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Tony Tallec / Alamy Stock Photo

How to write a picture research brief

A picture research brief describes the kind of imagery you’re looking for. It informs your picture researcher, so if you provide a detailed brief, you’ll get a collection of imagery that are much closer to what you’re looking for.

Let’s go through the details you’ll want to include to ensure you get the best results possible.

Set a clear deadline

This may seem obvious but there’s another consideration here. It’s really a question about how much time you’re willing to allocate to this process while bearing in mind that having more time will result in better and more results. There really is no substitute for time.

Do you need rights-managed or royalty-free images?

Images sold by stock photo libraries are largely categorised into two areas: rights-managed (RM) and royalty-free (RF). RF image prices are based on file size and can be used as many times as you like. While RM image prices are based on the specifics of the licence such as where, when and how many times it will be used. You can find out more about RF and RM images here.

If you know which one you need, it’s a good idea to let your picture researcher know so that you don’t get a bunch of images you can’t use because it’s not available in the licence type you need.

Include context about how the images will be used

It’s easy to get tunnel vision and think that only information about images is important to your picture research brief. But like most things in life, understanding the full picture helps everyone involved in the project, including picture researchers.

Not only are they able to provide additional insight, or draw on past experiences, but giving context could also inform them about technical specifications. For example, curating images for print require much larger image dimensions than curating images for digital.

Is there a colour scheme?

Do you want your images to match your brand colours? Perhaps you’re working on a new campaign and you want all the images in it to have similar tones? These are things picture researchers can consider when searching for images. Just make sure to detail it in your brief.

Does the image need to reflect a certain time period?

In most cases, you’re probably looking for something contemporary. But what if you need images that reflect the 80s? Those sorts of images can certainly be found and here’s our New Generation Nostalgia collection to showcase it. Just make sure you specify these kinds of details in your brief so that picture researchers are using their time efficiently for you.

You can request images from a certain decade, or you could be even more specific by requesting images from a certain date range.

Include as much detail as possible

We’ve already mentioned this at the start but it’s worth stating again because it really can’t be stressed enough – details matter.

Put it this way, any details you choose to omit, are details that the picture researcher may not have considered. This could include:

  • Orientation of the image
  • The number of people in the image
  • The ethnicity of the models
  • The location you want it set in
  • Even details as minute as the type of props you want to see in the image.

This is just a very brief list of possible details to include, so make sure you have a good think about it when working on your brief.

Is there anything you don’t want to see in the image?

While it’s important to ensure picture researchers know exactly what you’re looking for, it’s also useful for them to know what you don’t want to see. This helps narrow down the search results so you’re not getting images that absolutely will not work for your project.

You could go further by breaking down your needs into ‘must have’, ‘would be nice to have’ and ‘must not have’. This gives the picture researcher some flexibility and will help generate a broader set of results for you.

How many images do you want to see?

This can be bit of a tricky one. From your perspective, you probably want to see as many as possible. But you should consider this carefully as it will directly correlate to the picture research process; the more images you want to see, the longer it will take.

On the other hand, you may want to see only a handful of the best options. This would mean you have less images to sift through and should make the decision-making process quicker for you.

Use reference material

We all know that pictures tell a thousand words, so why not use them in your brief as well? If there’s a particular aesthetic you’re looking for, then feel free to send examples so that the picture researcher can get a better idea of what you’re after.

Similarly, maybe you’ve seen the kind of image you’re looking for but for whatever reason, can’t use it. You can still send it to your picture researcher as reference material.

Collaborative work is always fun and rewarding, but good communication is vital to its success and that’s no different when working with a picture researcher whether they’re internal or external. We hope this gives you some food for thought next time you need to send in a brief. But more importantly, we hope you get better image options as a result of your more detailed brief.

Alamy is the world's most inclusive content collection of creative and editorial photos, vectors, 360-degree images and videos from individual photographers, picture agencies and archives. Its global contributor base supplies upwards of 150,000 new images a day to the online platform.