How to Brief a Photographer for Tourism Businesses & Destinations
Published on May 10, 2023
Your place is amazing! It’s beautiful, unique and you could spend all day telling people about how incredible the experience is that awaits their arrival. But words can be pretty black and white, and now more than ever you need to show your ideal customers just how awesome you are visually. Put simply, if you don’t have great photos and videos, your odds of converting new business are stacked against you.
The fact is, a picture really does speak a thousand words, and the human brain has effectively been hard-wired to process images 60,000 times faster than text. That’s a pretty good reason that 67% of consumers consider visuals to carry more weight than customer reviews, or product information. Likewise, research indicates that 64% of people who watch travel-related videos do it when thinking about taking a trip, and three in five use online videos to narrow down their brand, destination, or activity choices.
Ultimately, no number of words can match visuals when it comes to travel decision making, and that’s exactly why you need a strong arsenal of them to get your phone ringing, or online bookings rolling in. It’s time to hire a photographer! But where to start?
Needs vs. Budget
Start with a stocktake. Look honestly at your current photos and videos and put your pride aside. You need to ask yourself first and foremost if you were a customer seeing your website, brochures or social media channels for the very first time whether they really show – and ultimately sell – your experience.
Where do you promote yourself, and are your images/videos there up-to-date? Do they stop people in their tracks as they scroll mercilessly through the web or scan the brochure shelves of the local Visitor Information Centre? Are there any glaring gaps? And importantly - what’s your budget to fill them?
It’s important to consider any potential photography/videography spend in a marketing context. While a photoshoot may seem like an operational overkill, the assets produced will become the most powerful tool in your marketing arsenal! So, remember to budget accordingly...
Key images to consider – always in a mix of portrait and landscape orientation:
- Hero shots – this is your lead for website home page, major adverts, double page spreads and Facebook cover photos, and should really serve to capture consumers’ attention and inspire them to delve deeper.
- Product shots – these are the more utilitarian shots that demonstrate the specifics of your offering. Think about room types for accommodation or the different places you visit on a tour.
- Destination experiences – if you’re a destination, odds are your Regional or State Tourism Organisation will have a few great images on their Media Libraries, but probably not all.
- With / without people – a mix of photos that show your ideal customers enjoying your tourism experience, and others without that might be used as clean ‘background’ shots – think: landscapes.
Key videos to consider – in short and long form:
- Hero experience video – a video that really captures what you do and inspires people to dig deeper – think: website home page, YouTube, Facebook cover and so on. Whether you’re a region (overview) or operator, this is your ‘us in a nutshell’ piece.
- Meet the owner and staff – a personal touch often speaks volumes, so having something nice and relaxed that introduces your ideal customers to your key people and their roles can be all the reassurance they need when it comes to picking one business over another.
- A virtual tour – if you’re an accommodation operator, a quick whiz around your place to really give people a feel for rooms and spaces can be a great asset to drive conversion – and a real point of difference to your competition.
There’s so many photographers and videographers – who to even approach?
Remember you’re in the business of tourism! We’re selling dreams.
Using a photographer that’s worked in our sector is key, and so is their overall style. You wouldn’t get a wedding photographer to shoot a 4WD tour, or a baby photographer to shoot a bedroom now would you?
Likewise, photographers that predominantly shoot outdoors may not be equipped (literally, in terms of lighting) to shoot interior scenes like bedrooms and restaurants. Others (like landscape photographers) may not be used to working with and/or directing talent (people).
Ask a few industry peers who they’ve used and don’t be afraid to approach your Regional or State Tourism Organisation to provide a few names either. When you’re canvassing them, it’s also worth asking if they were professional and easy to work with - and if they’ll likely fit the sort of budget you have in mind. At this point, also grab a copy of your RTO/STO’s Visual Style Guide, as this will be valuable when it comes to briefing your photographer. Remember: at the end of the day, you want your State/Region to feature these images in their promotional efforts too.
From here, start shortlisting by casting your eyes over photographers’ and videographers’ websites to view their recent work. You’ll get a pretty good feel for their overall style and abilities as you look through – just remember to check out their social media channels and any past client reviews too.
Contracts and deliverables
Make it clear that the primary objective of all imagery being taken is for the promotion of your business and/or destination, and that you want full copyright (ownership) of any assets produced.
While purchasing a ‘license’ is cheaper than buying ownership, it will also come with conditions – which usually inhibit your ability to supply imagery freely to third-parties (think: magazines, publishers, State or Regional Tourism Organisations etc.). Everything’s just easier if you own them outright.
What are your photographer’s costs per hour?
Do they have a day rate (which may be your best option)? Be mindful also that shoots don’t always run on time (in fact, they rarely do!), so you’ll want to ensure you know what those extra charges are. As for payment terms, perhaps there’s 25% payable up-front and the balance on delivery? Perhaps it’s something else.
Do their costs include post-production? (ie. re-touching and basic editing/enhancement)
Will they supply your images in the exact formats you need them in? – ie. high resolution JPEGs and TIFF files for images and high resolution MP4 for video. Maybe you need to factor in a couple of rounds of edits and alterations before final delivery?
Talent…. Who’s supplying (and approving) it?
You or the photographer? Be mindful that your talent needs to align with your ideal personas. Many photographers will sub-contract talent agencies, stylists, make-up, hair and wardrobe specialists, so it’s important to keep things tight and know how many are in their crew (and if all are necessary)! Costs can add up quickly.
Are extra travel costs involved?
For both the photographer and/or talent and other crew. Does the photographer need to conduct a recce (reconnaissance) visit before the main shoot?
Be clear on payment terms and timelines.
Both parties need to agree on the payment terms, delivery dates and how the delivery will be made (ie. supply on hard drive, downloadable link, USB stick etc). As a general rule, allow at least a couple of weeks for post-production and final supply after the shoot’s taken place.
Read your photographer’s terms and conditions, especially their cancellation policy.
If weather’s going to play a role in when the actual shoot takes place (it usually does!) then you’ll want to ensure you’ve factored in a little wriggle room to accommodate any re-scheduling.
Just remember that you’re hiring a highly creative individual.
They’ll likely have a few ideas of their own. Be receptive to them (without being rail-roaded), as they may present something out-of-the-box that you hadn’t initially considered. This is also your chance to field questions and ensure they understand the brief – ultimately it keeps everyone aligned in the creative process.
Keep your Brief tight
The art of clearly articulating your visual requirements is key to securing the best possible results.
If your photographer/videographer isn’t fully across what you’re trying to convey in each scene or shot, there’s a strong chance they’ll miss capturing it in the way you originally intended.
Remember also that no two shots are ever the same. Depending on your overall project scope (and which customer personas you’re targeting) it may be necessary to write a few hyper-specific shot briefs, rather than something more general and overarching. In a nutshell, the tighter and more specific your information is (without stifling the photographer’s creative style) the better the results will be.
In saying this, keep it simple and to the point, and remember to be realistic about time.
Here’s a few things to cover in a creative brief...
What exactly is the role or purpose of these news image/s? - eg. ‘to deliver a new hero image suite for use in (your business name’s) marketing activities'.
Where are the images predominantly going to be used? - eg. ‘website home page, magazine advertisements, social media cover shots - in both landscape and portrait format’.
Which Persona are the images targeting, and what motivates them to travel? - eg. ‘Younger couples, no children – aged 25-30, young, sophisticated, looking for new food and wine experiences, travelling as couples and groups of friends, knows very little about my business/region, but is likely drawn to travel to attend nearby events' etc.
What is it that you want to communicate to this Persona? – eg. ‘We offer world-class food and wine with a world-class ocean backdrop’.
What is the overall mood of the image/s being captured? – eg. choose a handful of words that clearly articulate your vision, such as ‘fresh, stunning, classy casual, relaxed, romantic, premium’ etc.
What are the physical things that need to be in the image/s to convey what you want to say? – eg. 'ocean view, colourful abundant seafood platter, blue sky, warm sunshine, big smiles, table and chairs, white tablecloth, white wine' etc.
Is it just a couple, or also a group of friends, maybe a family? - eg.
- Scenario 1 - young couple aged 25-30
- Scenario 2 - group of friends aged 25-30 (mix of male and female)
- Scenario 3 – family of four (Mum, Dad, two kids aged 8-12).
You may also simply be looking for shots that don't use talent in which case, be really clear about what gaps you are wanting to fill in using landscape or experience shots.
Where specifically will the shoot take place? – eg. ‘Al-fresco dining deck at (address)'.
Mood Board / Style Guide
Bundle your Regional/State Tourism Organisation’s Style guide together with your creative brief – and ensure they ‘sing from the same hymn sheet'. It’s also worth doing some research of your own to find images that you like, that also fit the brief. A quick Google should turn up a few, as will looking at your competitors, or those in other regions States or countries that you - realistically - aspire to be like. Paste the best examples into a simple Mood Board and submit them with everything else. Remember, humans process images faster than print, so having a visual leader will ram your requirements home better than words alone.
Before the Shoot
You’ve pitched the job, briefed all your requirements and chosen your photographer/videographer. All that’s needed is to get those pics in the bag! Before going ahead, remember to get your house in order, as this will inevitably save pain later on. The clearer you are on logistics the better everyone’s experience will be on the day – which will again be reflected in the imagery being produced.
Ensure the exact shoot time and location are clear
Also that any lingering questions or concerns (from you or your photographer) are cleared up in advance.
Plan your shoot schedule – realistically (not optimistically)!
Think through travel times, meal breaks and your overall order-of-shooting. Prioritise each shot/scene in order of its importance and fluidity of movement on the day. You’ll be working against the clock (which costs money) so take time to think about how you’ll best maximise your photographer’s time on the day. Also consider any images needing to be taken at a specific time (eg. sunrise, sunset, low tide, golden hour, night-time etc), along with a few contingencies for rain, best light, general delays etc.
Talent and wardrobe - ensure they’ve signed a Talent Release pre-shoot and that their wardrobe will match your expectations.
If you are using talent in your shoot, it’s worth instructing talent to pack a bag with a few different outfits/options for the day. Remember, you want clothes that won’t date easily in photos, so avoid bold patterns, as well as overly bright or dark colours, and ensure grooming is in order (ie. specify unshaven versus shaven, tattoos covered or exposed, hair up or down etc.)
Property and permits
If you’re shooting at a property other than your own, you’ll want to ensure the respective owner/s have signed a Property Release. Likewise, if you’re shooting in a National/Conservation Park you’ll want to check permit requirements with the relevant body and allow sufficient time for processing. If drones are being used, you’ll also need to ensure all relevant CASA certifications and requirements are met and adhered to.
After the Shoot
Once you’ve conducted the shoot, reviewed any rounds of edits, received your final imagery and squared away payment, it’s time to put your new visuals to work in all the right places.
If you’re wondering what they are, here’s a simple checklist…
As well as updating your own digital and print assets, it’s worth dropping a line to your local Regional and/or State Tourism organisation to showcase your new stuff, with view to making them available for their respective Image Libraries. In doing so, you’ll be putting your best foot forward in helping them to promote your business and/or destination.
In fact, it may well be the difference between inclusion in future campaigns and PR activities or being overlooked for the next best thing.
Importantly, you’ll want to keep your new visual assets secure and easily accessible for use later on, whether it be in response to requests from a journalists or magazines, a presentation to travel trade, a regional, intra or interstate campaign or ad-hoc advertising opportunities.
Speed is important, so ensuring the right people in your team and/or network are aware they exist, and that they can easily be found and sent when those opportunities present will ensure you get first bite at the cherry when it comes to marketing your business!