The art director calls the shots

Most ordered shoots be it for commercials or editorial purposes are to be executed according to the directions given by what we call an art director. This means that the photographer is to follow certain guidelines and instructions. `don’t be surprised if the art director is looking over your shoulder, and it would not be uncommon to receive remarks and critique during your work. Don’t blame him or her, they are responsible for many aspects of the production and photography is just one element.


Reality is that commercial work is always based on a work-order, placed by a customer. The role of the photographer is simple to deliver photographs for which the customer is willing to pay.

Because of the financial aspects, the customer has a major say in what and how objects are photographed. It is importend that the customers expectation is understood, so don’t hesitate to have a profound discussion and exchange of idea’s with the customer. Don’t be surprised if the art director calls the shots, what ,where and even how. Your freedom as a photographer is limited. You are their to make pictures, not to be creative.

Editorial shoots are less constrained. The boundaries wherein the photographer is expected to work is in most cases only limited  by the amount of shots per page, a summary of the article, the context and the overal feel and touch of the article.


Art Directors and Designers

Art directors and designers have gone through a lengthy creative process long before the photographer gets the work order. They have listened in the first place to the customer, created multiple idea’s and plans, final layouts and the overall commercial out-line. The whole process takes days if not weeks to develop. Creativeness finally results in one selected approach, and once decided the rules are set.


It is of the utmost importance that the photographer understands the goals and instructions of the art director. Both have to work as a team, and a team is only possible when they can work together at the human and business level. The photographer will have to work according to a well defined layout and plan. There is no room for personal creativity.

The layout is defined by the art director and designer , a framework that defines exactly where the picture will fit on the page, what text goes where, keywords and the overall appearance  , feel and touch of the article or production . It is very rare that the art director adapts the layout to the photographers work. Generally , the art director knows exactly what he or she wants, and the photographer is to follow. Like it or not.

There are many aspect related to the artwork for which the graphical designer and art director are responsible, including the feasibility of the work, the cost and production effort. So don’t be wondering why things are the way they are… there is a reason.


During the first brief, the photographer will be informed about the requirements and expectations of the target picture. It is not uncommon that the customer will ask for a price estimate for the shot (picture). Once approved , the photographer will be given time to plan the shoot.

This planning includes all the elements needed for the final shoot. It is expected that the photographer judges the feasibility of the task, if it is even practical possible , if it is affordable and if it can be realised within the budgetary and other imposed constrains. The photographer has to be a man of all trades.

Now its time for the photographer to arrange the location, artefacts, models etc. My experience and advice is; chase all aspects and keep them on a short lease until its shooting time.


Go and scout a suitable location, check it at different times of the day and look at the light. Figure out the best time of the day to shoot. Don’t forget that certain locations will require a permission to shoot. Ask way in advance and explain what the purpose is of the shoot, what wil happen on that day, and what special arrangements are needed. (e.g no cars on the parking lot). In some cases you might need to pay for the use of the location.

Watch out for certain objects that are under copyright, it sounds strange, but the design of certain architectural elements such as houses can be protected by copyright assigned to the architect who designed the structure. If you are not sure, always ask. The only thing that can happen to you is a No. So ask. The days that a photographer was a curiosity are long gone, we are more of an announce nowadays to many people.


Once the location is agreed and arranged , plan for a date. A date that suits all, however there is one uncertain element and that is the weather. Unless you live in a tropical paradise, or the north pole always check the weather forecast.

But even when it all looks good, plan for an alternative location just in case it rains like hell on the day of the shoot. Be prepared for the unexpected, because it will happen.

Prepare and plan your equipment, workout the light set-up and scene. Make sure that you have for each piece of kit a back-up. It has happend to me, shooting with a 40K$ camera and the thing died on me…. .
Show , share and coordinate the work during the shoot with the art director. Don’t forget that despite all the planning, he or she might change ideas. That is the moment to show flexibility and adapt swiftly to the new situation. If you can not, then you are in the wrong profession.
Review the shots with the art director , while you progress through the shoot. It will create synergy..


A misunderstanding can happen. No, it wil happen. And when it does ,don’t get stubborn. Talk , communicate and try to understand what is required. Put aside your own opinion and taste , as it is irrelevant in this type of work.

However, once the synergy is going don’t hesitate to come up with subtile hints an tips for improvement. Drastic changes will not be received very well , not because the art director does not agree with you. It’s because he or she has created a concept and idea that has been sold to the customer. That customer has an expectation and focussed on what was agreed and presented during the creative phase.

If you are asked  to photograph a dog in front of his dog-house, then don’t be surprised that your idea to shoot the dog in a jacuzzi is going to be rejected. After all the customer expects a shot of his dog in front of a dog-house . No matter how nice and cute the jacuzzi shot could be.


Framing and format

As I stated before the photographers creativity is seriously constrained, and to make thing worse, the picture format and framing are also predefined. After all the picture will be used in a magazine or book as a spread, single page,  nested or whatever. Pending the final format of the publication , the shots will have to be made in portrait or landscape format. Not always easy to remember to stick to, as photographers tend to lean towards one or the other orientation.  Portrait photographers are so used to shoot  vertical , where as landscape photographers are framing more horizonal . The urge will be there, so pay attention.  And if all that wasn’t already bad enough there is more.
You will be told where to leave space for the text in the scene, so consider this and apply the proper framing. It might seem odd when looking at the shot, but once the text is in place it will look much different and all will fall in place. Now that we mentioned text, you need to work the Depth of Field and create a background or text zone in your picture that is not to busy, a place that allows the text to be placed without distraction. That distraction can be color, patterns , objects etc.
It is always good to shoot a few shots of the same scene, with closer and wider framing. It is easier during post processing to remove something in the picture then adding something that is not there.

Enjoy shooting, I do . Despite all the constrains. Consider them as a challenge



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