It’s not easy opening up to the people who hire you. But I found that honest communication is key, often resulting in better working environments, more relaxed conditions on set, and ultimately creating improved and more exciting content.

I’ve sat down and reflected and these are the top five insights I wish I could tell all my clients and producers. Let me know if any of these resonate with you, I’d love to know what you think of the list regardless of how much you agree or disagree!

The Speed – Scope – Price Triangle

Aptly nicknamed the Triple Constraintand Iron Triangle, this concept has been around since the 1950s. Simply put, the resulting quality of any project is bound by three factors: the project’s budget, scope, and timeframe. It is commonly said that most clients and producers must pick two of these aspects to focus on, yet the original idea was that the three must strike a balance to meet the factor that lies in the triangle’s middle: the project’s quality.  

Any disproportion in the triangle’s three points results in the project’s quality being adversely affected, so it is important to note that whilst your photographer will often go above and beyond to try to get you as close to your goal as possible, there are practical limits as to what can be accomplished on any shoot.

It should be noted that in practice trading between constraints isn’t always possible. For example, throwing money (and people) at a fully staffed project may actually slow it down. Moreover, in poorly run projects it is often impossible to improve the budget, schedule or scope without adversely affecting quality, however good your commercial photographer may be.

Do not despair! All commercial photographers know that there are worthwhile projects that don’t necessarily have corporate backing they can rely on, and exciting concepts with crucial, unrealistic deadlines that may appear overly rushed to those who accomplish their best work with longer turnaround times. It’s usually just a case of communication and managing expectations, so that the clients, the producers, and the photographers on board are happy with what they’ve got to work with. And confident that they can meet their deliverables, producing work they can be proud of while enjoying the creative process.

It’s Better to Shoot Three Great Layouts than Ten Mediocre Ones

We’ve all been there: you wake up in the morning feeling fresh and ready to rock on set. However, then you see a call sheet with an impossible list of deliverables, no breaks, and a schedule packed more tightly than your cabin bag on a budget flight to Barcelona. There’s much to be said for the age-old adage “less is more”, but nowhere does that hold more true than the topic of quality content production.

A recent study by Acrolinx noted that a mere 31% of brands worldwide earned a passing grade for the effectiveness of their content according to their analysis of marketing, corporate, technical, and customer support website content. They attribute a large percentage of the failing scores to content that was present but didn’t align with the brand strategy, which is backed up by a 2016 study by the Content Marketing Institute that found B2C marketers whose organisations have a clear vision of content marketing success are more effective than those that do not. What does this mean for content production?

The quality and precision with which content is imagined, strategised, executed, and distributed has a heavy impact on its effectiveness. I’ve found that taking the time to lay your images out and visualise your end results generates more effective outcomes. And using your production time wisely by concentrating on key strategic visuals usually produces more engaging content than shooting a lot of random layouts and picking favourites at the end.

Some argue this stifles spontaneous inspiration, but others question how often spontaneity actually accomplishes the desired result versus strategic ideation and meticulous artistic planning, especially in the commercial sphere.

Stories can sometimes be created in the heat of the moment. But more often than not, the best stories are crafted with ideas bounced back and forth and concepts weaved skilfully into narratives laden with layer upon layer of careful detail. In any case it’s much easier for your commercial photographer to deliver the desired results if you’ve both taken a bit of time to think about what you’re shooting in advance. Often you’ll find that once the team has nailed the key visuals, you’ll have a bit of time to play around and get creative. A win-win for everyone!

You Only Get Out What You Put In

I once had a client commission me to shoot a collection of lifestyle photos for his company’s new line of womenswear accessories. We were shooting indoors on location in a lovely West London townhouse. When I got on set, I found the space bare and practically unfurnished, and the accessories were incomplete prototypes brought in unfinished from a factory in China. The client then asked me whether it would be possible to turn the space into a room similar to those in the Palace of Versailles during editing. And if it would be feasible to shoot the accessories and simply change colours in post-production to match future designs that they didn’t have on set? You can only imagine how difficult it was for me to manage expectations that day. Needless to say, despite my best efforts the final results didn’t really have the aesthetics of 17th-century French aristocracy!

Commercial and advertising photographers are often tasked to create images that don’t necessarily represent reality. It’s important to keep expectations in check; photography is the art of writing with light, not a form of modern witchcraft. Also, whilst Photoshop can now eliminate distracting objects and stitch photos together seamlessly, there are still limits to what can realistically be achieved in post-production. It is for this reason that high-end productions will spend tens of thousands on set-design and styling and don’t mind several days of preparation for what could be an end result of a single photograph.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t create stunning, alluring, and beautiful images without an enormous budget. I often find that the simplest set-ups can result in the most appealing layouts. It just goes without saying that if the brief and the concept sounds “too good to be true” at first glance, they usually are. Keep expectations in check and set out to create the best you can with what you are given. Shoot for the stars and hopefully you’ll land on the moon, but be wary of those who seem to be hopelessly aiming for asteroids in completely different galaxies.

There’s More to It than Meets the Eye

Photographers put in a lot of time, effort, and expense to produce the work they do. Therefore, it may be inconsiderate to snub their years of upward struggle by suggesting that they are merely a pair of rented eyes operating a machine for a fixed number of hours. This may be an efficient way to utilise their talents, especially from a business perspective. It’s always worth remembering they have likely spent countless nights cooking up concepts, researching equipment and lighting set-ups, innumerable hours in tedious rounds of retouching revisions, and incalculable sums of money updating their kit and software suites.

People do their best work when they feel understood and valued. I am not saying you have to lay yourself at their feet. However, treating photographers with respect for the hurdles they have overcome to get to where they are now; leads to projects that are exciting, rewarding, and fulfilling for all parties involved. After all, I’m sure you’ve been through a tough journey to get where you are now too.

Practice Kindness and Empathy

Time and time again, I hear my friends complain about working with clients who give an inch but take a mile; clients who expect them to bend over backwards to satisfy their every little whim and submit to their ever-changing list of absolutely urgentrequests while taking all the credit for the end results. I always remind my colleagues it’s not the wisest move to air their dirty laundry in the middle of a speakeasy in Shoreditch, although at the same time I have to agree with them.

I definitely know the feeling of being walked all over by clients and producers who expect to be treated as more of a boss than a team member simply because they are responsible for casting talent and bankrolling production. These are usually the same people who blame photographers, stylists, editors, and art directors when things aren’t going their way on set, or when the content produced isn’t exactly what they imagined it to be.

Now, I am not saying that creatives are without fault. What I am saying is that it’s very rare for a creative to purposefully create a situation that hinders a production. Even when faced with a hungry, hungover, mean-spirited beast of a client, I always try to keep my cool and offer up whatever I can to make the shoot a success. We all want the project to succeed. Work towards building trust and effective communication; these efforts breed harmony and cohesion, contributing to a positive experience on set and often enough, stunning visual content. Keep in mind that you’re all in this together, and that you are far more likely to get what you want with honey rather than vinegar.

All photos used in this guide are from photoshoots I’ve shot personally and sometimes produced, taken with a Sony A9 + 70-200 f/2.8, a Fujifilm X100S with 50mm teleconverter, and Contax G2 with a 50mm f/2.0 and Agfa Vista 400, shot in various locations including my studio.

What do you think of the guide? If you found that useful, you might want to download a practical list I’ve put together of the 7 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Planning Commercial Photoshoots. Download your free copy now by clicking this link.

Is there anything you’d want to say to photographers you work with? Are you experiencing any of these scenarios on your productions? Have any ideas how to improve this list? Let me know by leaving a comment below.