Me And My Briefs

I did my first ‘professional’ picture in a long time this week. By professional, I mean a picture that was taken to a brief (albeit my own brief), rather than something I fancied taking and that I might be able to sell or use in a video.  After a lifetime in the media, I am weary (and wary) of taking on anything that might lead to anyone having the right to shout at me down a telephone line. Picture editors can be nice enough people but I doubt there are many of them moonlighting in the caring professions.

This professional picture was for a web site I have cobbled together for my son’s music teaching. I wanted a pic that was formal enough to make him look the professional he is but friendly and relaxed enough to look like he can teach rock music as well as classical.

It takes thought and some planning. The facial expression should be friendly, welcoming rather than matey. The pic is better taken with a room background than a studio which can look rather formal. The background should be well out of focus to hide any busy-ness that might intrude on the main focus. Lighting should look natural from the room but good soft quality from a large window, or if not available very, very diffuse flash. Or a mixture of the two.

Basically, I knew what this picture would look like before I had even taken my camera out of its bag.

jonathan and snare drum

This pic is on my Panasonic GH4 set to Aperture Priority with Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens, ISO 200, 1/40th @ f2. The camera is tripod mounted and I’m using face/eye detection focus mode. Illumination is daylight from a large French window directly behind the photographer.

Which highlights one of the essential differences between enthusiast and professional photography.  As an amateur(see note) you can decide what you want your picture to be as it goes along, as things change. As a professional, you start with an image or a brief in your mind and work towards it. It’s very different.

Take a big old dilapidated house. If you are an amateur photographing it as part of a landscape to show to other photographers, the more dilapidated it looks, the more character it might have and the better your landscape. On the other hand, if it looks smart it’s a lovely old country house in a lovely setting. Whatever.

Now step into the shoes of someone photographing it for a glossy estate agent’s brochure. They don’t want to give a wrong impression. They don’t want to give the right impression. They just want to it make a good first impression. So you have to think, what’s the best angle to not show the full extent of the heavily weathered brickwork? What light from what angle?  There’s an ugly shrub in the garden, how can I minimize its visual impact.? Your job is to help the agent get people to view the property. It’s thought and planning that counts here, not artistry though you could argue that they are often the same thing.

The potential buyers with their first impression from the pictures may find the setting or the atmosphere overcome any misgivings they have about the physical condition.  The agent could just get any old snapper along to do the job, a man I’d call a camera operator. Or they could get a photographer, a professional who will understand their requirements and be able to interpret them to make a picture that will sell the house.

Some can do it, some can’t. Any professional worth his salt will have to be able to follow a brief. Sometimes, of course, the briefing leaves you confounded. I was once asked to photograph an up and coming band for an album cover. The brief from the record company was ‘we want something with a Dallas feel’. You feel like saying, ‘what does that mean ffs’? But you can’t because record company execs have short fuses and big egos. They have the money too. So you just go away and do what you think.

In the Dallas case, they were happy enough with what I did which was really just the band dressed up in an 80’s executive sort of way and looking direct to camera J.R. Ewing style. But it turned out later what they really meant was a pic in front of a big glass office block, like the titles of Dallas. Why didn’t they just say that then? Because if the exec was explicit and his chief didn’t like the results, it would be his fault. With the brief he gave me, if they didn’t like the pictures it was my fault, “dingbat photographer, pictures not what I wanted at all, I told him think Dallas, glass buildings and stuff, blah, blah, blah.”

That broad back you developed through years of carrying heavy equipment serves you well for taking on the burden of the woolly brief.

The biggest luxury but also the biggest responsibility is when someone hires you for what you personally do. That’s both flattering and frightening. Except, as in this case of making a portrait of my son where not only was I the photographer following the  brief but as the writer of the web pages  the briefer too. Luckily in this case the briefer was as happy with the way his brief had been followed as  the photographer with the clarity of the briefing.

Which was just as well since I have no wish to waste money on a long phone call shouting at myself down a phone line.

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I detest the use of the term amateur as a synonym for incompetent. I always use it in its proper sense of doing it to for love, rather than money.


4 thoughts on “Me And My Briefs

  1. MJ


    This may not be the most appropriate place to talk to you about this but I hope you read and respond.

    Going to Paris in July. Never been before. From Colorado–USA.


    Quick note: had a Sony A7, Nikon D600, Sony RX10, Canon 5DMk II, Canon 40D, Nikon D70 + some superzooms in between. I didn’t know it at the time but I was trying to get smaller. Thought the A7 would do the trick but the lenses are big and the cost kept getting more and more expensive. I just kinda “fell” on the Oly. It is UNREAL. Sharp? YES. and very, very quick.

    Back to my question(s). I have the Olympus 45 1.8, and the 12-40 2.8 Zoom. I had the 17mm when I first bought the camera but took it back after 5 days. (didn’t excite me).

    1. Do you think the Panasonic 35-100 is worth it to cover the next range?
    2. Should I go for a Panasonic or Olympus 7-9mm to cover the under?

    Can’t get both. Already have spent too much on the trip!

    Thanks. MJ

    1. Post author

      Difficult! I’d go for the longer end because 12mm is already pretty wide. Actually, in a city like Paris (I’m going there fr a couple of days tomorrow, my favourite city along with New York) I reckon you’ve pretty much got all you’ll need in the 12-40. That’s all I’m taking, in fact, E-M5 Mk2 and 12-40.

      There’s a lot of interesting detail on Parisian architecture and a certain quirky French shabby chic on doorways, and windows. The longer lens is nice for that, the picking out of details. I don’t know about the States but the little Olympus 40-150mm f/4-5.6 zoom is on sale for £89/$130 in the UK at the moment. That is just stupidly cheap for such a small,light and decently sharp lens. I’ve a review of it on my channel.

  2. Kåre

    Hi mate i m one of the coppers from Norway who is your neigbour in Bellegarde nice websites u got. Cheers

    1. Post author

      Hi there Kåre! Glad you like the site. I’m amazed at how popular it’s all become. We’ll be down in Bellegarde at the beginning of June for a couple of months so probably see you around.


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