Archives Posts Tagged ‘Photography Know-How’

20Jan 2010

If you have to find a commercial photographer for your next project in China, there are several things which you need to consider that will affect the outcome of your search.  How can you be sure that the photographer is good?  How can you know if the photographer offers a good value?  How do you know if he or she is the right one for your project?  The most important challenge is to better educate yourself to make a thorough decision.

The aim of this article is to offer a recommendation to marketing managers or anyone having to choose a commercial photographer in China.

China offers a wide range of commercial photographers, ranging from individual freelancers to small lane studios to larger photography companies with their own large studios and full-time employees.   According to the China Photographer’s Association, there are 12,000 photographers registered in China (and for example more than 2,000 photographers just in Shanghai!).

Regardless if you need to need a product, portrait or architectural photographer, the general aspects which need to be considered when choosing a photographer are universal and always the same.   Commercial photographers in China come in various sorts and kinds which can be differentiated and evaluated by following characteristics:

  1. Portfolio
  2. Experience
  3. References
  4. Studio
  5. Team
  6. Personality
  7. Language
  8. Value
  9. Equipment
  10. Logistics

The above points are now explained in detail below.

1. Start with the photographer’s portfolio.

Start by looking at the website of the photographer and see if you like his or her style.  Do you like the way the shots are composed?  Do you like the atmosphere or tonality of the shots?  Photography is highly subjective which means that each individual will have a different opinion on an image.  Also have a look at how the website and the portfolio are presented:  Does it have a nice look and feel?  Is it well-structured and easy to navigate?  Does it contain all the relevant information and a bio or vita?

2. Check the experience of the photographer in your area.

Often photographers get questions asked like “I see that you’ve shot oranges but can you also shoot apples!?”.  This question is of course beside the point as you can’t expect any photographer to have shot the product you are looking for in the exact style you are looking for.  Rather check if the photographer has done some work which is relevant to your area, or in the style (lighting, background, composition) you like but with a different product.  A good photographer can easily adjust the shooting style according to your design.

3. Look at what other companies have used the photographer.

Good photographers usually have a loyal base of regular clients which work with them on an on-going basis. Check if the website reveals some information about the photographer’s references.  Ideally, the website shows some real comments from clients (testimonial section) with their company names.  Established photographers will also always be able to give you 2-3 references which you can contact before signing the quote.

4. Check out if the studio would be okay.

About 70% of all jobs are done in a photo studio and 30% are done on-location (estimated).  If your shoot takes place in studio, see if the studio size and location fits your requirements (look at dimensions, ceiling height, floor plan, storage space, make-up room, infinity cove, ease of access, etc.).  Ask if the studio fees are included in the photographer’s day rates, also ask for studio half-and full-day rates.

5. Make sure the photographer has a good support team.

Even small photography projects can become pretty labor-intensive.  Products need to be picked up or sent and assembled and prepared, models have to be scheduled and styled on time, property release forms have to be drafted, faxed and signed, and so on.  Photographers who don’t have a full-time support team, usually consisting of project managers/ producers/ account managers, stylists, photography assistants or runners, end up having to do all those little tasks by themselves.  This typically makes them spend a lot of their attention, time and energy on secondary tasks which can (and should) be done by an assisting team member.  Ask for other talents who support the photographer and check how experienced they are.

6. Learn a bit about the photographer’s personality.

Photographers are normal people with all kinds of strength and weaknesses.  As photo shoots can get quite exhausting, intense and challenging for all involved, so it’s vital that the photographer has the kind of personality traits which are important to you.  Consider the testimonial from Mike Gatti (Arnold Worldwide) about the awesome photographer Tom Nagy:


7. Find out about the photographer’s language skills.

Now this is something which is probably only relevant in China – see how good the photographer’s Chinese or at least his English is.  Photography is part of the visual communication sphere so it is fundamental that the people involved can communicate well with each other.  If a client requests “More Warmth! More Harmony!”, the photographer has no other choice but to ask “okay, but how?!”.  Therefore, it’s important that the client and photographer talk at least one common language.

8. Look at the value, not the price.

As prices are always relative, it always depends on what you get in return for what you input.  For example, if you pay $10,000 US for a car this might be a great bargain or a total rip off, depending if it’s a Ferrari or a unknown car brand from the former Soviet Union.  Same in photography!  Good photographers get you what you want efficiently and without loosing any of your time!  Bad photographers might also be able to get it done, but they often need much more time and you need to manage them a lot more.  Therefore, always consider that your time is very valuable and you should train your photographer to know what you want and like so that you can spend your time on your core business.

9. Equipment is not everything, but it’s a start.

Probably you already know that the best photographers can create amazing shots with almost any kind of camera or equipment, and inexperienced photographers will often explain that they can’t create this or that effect because they don’t have the right equipment.  Fact is that equipment is for sure important, but it is also often overrated.  Ask the photographer what equipment he is usually using (camera model, lights, computer) and if you need billboard size, what maximum resolution (e.g. 5616 x 3744 pixels at 300 dpi) his images can get.

10. Pay attention to how well the admin side is taken care off.

Some paper work is not avoidable, even in a creative area like photography.  The most important documents are: quotations (often referred to as quotes, estimates), invoices and release forms (model or property release forms).  See if the documents are setup properly and documented well (numbered, filed, complete information, etc.) as this might become important when there are any legal issues with property owners or models.

Bottom line: Choosing the right commercial photographer for your next project in China is actually an easy task once you know what to look for.  The above 10 points should help you to navigate you through your search.

You can also use a Point Rating System (see a sample result below or download the excel file to create your own) if you need to write things down or rationalize your decision to your boss or colleagues.  This Point Rating System helps you to look at each factor independently, while coming up with one final result (or sum of points) for each option.  The photographer with most of the points should then be your preferred option – and get the job!


You can also download a sample Excel version here !

12Jun 2009

To make it easy and simple for you to know what we are talking about when we use words like “rekkie”, “ppm” or “key visual”, we compiled a list with the words and terms we and the entire creative industry most commonly use.

Account Manager – The person you most probably are dealing with the most, because he or she is responsible for managing all aspects of a client’s need, such as the logistics of a photo shoot, retouching specs or to discuss the different layout phases of a catalog design project

Art Director – Also AD (=art director), the talent who works with the CD (=creative director) and who’s responsible for the visual execution of the project. e.g. defines all details of the story board such as colors, materials, textures, props etc. The CD usually creates the creative concept, based on which the AD creates a story board which tells photographers what to create.

Beauty Shot – A beauty shot showcases a product, either the entire product or just a certain part of it, in the best possible manner, without using any additional props or decoration. Typically, a photographer spends 50% to 100% more time on one beauty shot than on a packshot (see below). Examples:


Briefing – The specific requirements of a job. Clients brief their account managers, who in return will brief the relevant creative talents (photographers, graphic designers, etc.)

Call Sheet – A ‘call sheet’ is a document which gets handed out to all people who are involved in a job. It lists all people’s names, phone numbers, schedule, addresses, etc.

Check List – A ‘list’ which helps our clients so that they can prepare better. There are many checklists for different types of projects such as on-location product photography or in-studio corporate portrait photography.

Composition – Wikipedia says “composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art”, which means a composition consists of several images which are composed into one. This technique is often used when it would be impossible or too difficult to shoot the object as it is. For example, if a company sign with a “new logo” is not finished prior to the photo shoot, the logo can be digitally composed into the image after the shoot.

Creative Concept – The strategic idea for a project with which the brand or company is positioning itself. It has to consider many factors such as brand values, objectives, image language, and so on. Typically, the CD (=creative director) comes up with the creative concept.

DTP – Short for ‘Desk Top Publisher’, also ‘graphic technician’ or ‘FA artist’ (=final artwork artist). The talent who transforms the scribbled layout / idea of an AD into a printable file (e.g. PDF). Examples: catalog pages, packaging artwork, posters, warning labels, etc.; see also ‘print manager’.

Estimate – A rough estimate about all the costs for a potential job. An estimate usually becomes a quote or quotation once all details have been discussed and it’s time to prepare a legally binding document which describes what the client wants the company to do.

Freelancer – A freelance talent is hired on a ‘project-basis’ only. Freelancers are for example table-top stylists, hair and make up artists, set designers, illustrators, models, actors, etc.

Image – After a ‘shot’ has been retouched, it becomes an ‘image’. The differentiation between ‘shots’ and ‘images’ make it easier for us and our clients to better know which ‘image’ we are talking about.

Location Rekkie – The word ‘rekkie’ comes from the word ‘reconnaissance’, which stands for the process of obtaining information about enemy forces or positions by sending out small groups of soldiers or by using aircraft. In photography lingo, it means a account manager goes to the shooting location prior to the shoot to get more information and give advise in terms of shooting preparations.

Model Release – A model release says the person being photographed has given consent to be photographed and to the use of the images you capture. It should also clarify what the images are used for, by whom, where, and for how long.

Mood Board – Once the creative concept is on-hand, the creative or art director will create a mood board which defines the feeling and mood which the visuals should exemplify. It mostly covers colors, atmospheres, materials and textures. Example: summer, bright daylight, green and yellow, youth and sports.

Packshot – A packshot is (according to Wikipedia) “a still image of a product, usually including its packaging and labeling, used to portray the product’s reputation in advertising or other media”. Different countries use different terms, such as “abstract shot” (commonly used in the U.S.), cutout shot (used in the U.K.) or catalog shot. In German packshots are often referred to “Freisteller”.

PPM – Short for ‘Pre-Production-Meeting’. It’s the final meeting before the commencement of a job where all talents who are involved meet to discuss all details. It’s not about what to achieve, but more about the ‘who, when, where and how’.

Print Manager – The talent who coordinates and takes care of all printing related issues. Spending about 50% in studio, ensuring that the files which will be given to the print shops are in the right format and meet all printing requirements, and spending about 50% on the print-floor, making sure that the printing company is producing the quality our clients are expecting.

Producer – Also ‘account manager’, the talent who manages photo shoots, such as location scouting, model casting, and so on. The producer is the middleman between clients and photographers, retouchers, graphic designers, models, set builders, etc.

Project – A ‘project’ can have multiple ‘jobs’. It can include photo shootings, retouching, graphic design and print management jobs. Example: For the ‘catalog project 2009 june’ for one of our clients, we did several photography and retouching ‘jobs’ for this ‘project’.

Property Release – A property release says that the owner of a certain property, has given you consent to take and use images of the property. See also ‘model release’. If a property is shown on a photograph, it is critical and always recommended to get the consent and permission of the property owner. Otherwise, he or she can stop you from using his property in your marketing material.

Proposal – A proposal includes the quotation and additional 3-4 pages to present our ideas about potential cooperation.

Questionnaire – To better understand client’s job requirements, we have different questionnaires which help us to think off all issues which are important. It is usually filled out by the account manager and the client.

Quotation – A ‘quoation’ is a legal document which lists all services we are going to provide. After the client signed it, the job officially starts.

RAW files – Wikipedia says ‘a raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of a camera’. Raw files are so named because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be used with a bitmap graphics editor. RAW files need to be converted into file formats such as TIFs or JPGs in order to ‘retouch’ them.

Retoucher – According to Wikipedia, a retoucher is using ‘the application of image editing techniques to photographs in order to create a desired effect or illusion’. Common retouching tasks are touch-ups, knock-outs, background removals, clipping paths, skin retouching, object removals, etc.

Shot – When a photographer pushes the button, he creates a ‘shot’. For example, during a shoot a photographer creates about 400 shots, of which 30 are selected. Those 30 shots first need to be converted from RAW files (see RAW files) into something which can be edited, such as TIF or JPGs.

Shot List – A detailed breakdown of when and which ‘shots’ are to be created and who’s involved. During a big job, everything gets centralized on the shotlist, and the whole project gets executed based on the contained information.

Story Board – The ‘story board’ defines the general requirements of the shoot in terms of quantity of shots (per location, per product, etc) and the features of each shot (e.g. what is important? focus on what? etc.). A big job usually involves a ‘creative concept’ (e.g.

Supplier – Companies which provide products such as equipment, backgrounds, computers, etc.

Vector Graphics – Geometrical elements such as points, lines, curves, and shapes,to represent images in computer graphics. Vector graphics can be scaled and enlarged to infinity without loosing quality (necessary for fonts, illustrations, etc.)

Visual – The term ‘visual’ is mostly used when dealing with agencies. One visual can consist of several images, or other graphical elements such as graphical effects

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