Working to a Brief: Assignment 3 REVIEW

For our third working to a brief challenge, members were tasked with creating and shooting an arrangement of blueberry muffins. This particular brief tested their composition techniques, attention to detail, and lighting skills.

Reviewing each of the submissions, Karl gave his critique and advice for improvement. Common challenges members appeared to face included creating the required lighting and mood, and arranging the different items and composing the scene.

To help members better understand what was required for this shoot, Karl will be demonstrating how he would shoot this brief in a future live show. You can find the full brief here.

These challenges provide a unique opportunity for photographers to practice executing a professional brief, with the additional benefit of Karl’s feedback at the end of the challenge.


Art director's sketch of the blueberry muffin brief

Art director’s sketch of the blueberry muffin brief


  1. Hi Karl,

    unfortunately I couldn’t be live on this show. I saw it only now after almost one week!
    It’s incredible how the POV/imagination is changing in such a short time…less than a week! When you opened my pic, my first thought was now “shame on me”, when I send you it was obviously different! Only my composition was on the brief, but the lighting could be much better! I used a reflector to bounce light into the muffin, but it was too strong and became yellowish. You even thought that I combined 2 pics, but it was only one.

    I often work on a brief, but as goldsmith and not in photography and especially not in food photography which is for me a completely new but nevertheless very interesting topic.

    At the beginning of the show I thought it’s strange that there’s not one of us who was excellent and I was a bit upset, but after seeing the whole show, I can clearly understand your frustration and disappointment about your “students”.

    I hope that tomorrow I’ll have time to be live with you to see the master in action!!!!!

  2. hi Karl

    thanks for a another great show.. really enjoyed figuring this one out, on the sketch it looked like it would be fairly easy to achieve but once I got into the shoot I soon realised there was a lot more to the shoot than I expected so a good challenge to figure out the problems. thanks for the feed back on my image, if only I’d have slid the chopping board over to the right slightly i might have made it into the almost perfect folder 😁. looking forward to see your take on the brief

  3. DavidMorgan

    I liked working on this one, and really enjoyed the problem-solving. The bright left corner thing is something that I hadn’t identified as a problem – but that’s my key learning need overall; the compositional, or perhaps aesthetics, aspects of an image. What this challenge has really rammed home with me is the need to examine every square inch of the image for distractions from the hero. If I’d done that more effectively, I would have seen the need to correct the light levels.

    Karl, please don’t see this as a need to dial-down the next one. You expressed your disappointment with the level of results, but please keep up the challenge level: accept that some wont have a clue, and some will struggle, but we are all learning from it – which is the point, surely?

    Only 138 entries, I guess many of the more accomplished photographers don’t do the challenge, or there isn’t the incentive. How does this compare with the competition entries?

  4. These brief exercises are my favourite part of the website, and why I signed up after I saw the wine bottle video on youtube.

    I could be mistaken, but I don’t think the brief said not to use a dark background. Logically, if the tablecloth is white and the brief requires a horizon, then the background would have to be darker than the tablecloth to create that horizon (same argument as the steam Karl mentioned). The shading on the sketch also implies a darker background. It’s not much of a leap from that idea to conclude that the background could be darker than the muffins, to draw the eye down to the subject, and a similar tone to the blueberries to fit in with the overall aesthetic.

    For many people, including me, this is the first time they try such an exercise. I can see by the timestamps on the pictures how much time Karl spent preparing for this video, but there are evidently quite a few of us wondering whether the rest of the composition (lighting, depth of field, field of view, arrangement) were good, to help us improve. Even if it’s frustrating as hell for a world-leading expert like Karl, that is after all why we are all here!

    I’m looking forwards to see how he does it next week. 🙂


    1. Hi Phil, thanks for your feedback and you raise some good points. In the brief a few weeks ago I did state that I didn’t want a dark background above the horizon or to continue the horizon beyond the edge of the shot. This was a tricky one on this brief because many shots had elements that were on point but overall they didn’t fulfil the whole brief and whilst I was firm I feel I need to take people to a point where they would be if it was a shoot for a sizeable client or agency or if they were hoping the images would sell well in a stock library. That’s why in this one I decided last minute to change next weeks live show and do the shoot myself as I felt it would help the photographer who struggled with this one see my process and problem solving. The time stamps on the image may only be from when they are given to me by Emma, I relatively quickly organise them into the best folders I can to make it acheivable to discuss as many as possible in the 1.5 hour window that we have on a live show. Hopefully the structure I separate them into helps our audience understand the differences although on this one there wasn’t any clear lines with many of them often it’s just an overall mood and feeling to the image that dictates my categorizations.

  5. Karl,
    Thanks for the feedback. The only real comment you had about mine was that you didn’t like the sprig of mint leaf that was added to the bowl. I took a small liberty for creative mood (obviously at my own peril, and to your annoyance), but I felt that overall it satisfied the challenge. I believe compositionally that the shot was right on, as well as the lighting. Was the mint leaf the only deciding factor that kept it from being categorized higher? Thanks for the time and input.

    Jess Moore

    1. Hi Jess, it was certainly one of the better ones but I guess I was a little frustrated overall on the day with many of the images, yours was very close to the brief but the lighting needed to be more alive which I will tackle in next weeks show.

      1. Thank you, Karl. I understand your frustration, and look forward to seeing your version of the brief. In hindsight, I see how I would have addressed the challenge a bit differently in the lighting as well.

  6. Hi Karl, than you for the brutal honesty, this was my first time on doing a brief, and I thought you mentioned in you video that the napkin under the Blueberries was up to our decision on using one or not. After looking at the other photos I agree that mine was too high as you said a bird eye view. And I want your honesty and not looking for a compliant as this was a new experience for me, but could you tell me how my lighting was as I tried to use both hard and soft light. And could you give me any advice on how to fix for the next time.

    Thank you
    Cody White

  7. Thanks Karl for this video and the lovely harsh comments. Sadly I didn’t see my photo among these though I had to buy the props for this project and shared the image on your page on facebook cause I thought that’s where I dhould post it like some photo critiques before..
    Never mind for now it’s too late.. Just wished to have your feedback like everyone, I know I haven’t done an good job on it..
    Maybe next time I’ll email my photo..
    Thank again for your help..

  8. Thank you for the feedback Karl. I’m new to your platform, but am enjoying everything you’re serving up so far. I love loVE LOVE these brief challenges. Any simulation of client contact is invaluable as we prepare for the real thing!

    As a matter of fact (and I don’t know if you take requests but here goes), I would greatly benefit from a challenge to submit an estimate for a pretend job. Karl, maybe you can assume the role of an art director who is looking for an estimate on a shoot he needs executed and we can put together said estimate and you can review how well we did on a live show. While shooting and lighting are all key elements of getting a job, knowing how to properly put an estimate together I think is also key.

    Anyway, thanks again Karl and I will now go back to the drawing board with your suggestions and create a better image and try not to eat too many muffins in the process ;]

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