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Problems with Last Year's Briefs - 3 - Creative


Creative problems with the brief were a bit more subjective than technical ones, but usually they were still obvious enough that it wasn't just a case of me taking a dislike to someone's work!

Creative Problems.

"...not reading the bloody brief."

The most common issue people seemed to have was with simply not reading the bloody brief! We weren't so fussy about this to start with, but by the 2nd venue we were giving people much more information about what to expect, as well as giving them every chance to ask questions and have things explained for them. We even described quite explicitly what we meant when we said "made to measure" and "bespoke" in the fashion brief, yet time and again were handed very standard fashion shots of someone in stuff from Next and Gap. Probably my most favourite "mis-reading" was when someone handed in some very good shots of a posh restaurant, and claimed they were for the Sunday Supplement brief, as they were "the sort of shots you'd see in a Sunday supplement". That they may be, but the brief you were asked to shoot was a portrait of an actor - not some interiors of a restaurant! Suffice to say that in the real world, not reading the brief, and handing in work that's miles away from what the art director wanted is a very quick way to end your career. If in doubt ask - it's better to sound a little insecure and require extra info than to go out very cocky and come back with completely the wrong stuff.

"...If in doubt about what you're shooting in situations like this, consider how your work would look alongside the finished piece."

Another frequent mistake, which usually applied to the Education and Business Briefs, was to not put enough editorial angle into the shots. The briefs for these 2 were to produce a series of images that either answered/asked the question "Has the computer replaced the teacher in the classroom?" and in the case of the Business one, that ethics and morals can no longer be avoided in today's transparent business environment. Both these briefs require some thought, hence why we didn't specify what subject matter we wanted to see - you could illustrate these questions with still lives, environmental shots, portraits, abstracts - whatever gets the message across. The best responses we saw to these 2 briefs were thing like shady looking businessmen in front of wind farms, desolate empty room in schools with computers glowing ominously, and still life shots of documents being "swept under the carpet" and cash changing hands under a desk. By comparison, shots that were simply snaps of a classroom with lots of computers in didn't get the message across, any more that pictures of the high street with a few people walking around did. If you're working in the editorial world and have to illustrate a piece like this, usually you'd work quite closely with either the journalist who wrote it, or the art director, or both, to ensure that what you were shooting got the message across. If in doubt about what you're shooting in situations like this, consider how your work would look alongside the finished piece. If the headline to the article is "Business and Ethics - There's no hiding anymore!" and you hand in a shot of some shops on the high street (we saw this lots of times) it doesn't really help to tell the story. All it says is: "here are some shops"!

"...the problem occurred when people got carried away with their own stories."

Along with not editorialising enough, quite a few people made lots of assumptions about the subject matter which often lost something when taken out of context. Now, this is a bit of tricky one to criticise, as our briefs were by nature quite open ended. It could be argued that interpreting the briefs a certain way is fine, as no-one knows what's actually written in these articles, or what "Pat Armstrong's" music is like and so on. Fair enough - we left the briefs open ended to give you a choice of approaches. The problem occurred when people got carried away with their own stories, and overlooked the fact that the viewer of the images may not have as much information about the subject as they do, or may not be coming at it with the same outlook. A couple of times we were busily assessing some work, presuming it was for the education brief, when in fact it was supposed to be for the business brief. What happened each time was that the photographer in question created a situation which they knew about, but which the average viewer would be completely in the dark about, so when it came to assessing the work we formed our own (incorrect) assumptions. In some cases we suspect people had gone down a certain route because they'd already got some ideas in mind, and rather than adapt those ideas to fit the briefs once they got all the details, they tried to bend the briefs to fit. This tends not to work in the commercial world!

Last, but by no means least, was the very common problem of shots being ambiguous and confused in their execution, with no clear message in them. The amount of work that I would class as a "snapshot" was disturbingly high, and if you're looking to make a living as a professional photographer, in any context, snapshots are not really your domain. Ignoring technical issues of exposure, focus and so on, which I've detailed elsewhere, the biggest cause of this snapshot feeling was of people not thinking the shot through before shooting it. All too often we saw shots for the education brief that were basically a camera thrust through the door of a classroom, pop goes the flash, and you've got a shot of lots of people sitting around looking at computer screens. There's nowhere for the eye to settle, and the central message of the shot could be anything from "overcrowding in classrooms" to "students work harder at college than at school". Without a clear focal point it's very hard for the viewer to grasp what you're getting at. Whilst at college, with lots of time on your hands, and people around you to offer group critiques, this is less of a problem.

"...if you don't get the message across quickly and clearly you've essentially failed."

In the professional world images need to be clear, as the average viewer does not spend long considering each one, and if you don't get the message across quickly and clearly you've essentially failed. "Snapshots" like this (I also call them "Record" shots, as all they do is record what's in front of the camera!) were most prevalent on the education and business briefs, but I saw a fair few for the Sunday Supplement and Music briefs as well. A portrait shot can easily become unclear and ambiguous if the eye doesn't know where to settle and the relationship between the subject and their environment is badly defined. We even saw 2 people shoot the same bloke in the same location, and 1 person came back with some very dramatic portrait shots, that were fairly tightly cropped, but left room around to suggest the location; the other came back with shots of the same fella which looked like nothing more than snapshots taken a family gathering. In a nutshell, make sure that what you're trying to get across in the shot comes across clearly, and doesn't require a 5 minute explanation for everyone who views it!


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