How do ad agency creative directors and art buyers select and work with photographers? Two members of the creative team at Young & Rubicam in New York offer their insights to aspiring advertising photographers.
This article has been contributed from the Summer 2009 issue of Resource Magazine, courtesy of the publisher. To subscribe to the magazine and explore Resource’s online features, visit the Resource Magazine website.
Overview: Since joining the New York office of Young and Rubicam, life has been pretty crazy. Living in New York, working on Madison Avenue—working at a big ad agency definitely has its perks. We don’t profess to know everything, but we hope that this article will help photographers and advertising creatives to better understand one another, and come together to do better work. Because, at the end of the day, that is what it’s really all about: pushing each other to get the best work possible, both for our portfolios and our clients.
Graduating from Miami Ad School, we had racked up hundreds of hours of conceptualizing, story-boarding, writing, and designing. When it came to organizing a photo shoot and choosing a photographer, our selection and budget had always been somewhat limited. That’s why we had to learn a whole new set of rules when we started at Y&R just over a year ago. Working at an agency with a roster of Fortune 500 companies as clients gives us access to some of the best photographers and retouchers in the industry. And that’s just the beginning.
Teachers: Jan Jaworski and Evan Benedetto
Background: Jan Jaworski and Evan Benedetto are a creative team at Young & Rubicam NY and graduates of the Miami Ad School master’s program. In just over a year at Y&R they have worked on a variety of accounts, such as LG, Fisher Price, Campbell’s, Bacardi, Colgate, and various new business pitches.
Subject 1: Selecting a Photographer
When we sell an idea to a client our goal is simple: find the photographer who will help us bring the idea to life in the best way possible. We’ve learned to take a photographer at face value. This means to not expect a photographer to change his or her style for you. When we pick a photographer for a job it almost always means that we are buying a specific style or piece from his or her portfolio. Where ad creatives sometimes go wrong is when they hire a photographer and then assume that he or she will easily be able to change the style or photographic look for your project. This is not to say that the photographer shouldn’t have room to experiment and create something new—what is important is that we identify a photographer’s strengths and play into them. If we select a photographer this way, everyone will be happier with the outcome of the project.
Case Study 1: The Selection Process
The first thing that any photographer should know is that creative teams see hundreds of books. Whether we are hunting for a specific photographic style, attending a rep’s portfolio review, or just browsing photographers’ websites, know this: we are inundated with your books. The point here is to make sure your book really sticks out, because we are probably only going to look at it once or twice. One thing we don’t like is when a book is too big, with an overabundance of similarly styled images. If we wanted stock photography we’d be calling a rep at Getty or Corbis. One thing we do like is when photographers write a few sentences explaining their point of view and artistic inspiration for some of their campaigns. Not saying it works for everything, but if you have a particularly interesting story behind a set of images, it might be cool to share as it gives us a view into your creative process.
Subject 2: Art Producers
Often, photographers forget that at a big agency like Y&R, the art producers (art buyers) are the direct line of communication between creatives and photographers. Good creatives should know exactly what they are looking for in a photographer, but it’s oftentimes not the case. Art producers are paid to know everything about photographers and are often the ones showing photographers’ portfolios and recommending people to creative teams. This means that it is crucial for photographers to build strong relationships with art producers.
Case Study 2: Working with Deadlines
Working on a new business pitch, we assisted a senior art director and a photographer on a shoot that took us around Manhattan and Brooklyn. It was stressful and the timeline was fast with little room for error. At each location we briefed the photographer and models and then tried to get out of the way, looking at the RAW images periodically throughout the process. Sharing opinions openly on the shoot was critical because of our small margin of error and limited time. Having fun and working together as a team is crucial. The goal is always the same: shooting beautiful photography and crafting a killer ad.
Subject 3: Working with the Photographer
Everyone works differently, but what is most important for us is to have an open line of communication between the creative team, the art producer, and the photographer. This might sound obvious, but it will prove invaluable when last-minute adjustments need to be made. And last-minute adjustments always need to be made. We also like to provide the photographer with as much information as humanly possible. Anything that might be valuable to their creative process—from sketches, to scripts and comps, to visual references, color palettes and mood boards. We also make it a point to have detailed discussions with the photographer long before the shoot, so that we can paint a picture of our vision. We also try to involve the photographer in the creative process as much as possible. We ask them what they think about our concept and how they think we can make it better. Giving photographers room to express themselves is a crucial part because it almost always makes things more interesting. Being flexible while on the shoot and giving the photographers space to do their job is paramount.