26th March 2019 Symposium of RAP-Political Action Network held at St Hugh's College, Oxford University. Argentinian politicians & business leaders. Photos by Ryan Cowan Photography

How to Brief a Commercial Photographer.

Get the best results from your commercial photoshoot with a clear photography brief.

As with any project, having a clear idea of what you need to achieve is wise and efficient but making a start can be daunting.

If you don´t know where to start, I’m here to help!

The photography brief is simply an outline of your overall goals, listing, and if necessary, explaining any specific requests for the imagery you require. You may provide some background information about your business, including your target audience so that your commercial photographer fully understands what you hope to achieve and can produce images that suit your brand message & style.

What might you include in your photography brief?

The last thing anyone in my profession would want is to deliver a set of images that don’t fit your requirements or meet your expectations.  

I always try to make time to really understand your business before embarking on a project.

Here is a list of the sort of information a commercial photographer like myself may find really useful prior to the shoot day. 

Have a clear written goal.

Is your goal to highlight a new product range and entice potential customers to buy?

Are you hoping to inspire colleagues with an internal ‘good news story’?

Is your goal to boost brand awareness?

Write down what are you hoping to achieve from your photography project.

More than just a shot-list.

When drawing up your shot-list, try to be aware that simply handing over a list of photos you require, with no context or explanation behind them can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.

Understanding how you plan to use your photos will help ensure we select the right equipment for the job too.

Aesthetic Style:

  Knowing what you like, or at least what you don´t, is also worth sharing with your photographer. A photographer´s style is often the sum of their process. Camera choices, lenses and settings are part of the photographer´s process and can differ greatly between photographers.

If you are not 100% confident that you know what you want, you should feel comfortable asking your photographer for advice. Make time to discuss the possibilities and devise the perfect shoot together.

Consider your images within context.

  Depending on your goals, you may have a pretty clear idea of where you wish to use your photographs and the purpose of each one. (Eg. A campaign on LinkedIn to illustrate your company´s values.) 

  You may be looking for lots of images to keep on file as "stock" to use in future announcements, blog posts or newsletters.

 It may be that these images are destined for use within a larger marketing campaign across all your platforms, including your website and printed marketing.

The more information you can give, the more likely your images will live up to expectations.

Brand guidelines

If your company has a particular moto, ethos or colour scheme, it is definitely worth sharing with your photographer.  

It may even help to inspire some of the creative ideas for your photoshoot, like which colours or props to use.

Once again this is another thing that helps provide context and consistency in your brand.

Who is your audience?

Be as specific as you can regarding your audience.

The more your commercial photographer knows about their ages, likes, dislikes and the market in general, the better we can understand the brief as a whole.

Provide examples

Where descriptive vocabulary may fail us, gathering examples of images you have seen elsewhere can be a great way to guide your own thoughts and show others what you are aiming for.

Using a Pinterest collection, making a free "mood board" on Adobe Spark or copying images you have found from Google image searches are some useful ways to help explain aspects like the quality of light you would prefer.

Don’t forget to include examples of images you don’t like. They can be just as useful.

How does it make you feel?

A step, so often forgotten, is considering how you want your audience to FEEL when they see your images.

Do you want them to laugh? cry? feel inspired? feel nostalgic? feel motivated?

Thinking about the emotive side of your images can really help to project the right message.

Setting & locations

Is there are particular room in your building you are planning to use or, if outside, do you have an idea of the background you would like to use?

For example: If you are booking corporate headshots or a set of team images, it’s important to have a think about the space you have available. Most people feel awkward being "in the spotlight" around colleagues so somewhere with a little privacy may be more helpful to them.  

How much space might we need? Does anything need to be cleared to make the area more pleasing to the eye?  

Feel free to jot down your ideas and then ask for advice.

How many images do you require?

Once you have considered other factors like where your images will be used, you begin to have an idea of how many images you may need.  Whilst quality far outweighs quantity when it comes to professional photography, there may be reasons why you need a specified number of images. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that the number of images will directly impact on the amount of time required for photographing and editing.

To ensure your expectations are met and to enable me to give you a fair and accurate fixed cost for your photographs, it is always a good idea for us to agree on the number of images required.


If you need your photography to be delivered in advance of a particular deadline, it is definitely worth including that in your brief. 

Depending on the type of shoot you are planning, we will naturally need to allocate a realistic timeframe for planning, preparation, the shoot itself, the editing, any necessary image retouching and approvals before delivery of your final files.

Weather, whether or not.

Being so close to the gulf stream, it is always worth keeping in mind that outdoor shoots leave us at the mercy of the weather. Having a contingency plan or allowing extra time for potential delays will help make the whole process a little less stressful.

Copyright, Licensing & Usage Terms. 

This is the bit that usually intimidates people who aren´t familiar with licenced work but put simply, it just means that all parties come to a written agreement about the intended purpose and use of the work created.  When images are used commercially, we are required to enter a business agreement like any other. We should be clear about how the images will be used and where they will be used.

In some cases, like large advertising campaigns, it is necessary to agree to a fee based on how long the images will be used for and how widespread the image use will be. (ie. International exposure to millions of people vs local distribution to a few 100 businesses.)

 Whether you require imagery for a set amount of time or would like indefinite usage of your images, it’s important to let your photographer know.

When you commission a commercial photographer it is important to understand that, in almost every situation unless overruled by a court judge, the Copyright always remains with the photographer, unless it’s agreed to be sold, for which there will usually be a price.

This serves to protect your images from being used by anyone else other than you and the photographer you issued your license.

Your photographer will ask about the intended use of the images in order to give you a contract that covers Image Licencing. There are various image licence options when it comes to the usage of the resulting images but fear not, your photographer will be able to explain and prescribe.

Thinking about and writing down what it is you want to achieve from your photography is such a useful exercise that can often help you clarify your own goals and lead to further inspiration.

I hope this general guide has helped to demystify the briefing process somewhat. 

If you would like any more information on how to brief a commercial photographer or have an upcoming project you’d like to discuss with me, I’d love to hear from you. 

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