Should photographers have to write treatments?

If you’re a photographer and you haven’t had to do a treatment for a print job, count yourself lucky. I’ve been hearing from various people in the industry that it’s becoming increasingly commonplace for agencies to request treatments from prospective shooters. A few weeks ago, in fact, one of Stockland Martel’s photographers was asked to do a treatment.

The subject of treatments came up yet again last week, when Rob Haggart interviewed Liz Miller-Gershfeld, VP and senior art producer at Energy BBDO, about the agency’s campaign for Canadian Club (here’s a link to a story I wrote on the making of that campaign, which was Mad Men-cool before there was a Mad Men). Rob asked Liz about the importance of the conference call in winning a job, and at the end of her response, Liz casually mentioned that the photographer should follow up with “an estimate and a treatment.”

A Photo Editor: A treatment? You think photographers should provide a treatment?

Liz: Absolutely. It is not expected of photographers, (it is of directors and with motion and still colliding it is probably a good idea to start that habit) but some photographers do it and if it lines up with and pluses the idea it helps to sell yourself in. I have seen several people move from last to first by submitting a written treatment. A treatment which actively incorporates what was important to the AD (further reinforcing that this will be a collaborative process). It is also important for us as an agency to have confidence that you have thought through the process and the potential problems and that you have solutions. This is not to say you should include proprietary information like lighting specifics, but speak to the look, mood, what you hope to capture with the talent, etc. A treatment also is a clear way in print to attribute your unique ideas to you.


Have you had to provide a treatment for a client? Did you write and lay it out it yourself, or did you hire someone to do it (or prevail upon your studio manager)? Has a treatment made the difference for you in getting a job? And if you’re an art buyer, what do you think makes a good treatment, anyway? I have a lot of questions on the subject and am open to hearing any and all perspectives. You can email me at kristina [at], or just post a comment here.

In the meantime, I sent some questions off to Mark Heller, cofounder (along with Lydia Muraro) of the TellAVision Agency, based in L.A. Among other things, TellAVision reps writers who are experienced at doing treatments.

“A lot goes into a photographer’s presentation. There is the written element, the visual inspirations/scrap, Photoshop work, sometimes illustrations of sets, creative concepts, or layouts, and even sometimes 3D renderings of complex set design,” Mark explains. “TellAVision was formed as a ‘one stop shop’ that represents some of the best talent in these areas.”

(Time out for a full-disclosure break: Mark is also Matthew Rolston’s studio manager. I learned of TellAVision through Dana Eudy, one of the photo reps at Stockland Martel.)

Here’s some more from my email interview with Mark, who notes that “this is a tremendous and growing field.”

How does a treatment for a print campaign differs from one for a motion picture?

A treatment for a print campaign is fundamentally the same as one for a commercial or motion picture.  It is a document that is created to communicate the vision of a director or photographer.  It takes a mere idea and turns it into something tangible, visceral. It’s sometimes tough for a photographer, who lives in the visual world, to communicate and idea through writing.  He/she may shine on a conference call, but be at a complete loss when staring at a blank page.  This is where TellAVision’s team of writers comes in handy.

In your experience, what kinds of things should a treatment emphasize in order to be successful and/or what makes for a strong, persuasive treatment?

There is no one formula for a successful treatment, but the right balance of text, imagery, and graphic design can turn a treatment into an “experience”.  Would you rather read a treatment or experience one?

What does a treatment demonstrate that conference calls, meetings, and the photographer’s portfolio do not?

The treatment is an important communication document.  It can and often becomes the blueprint of a shoot.   It ensures that all creative parties are on the same page.

What shouldn’t a photographer do in a treatment?

A mistake we see often is over-design.  Subtle graphic elements and a clean layout can make the director’s vision resonate.  Overly busy layouts can detract from the message.  Again, there’s no one correct formula.  It depends on the product or the concept.




  1. Posted 10/22/2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    A solid estimate almost necessitates the authoring of a treatment. At a minimum, the photographer should be outlining the assumptions made in the estimate. At the estimating stage, often times the creative direction is still be defined / refined. Not outlining your approach while acknowledging the assignment “variables” in written document is a reckless at best, perhaps negligent.
    Plus, if your competitor is doing it…

  2. rob
    Posted 10/23/2009 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the dumb question, but I haven’t come across the term ‘treatment’ before – maybe it’s a North American thing? Could you briefly explain what it means? It would be great to post an example too if you are able….

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