Case Study Analysis – Travel Client Brief

One of the most common questions I am asked is: Which types of (travel) images should sell regularly and why? That’s the stock photography equivalent of asking a philosopher, “what is the meaning of life?”

This is indeed the one-million dollar question and in this post, I’ll go through a real-life case study of one of Robert Harding’s clients, which should give you some useful insight into thinking like a buyer so your images are hopefully selected from the vast competition.

If you’re unfamiliar with client briefs, you may recall how the now-insolvent Imagebrief, used to offer this type of service where we could submit with images we thought fit the descriptions.

Luke Nester, Account Manager at Robert Harding

Luke Nester [], Account Manager at Robert Harding and I have been exchanging some interesting emails about the state of the stock photography industry. If you recall, a few months ago, he provided some excellent advice on making it as a travel photographer. Click here for the interview.

Since I’m in Lisbon, I asked Luke which types of images I should focus on as the weather improves. In response, he provided me with an actual client brief presented to Robert Harding.

Clients briefs are interesting in themselves. They specify in detail what that specific client is searching for and why and presented to Image Editors at the Midstock agencies. It’s their job to analyse the briefs carefully and provide the client with a shortlist of images that may fit the bill.

The Client Brief

As this is a recent brief, Luke has kindly asked me to “remove absolutely all of the branding and change the wording slightly”. Here’s a summary of the brief where I’ve picked out the juicy bits:

Brief Summary

XYZ are looking for an image source partner to work with who can consistently provide us with on-brand imagery to use in our communications. Since we are an XZY, we need imagery for XYZ specific priority destinations across the world (ideally around 2 per priority destination [major tourist cities].

We would would like…1 year usage of XYZ images. We would also like a response from you to see the type of images you can offer (either newly shot or in your existing library) that you feel work for our requested imagery style for the destinations we need to cover.


The brief goes on in more detail with some image styles they’re seeking and why. Soon, I’ll get into detail on some examples so read on:

Image Styles

Our imagery is a powerful way to convey the good feelings that come from good
destination choices.

We achieve this through colour, boldness, positivity, energy and humanity.
With a shallow depth of field that always focuses on the person and their emotions, each image should feel like an intimate, captured moment that’s part of someone’s bigger story. Each image should feel full of life: lakes should be jumped in, food should be tasted.

Candid and natural, these moments should never feel staged and they should ideally show a recognisable element of the specific destination to give context, without feeling clichéd or taking away from the personal narrative.


Again, I had to remove some sensitive information, but provides interesting insight into what this particular client wants, but also a general guideline to keep in mind while you’re shooting:

  • “Is it natural, rather than staged?
  • Is it up close and personal and draws you in?
  • Does it have a feeling of the destination in question?
  • Is there a sense of fun and action?
  • Could it be cropped to add drama?
  • Are there any landmarks or landscapes in the image?
  • Is there room for headlines and copy?”

Four Examples

The client provided with the following four practical examples and more importantly why:

Example 1 – “Natural Feeling”

This image is a very natural-feeling captured moment of a girl enjoying a meal with loved ones. The food she is eating is very much part of the story, but it is the shared moment of joy between her and another person that is so compelling to look at.
There is a sense of fun to the action – it feels like a genuine slice of life rather than a manicured set piece. A shallow depth of field increases this feeling of intimacy.

Examples 2 – “Aspirational Experiences”

These destination images focus completely on a unique, aspirational experience.
The depth of field, composition and lighting draw us straight to the face of the person enjoying the rewards of his choice.

Example 3 – “Dynamism + destination”

This image is a great example of how we can create a destination story that doesn’t feel like your typical clichéd landmark shot, yellow cab is enough to place it in New
York but still acts as a backdrop to the main experience. The subject of the photo isn’t standing still: he’s dynamic, on the move. We don’t know where he’s going, or what he’s doing, but we want to know because it looks like he’s enjoying it.

Examples 4 – “People + Landmarks”

Recognisable landmarks and landscapes can help add both context and aspiration
when shown in the right way. These two images – whilst not ticking all of our photographic style boxes – are great examples of featuring familiar skylines without losing focus on the personal narrative that really delivers our brand idea

What they don’t want and why

what we dont want
These images lack the human connection we’re looking for.
– The focus is on interior in the left hand image, with the people turned away and emotionless.
– The middle image focuses largely on landscape, the person is turned away again and the treatment feels totally different from what we want- everything should feel like it’s coming from a consistent place.
– The presentation of the food is premium in the final image, but we don’t see the human passion that has gone into making it.

Closing thoughts on the case-study

The above-brief is quite specific for that client’s marketing campaign but at the same time there are some requirements that ring true on what makes a lifestyle / travel stock image valuable in the eyes of buyers. Some key takeaways, in my opinion, include:

  • Excellently-excused model-released images of attractive people are premium. As advised earlier, to cut down on costs, best to ask friends/relatives to pose as models or even yourself;
  • Clients are looking for at least an attempt at authenticity, even if staged with use of models and artificial lighting. This is most notable with the Asian girl GENUINELY smiling. Cliched plastic smiles of the past are thankfully OUT;
  • Images need to be high energy and dynamic to help evoke those positive emotions;
  • Including ample copy space is a must as well as shooting wide to give clients more options to crop;
  • Human connection is crucial and one that evokes an emotional reaction. To me this is most notable in the interaction between the father and daughter and the location is secondary. This means that photographers need to get up and close to the subject!
  • Include an identifiable place, or hint of such place, such as in the yellow cab example;
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the buyer whenever you’re out shooting by thinking how your image may be used in a marketing campaign and why.

I’ve included one of my image that may fit the bill above, too bad I never got round to asking for her to sign the model-release!

Traditionally-dressed woman in Nazare, Portugal

Special thanks to Luke Nester and Robert Harding

Thanks for allowing me to use this as an example.

If you’re interested in getting your work seen by high-end clients, I highly recommend to get in touch with Robert Harding. If you have any questions, please get in touch with Luke Nester at

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted five years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

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