How to Commission a Photographer / Part 3: Writing the Brief

Part 3: Writing the Brief: What we need to know to cost and plan the shoot. Whether it’s 20 different scenarios in various locations with a range of models and a big crew, a day of portraits in a studio, or a set of creative still life shots, the information we need to provide accurate costs and plan a smooth shoot is actually pretty much the same. We appreciate it’s all about meeting expectations, so the clearer you can be as to what you need and expect, the easier it will be to achieve this for you.

© Emma Boynes

A clear, defined brief from the onset makes for a straightforward, smooth running shoot with no hiccups, disappointments or nasty surprises.

We basically need to know who, what, why, where, how and when!

Which photographer are you interested in?

If you don’t have any particular photographer in mind, we are happy to match the right photographer to your brief.

What images do you require?

The first thing we need to know is what final images you require. What would you like us to deliver?

We appreciate some people want to just get a really rough ballpark and don’t have a formal written brief or a definite shot list. That’s fine, we do a lot of estimates so can usually pull something together for you however scant the information; 5 case studies of bank customers on location around the UK, a bank of 30 lifestyle images with models and locations, 5 hero shots of dishes with various angles for example, that’s enough to go on as a starting point. The problem with this however, especially if you are getting several quotes, is that the costs you get in might vary wildly and not be very accurate. They may be more than is necessary based on worst case scenario, or they may be incomplete, with elements omitted.

Any visuals are really useful, a scamp or a mood board for example:

Scamp provided by Neo / Motor Neurone Disease Association

© Patrick Harrison / Neo / Motor Neurone Disease Association

As is a written shot list.

Why do you need the images?

It is always interesting to know as much background as possible. We can just cost on the basic facts and working out logistics, but we like to find out as much as we can about your project.

It’s important that the photographer understands your goals and anyway, shoots should be a collaboration, not just an instruction. Why the client wants to commission, what message they are trying to get across and what audience they are trying to reach for example.

There could be other information that would be useful for us to know. Is it the first time the client has commissioned photography? Have they shot loads of times before but didn’t like the results last time, if so why not? Are they used to working in a certain way? Perhaps they’ve never worked with models and only featured internal staff in their images. All of this helps us gauge how to pitch the costs, advise on the best approach and explain why and ultimately help you get the green light to shoot.

We will also of course pass this information onto the photographer, and we work closely with all of our photographers when putting initial costs together, based on their preferred approach. Also, if you think it will be helpful we can arrange a call or meeting to bounce some ideas around.

• Production specifics

Now we need to get into more specifics like location, models, props, styling and who is providing what in terms of the production.


Where would you like the shoot to take place? On location or in a studio? London? Further north? A sunny beach or a rugged mountainside?

© Nick David

Of course the nature of your shoot might dictate an exact location. You might want some images of real customers, an exact venue, board members, a busy celebrity or VIP, case studies, employees or a specific property development or your client might have requested to shoot near to where they are based.

© Andy Smith / Art Fund


Are there people in the shots? Would you like us to cast the models or are you organising this side of things? If you would like us to cast models, a casting brief is handy, detailing age, ethnicity, other demographics they should represent. We have good relationships with lots of model agencies, and can negotiate a fair cost on your behalf. Their fees are based on the end usage of the images and also the time the models will be needed. If budget and time allows we always try and include a live casting rather than just selecting from agency websites. This ensures that we know what the models look like currently and also that they are good to work with. If you do require children in the shoot we will need to cost for children’s performance licences, a first aider and possibly audition fees and chaperone fees (more about this in Part’s 5 and 7).

© Lulu Ash

Maybe you need some animal models. We work with some very good animal acting agencies.

© Julian Calverley / Skoda / Key Parker


Does your shoot require styling? This can range from full on room or set dressing and wardrobe styling with several changes of outfits for the models, to perhaps some simple supplementary wardrobe for some ‘real’ people in the shoot.

Does your shoot require any specialist styling? A home economist or a drinks stylist for example.

© Tim Atkins / Guardian Labs / Green and Blacks

If we are dealing with a still life shoot, what elements might you be providing and what elements would you like us to source, or maybe model making or even CGI might be the best option. We are here to advise on the best approach if you haven’t got a particular route in mind.

Hair & make-up:

Would you like a hair and make-up artist on your shoot? Some of our clients feel they don’t as they want the models to look natural, however in our experience the opposite can be true! ‘Real’ subjects often turn up a bit glammed up if they know they are going to have their picture taken. Our hair & make up artists (as our stylists) specialise in making people look natural.

© Iain Crockart / Ernst and Young


And finally the other miscellaneous bits. We can take care of all of your travel, catering and accommodation needs for both our crew, the agency and your client if that’s what you require. But let us know if you had a specific idea of how you’d like things arranged and who’s to arrange what.

Post production:

Some clients like to take care of all of the post production in house. We can work with this of course, but if possible the preferred option is for the photographer to provide the final hi-res, retouched files themselves, then you know the finished end result will match your expectations, however subtle the post-production is.

© John Garon

• Where will the images be used?

This is an important one as we base our photographers fees, and also the model fees, on the end usage of the images (as well as shoot time). We work out the usage based on 4 main areas.

1: Media (for example: online, a regional poster campaign, a magazine cover)

2: Time (for example: 1 year, 2 years, in perpetuity)

3: Territory (for example: U.K, Europe, North America)

4: The target audience or specialist market sector (for example: consumer, specialist business like healthcare, corporate, charity, education, recruitment)


It is also good to know this in terms of any format requirements in the final images. You may need portrait and landscape versions for example, or very large format.

• When? Timings.

Are there some dates you had in mind for the shoot to place, and when do you require final delivery of images? It may be that you are arranging the shoot and the certain elements are only available at certain times: case studies, the CEO or the location for example. Or you may have a deadline that fits in with a media plan. From our side of things there may be some factors in the shoot that will slow things down, having to get a children performance licence, needing some intricate model making, set building, specific props or post production for example. We are always realistic about timings, but more of that coming up in Part 5: Timings. The photoshoot production process.

I was going to add in here, it’s useful to know when do you need the costs back by, but everyone always says ASAP! We can turn around most of our quotes in the same day or at least within 24 hours. When we need to cost on something a little more complex, overseas production for example, things could take a little longer. We always get several quotes so we can cost competitively for you and it would be ideal to allow 3 to 4 days to turn this around as we have to wait for third party suppliers to quote with potential time difference issues.

How much?

Hang on aren’t we meant to be telling you that bit? If you can give us an idea of budget, that can reduce a lot of toing and fro-ing. We do a lot of quotes here at LPA so can pretty much give you an idea of what you can achieve for 1K, 10K, 50K or 100K off the top of our heads to save some time if you want. Although we appreciate most clients want a thorough breakdown.

That’s pretty much it for this week. Anything else you want to share with us is useful, you may have a set idea of how many days shoot you want already. You may require a particular technical approach, treatment or complex post production. As we explored in Part 2, clients generally select photographers as their style fits the brief, but any additional thoughts are often helpful.

As agents and shoot producers it’s our job to help and advise on the best and most cost effective way to approach a shoot. The briefs we get can be from one extreme to the other, from being very vague to remarkably detailed. We often have to put ball park costs together based on very little information, but as I mentioned earlier, the more specific you can be about what you want, the more accurately we can quote and provide timings. Anyway, we know you will probably compare the bottom line figure when you get the costs back and if you are getting several quotes in from photographers they may vary widely if everyone is making different assumptions. Don’t always go for the cheapest as it could be the cheapest for a reason- like the photographer might have left something crucial out and the final budget ends up being as much again!

Here’s a quick recap of what we need to know: Which photographer are you interested in? What final images do you require? Why do you need the images? Production specifics. Where will the images be used? Timings. •  Budget. •  Anything else we need to know?

If you don’t want to miss any crucial information, sign up now. Send your email address to with the subject line “How to Commission a Photographer” and we’ll send you the guide directly each week. We’ll also be happy to answer any further questions you have on commissioning a photoshoot in the meantime.

Although the author has made every effort to ensure that the information in this blog post is correct, the contents are provided without warranty as to their accuracy, may be of a general nature and the opinion of the author only. The author will not be held responsible for any loss, damage or disruption caused by errors or omissions, whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause.

Next week… Part 4: The Cost of a Photoshoot: How we work it all out.