of use for the imagery. Depending on the photographer and the job you will potentially be charged a licensing fee. That fee is dependent on a range of factors including but not limited to:

- How long you license the image for.

- Whether you have exclusive rights to produce the image or not.

- Where you produce the image.

- The quantity of times that you produce the image.

So, it is important that you think about how you are going to use the imagery ensuring that you get the right licencing terms for your project needs.


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