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PICTURE PERFECT: The Value of Teamwork on a Photography Shoot

23 August 2018


©Susan Bell

Continuing with our series of features in association with Computer Arts Magazine we bring you the next in line: Picture Perfect. What are the vital ingredients of a successful campaign? Does a photographer need to be left to their own devices, or is teamwork really important in getting the best out of a creative team? We talk to AOP photographer Susan Bell, whose stunning work in food photography has earned her recognition at the Pink Lady Food Photography Awards for the last two years.


Who do you consider the key people to work on a brief?
For me, the more communication before a job, the better. So, if 
the art director has brought me on board, ideally I would like to know as much as possible and 
be as involved as possible before we actually get to shooting. Often this would also involve recommending a food stylist and prop stylist who would work well.

cook nourish 985 salmonstill editretouched edit

©Susan Bell.  Salmon Still Life. Winner of Pink Lady 2015, Category - Best Published Work.

For smaller budget jobs, are there any must-have people? Is a good art director more important than a food stylist, for example?

This is a tricky one. They are both important and can make or break a project. The art director has such a pivotal role in between the client or book editor/author and the team who will be shooting.

A good art director will have understood the project, and interpret and communicate that really clearly. Also when you have created a beautiful image, what the art director or designer then does with it can make or break 
it – a good layout or typeface can elevate everything, and vice versa!

If shooting food, however, the key element is the food. If it isn’t right, there is little that can be done. So if I had to choose one or the other, I’d choose a food stylist.

How much do you collaborate 
to deliver a finished image?

In food photography collaboration is key. It is a real team effort,
so picking the right team and working well together is vital. Also working with people with whom you’ve built up a relationship means you can move into a job and create something beautiful based on previous work. The 
work gets stronger the more you collaborate with good people. I’m fascinated by what happens when you work with others – you bring something, they bring something, and hopefully, magic comes.

peas opener

©Susan Bell. Peas shoot for Waitrose Food Magazine

Who has the creative vision –
is it you or the art director?

The art director sets out their ideas, and then I get to play and create new things in that space. With the art directors that I like most they will start sending me things before the shoot: ideas, pictures, random thoughts, and so on. I start jotting things down, sometimes sketching, thinking about colours, props. I’ll gather things that I think will work for the project, think about the light, the tones. What’s the story? I like this forward visualising because then when you’re under time pressure in the studio or out on location, ideas start flowing and coming together.

Any advice for art directors, copywriters and design teams?

Have ideas, but then hand over to the photographer and give them space to create. Let the photographer play and try 
things without jumping on little details that they have probably already noticed. It’s good to let a photographer ‘get into the zone’ rather than jumping in too much at first. Photography is such a strange combination of technical, physical (shifting things around) and creativity – it’s good to let them get into the flow.

What makes the process easier?

Good planning – mood boards, shot lists, the context in which things will be seen, book text, layouts, picture sizes, overlays.

Are there any areas of your job that you don’t want input with? I like to be free to construct the shot – in particular the light, but also the props I’m using. I need to be able to feel a shot, and the wrong colour or texture can totally throw things off.

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