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How To Write a Photography Brief for Commercial Photography

Contents: Photography Brief - A Guide

As a commercial photographer, I always ask for a photography brief when potential clients make enquiries. Many larger companies are used to this, but some small businesses can feel a little unsure about what this involves. Although it might look at first sight as if you need to write pages and pages to cover everything, it isn’t always necessary to include lots of details on everything for every job. This article acts a guideline for the kind of thing that a photographer wants to know when they are pricing up a job. If you are new to this, you might find it helpful to use the framework below as a step by step guide on how to write a photography brief.

Why bother? It might seem like a lot of work, but creating a brief can be an enormous benefit to you and your photographer. For a start, it can anticipate a lot of the questions you might get back from an initial enquiry and so potentially save you multiple emails or conversations. Secondly, writing a brief can help to collect your thoughts so that you have a clearer understanding of what you want and need from the project. Thirdly, having everything spelled out means that there are fewer chances of misunderstandings later down the line. Problems sometimes arise if a brief is not precise enough as each person can interpret it in different ways. Having a clear brief is a good way to manage everyone’s expectations.

What Are Your Aims?

It is important to set out what you want to achieve before thinking about how to achieve it. What will success look like for this project? Although a goal might simply be to have more images, try to be more specific if you can. This will help you to get a better return on your investment as the photographer will know what they are aiming for and you will know if they achieved it. Your aims might be, for instance, to have clear angles of view of a product that you want to list on Amazon, or to bring a more luxurious feel to the images you use for your brand.  Some shoots might be for just one thing, e.g. to create an advert to go on the back page of next month’s magazine. Others may be for wider use – social media, website, print ads, etc. One goal might be to position your product or service as a new alternative to an existing brand. So, specify the feel that the images need to create. As with each section of a photography brief, this section may be long and detailed or extremely short. It all depends on the requirements of the project. Don’t feel you have to write a lot just for the sake of it.

Resources:

Your Ideal Outcomes

If you could have exactly what you want, what would it be? Rather than starting with the budget (and yes, the finances do of course matter), try imagining what you would have in an ideal world. Once you know that, you can find ways to bring in as many elements as your budget allows. Creative lateral thinking can sometime make it possible to achieve more than starting out with low expectations. For example, you might want to do a shoot with ancient Greek architecture in the background. Unless you have a huge budget, flying a team out there and getting permissions is very likely to be impossible. But, can you find an alternative location with architecture that has the right feel? Or, could you perhaps have the background created in CGI? If you started out with the budget first then you might not have got past what locations are available to you locally.

Setting out your ideals can help the photographer get inside your head and understand what you want. At the same time, however, you will have to be realistic about potential points for compromise. You might like to include suggestions in your brief. Or, you could note that some aspects may be beyond the budget and ask if the photographer has any ideas how you might achieve something similar.

How Does This Relate to Your Brand?

When building a strong brand it is important to have a consistent feel to your visual resources. Many business have a brand guidelines document that helps everyone to maintain the right look. If you have a set of branding guidelines then you should send this to the photographer as part of or along with your brief. That way they can plan to incorporate it from the outset.

If you don’t have any of your branding formalised into guidelines then I would suggest supplying the photographer with links to any existing images you want their work to sit alongside. Send them the colours you use as well – preferably as hexidecimal codes so that they get precisely the right values. Then also provide a written statement (this could be from your website) about your brand values, ideas and goals. All of this allows the photographer to build an impression of your brand so that they can create images that sit well with it.

Perhaps the images are forming part of a larger re-brand of your business. In this case, include as much as you can to help them relate to your vision for your revamped brand.

Resources: How colour can be used in advertising

Where Are You Using The Images?

Let the photographer know how you plan to use the images. As well as having a possible impact on the licensing (see later on), the final use can dictate things like retouching. Minor blemishes are unlikely to be visible in small images online. So, they may not require the same degree of retouching as an image that is intended to be printed as a large advert. Once the photographer knows this they can plan for more/less time to suit your requirements and reflect that in the price.

The photographer may ask for a detailed breakdown of how you wish to use the images if they have an image licensing structure in place. This could include things like – social media, website, small print adverts, large adverts for international circulation, etc.

Resources: The difference high end retouching makes

File Specifications

What final form do you want the images in when the photographer delivers your pictures? There are various factors to consider, including  but not limited to file type.  If you are unsure about any of these, it is best to liaise with your graphic designer (if you have one) and ask the photographer for advice.

  • Colour Space – do you want your files to be in sRGB or Adobe RGB? Images that are only used online will need to be in sRGB as that is the colour space for all online images. Some printers can use Adobe RGB, which allows for a wider range (gamut) of colours. Other print labs work in CMYK and may need you to convert to that colour space for them. 
  • Bit Depth – do you need 8-bit or 16-bit files? If the images may undergo further work and you want to maintain as much flexibility as possible then 16-bit may be useful. But, if you don’t need it then there is no point in having the larger files that creates.
  • Print Resolution – do you require the images files to be set at a particular dpi (e.g. 400dpi) for them to go to print? Or, do you just want the full size files for your designer and/or printer to manipulate as needed?
  • File Type – jpg (jpeg), tiff, png, psd? 
  • Optimised (compressed) – do you want the images supplied with compression applied to make the files as small as possible? It is important to optimise images for websites. Would you prefer the photographer to do this or will you or someone else handle it?

Resources: How to optimise images for websites

Who Needs to Be Involved?

Identify who needs to be involved in the project. Are you likely to require models, makeup artists, support staff, etc.? For a large scale location production this could be quite a lot of people. But, for a simple packshot photography project of items that comfortably fit on a tabletop there might be hardly anyone except the photographer. When drawing up a list for this section it is worth considering both those that may need to be paid to be there and also others who may need to contribute in some way but might not be paid to be there on the day.

To keep things clear I would advise specifying who would be liaising with each person. The photographer will need to know if you are arranging each element or asking them to do so. Don’t forget about those who might be indirectly involved. For instance, inform any security guards, cleaners or other staff who may come across the shoot in progress so that they are forewarned and know what to do.

If you would like the photographer to quote for various people’s contributions then be sure to let them know. Also, tell them if they have free choice or you would like 3 quotes, etc. As an example, for models it may be important to the client to have the final say over who is hired.

Where Will The Shoot Take Place?

The shoot location should be specified in the photography brief. It might take place at the photographer’s studio, your own premises or a different location. Obviously we want everyone involved to turn up at the right place; but there are other reasons why this matters too. Some locations may have very specific issues that could arise. For example, should you be at a beach then the level of the tide may make a huge difference and could necessitate re-arranging the shoot if it isn’t as expected. Similarly, if you are planning on using a public location such as a park then you might wish to check if any events may be going on that could make your shoot impractical. 

This also leads us on to the next important point – gaining all the necessary permissions for the shoot.

Do You Need Permissions?

Permissions are something easily forgotten at the early planning stages. However, if the right model releases and property releases aren’t in place then you may not legally be allowed to use the resulting images. Or, later down the line, you may be forced to take down your images. Having releases in place that have been signed by an authoritative party gives you peace of mind, knowing that anything or anyone accounted for can be safely in the photos.

What are model releases and property releases? These are legally binding documents that give the holder the right to use images of a person or property (usually a building). They specify what any resulting images from the shoot can be used for and may also delineate any restrictions on that use (e.g. not producing derivative merchandise). Parents or legal guardians normally have to sign on behalf of children to say that they are happy for them to be featured. 

In addition to these releases, you may need to secure prior permission to shoot at a particular location. Otherwise, the session may be awkwardly interrupted by a security guard! If you rent your property then you should check with the landlord/owner first before including any recognisable shots of the premises.

Your photographer should be able to supply you with model release and property release forms if you need them. 

What Is The Timeline?

Everyone needs to be aware of the timeline for the shoot. This includes when any people, props and locations need to be booked by as well as the shoot date itself. If there is a firm date by which you need the files then be sure to specify this in the photography brief as it will form part of the planning process for the photographer.

Can You Disclose Your Budget?

If the photographer is arranging elements such as the location and models, do you have a budget for them to work within? It can help narrow down the list of possible suppliers if some budget details are available to share with the photographer. 

Image Licenses & NDAs

Image Licenses & The Photography Brief

Image licenses are an often misunderstood part of a photography brief. Legally, the photographer owns the copyright to the images and licenses them to the client. It is very rare (and extremely expensive!) for a client to buy the copyright off the photographer. Instead, some kind of exclusivity clause may form part of the license.

Commercial photographers can differ from other types of photographers as they tend to have some form of sliding scale image licensing structure in place. The license regulates how any relevant parties are able to use the images. For the client, this might mean that they can only use images digitally and not in print, for example. So, it is vital to get the right type of license agreed to avoid any problems. 

It might be cheaper to ask for just low resolution files for online use if you don’t need to print the pictures. Likewise, if you only need certain images to be supplied in high resolution you may possibly be able to save money on the others by narrowing the terms of the license for them. So,  specifying the uses for which you wish to license the pictures can sometimes be to your advantage.

Usually a photographer will want to retain the right to use some images for their own publicity. They may also wish to use them to enter competitions and/or gain qualifications. If you do not wish to allow this then it is vital to make that clear. However, you may then find that the fee is increased as a result. 

Non-Disclosure Agreements

A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) can sometimes be useful for commercial photography work. It is a way of protecting any sensitive information supplied by any party involved in the shoot. So, for example, it is common to use an NDA when arranging to photograph an item that has not yet been released to the public. This prevents anyone from leaking information or images (with penalties incurred should they unwisely do so).

An NDA can be time-restricted and doesn’t have to last forever. For a product release, the day the product goes on sale might be a good time for the NDA to expire. It is worth having input from a qualified legal expert before creating or signing an NDA.

Additional Information

There may well be other information that is worth including when you write a photography brief. If it will help the photographer to gauge the complexity of the job and know how to price more accurately then it is most likely worth including. 

One thing which clients commonly attach to a photography brief is a set of indicative images. These might be from competitors that they are benchmarking themselves against. Or, they may be in the form of a moodboard of ideas for the shoot. They help to give an insight into what the client is picturing in their mind that the descriptive words of a brief might struggle to convey.

It might also be a good time to mention, if you haven’t already, any creative input you are looking for from the photographer. Are there particular aspects of their style that appeal to you? Do you want them to come up with variations of a theme? If the brief isn’t yet at the final stages you may wish to leave this relatively open.

Finally, don’t forget to include the contact details for all the key people involved in the project. 

What Happens After You Send Your Photography Brief?

The more complicated the brief is, the more time the photographer is likely to need to respond. There may be items that require research before a full costing can be produced. It is good practise to let them know when you would like to hear back by when sending the brief over. If it is urgent make sure you say so. Investing time in getting things right early on can help iron out potential problems that could occur further down the line.

You would then expect to receive a response that gives you a quote or estimate for the project. Where costs are yet unknown, it is likely that they will be estimates at this stage. Some photographers may offer options that could be included or removed according to your budget. As well as costing details, you may receive questions asking for clarification or suggestions for alternatives. 

When a commercial photographer sends a quote they should normally include any terms and conditions that they work to. Make sure you are clear about and happy with those as well as the financial side of things before agreeing the project. Once both parties have reached agreement, the client would pay a deposit to finalise the booking and detailed arrangements for the logistics of the shoot will be booked in.

How to write a photography brief - image of a photography brief waiting to be written & a pen

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