10 Things an Art Director Looks for in a Photographer


Here is a list of 10 things an art director looks for when considering a photographer, and what keeps them coming back for more.

#1: Personality

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.

#2: Punctuality

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.

Photo by

Photo by Dennis Davis

#3: Responsibility

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?

#4: Creativity

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?

#5: 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.

Photo by Dennis Davis of

Photo by Dennis Davis

#6: 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?

#7: 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?

Photo by Dennis Davis of

Photo by Dennis Davis

#8: 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.

#9: 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.

Photo by Dennis Davis of

Photo by Dennis Davis

#10: Love

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.

About the author: Dennis Davis is a commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He specializes in advertising, corporate, food, product and architecture photography for businesses. Visit his website here and his blog here. This article originally appeared here.

  • Mantis

    #1: Personality

    Well that pretty much rules out most of the people that comment down here.

  • donnie

    however i’m giving them as “done” by any pro photographer in the business! if you really need to read this article for your work, well…good luck mateys….

  • Sid Ceaser

    I know entire schools, and entire peer groups that need to read this article.

  • donnie

    before titleing yourself “pro”, you should really pay some price. These 10 points are not just “photographer” tips. Are “life” tips. You can’t do almost no kind of work arriving late, creating mess, forgetting your tools. I bet you’re expecting the same even from your gardenkeeper, teacher, doctor..and so on. Photography have to rise up, we have to know become a great photographer well, is not suitting everybody, like any other profession, of course.
    otherwise, you can still hope that petapixel drop some “to do checklist” so you know what to do before going shooting.
    all my respect to davis, of course.

  • Mehmet Kıvanç Özel


  • sam enz

    This artical is the truth.

  • Scott M.

    Why is shampoo bottle leaning to the left? Artistic?

  • bob cooley

    Yeah, have to agree with @twitter-16261019:disqus here. I’ve been making my living in photography and creative direction for nearly 3 decades, and I’ve met many a ‘pro’ who needed to heed these lessons. They were technically making a living at photography (though with limited success), but making a buck and being successful or professional are two very different things. Great article.

  • bob cooley

    Great list and insights, Dennis, thanks for posting. One thing many photographers lament is the erosion of the market, and often blame it on the advent of digital photography, the internet, cheap clients, etc.

    And while all of those things may be true to a certain extent, one of the biggest cultural shifts I’ve seen over the last 15 years was an increase in inconsistent levels of professionalism. More than anything, this has hurt pricing and perceptions of photographers a professionals worth their fees.

    For sure one could argue that the low entry barrier to photography (because of digital, and cheap marketing on the net) has contributed to this lack of basic professionalism in the market; but anyone who strives to make their love their profession should learn how to do it right; and much of what Dennis outlines are the first steps to getting a career off in the right way that will help make the market more sustainable.

  • dave

    haha, good call

  • Bruce Ngonga

    Very helpful article indeed. Thanks Dennis.