Sr. Art Director Limor Garfinkle Chooses the Creative Process of Food Photographer Rob Grimm

January 2, 2014

By Limor Garfinkle

© Rob Grimm

In today’s ultra-competitive advertising industry, it can be overwhelming for an art director to find just the right photographer to create the image they envision for a campaign. The search starts subconsciously while coming up with the comps that will be used to gain the client’s approval of the initial concept. Oftentimes when art directing a project, I will find myself looking at Work Book for style inspiration, or at the hundreds of emails I receive on a weekly basis from photographers and their agents. It’s an art director’s market out there, for sure, and narrowing down the field of photographers might seem daunting. But in reality, the choice is not as hard as it seems. I start by contacting only those photographers whose style comes close to matching my original creative vision. Ultimately, the photographer who knows how to listen, and elevate the project to a higher level, is the one that will get the job. If a work relationship is good, I find I’ll use the same photographer over and over because it’s just one less thing to worry about. The best professional photographers foster an atmosphere of calm on their shoots. It’s the testament of a truly experienced photographer. Tensions can run high both for the agency and the client, with everyone anxious to get images that deliver both the creative message and the company’s brand in its truest form, on budget and within the deadline. A photographer who can deliver excellent results without a lot of drama is a real asset.

I have been a fan of Rob Grimm’s work for a while, and after witnessing his process firsthand, I’m even more impressed with his level of professionalism and creativity, and the top-notch crew he assembles for each project. Grimm is a commercial food and beverage photographer, with full-scale photo studios both in Chicago, and Saint Louis. His images are so crisp and delicious, he‘ll have you salivating over foods you never found appetizing until you’d seen them in one of his photos. His process is fascinating. He literally builds the image one element at a time, resulting in a visually stunning piece of art. Here’s what he had to say about his process.

Limor:  What do you think are the most important things for an art director when they are choosing a photographer?

Rob: There are several things that art directors or creative directors need to look for when choosing a photographer that they have not worked with previously. First, look at the work. The photographer’s ability to execute an image for a client needs to be clear from their portfolio. A book that is short on client work is usually an indication of a lack of experience. While I think it is very important to have a sense of what the photographer can create when he/she is creating images on their own, they must be able to execute a photograph, which conveys the client’s message. At the end of the shoot, the image created needs to be for the client, not necessarily for the photographer’s book. So in some way, art directors need to protect the client’s needs and a good photographer understands that.

Have a creative call with the photographer. An art director must know that the photographer can communicate well about their vision, creative process and production schedule. While some photographers are very talented, they communicate poorly, which can send a shoot down the drain. On a shoot, the photographer sets the tone and is responsible for communicating to the crew, creatives and clients. Make sure the photographer is a calm and collected communicator. Image-making is a collaborative process.

Art directors should ask about the photographer’s production process. If the photographer is not clear about how to execute a project, the art director should be skeptical. A good photographer will clearly walk the art director through their vision of the image and how they plan to produce the shot. Commercial photographers make images so the planning and production are critical even to the most simplistic of projects.

Finally, make sure the photographer has properly budgeted the shoot. Making quality images takes the right steps and includes the right team, all of which need to be accounted for financially. An art director needs to feel that the photographer has accounted for the job needs. At the same time, there is a proper balance between having everything you need on a job and being responsible with the client’s funds.

© Rob Grimm

Limor: Describe your creative process, while working within the creative brief.

Rob: I begin by printing the layout or concept when it hits my inbox. Sitting down to review and take notes on the project is always the first step. I make sure that I have a very clear understanding of what needs to be executed for the client, so I ask any and all questions I have before I begin to pull an estimate together. This also gives me a good opportunity to call and speak directly with the art director. To me this step is indispensable because it gives the art director a sense of who I am as a creative and starts to build a comfortable working relationship.

Once the job has been awarded, it all goes to planning. I sit down with my producer to begin to put all the pieces of the project in motion. We assemble the right crew, ensure the studio has the right tools on hand and that we have a good understanding of the client deadlines. I cannot stress the planning stage enough because it yields a smooth and enjoyable photo shoot. Every project throws a curve ball or two, so being prepared for the job ensures that we can handle the unexpected without being rattled.

Pre-light! Without fail, I pull together a set, establish my composition and craft much of my lighting before the client arrives at the studio. This generally happens the day prior to the actual shoot and gives my studio time to work out bugs and experiment with ideas to push the image further than expected. When clients walk into the studio, I have an image ready to view, discuss and fine-tune based on their input. Working ahead saves the client valuable time, which they always appreciate. It is my goal to craft the image enough in the pre-light so that the amount of work to be done is kept to a minimum once the client arrives.

© Rob Grimm

When making an image, I always work to execute what the client needs first. Personally, I think it is extremely important to understand the client’s product and their message. They are hiring me to help sell their products and increase visibility. Which means I put my ego aside, working diligently to ensure that my studio has created what they need. And with time allowing, we go a bit further to bring something additional to the image. Generally there is room to go beyond what is expected, showing both the creative agency and client additional capabilities.  Communication is a constant. Throughout the job, I make sure the client is appropriately informed. This includes post-production as retouchers put the final touches on the images.  

See more of Rob Grimm’s work on his site, He is represented by Lesley Zahara.  Contact: