Robert Tardio lands the cover of Graphis!  Then gives an insightful interview with Agency Access about deepening brand involvement, for more click  here

Over the years, I’ve worked on a wide variety of still life projects. Some clients come with a pre-determined look and tight layouts. For these clients, my job becomes the realization of the client’s vision and my influence will be limited to rendering the best possible realization of that vision. I will, of course, bring as much of my personal style to the project as possible but in the end, I am rendering someone else’s ideas.

More and more often however, clients are looking for visual direction. As photographers, this is our opportunity to become more deeply involved in the creative process. The results can be much more rewarding and more importantly, make you a more essential part of the client’s branding. While these projects require more thought and attention, the hard work always pays off. I actually look at these projects as paid tests. These are usually the projects that end up in my portfolio.


When I am approached by a client who doesn’t seem to have a clear vision for their project or campaign, I will usually suggest a day or two of “exploration” photography. l request for the client to send me as much of the product as they can spare, be it tools, makeup, shoes, whatever they are planning to shoot. If necessary, we have even gone out and purchased the client’s products from a store or online but most clients will provide us with product.  Once the client has signed off on the concept of an exploratory shoot day, we have a meeting or conference call to discuss exactly what the client is trying to communicate to consumers about their brand. Is it comfort, craftsmanship or luxury? Perhaps a specific color or the texture of the materials are essential to show. Visual reference in the form of a mood board or swipe art is always appreciated at this point, even if the references have nothing to do with the products we are shooting.

Now my work begins. I will brainstorm ideas and approaches that I feel fit the aesthetic of the brand while communicating the client’s directive. I will often do quick sketches and pull examples from the web of possible looks to explore. On the exploratory day, I work quickly and cover as many options in composition and lighting as possible, trying not to spend too much time perfecting each shot. I ask that the client NOT attend the exploration day. It is my time to live with the product and explore its nuances and particularities. I observe the way it reacts to light and interacts with color. Inevitably, if the client is present, they will react to the first image they see and I will spend the rest of the day taking direction to perfect that image as opposed to covering numerous looks. By the end of the day (or night), I will try to have approximately three to four different aesthetics for the client to evaluate. I wait until I am finished shooting concepts to present the images to the client for review. That way, all approaches are judged equally. Most times, the client will see something from the exploration they love and we will book the shoot days with a clear vision of where we want to go. Other times, the client will cherry pick elements from the different approaches to create a look that they feel best suits their brand. Either way, I am able to help the client arrive at a look which best presents their brand and, in turn, allows me to become an integral part of developing their aesthetic.