Writing great photography proposals

Getting photography proposals accepted requires time, effort and imagination. The worst photography proposals I’ve read are the ones that are clearly templates written with chunks of text that are cut and pasted. All too often the name of another client appears, the grammar or tense changes mid-way through, or the proposal just doesn’t make sense structurally.

Write a unique proposal

My advice is to always start with a blank document. A proposal is not just for one project, it’s about the potential to build a relationship that may last for years.

Not every enquiry requires a proposal. In my experience there are two types of client brief:

  1. “We would like you to photograph this or that…”
  2. “These are our objectives, propose how we can achieve them”

The first is an instruction and usually the client has already made up their mind about what they want and the determining factor is often cost.

The second is an invitation to be part of the solution, which is much more interesting for those photographers who favour storytelling and communication.

During the summer of 2021 I had the pleasure of working on a campaign to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a ‘Fellowship’ body that represents some of world’s most accomplished puppeteers and entertainers.

The brief was to develop a photography project that highlighted the talents of the members in its 40th year but needed to acknowledge that business-as-usual had been severely disrupted by the restrictions and uncertainty resulting from the 2020/21 pandemic.

My proposal was to capture portraits of members doing an activity that had kept them motivated while the theatres were closed and they couldn’t entertain. I also stated that it would be an opportunity to meet the people behind the costumes and make-up. It would be a chance for individuals to visually reveal something about themselves and it would my job to help them tell their story.

I structured my proposal as follows:

  • This is what I understand of your organisation and what you do
  • This is what I understand you want to achieve
  • These are the challenges you’ve identified
  • This is how I propose to achieve your objectives and what I’ll deliver
  • This idea will work because it does this and this
  • Here are some examples that illustrate my thinking
  • This is why I should do this project
  • Here are my expected fees and expenses

I illustrated the proposal with environmental portraits of recognisable figures and highlighted the elements that contributed to the success of each portrait. This meant that people unfamiliar with photographic styles understood the proposal and could start to envisage what the end result would look like.

The photography proposal was approved and work began immediately. We needed volunteers who were willing to share something of themselves and a limited budget meant that I had to build a rapport and trust with them very quickly because there wouldn’t the time or money for multiple trips around the country. The first step was a video call.

Portrait of a couple sat on a log with sketchbooks. Photography Proposals.
Copyright Andrew Cameron

It’s always about them, not the photographer

In photography circles you’ll often hear people talk about the photographer rather than the model (or the brand) – a Bailey, Lindbergh, Rankin….but none of those photographers ever thinks their professional work is about them, it’s all about the client or the person in front of the lens. Therefore, I was under no illusion that my job was instill confidence in the people I was talking to over video call and encourage them to drop their performance persona and allow me to see the real person.

As an introvert I learned a long time to ago that the best way to avoid talking about yourself is to keep asking questions of the person you are talking to.

Portrait of woman sat at table looking at figures. Photography Proposals.
Copyright Andrew Cameron

Nobody likes a photographer

Even in a world of selfies nobody really likes a photographer holding a camera. They can’t see what the photographer can see, they don’t know what the framing is, and they won’t have the luxury of deleting, adding a filter and stretching their arm out for a second take. They have to trust that the photographer isn’t going to portray them in a way that they’ll hate, which means as a photographer you have to very quickly understand who you are working with and how to get the best out of them.

Portrait of woman holding keep net amount flowers. Photography Proposals.
Copyright Andrew Cameron

Not every idea works

You also have to be the one that says when something isn’t working. Visual storytelling can be hugely powerful but the viewer needs to be able to ‘read’ the image. Sometimes, what seems like a great idea on paper, doesn’t translate into a compelling story when viewed through the lens. This makes the job of the photographer even harder. You have the break the news without damaging their confidence.

I had this dilemma with this project. One person wanted to demonstrate how active they had been by walking, and another wanted to focus on the singing they done during lockdowns. Walking can be conveyed but requires the right environment. Singing could also be done well with an appropriate setting and backdrop. However, neither individuals had these. A local dog walk in the woods, or standing next to the sofa in a living room with their mouth open, were never going to convey the importance of these activities, and so I had to break it to them.

In each case the second choice, which I had helped to identify through my short time in their company, turned out to be much better and more interesting stories.

Portrait of man through holding a picture frame standing in front of a church.
Copyright Andrew Cameron

Souvenir of a moment in time

The final result was over 30 portraits of men and women aged 14-84 presented in a souvenir photo book that was gifted to every member. The images also appeared and/or led to coverage in The Telegraph, BBC, ITV and regional radio.

Cover image of Silent Swazzles photography book. Photography Idea to Delivery.
Silent Swazzles

“Thank you for all your hard work and commitment. I must congratulate you on producing a very high quality production, it does look really fantastic!”

Peter Barratt, PJF Treasurer