Through the Lens of an Art Director

This past month, I've art-directed more photo shoots than I have in years. Seeing clients add custom photography to their marketing budgets once again is exciting and encouraging after years of stock image companies being the norm. While I was thrilled at the convenience and speed of choosing a stock photo from among umpteen others, sharing it with a client, and purchasing the rights to use it all within one day, rarely was the final image something that couldn't be found in another marketing campaign elsewhere.

Clients are now seeing the benefits of building a library of custom images that not only won't be used anywhere else, but can be shot in such a way that they have a cohesive look to them: whether through lighting, color, emotion, even down to the company logo found on the product. That’s a wonderful thing!

So what are the benefits of hiring an art director for a photo shoot? Is art direction really necessary?

Well, art directors can work with the client and photographer to determine the budgets (the lowest aren't always the wisest choices), logistics, models and/or props, food/fashion/set stylists, usage rights, release forms, even locations, along with other administrative needs. Art directors also likely have relationships with commercial photographers and can suggest the most appropriate one for a specific project. Some photographers are better with outdoor, some are better with people, others are pros at shooting food… you get the idea.

But can’t a photographer create the perfect image by just pointing a camera, focusing, and shooting, without the influence of an art director? Well, certainly commercial photographers' expertise can create a beautiful image without an art director, but when it comes time to plug images into their rightful places, there are many other details a photographer might not take into consideration: things like the images' needed resolution; the finished size at which the image will be used (billboard, postage stamp, somewhere in between or all of the above); placement of an image within a layout (should a person's gaze be to the left or the right; should the car be shot from above, below, straight on; should the image be horizontal, vertical, square or all of these; will type be placed over the image or not; will it need extra image area/bleed for cropping to the edge of a brochure, etc.). All of these things are important and more besides. A photographer I recently partnered with on behalf of our client told me she loves getting art direction. Here are some reasons why that may be so:

If it's an outdoor shot that's needed, your art director/photographer team will watch the weather up to the day the shoot is scheduled. Logistically we work out the details together of whether the light will be best in the morning or the evening—on the front of a building, for example. (And yes, 4:00 a.m. wake up calls are occasionally necessary to catch the best light when you need to drive over an hour away!) The window of opportunity for the best light outdoors can be as little as an hour, so having someone scouting out additional angles of a building while the photographer is shooting another perspective is really helpful for everyone's end result. An art director can be the liaison for management of a building's grounds and may even have to ask the lawn maintenance crew if they can move the lawn mower and weed eater to another location for just a bit. (True story!)

The weather doesn't always cooperate with outdoor shoots but we make it work!

The weather doesn't always cooperate with outdoor shoots but we make it work!

When shooting indoors, there are other elements of the equation to consider. For instance, if you need photos of people, the photographer and art director will tag-team to keep the model comfortable as well as ensure hair and makeup are right, wrinkles in clothes are minimal, clothes don’t clash with the back drops, jewelry is well arranged, a great perspective of a room isn't missed, and random passers-by are kept out of the frame with as much courtesy as possible. Such details are not always easy to juggle when a photographer is working solo and looking primarily through the small viewfinder of a camera lens while at the same time managing the personalities in front of the camera who most likely have insecurities about having a picture taken. Sometimes the art director even needs to hold the additional flash in just the right position when the room is too crowded for light stands, and a photographer's assistant isn't part of the team.

Whatever it takes: an art director will even move road signs out of the line of vision to get the perfect shot of a building. (Photo: Sheri Oneal Photography)

Whatever it takes: an art director will even move road signs out of the line of vision to
get the perfect shot of a building. (Photo: Sheri Oneal Photography)

The photographer and art director are a client's greatest allies in a photo shoot. Their ultimate goal is to create a library of images to choose from that exceeds everyone's expectations, even their own. That's the beauty of the creative process: going in with a few known parameters but responding appropriately when others come into play, while remaining open to the unknown outcome of the final product with the surety that the gallery of images captured will be the best it can be. Photo shoots are pregnant with an element of surprise and it can take more than one pair of eyes to recognize that element when it arises. So if you need to add to or even to develop a custom photo library, contact Studio Haus and we can assemble a team together. It's what I love to do!

Following a whirlwind of multiple photo shoots, we were so happy with the team effort that made it all happen — and the photos turned out great! (Photo: Sheri Oneal Photography)

Following a whirlwind of multiple photo shoots, we were so happy with the team effort that
made it all happen — and the photos turned out great! (Photo: Sheri Oneal Photography)