Write a Creative Brief for a Photo Shoot like Kara Mercer

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BASED IN: Washington, USA
KNOWN FOR: Fashion, lifestyle and travel
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM GFX 50S Camera, X-T2 Camera, FUJINON GF63mmF2.8 R WR Lens, GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR Lens, XF23mmF2 R WR Lens, XF27mmF2.8 Lens, XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR Lens, XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens


Behind every creative project in the world of commercial photography lies a brief – an agreement between photographer and client outlining exactly what is required in a shoot. Putting together a good brief takes time, and it’s important to get it right in order to represent your client’s brand properly.

Seattle-based fashion photographer Kara Mercer knows a thing or two about putting a brief together. She describes a large part of a photographer’s job as being “like a detective” and all about asking the right questions in order to deliver the best work you can.

Here are Kara’s ten top tips for writing the perfect creative brief for a photo shoot.

Kara Mercer

1. Questions, Questions, Questions…

You can never ask too many questions. I have several preliminary meetings with my clients to establish their expectations and goals and to discuss technical details. So much can get lost in verbal translation, so it pays to take the time to put visual concepts into words the best you can.

Over time, the process becomes more streamlined, but working up a brief with a new client, who you haven’t worked with before, could take up to three calls and meetings.

2. Communication is Key

Prior to the day of the shoot, make sure you go over the brief with your client and your team, so that everyone knows exactly what is happening. If there have been any misunderstandings, then these can be clarified in plenty of time, and not in a panic on the day.

3. Assemble Your Team

While photographers working on a small budget often have to take on other roles too (assistant, stylist, catering, etc) it’s best to work with a team of professionals, when this is possible. Surround yourself with really good people, who you can trust to get things right. That way, you’ll have less to worry about on the big day, and you’ll be able to give more of your attention to shooting pictures.

4. Set a Timeline

It’s easy to get carried away on a photo shoot and run out of time at the end. This can be best avoided by working out a timetable of when everything is supposed to happen, eg. 10:00AM Talent arrives at studio; 11:00AM Makeup and hair complete; 11:30AM Start shooting first concept

This doesn’t have to be too rigid; in fact you can build in time for catching up if you drop behind. But you’ll be able to use your timeline to work out if you are on track at any point in the day, and make adjustments if necessary.

5. Scout the Venue Beforehand

It’s essential to visit a location before the big day. Doing so will not only remind you of what equipment you’ll need to bring in but also help you previsualize the shoot in your mind – a key part of the creative process. Look for surfaces that will make good backdrops and sources of available light that you can use instead of your flash, for a different look and feel.

6. Create a Call Sheet for the Team

A call sheet should concisely list all of the details about the shoot, from the people working on it, to the location it’s being held at. This is the who, what, when, where and why of the job.

List telephone numbers of the crew and talent, the timeline of what is happening and when, the full address of the location, and a summary of the client’s needs for everyone to see. Try to get this on a single sheet of paper if you can, so nothing gets lost.

7. Can You Use the Client’s Creative Team?

When shooting for smaller clients I usually end up producing a shoot by myself, but larger companies often have in-house creative teams who can be really helpful. They know the brand and can help with consistency between several different campaigns.

8. Double Check Your Gear, Especially Lighting

Always double check that you are bringing the right gear with you for the location you’re working at – make a checklist if necessary. A shoot can fall short if you don’t bring the lighting that’s needed to create a certain look and feel, for instance.

9. Use Tethered Shooting on the Day

Tethering my camera to a computer lets everyone see what we are shooting as it’s shot. It’s an amazing way to assure the client and team that we are on track and realizing the initial creative brief. I encourage my team to feedback too, which always results in a standout series of images.

10. Post-Processing

Lastly, post-processing is as much a key part of the shoot as anything that happens in camera. Always set expectations as to what can be achieved and what cannot, so there are no surprises between you and the client. Technical skills and communications skills are both important here.

Kara Mercer is a compensated FUJIFILM X-Photographer.

To see more of Kara’s work, visit her website. 

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