At John Brown Media U.S., we’ve learned first-hand how agencies and creative directors can adapt to this new remote working environment—and continue to create visually compelling still and motion assets for our clients in the process. Ahead, our creative team shares the seven strategies they swear by for remote photo shoot success.
John Brown Media art director Keilani Rodriguez recommends consolidating work to a singular, recurring creative partner when possible. “Having an existing relationship means they know what we’re looking for, and we know what to expect from them,” they said. Furthermore, having a strong rapport allows for speedier communication and removes the learning curve often present when onboarding a new collaborator.
While any brief has to be detailed, making them even more specific than usual can compensate for the distance between you and the photography team, Rodriguez says. While surfaces and props for shots were once pulled from a selection of options on-set, today Rodriguez assesses available options in advance and builds selections into the brief. “Because we can’t be on set, our art briefs are very prescriptive,” they said.
Jessica Huang, an art director in the San Francisco office, says her remote briefs also ask stylists to pull more props, surfaces, and options than usual. “It’s hard to tell what things will look like or how they’ll shoot when you can’t see them in person, so we like to be over-prepared,” she says.
By having a photographer share their camera’s perspective, it’s possible to replicate the experience of in-person photo review and suggest practically real-time adjustments. “It would be nearly impossible to do shoots remotely without this functionality,” says Quinn Buggs, a producer in John Brown Media’s San Francisco office.
Rodriguez, for example, has had a photographer email screenshots of images as they come through. On other shoots, the photographer will share a screen they’ve tethered to a camera via video conferencing software like Zoom, which comes with a built-in annotation feature that allows participants to comment on shared screens in real-time.
In addition to finding a way to review images, establishing a system for sharing feedback quickly can replicate the fast-paced feeling of being on-set.
In John Brown Media’s Boston office, this means looping in the food editor, art director, and editor to review photos in a shared Slack channel. Rodriguez shares the photographers’ screenshots as they come in, gathers the team’s input, and communicates feedback to the photographer, establishing a clear line of communication. “It all happens very fast, especially when we’re shooting food that might decline in quality as it sits on set,” they say.
In San Francisco, the team sets up a Zoom conference call to review shots with the client. “The goal is to create the same environment of gathering to focus on a shot, listening to each other’s ideas, and discussing any changes to make,” says account director Kat Jackson.
Inevitably, a remote photo shoot will differ for both the people creating the images and the client reviewing them. Jackson recommends revisiting any current workflows and shifting as needed: For example, building in more frequent checkpoints and interacting with each client representative during a shoot can engage the client while keeping the process moving. Holding daily morning meetings, meanwhile, can help align on process and timing and set clear expectations. “You have to have a Plan A, all the way through Plan D, thoroughly thought out and communicated in advance,” she says. “Being honest about what is possible, while always approaching obstacles with the perspective of how they improve our work, has been key.”
Although it may sound counterintuitive when you’re trying to meet a deadline, Buggs recommends reducing daily shot counts in a remote photo shoot to give all parties ample time to discuss each image. Beyond making space for unforeseen technical issues, “this will allow for art and creative directors to review and approve without the rush to move on to the next,” he says. “Doing this remotely is about carefully curating every shot and constantly communicating via email and video.”
The reality of a remote photo shoot is that everything will happen differently than it would if shoots were taking place in person. Rodriguez says to consider these differences and work with—not against—them. “This means being mindful of what props are available, the team’s bandwidth, and other methods we could use to bring our concepts together,” they say. “The more willing you are to compromise ahead of the shoot, the less you will compromise on quality during it.”