In this series of blog posts, I'll be talking to the people that commission photography.
I'll be asking them for their inside knowledge and tips to help you understand what they look for from the other side of the fence.
This time I met with Loulou Clark, Designer and Art Director at Orion...
Hi Loulou, thanks a lot for taking the time to chat with me.
To get started, can you tell our readers who you work for and what your role is?
Yeah, I'm Loulou and I'm the Deputy Art Director at Orion Publishing. My role's pretty varied, but my main responsibility is to art direct (and often design myself). I work on both fiction and non-fiction book covers, across all the different imprints within the company. I also work on a fair amount of illustrated titles such as cookery books and lifestyle, so this all involves working closely with other creatives – such as lettering artists, illustrators and being on set with photographers at shoots.
Sounds like it's a pretty varied role for you at Orion. Working directly with other creatives must be exciting! Can you tell our readers how long you've been doing the job that you're doing now?
I've been doing this for about 10 years. I started out in the publishing industry as a junior designer, after graduating from a degree in graphic design and from having an illustrative background.
So what you've been doing for the past 10 years has been deeply entwined in the creative arts. When it comes to commissioning a creative such as a photographer, how involved are you in that process?
I don't commission photographers a huge amount myself at the moment, as I tend to work more on fiction projects, which have smaller budgets or don't have the need for commissioning photography. Often, we use stock photography or illustrators depending on what the approach is. However, occasionally we'll need something more specific that we just can 't use stock for – such as a figure to fit the exact description of a character in the book, or wearing specific items. For those, we'd commission someone to work towards that brief. Also Historial and fantasy based titles often need to be accurate and we'd need to commission someone to get the imagery right. There's certainly a big demand for good photographers in the publishing industry overall though, particularly for Non-fiction, I'd say. We do a lot of cookery books at Orion, and those can be huge jobs where we're always searching out new exciting food photographers to work with, as well as capable celebrity portrait photographers.
So on the whole, it might not be you directly that would commission a photographer – maybe someone on your team, or another team at Orion. Speaking from experience in times that you have commissioned photography yourself, what kinds of things do you look for in order to make the right decision, when you're choosing someone to work with?
I like to meet them face to face.
There are so many photographers that have great work on their websites, but I really value the personality of the photographers that I work with. I think it's so important when creating a team that everyone gels well, so I always look for a photographer that can be at the centre of that, keeping everyone positive and motivated. From experience, I've found it's that good energy that gets the best out of everyone.
I also need to know that I can put my complete trust in them. Its not always possible for me to attend and art direct a shoot from a project, so it's crucial for me to feel confident that I can leave them to crack on, and follow my brief well without me if necessary.
Generally hearing them talk through their work and asking them questions about how they'd deal with particular situations will give me a good indication of how well we can work together.
How important is the role of photography for Orion?
Yeah massively! We publish such a huge range of books, and so many of those feature photography on the jackets. A great cover can affect sales in a huge way, and really make the difference between the book being a huge success – one that makes the bestseller list, and one that bombs. (No pressure then! Ha ha).
Aside from sales, the cover is there to represent both the author and Orion as a company, so it's essential that it becomes something that we're all proud to put out there.
Of course, that makes perfect sense. Working in collaboration, it's always important that everyone is working towards the same end goal, and that they put their all into it. Do you have any advice that you could give a photographer who might want to get in touch with publishers, and how they should go about doing it?
Probably contact by email first is sensible for an introduction. Use a person's name, so it doesn't feel like a mass mailer and sound keen to work on their books specifically: flattery works every time! Keep it short and snappy if you want it to be read – with a clear and easy link to your website and few of your best shots. Cater your work selection to be specific to who you're contacting to draw them in and give them a reason to click through. Art departments are always busy, so make it as quick and easy as possible.
I'd follow up with a call a couple of days later to see if you could go in for a chat to show your book and meet the team.
People are memorable and spring to mind next time a brief comes up, faceless emails less so, no matter how good the work. Making the effort to show your book in person will definitely work in your favour.
Great advice, thanks Loulou. How involved do you like to get in the creative decision making when you work with a photographer or other creative, and how do you think that collaboration or lack of, affects the outcome?
I like to be pretty creatively involved but every art director you work with will be different.
Often for books covers, we get a rough mock-up of our design for the cover signed off before any money is spent on a shoot. This is so we minimise on wasting budgets. There's not always not much wiggle room to try new compositions at this stage, but I'm always up for getting options!
It's great when photographers can make suggestions using their own expertise – things like lighting and camera angles, and coming up with cool stuff I might not have thought of. Thats when collaboration is at it's best, when everyone can bring something new to the party!
It sounds like getting involved creatively is essential to you.
How would you gauge a successful shoot from the start of the hiring process through to the final use of the images?
Publishers don't have ad agency sized budgets.
We don't want people to under-sell themselves, but we like photographers who can work with us a little on the budget and be adaptable to suit each project. Especially for first foot-in-the-door projects.
If the job goes well, we get the shots that we want and the author/editor are happy – that's a success for us. If low res contact sheets come in a day or so after the shoot, that makes my job easier, and if you deliver the high res when we need: these are all good things!
The experience we have working with you is just as important as the shots and will determine whether we call you again, or recommend you to other Art Directors in the department. Time keeping, enthusiasm, efficiency are other big thumbs up for me, and of course, a good supply of snacks!
Snacks win every time!
Thanks Loulou, this has all been great advice! For the last question, I'd like to bring this all together, to make it relatable for our readers. Can you tell us a bit about a particular project that we've worked on together, and how that helped Orion out?
Well, I think I was expecting the answer to be a no when I came to you on the off-chance, pleading for you to shoot a still life of two giant paper sunflowers for the book jacket for We Own the Sky.
There was something about the story of the book that led me to the idea of commissioning flowers – to be beautifully created by A Petal Unfolds. I thought of you as more of a portrait photographer, but also thought you might appreciate the story that the cover would tell. You said yes – hooray!
I had a shoe-string budget. But rather than turning the job down, you worked with me, making suggestions of where we could cut costs to make this work. You offered to shoot it at your home, saving on studio hire fees. That was above and beyond, and it was this kind of thing that we'll remember and make us more inclined to approach you for work in the future.
With only a half day booked out for the shoot, I arrived prepared. I had my Plan A cover mock-up with me and some notes for an if we get time, Plan B. You worked fast and efficiently, making suggestions along the way, which really helped move things on from my original concept. Interestingly, the cover design developed and changed quite a lot in the weeks following the shoot and it was the second set of shots that ended up being used on the final book jacket. Well worth the hard work to get through both options, which has resulted in a great jacket publishing early 2018, with a very happy publisher and author. Success!
I can't thank you enough for your time Loulou, you've really put a lot of thought into this interview. Thank you so much for going through things so thoroughly with me, I hope our readers can get a lot from everything that's been said.
I'd love to know what you think and if you have any burning questions that you'd like me to ask industry experts. Please feel free to leave your comments below, or get in touch by email, and I'll do my best to get your questions answered.