Photographer Stewart Cohen Helps TAI Students See Advertising Through His Lens

by Mark Allen AllenMark

There are few things more frustrating for a creative advertising student than the moment they realize they’re going to have to settle for producing a lesser idea simply because the better idea requires production techniques, expertise or equipment that aren’t typically available to students. As I professor, I struggle with this reality, too. On one hand, I want to encourage a creative process that’s free and unencumbered by the usual limits and setbacks that students will no doubt face in their professional career. Whether it’s a creative director, or a client or an accountant, they will always have someone telling them “No.” So as much as I can, while they are in school, I always try to say “Yes” to the strongest ideas, regardless of what the production needs are. On the other, I have to be realistic and help students actually produce finished, polished work that they can be proud of and put in their portfolios.

One of the most common dilemmas that students bump into (or crash into) at the end of their ideation phase is the realization that the best idea is going to require high-end photography to pull it off right. And often this includes all the accompanying bells and whistles: cameras, lenses, lighting, location, models, and a host of various other specialized expertise. I’ve been amazed at how resourceful Ramen-eating college students can be as they scavenge the world for images and Photoshop their way to stunning imagery composited from a variety of sources. But I’ve also been impressed by students who have been able to find serious professional photographers who are willing to help bring a their vision to life – on a student budget or even pro bono.

Of the gracious and talented photographers who have worked with my students over the years, Stewart Cohen is perhaps the most consistent. He also happens to be one of the most respected commercial photographers in the business. He has won countless industry awards and has been profiled in Communication Arts Magazine and selected by Adweek as Photographer of the Year. All this to say, Stewart’s willingness to help my students is not because he’s trying to make a name for himself or because he doesn’t have enough paying clients. Quite the contrary, Stewart is constantly busy shooting for the biggest agencies and brands all over the world.

Stewart Cohen talks to Mark Allen’s Portfolio class about his experience as an award-winning commercial photographer and director.

But unlike other talented photographers, Stewart Cohen is a genuinely nice guy who believes in giving back. This isn’t to say that he’ll just shoot for any bright-eyed college student who’s in a bind – you’ve got to have a great idea first. As a professor, one of the things I appreciate most about Stewart is that he makes my students work for it. Every time he has taken on a project with one of my students, they always beam about all the things they learned with Stewart’s help – things that I’ll be the first to admit they couldn’t have learned in the classroom. At least not in my classroom.

Speaking of classrooms – Stewart recently agreed to come to SMU to speak to my Portfolio class about art direction and photography. He showed us a ton of great work with interesting backstories to each image. He doled out sage advice and fielded questions from a group that was eager to pick his brain for helpful hints on what it takes to do work at his level. In preparing for his visit, Stewart and I also discussed the possibility of a summer course for art direction and photography students – one that wouldn’t take place in a classroom, per se, but in a studio – Stewart’s photography studio, in fact. Although the final details of the class are still taking shape, the course is officially on the books for Summer 1.

Stewart Cohen photography for student campaign // Students: Jeremiah Alvarez and Ruth Sanchez // Client: Lush Cosmetics
Stewart Cohen photography for student campaign // Students: Jeremiah Alvarez and Ruth Sanchez // Client: Lush Cosmetics

Here’s a look at the learning objectives and course structure:

ADV 5301 Art Direction & Photography: (3 hrs) An exploration of the art direction skill set as it applies to photography in advertising and graphic design. Prerequisites: students must submit application.

In this course you will learn how to:

– Find and approach photographers/directors for advertising and design projects.

– Convey a conceptual vision to a photographer and a diverse range of creative professionals.

– Understand the inner workings of a professional studio by observing “real-world” photoshoots.

– Work side-by-side with photographers to produce quality images based on original concepts.

– Understand where the art director’s role ends and the photographer’s role begins (and overlap).

– Identify the need for necessary support roles (e.g., stylists, assistants, location scouts, etc.)

– Use design principles as they apply to photography (e.g., framing, cropping, balance, perspective, color).

– Identify and use the proper cameras, lighting and other equipment.

– Use proper terminology when art directing a shoot and communicating with a photographer/director.

– Discern differences and special considerations: studio vs. location; people vs. things; food vs. materials.

– Use pre and post-production techniques to ensure the capture and production of high-quality images.

– Create high-quality imagery with the equipment, resources and budget of a typical college student.

While this course is scheduled during the Summer 1 session, which runs from May 30th–June 29th, this class will take place in a concentrated and somewhat flexible format as opposed to the usual summer school schedule of 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. Concentrated, in the sense that most of our contact hours will occur during a few full-day photoshoots (6-8 hours) outside the classroom. Flexible, in the sense that we will be working according to the schedule of our illustrious photography partner, Stewart Cohen.

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