How to find and brief a photographer

24 August 2021

These tips and checklists are here to help you to choose the right photographer, and write a thorough brief – a brief that helps make the most of their time, resulting in a great set of images.

The importance of a good brief

You'll probably find it useful to have a brief prepared before you even start to look for a photographer. Every photographer is different, and will have specialist skills and experience. So, a good brief can help people to decide if they're right for the project or not.

Photography is also a creative process, and photographers are creative individuals. If you give them free reign, each will focus on a different aspect of what is in front of them; capturing it in many different ways. So, being as clear as possible about what you need from them is essential. Plus, the better the initial brief, the more focused your photographer of choice can be on getting the perfect shots.

You'll probably find it useful to have a brief prepared before you even start to look for a photographer

What to include in your photography brief:

🖼️ Your artistic vision

If this is a 'creative' shoot, be as descriptive as you can about what you're hoping for from the final images. It may be useful to show examples of the sort of images you're hoping to achieve.

Also include whether the look and feel of the photos needs to tie-in with any existing marketing or brand collateral / activity. (Show examples if you can.)

🌆 Where and when the shoot will take place

Be as descriptive as you can, and be especially clear about what lighting is available:

  • Indoors or outdoors?
  • During daylight hours or after dark?
  • Natural or artificial light?
  • Theatre lighting – in use by a production?
🛍️ If it's product photography:
  • Are you looking for creative styling, or a product on a white background?
  • Do you want to show products in use/with people or in isolation?
  • Do you have existing images that you need to tie-in with? If so, provide examples.
  • Will the shoot be in the photographer's studio or another location?
  • If the latter, how much space is available to set up the shoot? And what lighting is available?

If you're unable to use a professional photographer for your products, we've written a helpful 'how to' for taking product photos using your smartphone.

😊 The type (or types) of images you need
  • Posed shots of attendees?
  • Reportage/documentary of an event?
  • A performance/performers?
  • An audience?

If you want a combination of shots, be explicit about this. (And when photographing events, be sure your photographer gets Model Releases from anyone who may appear on camera.)

Are there specific requirements for cropping, or positioning a subject? If you need images with portrait orientation for your brochure, for example, the photographer will need to make sure to capture enough of that orientation.

Many photographers naturally favour either portrait or landscape orientation, so it’s important to let them know if you need something specific. This way, they're able to make conscious compositional decisions. Compositional decisions are best made in-camera (rather than trying to 'fix' things in post-production i.e. by editing the image). This helps to ensure a high-resolution, and high quality, finished product.

Many photographers naturally favour either portrait or landscape orientation, so it’s important to let them know if you need something specific

📦 Expected deliverables

Would you like access to the entire photoshoot, or a carefully edited selection? How many images are you expecting to use – a single 'feature' shot, or a gallery of several?

Don't worry if you're not sure about this when you write your brief. It's something you can discuss with your photographer once they've been commissioned.

📍 Where, when, and how the images will be used

Will the images be used in your next season brochure? On posters? On your website and/or social media? Are they for an ad campaign? If so, where will ads be running? And for how long?

It's important to cover this as sometimes a photographer's fee takes into account your usage of images. (Either instead of, or in addition to, their day rate for taking, editing, and processing your images).

ℹ️ Practical information

In addition to the artistic and technical considerations, provide them with the following information:

  • Details of their main contact at your organisation
  • Details of who will be in charge on the day of the shoot (if different from above), and how they can be contacted
  • Schedule of events – with precise timings
  • Details of who will be in attendance (members of the public, cast, crew, staff members, models etc)
  • Break/refreshment/meal arrangements for extended sessions
  • Will there be other photographers/videographers that they need to work with?
  • Budget – including how and when payment will be processed

How to find the right photographer

When you have the budget for professional photography, it's important to find the right person for the job. Not only are photographers creative individuals, but someone with a particular niche or specialism isn’t necessarily going to shine or excel in another genre of photography.

So, the first thing to remember is that not everyone with a camera will be able to do what you need them to do. There is more to event or product or portrait or landscape or architectural etc. photography than meets the eye!

In the arts and culture sector many of our decisions come down to price. But don’t let this be the main guiding factor. Find out who your peers used for that shot you admired. And ask around for recommendations.

Consider finding local talent if you need the photographer to come to your venue, to keep travel to a minimum 🌳. To find someone local, you can do a web search, ask around nearby peers and businesses, or try searching the hashtag #[YOUR TOWN/CITY]photographer on Instagram.

Bear in mind that anyone can use any hashtag, so there might be some … 'questionable' images in your search results! 🙈

Your brief should help you to create a shortlist. Added to this, be sure to research portfolios while considering the following:

  • Technical skill:
    • Are images in focus?
    • Are horizon lines level?
    • Are images correctly and evenly exposed?
    • Is the white balance consistently correct? (Are the whites actually white?)
    • Do they use a variety of shooting angles / cropping techniques?
    • Are they comfortable working with artificial light?
    • Do they have experience documenting events, and capturing decisive moments?
    • If posing is required (e.g. for headshots), are they able to capture natural expressions and personality?
  • Style and expertise across/in specific genres
  • Mood: light and airy, dark and moody, true to life, vivid?
  • Processing: heavily processed or not processed at all?
  • Creativity: if you need someone with flair and originality, does it show in their work?
  • Will their style fit with your brand identity?
  • The 'chemistry test' – do you feel like they'd work well with you / your team?

Your photographer will have standard terms and conditions in the form of a contract. This is to protect both you, and them and their work. A contract is likely to include dates and times of the shoot, number of hours to be worked in total, how and when you'll receive the final images, the agreed fee, and that the photographer will retain copyright. (This gives you the right to use the images as detailed in your brief, and the photographer the right to be recognised as the creator of the images.)

The right photographer is likely to ask you the right questions before they even start. But having a clear vision of what you want, in the form of your brief, sets everyone up for success.

For all kinds of reasons, it won't always possible or practical to hire a professional photographer. So, in the next article in our How to create great online images series, I'll run-through some helpful tips on taking DIY product photos using your smartphone.

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