RIBA Insight Monthly Briefing

How to brief a photographer

Case studies are often the best way of showcasing cutting-edge product innovation to busy designers. So why is there such a paucity of good quality case study imagery? As a B2B editor Andy Sivell is well placed to judge the extent of the problem, and to offer some practical solutions.

I’ll let you into a little secret: as a busy business-to-business newsletter editor, if you supply me with decent case study images I can almost guarantee you that I’ll find a way of using them – somehow, somewhere. Decent case study image sets are like hen’s teeth.

I don’t mean pictures of a completed building, or beautifully drawn cut-aways and exploded views. No, I mean photographs showing the problem that was faced, and then step-by-step illustrating the solution that was applied. Trust me, specifiers love that stuff.

The interesting thing is that they are really not that difficult to organise. Here’s how you do it:

How to brief a photographer

Use a professional photographer

The most interesting case studies tend to involve the most awkward, inaccessible and dirty construction environments. Rely upon a contractor or technician to take your pictures and chances are they’ll end up badly lit, poorly framed, and rushed. Send in a professional photographer and everyone will let him or her get on with it.

Choose the right photographer

Step-by-step photo sets involve several visits by the photographer. The cheapest way of achieving this is to hire a photographer that’s local to the site. A technique I’ve used successfully for years is to approach the local newspaper and offer their chief photographer the gig as a freelance assignment. Local newspaper photographers are masters at shooting ‘on the hoof’ and making the best of prevailing conditions.

Write down the brief

Email the photographer a written brief, for your own and their protection. You may be located hundreds of miles from where the pictures will be taken and therefore reliant on the photographer’s ability to capture the setting, but that doesn’t negate the need to record your ideas, requirements and expectations.

Start with the end in mind

How do you want to use the images, where do you want to use them and who do you want to impress with them? Remember that using images online is not great for showing detail (compared to print) unless you resort to close-ups. Bear in mind also that professionals are increasingly accessing the web via smart phones which have an even smaller screen size (and potentially longer download times).

Photograph what your audience wants to see

...As opposed to just the clean finished project. That is important too, but this is about how you got there. Many architects, particularly those in smaller practices, primarily work on renovation and extension projects. Their starting point is rarely a pretty sight. Being able to see how you helped to create something beautiful from a similarly unprepossessing starting point will both inspire and reassure them of your expertise.

Check that you own the copyright

Just because you’ve paid for photographs doesn’t mean that you automatically own the copyright to them: quite the opposite, in fact. Copyright resides with the photographer until he or she assigns it to you. Most will assign it to you as part of the commission, but always check –and always confirm in writing what’s been agreed.

Know your image formats

Sending 72dpi images to a magazine or a 50MB image file to a website isn’t the end of the world, but does show an unnecessary degree of ignorance. Learning the difference between web and print resolution, and the 2-3 main image formats doesn’t take long – and will be rewarded with the gratitude of many a harassed editor!


Have you updated your ribaproductselector.com entry with your logo and latest case studies yet?


Andy Sivell is an editor at Copywriting Copywriter.


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