An Art Director’s Last Ditch Option

Zoltan Mihaly/ImageBrief

You know this story. It’s 4 pm on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Manhattan. You’re packing up your laptop and heading out to your best friend’s rehearsal dinner. It’s not until 7:30 in Montauk, so you might make cocktail hour. Since you’ve been at the office since 7 am, a stiff cocktail seems well-deserved. And then the unthinkable – or inevitable – happens: an account executive appears in your office doorway, looking worried.

Seems your agency’s newest big-ticket client isn’t happy with the images from last week’s beach-barbecue shoot you commissioned at great expense, working on location with models, caterers and a slew of stylists. Seeing the images at the shoot, you’d thought they were perfect. Sigh.

Now, at 4 pm, racing out the door, you learn exactly how much of a perfectionist this new client is. The images you thought were great need to be “just a little bit different here, a tad shifted over there.” Despite trying to literally cover every angle, you don’t have what the client wants. And there’s a Monday morning meeting to talk everything over. They’re looking to you to save the day.

As you’re listening to them – and thinking about the logistics of a last-minute over-the-weekend shoot – you’re also hearing the voices of your family and friends in your head. “There she goes again, showing up late for an important gathering so she can live large as an ‘Art Director,’ gallivanting on beautiful beaches, with gorgeous models, art directing glamorous photo-shoots.”

If only they knew the truth. You’re faced with the reality of your role as an unsung hero. And to save the day, you’re considering a last ditch option: a time-consuming stock search.

Atlanta-based Art Director Michael Diffenderfer can relate to this nightmare. During a recent project for a higher-ed client, Diffenderfer had to find an image of a group of people who looked like real students but also had a specific gender and ethnic breakdown. That led him to a lengthy stock search.

"I wanted something that didn’t look like stock. I just stared at a screen for hours, and I still didn’t find what I was looking for. What I really need is a solution that connects me to people who get the concept of the creative process, who can send me a selection of images culled by someone who actually takes time to understand the client and the project.”

Diffenderfer had fallen into what is the axiomatic trap of stock photography. He was looking for the proverbial needle in a very large haystack. And just how big is the stock haystack? To give some additional perspective, Rob Haggart, Former Director of Photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine, tallied over 200 agencies and organizations offering stock imagery. But for art buyers seeking specific imagery for their clients’ campaigns, these numbers can also be daunting. That’s a lot of searching and sifting through images to find the right one.

Simon Moss, founder of ImageBrief, is creating an attractive alternative to conventional stock libraries. Moss’ system turns the traditional keyword-based search model on its head. Instead of wading through millions of stock images, art buyers can connect with a marketplace of over 4,000 pro photographers who have a hands-on, conversational approach to sharing images.

“It’s incredibly simple, really,” says Moss. “Post a brief with your requirements. Our network photographers search their archives and share images that fit your brief. It’s a human search engine — driven by critical thinking. It makes keyword-based searches look like mere regurgitation.”

To complete the brief, the art buyer sets the price and the deadline. Then the ImageBrief network goes to work.

“The idea is to take the pain of the search out of the hands of art buyers and let a crowd of creatives do it instead,” Moss explains.

For Diffenderfer, this is a welcome concept.

“The reality for art directors today is that we’re working longer hours with smaller budgets and tighter deadlines,” he says. “This is one of the few ideas I’ve heard of that I think will actually save me time.”

By Rachel LaCour Niesen. Rachel runs The Photo Life photography blog and is the founder of LaCour photography studio. Her photography work has been published in publications such as the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.