As a photographer, working for a client can be a vastly different experience than shooting personal work where you have total creative freedom. Giving their photographers direction can be essential to making sure a client sees his vision realised in photos. At the same time, allowing photographers some freedom may help improve results. These are my thoughts on walking the line between artistic freedom and creative direction as a client.
The stereotype image many people will have in their minds of photographers is that they do not like direction at all, and instead want total creative freedom. If you ask me, this is an old-fashioned image, not true to the nature of many contemporary commercial photographers. There’s another angle to this though.
Constraints drive creativity, too much direction inhibits it
For me personally, the hardest moments to be creative are when I have all the freedom in the world. All the time, resources and space I could ever wish for, with no deadlines or specific demands concerning the final result. Things only get interesting after constraints are imposed. Limited funds, limited time, limited space, having to use specific photography gear, having to work on a specific location or with specific people and having to deliver specific photos can all actually drive creativity. When I’m thinking of some personal projects to create, the hardest thing is having too much freedom with no client giving me some direction. For this reason, I try to be my own client and impose some constraints on the shoot.
There’s one other aspect to this though. Once I’m creating, too much direction can inhibit the quality of my work. For starters, I need to warm up a bit when I’m shooting photos. The first couple of shots I take are nearly always utter failures. Think of it like an athlete warming up before a game, passing the ball around. They may miss a few shots, but that’s totally fine. However, if their coach were to come and give them too much direction at this point, this won’t make things better. The same thing goes for when I’m really creating and in the flow. Again, extending the parallel with sports, think of a football player on a brilliant rush. He passes multiple players, only to have his coach shout at him to pass the ball to his teammates. Of course I understand it can be hard for clients to let go and allow their photographer to carry on when they’re not totally pleased with what they see. However, I’m convinced that oftentimes the final results will be better if photographers are allowed to get into their creative flow.
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Blueprint regarding creative freedom and direction for clients working with photographers
With these thoughts in mind, here’s what I think the ideal collaboration between clients and photographers looks like:
When a client and their photographer are first discussing their shoot, it is essential that the client provides as much information as possible. They should tell their photographer what they like and what they don’t like, and use photos to help visualise this. These can be photos from the photographer’s portfolio, or photos found on the internet. It could even be videos, drawings or just colours. In addition, I prefer to be given as much general information as possible on the shoot. Think of logistics, location, design and layout considerations and technical specs.
Next comes an important step: I let these constraints shimmer in my mind for a bit. This is the typical creative process and by cliche often happens while sleeping, running or taking a shower. The brief and conditions need to be digested and mingle with my own creative vision and style. Hopefully, and most of the times this does happen of course, an idea is born that combines both the client’s demands and brief and my own taste and view. This is an extremely important step, since this is basically where the magic happens. A client ideally hires a photographer for their style, approach and vision. They don’t hire them just to literally execute a brief with no creative input whatsoever.
Adding your creative vision as photographer
I’ve noticed that staying true to my vision and style while shooting is an important thing. If photographers only do exactly what the client wants all the time, no real creativity happens, and oftentimes clients won’t be fully satisfied. Our very job as photographers is to digest a client brief, and then create something bigger, stronger and better. It can be best to first literally execute the brief, making sure you get the goods, and then overdelivering by really adding your own vision and style. This way, clients can rest assured during the shoot that the must-haves according to the brief are in the bag. For that first phase, after I’ve warmed up, I personally like to get some creative direction from the client, to make sure we’re shooting the right thing. At some point though, I feel that it’s best for clients to take a step back and have faith in their photographer.
In the end, it’s all a case of mutual trust and getting on the same page before the actual shoot.
The images with this article or all examples of assignments where my clients gave me a brief, and I subsequently added my own style and vision to the shoot. Clients first gave me direction and then allowed me to shoot what I felt would improve the images most.