Competencies How to: brief a photographer

Talking to students recently I was asked "what do you really do?" A lot of the work is setting conditions and context so that people can do their thing. Most often this means getting contracts right so that collaborations can set off without friction. Briefings are also of critical importance.

Another big part of what our team does is give expression to things that are otherwise invisible. We do this so that these unseen aspects can become part of our conscious decision-making, and so we can tell stories that help others broaden their decision-making.

Showing our work is not always easy, or at least not in a way that makes it interesting. What we do usually invovles people sitting in a room talking. Sometimes they stand up.  Occasionally they scribble things on a whiteboard. So how do you show this in a compelling way—in a way that someone who wasn't there might actually want to pay attention to, and might actually glean something from?

In the spirit of legible practice below you will find the briefing that we sent to the photographer before HDL 2012. To see the outcomes of this brief interpeted by Johannes Romppanen a skillful photographer, you can check our gallery on Flickr or check here.

All shot suggestions are indicative rather than directives. In other words, they are to convey a sense of the 'story' we want to tell with the images, and I leave it up to you to stick to these suggestions where it makes sense, and contradict when you have a better idea.


THURSDAY 11th @ Helsinki Contemporary Gallery / Bulevardi 10

Best if you can come at the end of dinner, so that we can give people a head's up. Also good for them to get to know each other before being photographed.

We will begin dinner around 19:30-20:00. I propose that I text you when we are finishing mains and then you can come over.

1. GALLERY SEEN FROM AFAR. Perhaps from inside the park. A dark frame with a bright gallery in the middle, small but obviously alive.

2. PEOPLE! AT DINNER! Not sure how to do this, but maybe easiest if we actually get everyone to toast or something.

3. AFTERMATH. Either literally after everyone has left and the table is still set up with napkins on the floor and tipped over glasses and whatever, or perhaps when people are still around but done eating. Messier the better.


FRIDAY 12th @ Pajasali Suomenlinna

1. WALKING THROUGH KAUPPATORI. Our guests amidst the hustle and bustle, either as a string of people walking together, or as individuals. As if you were spying.

2. BOAT: People getting on, sitting and talking. A shot looking back towards city center, with people in foreground if they're out there, otherwise part of the boat in the frame so it's clear that you're not on an island, but actively in transit. Akin to:

3. SETTING. Some shots that establish the scene, the location, which may or may not have people in them. The entry to Pajasali is a small door on a massive facade, so it's nice to see small people in contrast to the structure. Possibly shots of the meeting happening, but seem from the outside, through the glass.

4. EVENT: Probably best if you sit for a while without taking any photos to let people get used to you being there. But use your judgement. No special directives here, but some shots of people discussing.

5. RING OF CHAIRS. We will have the chairs in a circle. Try to get a shot with the whole ring visible. Otherwise, please grab a series of shots that we can stitch together (I can do it so you're not bothered). This is a theme from last time:

6. PEOPLE STEALING A MOMENT AWAY: as individuals, pairs, or small groups, people will inevitably sneak away from the main part of the group to discuss something, have a phone call, etc. These are nice moment because they show a bit of humanity. The event is not consuming them. Example:

7. PROGRAMME BOOKLET: A shot of the book (ideally cover visible) in someone's hand, or just sitting somewhere. But an image of the book. Example:

8. FOOD: food is very important to us because it's a natural opportunity to talk to new people, or change the conversation. So somehow to show that while people are eating, or grabbing food, they are also still "working".


In 1968 Sitra had a design event on Suomenlinna, so this is a bit of a homecoming. Here are the photos from that. They're pretty amazing.

Photos from a previous event that we like:

And something random but nice:

In the grand scheme of our work, photography briefings are not among the most critical things that we do. But given that this was sitting in my email and it might be of use to someone somewhere I figured, why not, let's see what the internet finds to do with this.