Asset Libraries: Think Quality & Quantity (But Please Be Reasonable!)

Author:  Rebecca Bedrossian

Just because you can take hundreds of shots a day, doesn’t mean you should.

Digital changed our world in more ways than we can fathom. And when it comes to photography—film to digital was truly a paradigm shift. While the single image is still carefully crafted, it’s becoming an anomaly. Because photographers are being asked to create more and more.

While some clients and agencies originally wanted an extra bang for their buck, they are now requesting more scenarios—for storytelling purposes. Different channels demand different images—from the same narrative. The new modus operandi is: Get lots of images first, decide how and when to use them later.

Translation: Clients want more from each shoot.  

Sure, this sounds ok. There is demand, after all!  But the reality is that clients/agencies want extra work in the same amount of time. And, often times they’re asking for additional scenarios without adding time/days to the shoots. This does not bode well from a creative standpoint. It means less time to shoot each scenario.

So, what’s a photographer to do? We spoke with Richard Schultz, one of our group photographers, about what works (and what doesn’t), on library shoots and how he’s trying to preserve creative time and educate clients on that value.

It used to be that you (and other photographers) were hired for one hero shot per ad. Now, you’re hired often for library shoots. What changed?

RS: I think in the beginning, clients drove this idea without any particular use for the images. They figured they were getting more for their money—similar to those all-you-can-eat restaurants where the food is rarely very good. Times have changed, now imagery is actually needed for lots of uses—web, mobile, print, POP, social media—and it makes sense. So we’re shooting with a decent purpose in mind and a semi-predetermined shot list, which gets discussed and prioritized ahead of time. It’s a huge breakthrough.

Before we take on a library project, one of the first things we always talk about with the agency and clients is the quality-over-quantity concept. If they’re expecting a hundred shots in a day, they’re rarely going to get anything great. It usually takes time to craft a very good picture, so it’s all about balance.

When you first started shooting libraries, what did the client value most about them? Is that different from today?

RS: This goes back to the first question and the fact that we view each project as a collaboration with both agency/client. This means trying to balance all of their needs with the fact that we only have 24 hours in a day and usually some budget constraints. Prioritizing is key. My preference is a to come up with a few “hero” shots each day that will get maximum exposure, spending the time to get them to a great place. Then we can start to work our way down the priority list and spend our days accordingly. On a library shoot, we obviously can’t spend too many hours crafting just one shot. Again, it’s balance.

How often do you do library shoots?

RS: I’d say about 25% of our shoots are actually “library” shoots, but more like 75% want us to do some sort of shoot-around to capture a bit of the flavor, back story, and details that surround our hero shots.

What makes a successful library shoot?

RS: It happens, in large part, by just being prepared each day. It’s about creating that priority list and utilizing our time in the best way—which shots are super-heroes and then work our way down to the “ohhh-that-would-be-nice-to-have” details. Flexibility is great to have, too, but always have that pre-discussed shot list to refer back to.

What is the most challenging part of a library shoot?

RS: The most challenging part is the desire to make sure the client is getting a lot of value from the project. The difference arises in what each person perceives as value. As the photographer, I value quality over quantity whereas the client might feel the reverse (or actually they usually want quantity AND quality). At times like that, it’s always helpful to talk all of this through with the agency and come to a happy medium. Sometimes my role (and the agency’s) is to educate the client on the fact that making great pictures takes time and maybe fewer fantastic pictures is much better than lots of mediocre ones.

When setting expectations with an agency/clients, what’s the most important thing you’d like to communicate about a library shoot?

RS: Bringing the photographer into the process/discussion with the client can actually be really helpful, I think. The photographer can explain the process of making a picture (and the time involved) to the client in a way that the agency maybe cannot. Once they understand, they’re usually open to prioritizing that wish list.

If I had to sum it all up to what makes a great library shoot, it’s discussion/collaboration, forethought, advance planning and prioritizing that wish list!!!


8 thoughts on “Asset Libraries: Think Quality & Quantity (But Please Be Reasonable!)

  1. I’m certainly finding this to be the norm for projects that come my way now, the key motivation from clients being some variation of how Rebecca put it: Let’s “get lots of images first, decide how and when to use them later.” For me, drawing from my primarily editorial background has been useful in getting a lot of mileage out of a single location/talent/day in these situations, and it’s a very different animal from producing a single highly-stylized collaborative hero-shot. In my mind it comes down to the budget, and clients essentially preferring to pay a bulk rate for a library versus spending per single targeted image. Would love to see an article on here discussing the client or art-buyer’s process of making those fiscally-based choices, and what they feel they’re gaining or giving up. Thanks again Rebecca and Heather!

  2. HI! Thanks so much for reading the post and commenting. Pricing is varying greatly for each shoot – and factors that effect it are usage, number of scenarios and budget. Not very helpful, I know. Typically there is a day rate and or usage fee plus a library fee. Sometimes the client handles post, sometimes we do. Regardless it is rarely for the whole library, they just choose hero images.

  3. Great post. I’m also finding more and more of my shoots these days the client is looking for 10-15 images per day, rather than just a handful of hero shots. I think it’s really important to have really detailed pre production to nail down the prioritisation and then plan the day to get the most out of it. Sometimes it means the client has to spend a bit more on crew to get the most out of my time, e.g. extra assistants that can pre-light the next shot while I’m shooting the previous one, additional talent and a stylist assistant to rotate them through wardrobe faster etc. Then with a detailed plan you can get through a lot. What you risk loosing is the spontenaity of the shoot and the ability to change your mind easily if something is / isn’t working well.

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