Photographers Who Can Help Art Direct: Brinson + Banks for Garnier

November 10, 2016

By Holly Stuart Hughes

In a highly competitive market, commercial photographers need to do more than provide nice photos. They are increasingly called upon to act as art directors on advertising assignments—by contributing ideas for the images that should go into a campaign. PDN recently looked into some ad assignments on which photographers contributed art direction help, and learned how they offered their input, why their ideas were welcome, and how their creative input helped them land more work. Here we present Brinson + Banks’s experience working with beauty and hair care company Garnier.


To highlight Garnier’s sponsorship of several music festivals, including Bonaroo, Coachella and I Heart Radio, ad agency Publicis USA proposed photographing real women discovered at the festivals and at one of the hair salons Garnier was setting up near the events. Garnier USA would use the images on its website, Instagram and Pinterest. The agency was looking for photographers who could shoot portraits and exuberant imagery with little time to prepare.

Gerri O’Flanagan, senior art producer at Publicis, contacted Brinson + Banks. The assignment called for them to find photogenic festival goers, have them sign model releases, and then shoot some portraits highlighting their hair or their style. Because the subjects would be running from concert to concert, the photographers’ task would involve “spotting a great place to do a portrait, let them do something fun in the portrait and then let them go,” Banks explains. The duo shot editorial and photojournalism for years before moving into advertising photography. Says Banks, “On a job like this, we mention that we don’t have to work with big crews, that we have done many jobs working only with our eyes and our cameras.”

Brinson + Banks start contributing ideas during pre-bid creative calls. “We always try to have some ideas that we’re bringing to the table that we think will make the project stronger,” Banks notes. “Or it’s about explaining something about our history and how we work that is going to contribute to that project as a plus. It’s not us telling people what they should do. It’s: ‘I’m listening to you and the way I think we could accomplish your goal is to add this element.’”

Garnier and Publicist knew the types of shots and hairstyles they wanted, but the assignment also offered a lot of creative freedom. Because Garnier wanted to post the images on social media quickly, the time spent approving images would be short. However, when they were bidding on the first job in the series—shooting Garnier’s hair styling salon near Coachella—Brinson + Banks foresaw potential challenges.

© Brinson + Banks

Based on their experience, the duo suggested bringing a paid model to the first shoot to make sure they got the images the client wanted. © Brinson + Banks

The agency creatives explained that Garnier planned to set up their salon at a Palm Springs hotel where they were also throwing a pool party for festival attendees, rather than on the grounds of the festival, where there would be thousands of festival goers to choose from. At the pool party, Brinson + Banks thought they might easily find women in bathing suits, but might have a hard time finding women with the bohemian style and braided hair Garnier was hoping to capture. A busy party might also make it difficult to get the how-to styling shots Garnier wanted to post on Pinterest.

The photographers decided to mention the problem—and propose a solution—during the creative call. “I think those things are better expressed in a creative call, because they can tell that your tone is helpful, not telling them an idea is bad,” Banks says. “This was our first foray with the client, so we suggested having a professional paid model there and bringing in our hair and makeup stylist.”

Stefani Cottrill, associate creative director at Publicis, says the photographers were “easy going,” and “found a diplomatic and nice way to talk about problematic issues.” She says the agency appreciated their suggestion to have a backup plan. Publicis asked for a revised estimate to cover the model’s and stylist’s fees, flight and accommodations, as well as the cost of the videographer Brinson + Banks recommended to shoot video for Instagram. They got the job.

When they arrived on the day of the shoot, Brinson + Banks first scouted locations around the hotel, then set up several portraits of the model, and also got some step-by-step shots showing how Garnier stylists braided hair. The moodboard Publicis had created featured a personal image that Brinson + Banks had in their portfolio. One of their first shots at Coachella was a recreation of the personal shot, “which the creative director had loved,” Banks notes. “We went into the festival already having a strong images.”

Cottrill explains that though Garnier had previously sponsored the music festival Bonaroo, they had never documented their presence in their marketing or on social media. “Coachella was a test not only for Brinson + Banks but for Publicis and Garnier as well,” Cottrill notes.

After Brinson + Banks passed the test, Publicis hired the duo to shoot more festivals. At later, larger events, Cottrill notes, they decided to forgo the professional model, but instead brought in first one, then several influential fashion and beauty bloggers with large social media followings. The duo had to make posed portraits of the bloggers, while continuing to get quick portraits of festival goers. At the end of each day, social managers from Garnier and Publicis reviewed the photographers’ selects, and chose images to push on social media. But for much of the time, Banks says, “We had free creative rein. We were just documenting the festival.”

Brinson + Banks have continued working with several of Garnier’s hair and skin care brands, shooting studio images as well as product shots—often working on their own, selecting and art directing images as they go. Says Banks, “I think there’s been a shift in paradigm, where agencies hire a photographer because they expect them to be a part of the process, rather than a button pusher.”

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