How to commission original photography for a brand

Acclaimed lifestyle photographer Michael Heffernan on how to create the perfect brief

— in Advertising

Healthcare specialist creative agency Embrace recently conducted a shoot for medical device company Hartmann as part of their corporate identity branding, enlisting lifestyle photographer Michael Heffernan to implement the vision.

The project has not only produced a portfolio of beautiful images but highlighted the value of an effective methodology in terms of the inception, briefing, production and implementation process which should be a part of any brand manual template, which Embrace conceived.

Here Michael Heffernan imparts his experience on how to get original photography right and the value in working with a creative agency to do so – particularly in creating the brief and guidelines from which to shoot.

Michael says, ‘I’ve been a photographer for the past 32 years, specialising in lifestyle photography and working for a variety of high profile brands - particularly telecoms. For example, I did a major campaign for Vodafone developing brand guidelines and an image library – which was entirely street cast and shooting as I found the models.

Commission pictures: It’s in the planning

‘Every sector is different in terms of what they want but ultimately, the challenge is in the planning. If you plan something well, it shouldn’t fail. If you produce an actionable document, you’re 90% of the way there. Of course, all clients have to have their first experience at some stage in their career but a lot of people don’t know what they’re doing and that ultimately can waste time and money. What’s more, people don’t always know how to make a job fruitful and productive. If I don’t know what the client is asking for, it means I have to constantly ask questions.

‘Agencies are always better positioned to commission photography because not only do they have experience of doing it before but they also objectively know the brands they are representing. If it comes from the organisation itself, it inevitably needs to have an inhouse creative services team to understand all the variables. For example, if a brief comes directly from the client, they don’t understand why certain aspects of a shoot appear expensive – like models, for example! You have to understand all the legal aspects of using one. It’s important that there’s a creative agency in between to manage this process.

Adding value for any visual branding

‘As a photographer, you prefer to be involved right from the beginning on any job – because you have experience and you can assist the agency in helping the client get more from their budget and campaign. You can always see what could be added to the shoot: What if I did it this way? Added this? 

‘Often, as with the Hartmann shoot, you’ve shot in the location before and so you can input a lot into the setup with the locations and models. Working with Embrace on this shoot was so easy because they’d done so much of the legwork in advance and had created a highly prescriptive briefing document – more like a manual – that had previously been signed off by the client, so everyone on the shoot knew what was expected of them and what to deliver. Every I had been dotted and every T crossed.

‘As a photographer, you’re constantly hoping to do more and add value, so it’s important any brief gives you some creative licence – and this is generally about time.

‘For example here, we shot 22 images over 6 days but you could certainly always do more: the value equation – how much more would that cost is tiny versus the extra materials you could generate. Again, it comes down to effective planning.

‘Generally, when I’m briefed, the problem is always about not enough detail, not specifying the message needed from each scenario. Some people think that hampers your creativity, but you actually need to know what is expected of you – and that has to come from the client (via the agency).

‘I’ll give you an example, I had a meeting recently with a company who had a bare bones of an idea, there were lots of competing divisions within the business and there was no written brief but they thought I should come up with the ideas. But my job is to simply execute.

‘In the end, they used an image library but then that comes at a great deal more expense and with limited usage rights. It’s always, always better to shoot your own images.

A new approach to B2B photography

‘What was also exciting about the Hartman brief for me in particular was that the client wanted a B2C take on the photography – part of the reason they came to me in the first place. This was particularly refreshing since, as with other industries, audience taste and perception moves on.

‘Even if you’re a B2B business you need to move with the times in terms of aesthetic. These businesses are now reaching consumers who are highly sophisticated and media savvy as they’re consuming more and more photographic content regularly thanks to Instagram and Pinterest.

‘As well as being involved in the planning, being able to shoot in this way was a big part in enticing me into the project.’

The new brand toolkit

‘Commissions have changed a lot since I first started photography: budgets have shrunk and clients want more bang for their buck. But briefs can also include specifications for banners or skyscraper ads, moving 3 second gifs, landscape and portrait images. And increasingly there’s a specification for video.

Find out more about the new brand toolkit here

‘Again, this all needs to be thought about in the pre-planning stage – and again, the value of an agency in the commissioning process is vital to ensure all relevant assets are provisioned for. It’s not the kind of thing you can just tag on to the end of a shoot.’

Michael Heffernan is part of the Lisa Pritchard Agency, one of the UK’s leading photography agencies and shoot producers, who are currently running a series of events on how to commission photography.

If you would like to discuss brand photography in the light of this article or purchase the brand photography commissioning toolkit, please make contact with Simon Davies on +(44) (0) 20 7336 7633

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