Art Director

10 Things an Art Director Looks for in a Photographer

And What Keeps Them Coming Back for More


You may create amazing images, but if you work with others you have to be enjoyable to be around, personable, fun and respectful. Your personality is your most important asset. If you are shooting portraits, it’s your personality that gets the model to smile, so you’ve got to be fun. Your honesty has to come through when asked a serious question, because a lot of people are counting on you bringing home the winning shot.


I don’t care if you think you might need another memory card for the shoot, if your call time is 9:00 am, then 8:45 am is not a good time to start looking online for a camera store. The shoot won’t start without you there, so cut back on the late night parties when you have a shoot the next day, and set TWO alarms if you want to keep your art director as your best friend.


When you give your creative director or art director your word, you must follow it up with actions. Make to-do lists every day, and if you can’t keep track of the preparation that it takes to make a big shoot happen, get a production manager that can. Photographer’s often have to hire food stylists, location scouts, models, clothing stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and at times, a fleet of RVs. How are your management skills? What can you do in addition to handling a camera?


Can you take an idea from an art director, give them exactly what they ask for, and then make it even better? Can you visualize what the client is selling, and help them sell it? Can you imagine what changing something small that will make a huge change in the final image? Can you make a one bedroom apartment in Kansas City look like a beach house in Malibu? What do you bring to the table that no one else could bring?

Problem Solving

With a studio shoot, a photographer has at least some control over their environment, and years of experience would have taught them what tools are most important to have at hand. But on a location shoot, the number of tools available is limited to what you bring with you. Do you need a bigger truck? In fact, learning to do more with less is a gift that the best photographers learn to cultivate.

Do you need to hide the fact that your set is missing two walls? That’s what shadows are for. Do you need 6 lights and only have two? That’s what reflectors are for. Don’t have reflectors? Look for aluminum foil. Fix the problem, make it work, now. Everyone is waiting, counting on you.

Lighting Genius

Lighting the single most important thing you bring to the table to give an image your “look”. Other than composition, lighting is it. Read about light, study it, love it and control it. Your art director will look to you, the lighting guru, to create glamour, excitement, mood and atmosphere where there is none. Are you up to the task?

In Control

There are 1,004 things that can go wrong on a shoot at any time. However, there are some things you can be in control of. Do you have an extra set of batteries for everything you own? Do you have extra cables for everything that needs them? Have you prepared any assistants, stylists or makeup artists with emails in advance, followed up by phone calls, preparing them for the shoot? Do you have your art director’s cell phone on speed dial? Can you communicate effectively with vendors, teammates, clients, models, and still be on top of what your camera and lights are doing?

In Command

Your judgment is final. You are the only one that can say “yes, we have the shot”. You are responsible for getting everyone else involved in making the shot happen the way that you and your art director envision it. Can you get people to smile when you need them to? You can if you are funny, playful and fun. The client’s girlfriend says “I think it would look better if we changed the background color to green” If you don’t agree with that opinion, you better be prepared with a logical reason why not. You are the artist. People are counting on your sense of style to make a great image. Take charge.

Technically Skilled

Photography is a crazy marriage of technology and art, and you need to be in control of your tools. The morning of the shoot is not the best time to test out a new toy from the camera store. Your art director is counting on you to know your gear, understand your tools, and give them an accurately exposed, well composed, and in-focus image.


If you are getting into photography for the money, try a different career. I am a photographer because I love beauty, I love creating and capturing gorgeous light, and I love making things pretty. You have to learn to love the simplest things, like a bottle of shampoo, and turn it into a hero, a knight in shining armor, answer to every head of hair’s needs. Do you really, really love making great images? Then follow your heart, and the money will come.

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