Behind the lens: how to brief a photographer

Photography experts shared their tips on how to commission the best images with @MagazineCBJ postgraduates. Alyss Bowen reports

Linda Marchant @photolikeness, Nottingham Trent’s senior photography lecture/camera whizz, and Tom Broadbent @Broadbentius, past student turned photo editor, spoke to MA/PGDip Magazine Journalism students about how to brief photographers for a shoot.

These two are both top photography dogs, and the ideal people to tell us a thing or two about working with photographers. So without further ado, here are some of their top tips. Lights, camera, flashes.

Photography isn’t a service industry, it’s a creative one

Linda’s first step is to research your photographer. Know their style and look at past work to see if they suit the look of your magazine. The more you know about the way your photographer works, the more confident you’ll be on shoot day that they can deliver.

She also pointed out that, “photography isn’t a service industry, it’s a creative one.” You’re still in control, but let your photographer have the freedom to be creative. If you’ve sourced them out for their abilities to shoot fantastic celebrity portraits, have faith in your judgment and let them flourish.

Something journalists may not know is that photography is a lot harder than just pressing a button. The photographer needs to know all the nitty gritty details about where the shoot is, how long you’ve got the location for, date specifics and the model’s details. The more the photographer knows, the easier your job (and theirs) is later on.

Communicate clearly to ensure you get the final product you imagined. You would have already organised if you’ve got permission to shoot in your location, checked the weather and asked PR companies about restrictions for the subject, so don’t leave your photographer in the dark, tell them too.

Bondage underwater

Tom, who has worked with the Sunday Times and magazines including Marie Claire, Time Out and Wired Italia, agreed that a detailed briefing to photographers was central to success. The best magazines, he said, understood that their photographers were part of the creative team.

The best shoots he had worked on, like the Japanese-themed spread for Bizarre featuring bondage underwater, were outlandish but capitalised on the creative talents of everyone involved.

Clarity is key when maintaining relationships with photographers. Give them good information so they can clarify exactly what ‘look’ you’re going for. Tell them if the image is going to be used on a front cover, or if it’s going on a double spread.

Photographers will probably walk away if you ask them to imitate anyone else’s work

Never EVER ask them to shoot the image like another photographer. They have their own style, and will probably walk off site if you ask them to imitate anyone else’s work.

Linda’s final point was to work as a team and collaborate to get the best final outcome. Trust each other and respect your photographer by paying them on time, giving them notice to complete the job and telling them where the image will be used.

So now we all know the how to maintain the perfect relationship with a commissioning photographer, here’s a run down of the top three points.

  • Communication is key: Don’t let your photographer work blind; it not only reflects badly on them, it reflects badly on the magazine.
  • Clarity: Spell out exactly what it is you want, and be completely clear on it. Don’t just assume they know.
  • Collaboration: You’re a team, so work as one so both the magazine, and photographer can produce something to be proud of!

Alyss Bowen @girlonaladder


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