IKEA’s Art Director Luke Li’s tips for Photographers: how to impress clients and Spotlight Awards Judges
By Holly Morton
Take a glimpse into the mind of Luke Li, Creative Lead / Art Director at IKEA and judge for the Spotlight Photo Awards. Read the interview with Luke, who will be judging the Architecture and Interiors category – he discusses tips on how to impress the panel and how to get your photos seen in front of creatives and decision makers.
Production Paradise: It would be great to hear a little about your background and how you came to Ikea.
Luke Li: I’m originally from China, I left about 12 years ago for the US to do my Masters in Advertising but my Bachelors is actually in interior design, which is why in some ways I think I ended up at IKEA. I started my advertising career in the United States, my first job being in San Francisco. I then moved to New York, I stayed there for four years doing marketing and then an opportunity came up in Germany so I moved there for about a year. I began to tire of the agency world and I wanted to go into the branding side so I moved to Denmark to work at LEGO for three years before arriving at IKEA a year ago.
Production Paradise: As you are going to be judging the Architecture and Interiors Photography category, we’d love to know if you think there are any trends happening right now that you are seeing or do you think it has remained stable throughout the years?
Luke Li: For interior design, I think it’s pretty standard because I haven’t seen anything really new. I want something to break through. I think every region has its own unique style. Scandinavian style is so strong, it can be minimal, really simple and clean, and it is more focused on decoration. My friends from Italy and Spain are more focused on colour, even in their architecture imagery. I want to see something really, really fresh and a new way of approaching things. From an architectural point of view, the eye is different, it is more graphic, not functional, with a focus on the shapes of the environment. With interior design, the colours are really important, the textiles, and also the vibes of what you are showcasing.
Production Paradise: When you are looking for a photographer to shoot something, are you looking for someone that shoots the exact style of your brief, or someone who puts their own spin on it?
Luke Li: I think both. It depends on the project. For example, you may have a new product, a new collaboration, or perhaps you may need to attract a new audience. For this, you need something fresh and will want to grab people’s attention; in this case, I would prefer someone to have a fresh take on the imagery rather than just beautiful, simple and clear inspirational imagery.
Production Paradise: We find that creatives from agencies tend to focus more on the photographer’s point of view and often brands want the photographer to mainly follow the visual identity of brand. I am interested to know if, as a brand creative, the photographer’s point of view also has value for you?
Luke Li: Of course. That’s why I like to see photographers’ personal work on their websites. You sometimes see showcased projects of their experimental work – I’m totally open to that. There can be some really fresh elements in their projects. Just highlighting one style really limits them.
Production Paradise: That’s very helpful for photographers to know. You actually do pay attention to their personal projects, the work that isn’t necessarily targeted towards a brand.
Luke Li: Yes, it’s all about their eye and how they see things. I think the experimental projects showcase their technical skills and how they can bring things to life. If I want to create something new for a project, then it’s important to see what they can do. Everyone has certain technical abilities at this level, but when you want to add freshness, it’s interesting to see how photographers see things and how they approach them. How they experiment is also really important for me.
Production Paradise: If you are looking for inspiration, imagery, a photographer or anything else that inspires you visually, where do you find it?
Luke Li: I think for mood imagery, Pinterest is still really relevant. However, Instagram is the place where I find new talent at the moment. There and other online directories and platforms.
Production Paradise: What imagery are you looking for in the awards?
Luke Li: Surprises. In projects that I’ve worked on, there are always new collections that need some freshness. That’s why I need a surprise element. If you go to Instagram and type or tag the category ‘architecture’ or ‘interior design’ there’s so much imagery. It’s all really similar, so I think it’s really interesting to see if there is anyone who has a new take. When you can see all of the images together you can detect which ones stand out. And that’s the way I choose things. We are living in an extremely visual-based world right now where lots of people have a good eye. Making imagery that stands out amongst all of those images – that’s really important.
Production Paradise: What interested you about being a judge in these awards?
Luke Li: I joined the judging panel for inspiration and to see what’s out there. Honestly, I’d like to know more about the other categories as well. Inspiration for product shoots can come from portrait, fashion, from anything. I don’t think you should just limit it to one category. For example, it may be home furnishings, but we may have found inspiration from different styles. I think that can be really interesting. Of course, I will focus on my category, but I am looking forward to seeing other categories to get an idea of what’s new out there.
Production Paradise: You have mentioned that you want something that is going to surprise you, more than the technical aspect. When the contestants choose their images, what is something you would suggest to them for submitting to the Architecture and Interiors category?
Luke Li: Show me how you see things differently. I see hundreds of images all the time in this category, especially for interior design. I think they should know the judges’ backgrounds, I think that always helps. From there you can see what kind of stuff will really stand out. For those who can see I work at IKEA then they can assume I probably see so many of those kinds of images and they should think about how they can stand out from what I see every day. If they have the confidence to stand out, they will easily catch my eye. The judges will all be extremely visual people, they all see images and video content all the time. I am confident that commercial projects can be cool and very well crafted. I think that’s my wish, to see something new – it’s not on every project that you are allowed to surprise the viewer.
Production Paradise: If you were a photographer, what do you think the benefits would be for you, competing in something like this? Why should photographers submit to the awards?
Luke Li: I think it’s a great opportunity to potentially collaborate with a judge. Perhaps you want to just challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone and see how other people see your work and how they react. Either one is valuable. I also believe that because it’s international, there are loads of global brands and those brands have their own personality and styles which will inform how they see the imagery. All in all, these awards have lots of creatives ready to see your work and you should want them to see your talent.