In this series, we consider the three main types of business clients who hire photo and video services and how best to help them: The Outsourcer, The Doer and The Designer. Today, in our third and final installment, we take a look at the relationship between designers and photographers. In this tutorial you'll learn who designers are and what they want, how to land a job with them, and how to produce a successful photo shoot for this type of client.
Meet The Designers
Designers are a world apart from Outsourcers and Doers. The designer knows exactly what they want, and you are the tool to use to get it. The come with many names: graphic designer, art director, creative director. A designer will have very specialised knowledge of their field, be highly skilled and will be looking for excellent quality and service.
For example, a design client might be a sign-making company: their web designer needs some high quality images for the website and associated literature, so they hire you to photograph their products, staff, and sign-making machines. They know exactly what they want, but can’t take the photographs themselves either through lack of equipment or a skills-gap.
Or they could be an advertising agency, making a billboard for a local store. The art director at the agency hires you to photograph a model wearing the latest fall fashions.
For the designer, you are the instrument with which they can get what they need. They know what they want; they don’t really need you to bring your creative ideas to the table, at least not until they ask. Designers want you to execute their vision.
How to Land a Photography Job With a Designer
As the designer knows what they want, the emphasis will be very much on quality and design. You should give some thought to that when presenting your portfolio. They’re unlikely to be impressed with a few printouts or a Flickr gallery.
If you’ve worked in a similar way before then tearsheets—examples of printed literature or websites using your images—would be a real boon. If not, then try to mock something up; that’s not to say lie about having done particular work, but present what you have done in a well-thought out, aesthetically pleasing way. Make sure you use a respectable printer; a substandard print will put someone off even the best photographs.
If you’re planning on presenting digitally make sure you have a good screen showing true colours and have only your best and most relevant work in the presentation. The designer doesn’t want to flip past pet portraits before they get to your commercial work.
Doers share the design sensitivities of a designer, but not the technical and creative experience, making you a close collaborator. With designers, you should take a step back. Your work is to complement the designer by knowing a lot of what is expected of you without having to be told, including understanding and acting on a brief.
A good understanding of the brand is always advantageous, I find, but less important here than with the doer and outsourcer, as the designer will tell you exactly what they need from you.
Hiring a photographer can be expensive, and the designer will want a top quality product. They may have a higher budget than the outsourcer or doer because they understand the skills involved but, because of that, they will expect you to be really straightforward to work with.
Chances are the designer will want a fast turnaround, so make sure you allow reasonable time for photographing, potential editing and delivery of the final product. It’s also wise to allow time for any further amendments or requirements the client might have.
As with the doer and outsourcer, you need a clear brief. The difference here is that the designer will give you a brief, rather than you working together to come up with one.
The good news is that as the designer likely understands exactly what it is you do and speaks the same creative language, the brief should be clear and concise. If there’s something you don’t understand or feel you can’t achieve though, speak up and if you can, offer alternative suggestions.
If you think of something that would make a good addition to the project, or something that the client has potentially overlooked, don’t be afraid to mention it. Just because they take the lead on the project doesn’t mean you’re only there to take direction, it just means that as they’ve got what they want pretty much figured out, there’ll be less for you to settle beforehand.
If you’ve had experience in similar sectors before then this could play to our advantage; you might know something that worked really well, or might have tried something that didn’t work at all and that experience could save you valuable time and money with your client.
The designer will know what they want as a finished product or package, so make sure that it’s outlined and confirmed during the brief stage. Unlike the doer and outsourcer, who may look to you to lead the way, the designer may simply want you to take the photographs and send them over ‘as is’ to resize and even edit themselves.
They might also have specific needs like shooting against a plain backdrop for easy cutting out, later, so make sure your kit and lighting set up are appropriate for the situation.
While the expectations of the designer are likely to be high, they should also be reasonable. A higher level of understanding of the creative industry means they probably won’t be asking for the unachievable, nor anything above and beyond your budget. It also means that they shouldn’t leave anything out of initial conversations and the resulting brief; so you won’t get the end of the project only to be greeted with, ‘Oh I assumed you were going to…’
The work could also be quite repetitive; my editor recalls being asked to meticulously photograph a number of circuit boards for a high-tech company. I was once hired to take photographs of seats being installed in a football ground, so we can’t expect creativity and fun all the time. Shooting and cataloguing items can be a very long, boring and intense task so don’t forget to price accordingly. An hour of photographing 100 circuit boards could be vastly different in effort to an hour of PR or event photography.
Provide specific feedback and concrete suggestions. Don't waver, know your craft.
Over-Deliver a Little
The way to a client’s heart is to over deliver. With a designer, this is probably your only chance to impress them as you’ve not had the opportunity to woo them with your creativity or skills, as both are expected. Instead, ask yourself what you can do that is unexpected? Even the most jaded of designers appreciates getting something a little extra, or a level of quality that they didn't expect.
It might be hard to think of an added extra to a client with such specific needs–everything they want they’ve already asked for. Instead, maybe think about the way you deliver this. If it’s images for a website, for example, rather than just digitally transferring them over you could also send them a personalised USB stick with the images on. The cost of this is relatively low for you and it’s also a great marketing exercise. From the client’s point of view, they have a nice little gift that they can use again.
Following up is a good idea, too. Keep an eye on the company to see when the images are used and drop them an email to say you think their website (or whatever it may be) is looking great and if they need anything else to get in touch.
In Design, Photographers are a Specialised Sort of Graphic Artist
Clients who are designers need photographers who understand what they’re about, what they want, and how to make things happen. They’ll usually be great at communicating their needs and have got writing a brief down to a fine art. If you’re the kind of person who takes direction and instruction well then a designer client will suit you down to the ground.
Working for a designer isn’t a chance to show off your creativity or technical skills–both of these things are expected and they wouldn’t have hired you if they doubted you had both. Instead, it’s a chance to show you can do a thorough and efficient job in good time, for an agreed (reasonable) cost.
Designers have excellent knowledge about their own business or the business they are hiring on behalf of, and, most likely, across the technical and design spectrum generally. They should know what you’re capable of as a photographer and whether you can achieve what it is they want. This is great as it takes a lot of the guesswork and initial ‘fact finding’ out of the process.
Having said that, it’s wise to do your research on the company and brush up on knowledge of that sector in general so you can understand any particular references or technical jargon they may come out with. You don’t want to find you’ve been photographing the wrong parts of a machine because you didn’t understand what was asked!
As you’ve not got much chance to impress the client, other than doing a great job, you could think about how you might over deliver to make sure they remember you, and use you again. This could be in the form of an added ‘extra’ thrown in on top of your usual package, like a memory stick or flash drive. It could be a fine art print for their office that you made from the project images.
Designers tend to be repeat hirers. If they know you can do that particular task well with minimal fuss then you’ll become the person they contact every time they need new images. Larger companies often have much more scope and the budget for this sort of thing than the doers or outsourcers do, so if you land a designer as a client, be sure to do the absolute best job you can do.
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