We asked Michael Heffernan to impart his experience on how to get original photography right and the value in working with an agency to do so – particularly in creating the brief and guidelines from which to shoot.

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 tend to be 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. 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. Having said that, its important that we have some creative licence built into the brief, as the best images are often those you least expect.

‘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.

‘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 exciting as so many B2B brands lack personality. Even if you’re a B2B business you need to move with the times in terms of aesthetic and it was exciting to be working with a company leading the way.This is where commissioned photography is particularly important, it means they could get the pictures which portrayed all the right emotions and sentiments. Individual to them, just like the brand should be.

‘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 digital ads, moving 3 second gifs, landscape and portrait images. And increasingly there’s a specification for video. When you think about all the bases you are covering, versus the cost of generating all these images remotely, suddenly a photoshoots value really starts to crystallise. Plus you can never underestimate the power of original content.

Michael Heffernan is part of the Lisa Pritchard Agency, one of the UK’s leading photography agencies and shoot producers.

If you would like us to help commission some brand photography, then please get in touch via hello@thisisembrace.com