Posted by: becnorthernadl | 2 September, 2010

How to Brief a Photographer

Every small business needs good imagery. Good images don’t just record the existence of your business or product, they also communicate, ‘between the lines’, many subtle (and some not-so-subtle) messages about your business and its values.

Whilst some photographs can be produced in-house, depending on your skill level, there will probably be a time in the lives of most small businesses when a skilled creative will be needed to provide your images. Enter stage left, the photographer.

I’ve used the term ‘skilled creative’ very carefully: a good photographer needs to be both of these: skilled and creative. Not merely creative and full of great ideas, nor merely technical and task-focussed. A good photographer has the ability to interpret what it is you’re trying to communicate into a finely crafted image or collection of images. This is a skillset not to be underestimated or undervalued.

Once you’ve chosen your photographer based on their previous work, professionalism and personality (there’s three nice ‘p’s for you!), you’ll need to give them your brief.

Your photographer will need lots of specifics – not technical photographic specifics – that’s their job. She or he will want to know what you’re trying to get across to your customers. Here’s a checklist that might help get you thinking:

  • The most important question: Who is your target market? This will dramatically affect the photography. If your market is 45-60 year old females, you probably won’t need iPods as props or chesty young models.
  • Context: Does the subject of the photograph need have a ‘feeling’ of some sort? Once again, be specific: just saying a ‘nice’ setting is far from enough: do you mean ‘Laura Ashley’ nice, or ‘Grand Designs’ nice or ‘Country Rustic’ nice? Or can your subject be isolated with no background?
Using props and models can give your images context

Industrial Design project shot, 2008

  • Props and Models: Do you need to visually describe the use or scale of your subject? Do you want it to seem upmarket or budget conscious? Choose props, talent and locations that communicate a consistent message.

Descriptive words can help you and your photographer clarify exactly what you’re after. Make a list of descriptive words for your subject, which represent concepts you want to communicate: Some of the following might help you get started:

fresh – traditional – modern – clean – rustic – warm – cool – valuable – affordable – exclusive – approachable – desirable – comfortable – practical – clinical – atmospheric – convivial – gentle – soft – hard – efficient – environmentally friendly – disposable – accessible – spacious – portable – enormous, etc etc

These descriptive, poetic words will give your photographer a clear idea of your message.

The prospect of a large invoice from your photographer along with a set of images which don’t quite hit the mark is not a pleasant one. If you give your photographer a loose brief with no clear sense of the desired outcomes, he or she will have no choice but to shoot hundreds of images and hope for the best. This will cost you more in time and money – and you probably still won’t have what you wanted in the first place.

Get it right, though, and the resulting images will be full of messages, both clear and subtle, about your business and its values. Every last one of those thousand words will be doing you and your business good!

All the best for your next shoot.

Kevin de Lacy



  1. Great post. I like the “skilled creative” definition. I think that title is quite versatile, and also applies to 3D designers, layout artists, copywriters, and most art professions. I also agree about keeping the target audience in the forefront of the development process. I’ve not tried the checklist technique, yet. I think it is a good idea and I’ll try it out next time I’m working with skilled creatives.

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