Photographers Who Can Help Art Direct: Romain Laurent for Citroën

November 9, 2016

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 Romain Laurent’s experience working with car maker Citroën.


Romain Laurent, a photographer/director, says that when in a triple bid for an assignment, “what sets you apart is what you come up with.” He notes that art directors might work for six weeks or more to refine and get approval for an idea for a campaign. Laurent says that by the time they’re contacting photographers or directors, they are eager for “fresh takes” on the job.   

Clients tend to call on Laurent when they have a campaign “that needs an interesting, funny, surreal, odd twist,” he notes. He will first make suggestions during the creative call with the ad agency creatives. Laurent explains, “When I take a briefing, I always try to suggest a couple of things. I get inspired, and say: What if we do this?” His goal isn’t to sell himself, he says, but to figure out if the creatives are open to letting him put his stamp on a campaign.

Last year, the French ad agency Les Gaulois came up with an idea for a video for car maker Citroën based on a personal photo project Laurent had shot in 2010. The images show a surfer sitting on a surfboard that floats above the busy sidewalks of New York City. The French-born photographer had recently taken up surfing, and was also visiting New York City frequently. “One of the things I love about surfing is that you spend a lot of time just staring at the horizon,” says Laurent, who is now based in New York City. “There’s a weird feeling of peacefulness here, even if it’s really crowded.”

© Romain Laurent

Romain Laurent’s “L’Horizon” project imagines a surfer in the streets of New York City, and it inspired a video for the Citroën C4 Cactus and Rip Curl. © Romain Laurent

He made the shots by placing the surfboard on a stepladder he carried around the city. For each shot, Laurent also photographed the background without the stepladder and, with “some Photoshop trickery,” showed the surfer lost in thought while the pedestrians around him ignored him. As he does with all his personal projects, “I put it on my website, in my portfolio and on all of my social media.”

Sarah Bouadjera, an art producer at Les Gaulois, sent Solab, the production company which represents Laurent in France, a storyboard for a video for the Citroën C4 Cactus, which was designed in collaboration with the surf brand Rip Curl. The video would cut between the car and its driver and a surfer surfing along a highway. “They wanted to say, ‘The road is your own,’” Laurent explains.

Though Laurent’s images inspired the storyboard, he was asked to bid against two other directors. During the creative call, he heard how the agency wanted to portray the car’s ability to drive on any terrain. Les Gaulois had selected images from his personal project that were quiet and serene. Laurent suggested showing the surfer doing dynamic and daring moves. He also said he wouldn’t film the surfer against green screen, but in actual locations, above a real highway. “I wanted to get the same idea as in the photo series, to shoot everybody live.”

After the call, he followed up by preparing a full treatment. “I basically rewrote the script with my own take,” he says.

Nicolas Tiry of Solab says Bouadjera had presented a storyboard and two-page brief. “We did a 35-page treatment, explaining [Laurent’s] vision, his style, his visual concept,” he says. When ad agency creatives review a director’s treatment, Tiry says, they want “to get his vision of the script.” Laurent drew sketches and pulled reference images that included “my photos obviously and some classic surfing photos, to find angles that were better or different.” He also shot a test video with a stunt person, to show his technique for shooting on location, by rigging the surfer and his board from cables. “It was a much bigger rig. We had a full truck because the surfer was rigged on cables and the surfboard was on cables as well. We were puppeteering as we were moving the truck.”

The treatment and test video landed Laurent the job. He shot the video last year, which has been used by both Citroën and Rip Curl. Laurent notes, “I don’t think we’re in a world where people will say no, we don’t want new ideas. People are open to suggestions.”

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