Advice for better business photography: Making plans & briefing your photographer

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There is no doubt, photography is king when it comes to helping any business engage with potential customers. For marketing material - it's crucial, there is nothing more frustrating than visiting a website and being met with very poor images – it can really damage first impressions, and ultimately, your brand. Allocating spend for professional photography is something every savvy business should consider which is something I wrote about in how a good photographer can help your business.

Its about decision making.

Photography is like diving: the more checks you do and plans you make before you start, the better the experience and results will be. For some businesses its best to shoot everything in one go. For others, little and often keeps things looking fresh and suits their cash flow better, but whatever way you choose to do it, one of the best ways to ensure a decent return on your spend, is by writing a comprehensive photography brief. 

Years of travelling (and trying to maximise results for the best possible fun!) taught me that people who make plans tend to get solid results and achieve more than those who don't. However, I also noticed that people who made no plans at all sometimes got better results than the planners.... It seemed that the constraints of a strict plan become limiting at times and those carefree fellows who were living in the moment often achieved higher high points than the planners. Whilst trying to decide how I might do both, I realised its best to always make a plan but, if good/interesting things happen along the way, then I should feel confident to freestyle for a while Since then, this has become guiding principle and is the philosophy that works well when planning a photo shoot:

Have a plan, stay flexible.

I often ask clients to go through this simple exercise to get them thinking a little harder about what it is they actually hope to create and think a little harder about the logistics of making it happen. One challenge all photographers face is making sure a clients expectations match up with their budget. Writing a brief helps bring client expectations and the reality of creating great photography together.

Identify your photographic needs.

Your first task is to help a photographer understand exactly what you want. You can't do that until you are entirely sure yourself, so start making notes. The best way is to consider the primary use of the images (website, new brochure, PR story) This will give you a basic starting point and allow you to build a shoot structure around your specific needs. Ask yourself things like: "How many images do I need? Who are the images for? Who/what do I want in the photos? Do I have a story to tell? Use the answers to all of these as an introduction for the photography brief. Not ony do they help you crystalise your own ideas, they add important detail and communicate your backstory to help you photographer know where you are coming from and what you are hoping to do with the new images.

Deadlines.

If there is a deadline for the images? If so, now is the time to identify it, working backwards from it will give you a time frame to work within and possibly some dates for a shoot. If there isn't a deadline, do you want to create one? Not only are they helpful in linking the chain between groups of people who want to use the photos, but they set the process in motion and us creative types often work better with one in place.

Create a shot list. 

It might be a simple 5-6 images or it could be 80 product shots and 9 'hero' images. Name each shot, break them down into types and include specific details where you need tot. This list will become the crux of the shoot and  is what a photographer will base his quote/estimate on, so it should be well thought out.

Set a budget.

How much do you want to spend? Be realistic - bespoke photography is never cheap, but you invariably get what you pay for. Putting a financial, numerical value to the images you want is crucial, even if its only as a starting point. It might not be enough to get exactly what you're after, but a good photographer can give you some idea of what is achievable for that. 

Start a digital scrapboook.

Finding and collecting some sample images of the kind of photos you like/want is very useful. Make some notes about why you like what you do so when you find a photographer who is right for you, you have something valid to discuss. It'll reinforce what you are expecting from him/her visually and he'll/she'll know you've been thinking about your choices carefully.

Find a photographer.

This is easier said than done but anyone worth their salt should get back to you pretty quickly. Firstly, check their availability - if they're not available you either need another date. In the mean time discuss needs, ideas and budgets etc. The process starts your relationship and provides a good opportunity for both parties to understand each others expectations and work style a little better.

Think about the location.

Where do the photos need to be? Think about the logistics of the location (postcodes for sat navs, on site parking, toilet facilities, shops etc.) If more than one location is involved, think about how to get everyone and everything from one place to the next. The look of a location becomes part of the look of the photography, so consider it wisely.

Wet weather plan.

Its less of an issue if you are inside, but if you're not, does it matter if it rains? These days it matters less than ever if its not all blue skies and sun, but for some people it makes a difference. If you need it sunny, you either need to fly somewhere hot and sunny to do it, or you wait for a sunnier day, so its best having a few back up dates in the diary.

Who?

The people you choose to be photographed (models or staff) need to look how you want them to, or at least - at their best. I'm not talking about how pretty they are, more about how much effort they put into their appearance (sometimes too much, occasionally its not enough.) I've arrived at shoots where people look like they have literally just rolled out of bed; scruffy, unkempt and obviously tired from a late night. If you are trying to sell professionalism - the appearance of the people in the photos is going to have a huge impact, particularly in a business scenario. Humans are very visual creatures whether we like to admit it or not. Try to avoid bright and branded clothing as its distracting.

Write a call sheet.

This has the name and contact details of everyone involved on the shoot, location addresses, special requests and concepts etc. Its the master sheet to make sure everyone knows exactly whats going on. You can email it over to the team involved and print out a hard copy to bring along. These are less about the photos and more about keeping the team informed of to the plan to create them. Its a really handy thing to have.

Energy levels. 

Photography is alot of fun and people get excited by being involved, which eventually can wear them down a little. If its only a short shoot, this is much less applicable but if its going on for more than a few hours people are probably going to need a short break, some water and maybe some food. If its an all dayer - a decent, healthy lunch will work wonders at reinvigorating the team. Driving people hard only gets better results when you reward them with the occasional break and people always work harder when they feel looked after.

Be involved. 

Whilst you don't want to loiter over your photographers shoulder constantly (allow him or her space to do their work)- its perfectly OK to speak out during the shoot or make suggestions as ideas come to you. Of course, if something is concerning you, call a break and discuss it discreetly.

Be confident. 

In the same vein, don't be afraid to just let your photographer get on with it either. If you've made good plans and things are feeling good - don't interfere just because you think you haven't said anything for a while. Some people, particularly those who are used to being the boss/making alot of decisions, find it difficult to step back sometimes. Too much interference plays havoc with deadlines, slows a shoot down and can even dilute a photographers approach. Top account executives who are used to spending hundreds of thousands on photography every year are often the least likely to interfere with the photography because they are confident in the choices they've made and know as long as they're paying attentionthey can jump in at any stage.

Feedback.

After the shoot, it helps everyone to get some feedback, positive or negative, and possibly do even better next time. Photographers want their clients to love their new images but at the same time, if the shoot didn't quite hit the mark they'll really want to know why and what they can do to make you happier next time, so discuss it with them. If they won't want to loose you as a client, they'll listen and make the changes they need to.

Image formats: know them or learn them!

Sending 72dpi images to a magazine or a 50MB image file to a website isn’t the end of the world, but does show an unnecessary degree of ignorance. Learning the difference between web and print resolution, and the 2-3 main image formats doesn’t take long. A photographer will always ask what you need, so it helps if you know the answer. If you are unsure, just ask and he/she can explain things.

Stay organised. 

We all know why organisation is paramount but, its easy for images to get misplaced or lost by clients. If you are spending money creating the best imagery you can get, you need to look after the results so they can continue to serve you in the future. This means separating out high res photos for printing, from low res for web and email use, organising in a way that you can always find exactly what you need, backing up copies of everything and archiving it in case of computer mishap or hard drive failure. Cloud storage is very useful for this kind of thing.

Ask.

Much of this sounds obvious, but planning your photography well is crucial to getting the images you need. Many people often feel shy about asking questions or even for help but the truth is if you don't know, you need to find out and your photographer will feel good about helping you with that.

If you want to know any more, or have a chat about how good photography can help your business please contact Bill.