Brief encounters

Amanda Lake put photolibraries to the test and gave them two briefs and a 24-hour deadline to come up with the goods

The researcher tells you your images are on their way. That’s exactly what you wanted to hear. Your deadline looms, the budget is tight and you think the ideal image has finally been found. But when the bike arrives does it all turn into a nightmare? Or do the visuals fit the bill?

Photolibraries boast how they can supply your particular image in super-fast time, but what can we really expect? We challenged five photolibraries – Images Colour Library, Pictor International, Image Bank, Tony Stone Images and Zefa Pictures – to give us their best. All were approached by phone with a specific and a general brief with a 24-hour deadline.

Bear in mind that this was not strictly a dummy run in the sense that the photolibraries knew they were producing the images for Design Week. Design consultancies may have had a different experience.

We would like to thank all the photolibraries who took part for their help and good humour.

Brief one asked for a colour image of an attractive woman in a retail environment, who’s spoilt for choice and doesn’t know which way to turn. This proved to be a tough one. All photolibraries sent in visuals of various retail environments. Many were taken in supermarkets and a great number of them included alcohol and food. A couple focused on clothing, jewellery and toys. The majority included mother and daughter-type shots. A couple strayed from the brief with women walking down the street with handfuls of shopping bags or peering into windows. The problem arose with the second part of the brief. Many of them didn’t evoke the feeling of not knowing which way to turn.

Brief two was more general and required images that could illustrate the recent goldfish furore between Addison and British Gas’s credit card. A variety of funny, cheesy and original shots were sent. Alongside single goldfish came teams of goldfish and the inevitable cat or two.

Extremely helpful right from the start. I had a chat with one of the account executives about exactly what was required and later a conversation with a researcher who had a couple of queries. For the first brief did I want the expression on the woman’s face? Did it matter if the retail environment was British or foreign? For the second brief did I want a clean image of a goldfish? Good question. I was very vague and left it open. The 24-hour deadline was no problem – I received four images for the first brief and three for the second on the day they were requested.

Brief 1: European supermarket shot with woman choosing a bottle of wine. Yes, she is in a retail environment and yes she is spoilt for choice, but the image doesn’t really reflect not knowing which way to turn.

Brief 2: A rather interesting and foreboding shot of goldfish caught in the glimmer of candlelight by Chris Collins.

Telephone: 0171-262 0101.

Images Colour Library sent visuals well before the deadline. I received a larger selection of image for the woman in retail environment brief than the goldfish. I was told by a researcher that Images doesn’t really deal with conceptual images, but they would send me anything she felt was relevant. The second brief, I was told, wouldn’t be a problem as it was fairly standard. Good straightforward service, I appreciated the honesty of the problems the first brief may have caused.

Brief 1: The image fitted the brief quite well, although again the sense of the woman not knowing which way to turn was missing.

Brief 2: One of the cleanest images of a goldfish we received.

Telephone: 0171-734 7344.

Image Bank sent a large selection of images for both briefs. Also enclosed were images which the library felt fitted the brief, but which were not specifically asked for, including black and white images for the first brief and two illustrations for the goldfish brief. The images were received on time. There are no search fees.

Brief 1: Didn’t pull off the not knowing which way to turn, but again the idea of being spoilt for choice was there.

Brief 2: An intriguing picture of a goldfish with bulbous eyes swimming in shark-infested water.

Telephone: 0171-312 0300.

I didn’t talk to anyone at Tony Stone, it was all done through the photolibrary’s PR agency. The briefs were given by fax, but were word for word what I had given the other libraries. The agency normally questions the client in detail to ensure the images match the brief exactly. Again the deadline was no problem. Three images arrived for the first brief and four for the second.

Brief 1: This was the image we were looking for. It fitted the bill exactly, by including all the elements required.

Brief 2: The most striking shot sent in was a huge goldfish jumping out of its bowl with smaller fish swimming around it.

Telephone: 0171-267 7166.

My dealings with Pictor took pretty much the same format as Zefa. I had a lengthy chat with one of Pictor’s researchers, who asked searching questions: Did the images have to be in a specific retail environment? Was there an age limit on the “attractive woman”? For the second brief, did I want a single goldfish or several? Would I need images that could become cut-outs or “pure pictures”? Again a large selection of images arrived promptly that afternoon. Images are sent out on a free bike and there are no search fees.

Brief 1: Fitted the brief. Reflected the feeling we were after. Although there are two young children in the picture we felt this didn’t matter, the overall effect was more important.

Brief 2: A subtle but aggressive image of a goldfish suspended in a bag above upturned nails was the ominous offering from Pictor.

Telephone: 0171-482 0478.

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