What Is Art Direction And Why Do We Need It?


In the age of Instagram, art direction is king. It can elevate your feed from sloppy snaps to picture perfect.

Everyone has that one friend who is ‘good at taking pictures’ but, most of the time it’s nothing to do with the camera. It’s just a little bit of art direction. Standing in the middle of the street to get the perspective symmetrical, or getting that perfect top-down view of your dinner, framed with a knife and fork. It’s noticing an interesting angle to get the best shot of that landmark you visited or waiting until the golden hour to capture the light dancing across the top of your cocktails.

Behind the scenes and the final image

So, what actually is art direction?

It’s not all about Instagram. Being an Art Director is an actual job, which existed long before the days of Instagram. It’s a valuable skill, and something I’ve been learning about recently from our projects at Six (and a little help from Lynda.com).

The job of the Art Director is to be on photo shoots, and objectively view the shot, down the lens, and check that the picture is working. The Art Director needs to clearly and intelligently articulate their vision to the rest of the shoot team – from models to make up artists, set builders to stylists, photographers, and assistants so that they can work together to create the best possible shot.

There are lots of forms of Art Director, in film, in fashion and more, and the roles vary across different sectors. But for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll be talking about photoshoot and video Art Directors who help brands market and communicate with their customers.

Before a shoot, an Art Director will develop styling and a shot list, sketch out some possible compositions, and have a bit of a recce of the location(s) to scout out some possible shots. They will be clear as to what the client wants and align their vision with that of the client and intended audience. They might even need to write a brief for the photographer. Just like a Film Director – the Art Director needs to have a vision. Martin Scorsese wouldn’t turn up to the first day of a film shoot without a clue of how he wanted the film to turn out.

Once the shoot is underway, the Art Director needs to consider all of these things:

  • Light – How the image lit? Is it natural light or will a lighting rig be required? How will this affect the feel of the final image?
  • Composition – The more images that are taken from different angles and directions, the more choice you have when you come to choose the final shot.
  • People / Subject – Do they look relaxed? Does it look authentic? Will chatting with them help them feel more comfortable in front of the camera?
  • Fit for purpose? Does the image work for its purpose – for example if the image is to go on a front cover of a brochure, is there enough clear space within the image for a logo and a title? Will the image need to be retouched in any way?
  • Location – Weather? Always have a backup location just in case the weather turns against you!
  • Vision – Does the image completely capture the vision?

As you can see, there is a lot to think about! Essentially, the Art Director’s role is to make sure that there is nothing to distract the viewer from what they should be focusing on in the image.

Why is it important?

Art direction turns a good image into a great image; ‘Marketers who use visual content get more customer engagement, more leads and more followers, which naturally result in higher earnings’. So it’s no wonder that brands are dialling up their image content with the help of Art Directors. 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and images are processed 60,000 times faster than text is. To say that a picture speaks a thousand words is quite the understatement. If an Art Director can help a brand to nail their image content, they’re on to a winner; the right image can tell a story, send a message, and elevate a brand.

Filming at Colston Hall in Bristol

How does it work?

Last year we were asked by UWE Bristol to help develop their new image library. Six art directed a series of over 20 shoots on UWE Bristol’s campuses and in and around Bristol, as well as a short film for the university’s undergraduate campaign (which is where the behind-the-scenes images in this blog are from). Along with different imagery styles, we also developed a few patterns for imagery to follow:

  • Square on – A straight-on shot, perfectly squared up.
  • Tunnel view – An image taken straight down a corridor, path or using depth-of-field to achieve the effect.
  • Split screen – Naural occasions where the room or shot is split. This could be anything from a room divider to a cleverly angled shot. It reflects UWE Bristol’s typographic couplet.
  • Overhead – Birds-eye view shots taken directly overhead.

UWE Bristol Art Direction Six Blog

See if you can spot an example of each of these image styles in the video, or in our case study. To see more of what we’ve done for UWE Bristol, take a look here.

Emily Richards

July 16, 2018

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