February 19, 2013
I was listening to Billy Bragg being interviewed on the radio the other day and while he was never one of my favourite artists, he has always made a fair amount of sense. On this occasion he was even good enough to admit his voice was never his strong point. Perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an apology for his vocal on Between the Wars.
During this interview Billy was talking about the state of the record industry and the difficulty young working-class singers and songwriters face when trying to get a big break because of the way the industry has changed. The interviewer suggested that surely the market would seek out the best talent, regardless of background, to which Bill replied, “You know what happens if we leave it to the market, you get horse meat in your burgers.”
The wider point Mr Bragg was making was that the record industry no longer has a filter in the form of the likes of John Peel who would have plucked an artist from obscurity on the basis of a few good songs regardless of background. Billy believes it’s often the privileged kids from public schools who get the break and as he put it are “clogging up the charts.”
This “class” issue is an interesting one affecting photojournalism, and has lead to a situation where photographers have to self-fund coverage of events, then hope to sell the images to publishers who can force prices down because as they see it the pictures have already been shot and the photographer will be grateful to claw back some of their costs, never mind make a living. Success is now more to do with whether you can fund your shoots rather than pure talent.
I rarely shoot editorial in the purest sense now. Newspapers rarely call me up to shoot assignments for them (my previous post explains where they get pictures from since the collapse of their budgets), though I still shoot PR pictures in a style to suit newspapers. I won’t fund assignments in the hope of selling something later. I do shoot personal projects and if I sell something from those that’s fine, but it’ll be at my own prices and on my own terms.
In the corporate photography sector there is also downward pressure on prices, but I decided a couple of years ago, even in the grip of a deep recession, to set my rates and stick to them. I have to say I’m glad I did because when I see some of the work being churned out by photographers charging significantly less than me, I’m happy to boast that their clients are not getting what I offer. I don’t think I’m some David Bailey of the corporate photography world, but I know what I do well, I stick to doing it and I charge what I believe is a fair rate for the quality and service I offer.
I genuinely believe if a corporate client is only interested in getting the cheapest photography they can find, they won’t get anything worth having. Newspapers have already proved this theory. Their imagery is more horse meat than beef right now. Businesses wanting to avoid the Findus fate will invest properly in their images because people aren’t stupid. They can spot bull in photos and they don’t need a DNA test for that.
December 18, 2012
This being the last blog post for 2012 it seemed like a good excuse to do a round-up of some of the photos I’ve taken for clients this year – one from each month except July for which I’m posting two images just because I have the power and I felt like it.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my clients without whom I wouldn’t be in business and I would very much like to thank all my blog readers for putting up with my drivel over the last 12 months and for being patient when I didn’t get time to post anything some weeks. I’m sure you were grateful for the breaks anyway.
I do hope you enjoy this selection of photos, have a very happy Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you again in January 2013.
October 23, 2012
Here’s a sneaky look at the challenges sometimes facing a photographer in what might otherwise be a fairly standard assignment.
Last week was Biology Week, but you knew that already. You’ll also know the purpose of Biology Week was to raise awareness of the role of biology in the 21st Century with debates and events catering to all ages.
I was commissioned by the Society of Biology and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to cover an event at the House of Commons designed to celebrate the week and spread the word of the importance of biological study to understanding our environment and the opportunities for innovation from new discoveries. My pictures would be used for press release material and the Society of Biology website news page (see link above).
The event was held in the Churchill Room where the great and the good of the biological sciences community mingled with MPs, peers and Chris Packham (BBCs Springwatch and Autumnwatch presenter).
My task was to cover the speakers giving their addresses, people networking and enjoying the evening and anything else that presented itself. It wasn’t an easy task as the room was packed to bursting, which made moving around quite tricky and often made it difficult to get clear shots of specific people.
The lighting was pretty poor too. Very warm colour tone, which when added to people’s hot faces made orange something of a theme for the evening. My best bet was to use a mixture of flash and slow shutter speed to try to have people properly lit without it looking like I’d blatted them with flash, then cool down the warm cast in post-processing to get skin tones looking more human.
Despite the tricky shooting conditions and the extra post-processing involved, as it was my first shoot inside the Parliament building I was thrilled to be there. I highly recommend a tour if you’re ever in London because it really is a fascinating building.
August 7, 2012
Last Tuesday I was asked to cover a photo-call on behalf of Premiership Rugby in the build-up to the Rugby 7s final taking place on the Friday.
This was going to be a quick-turnaround job, but the shots also needed to look polished, so I arrived in plenty of time to set up portable strobes on the rugby pitch at the Bath Rec (recreation ground, home to Bath Rugby Club) and have the trophy arranged so that when the team captains came down for the photo, I’d be good and ready.
The shoot list required pictures for the website, a shot for each of the captains’ home newspapers (consisting of a group shot each, with each captain taking it in turns to be nearest the cup and then individual captains with the cup), and a programme cover. I probably had less than half an hour to shoot the whole thing, including time for the photographer from The Bath Chronicle to get his shots too.
Having got all the shots I needed, I got the images onto my laptop, captioned, edited and sent off to the agency that was going to deal with the distribution of the images to all concerned. From starting the shoot to delivering the images was about 2 hours.
Despite the rain, the shots turned out fine and the Premiership Rugby website was updated with the new group photo and the regional papers all had the shots they needed. And on Friday when I arrived to cover the corporate hospitality aspect of the event, there was the programme with my cover shot on it. It’s challenges like that which get the adrenaline going and keep me keen. More please
January 17, 2012
It’s inevitable that if a client retains you for long enough, eventually you’ll end up repeating a previous job.
This might be as simple as updating a portrait of the CEO, and you’re not normally looking to reinvent the wheel in that scenario unless the company imagery needs a change of style. On other occasions it’s about finding a fresh way to re-photograph an older idea.
Such it was last November when Wickes asked me to repeat what I’d done for them in a previous year. That is say, a press shot to illustrate the story that their call-centre colleagues would be operating the switchboard into the night in order to take pledges for Children in Need.
The lady in the red wig was the shot which went out previously, and it was very well received, but of course I didn’t simply want to repeat that. I had to come up with something similar, but not the same.
Luckily this time around the props were different, but the setting was the same – a dark, messy open-plan office space with light which wasn’t going to work for pictures. I decided to use the Pudsey Bear bunting and a different floor of the office which was closed for the night, therefore I could set up lighting and spend some time with the model photographing her away from all her colleagues to reduce the embarrassment factor.
The results convey a similar energy and use much the same “tight” newspaper style, but the content of the picture is subtly updated and more of the Children in Need branding is included, which I think helps to tell the story even more fully.
You might think it would be boring to have to repeat something previously photographed, but for me it was more of a challenge to come up with something new, and I enjoyed the challenge enormously. The thing about photography is you can always update and improve a good idea.
August 9, 2011
I’m a huge fan of Black Adder, and there are many hilariously memorable scenes, but the one which springs to mind as I write this week’s article is in Black Adder II when Percy enters Black Adder’s chamber wearing an outrageously large neck rough. On seeing it Black Adder remarks that Percy “looks like a bird who’s swallowed a plate!”
Why is this relevant to anything I have to say about photography? Well it’s simple really, dear reader; When a business plans its photography in small, manageable chunks throughout the year it can cope with getting what it needs without too much drama, but leave it for a year, two years, five years, and the project becomes rather like a bird swallowing a plate. Trying to ingest the ingestible, and risking some kind of injury in the process.
I’ve said before that photography should be treated as part of the over-all marketing plan, not as part of the web budget, because photos can be used in print as well as web. Try printing a website as a brochure, and you’ll start to understand what I mean – they’re separate budgets within the over all marketing budget.
By keeping your photography fresh and up-to-date you might very well spend a little more over time, but at least you won’t have a colossal expenditure to make in one go if you’re trying to start from scratch, having neglected the photography for some years. And since business people like to say “cash is king,” doesn’t it make sense to make smaller investments that add up to a solid image library than to trying to buy your entire photo library in one huge gulp?
So keep headshots up to date regularly, don’t wait until there’s a week’s worth to be shot unless you’re prepared for the cost. Keep on top of product, site, process and PR images. Consider planning a shoot every three months (or whatever suits best, so long as it’s regular). Or at the very least, review what you have and what you need on a quarterly basis.
To extend the subject a little, think more carefully about the image rights you need. Consider restricting your requirements to (for example) a three-year time limit. Certainly avoid all-rights or full copyright buyouts as it’s extremely rare for a business to actually require these rights, and most sensible photographers will charge more if you demand full copyright because they’ll assume you wish to allow other businesses use of your images, when the photographer might reasonably expect to be able to re-licence the images to those third-parties (with your permission, of course).
Certainly it’s normal for editorial images to be bought on licences that are limited by print run, territory/language and duration of use. Commercial images tend to be sold on wider licences, but limits can help in the negotiation process and you can always top-up the licence later.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here, or have a favourite Black Adder scene, feel free to comment below.
June 6, 2011
Since the majority of my work now involves working directly with companies on their corporate photography, I don’t get to do so many photo calls as I once did. Besides which, photo calls aren’t so popular as they once were.
Back when I was on staff at The Portsmouth News, and subsequently when I freelanced for national newspapers and agencies, photo calls were generally used by police forces for missing persons appeals or during a crime investigation. It was one way to control how much information got out to the press. Other photo calls would be for a new theatre production, a gallery opening, book signing or product launch. Anything really where a few different publications and maybe TV and radio would be invited along to help publicise something.
Though they are less common for PR uses, the police still use photo calls. For PR they can be a bit tricky to manage effectively, and if managed too effectively everyone ends up with the same stagey photo. Often a PR will do better to get some decent shots taken by a single photographer and send those out with the press release than have a room full of clever-clogs press photographers managing to make something amusing out of the wording or shapes on the wall behind the main speaker’s head. I’d still argue that press coverage is press coverage, and if the pictures are too sterile they’ll get no news space at all. You takes your pick…
Perhaps the other reason photo calls are out of favour is that newspapers have let so many staff photographers go, and cut freelance budgets so far, that they simply don’t have the resources to send someone along to an event which might take them out of circulation for over an hour while they’re wooed by PRs, held up by shifting timetables and badly planned itineraries and then have to be dragged away from the canapes and free drinks to go to the next cheque presentation.
It’s easier for a paper to wait for a finished press release, complete with photo, to waft into the newsroom so they
can add a reporter’s byline and publish the story and photo verbatim. Job done.
The photo call used to be a good chance for me to catch up with fellow “smudgers” from other agencies and newspapers, but on the rare occasion I am sent to one now I tend to find myself in the company of people who have a camera, but no real clue.
It may be that as new media channels open up, and quality returns to journalism (I happen to believe and hope that tablet computers may be the dawn of a return to quality content) the photo call will make something of a comeback, though I suspect it may be dead for good/better.
May 10, 2011
For this week I thought I’d dig out something from the archive; a portrait photo taken with press use in mind to help illustrate the difference between this and a straight headshot.
In fact the photo here was commissioned by the News of the World for a business page article back in 2001. Nothing dodgy (for once), just a straight-up business story about Fulton Umbrellas‘ founder Arnold Fulton.
He was utterly charming, patient and engaging. He told me it’s ok to open an umbrella indoors provided you don’t lift it over your head, so putting my superstitions to one side I got on with opening a selection of umbrellas in the factory’s demonstration/sales room ready for the shot while Mr Fulton was being interviewed.
When you’re thinking about having pictures taken with a view to press coverage, you might be lucky and find that a newspaper wants to cover your story and they might send their own photographer to take pictures to go with the article. However, if you’re putting an article together and need pictures to send out to press, it’s worth keeping in mind that a straight headshot of the CEO (or whoever is quoted in the article) may not be enough.
Think about using elements of your business in the photo, even if you’re not dealing with physical goods. Sometimes a physical prop can be a metaphor for the service you offer, so don’t think that just because you sell pensions or insurance that there isn’t something to illustrate this.
My point being, think around your business and the story to see what might suit what you’re writing about. I’m happy (as any decent photographer should be) to discuss ideas with you. Don’t just dig out a portrait taken with the company logo in the background and assume it’ll get used. And even if it does get used, most people will ignore it as “just another headshot.” Far better to have a shot which helps illustrate the story. It will reinforce the point of the article, and most importantly of all, more people will read it.
As for Arnold Fulton, he insisted every visitor to his factory takes home an umbrella, so I chose a storm-proof golfing model which is still going strong today, which might explain why I’ve enjoyed the return of the rain even more than most people.
April 12, 2011
Surprise, surprise! It turns out that phone hacking at the News of the World (aka The Screws) might just have been a tad more widespread than was previously admitted.
Now they’re offering compensation and all sorts, presumably because having already had a Royal correspondent jailed and two more senior staff arrested in connection with phone hacking allegations, senior executives may be getting a little edgy at the thought of the police investigation working higher up the chain of command.
Even executives who are no longer in the roles they were in at the height of the phone-hacking period might be getting nervous over this, because it’s a fair bet that one or two, such as former managing editor Stuart Kuttner, would have been signing off expenses for third-party phone hacking services when the practice was rife.
Of course the likes of Kuttner may not have known what they were signing off. Maybe the receipts were put through as general investigative expenses, but it has to be worth asking whether executives above editor level would have been ignorant of the nature of the expenses they were scrutinizing.
At this stage it’s only fair I point out the rather dull axe I have to grind in all this. Between (circa) 1997-8 and 2001 I was a freelance photographer for The Screws, and dedicated about 18 months of that time working 4 days a week exclusively for them.
However by late 2000 I was getting increasingly worn down by the long hours, the pointless errands and being sent to distant places to do silly jobs with no story worth reporting. That year I missed the birth of my son because I was chasing a story in France. It wasn’t the picture desk’s fault that I missed the arrival of my son. I’d opted to stay on in France to see the job through, and my son had arrived unexpectedly early, but when things turned terminally sour between myself and the paper, I was dismayed when I was told I wasn’t “a team player.” That actual phrase was used, and it stuck with me because I’d done more than miss the birth of my only son for that paper.
I’d pulled double shifts when the desk couldn’t get cover, having to spend nights in my car on more than one occasion, without sleep or comfort break waiting for some Z-list celebrity to show up. All for the princely sum of £128 (£145 for a Saturday shift woohoo!). Often the shift fee was equivalent to about £10 per hour. Ok, I’d opted to work for The Screws, but that lesson is well learned now.
On a few occasions I’d turned some insane reporter’s nonsense story into a useable scoop just by being diligent and intelligent. Clearly this also made me “not a team player.”
What finally finished my time with The Screws was when I’d tried repeatedly, and failed, to get paid the expenses I was owed. Mostly mileage.
The thing was, at the time I was working for The Screws, I was living in Portsmouth but having to drive to Wapping most of the 4 days a week. Starting at 6:30am, I’d get to the picture desk for 10, be sent on that day’s wild goose chase (pun intended) and probably get home again some 12 hours later. The reason for the insane commute was that when I started working for them, most stories I covered were in the Hampshire, Wiltshire, West Sussex region. Then they went all celebrity-led and all the “stories” were suddenly in London.
Now management knew where I lived, and it wasn’t as if the mileage rate they paid was generous, even when petrol was somewhat cheaper than it is now. But every month I would submit my invoice, including mileage, and every month a cheque would arrive for the invoice amount, less 8%.
Eventually I gave up asking nicely for what I was owed and threatened legal action. The amount outstanding was in the thousands, and I could no longer afford to work for them. The effect of the letter I sent was instant, and my time at The Screws was over. I was scared and relieved.
And who was it that was taking a scalpel to my invoices? None other than Stuart Kuttner. He must have assumed I was on the fiddle to the tune of precisely 8% every single month, but I never did receive an explanation. I did get my money in the end, but never an explanation.
While I worked at the News of the World, I had the honour and privilege of working with some of the best photographers and reporters in the industry. Unfortunately there were also reporters who clearly had substance and honesty issues. There’s no point me naming the bad apples because this was all a decade ago now, and I can’t even recall their names and nor do I care what happened to them, though I do sympathise with any of the talented people who might still be there.
Addendum: Senior reporter James Weatherup was added to the list of arrested journalists today. As yet, those three most recently arrested have not been charged.
Addendum II, This time it’s personal: Former Managing Editor, Stuart Kuttner, has been arrested, questioned and released on bail regarding allegations of making payments to police for information and on charges of phone hacking.
December 14, 2010
It’s fair to say that these days there are far more people handling and publishing images than ever before. I’m not talking about photographers self-publishing to flickr, Facebook and the like, but those people within businesses and corporate organisations whose tasks include searching out, selecting and using images within their own publications.
This of course isn’t a problem, except that some (many? who knows) seem not to have had any kind of training for the job they’re being asked to do, and occasionally it all goes a bit wrong.
Classic examples have included a council department getting Birmingham in England mixed up with Birmingham, Alabama, USA on a council recycling leaflet in 2008. There’s some irony in the fact that 720,000 of the leaflets were distributed with the wrong Birmingham on them, but that it would have been environmentally wasteful to have them scrapped and recycled.
Another council, Dover, got its cliffs in a twist when they wanted to use a shot of the White Cliffs of Dover on their website. In an effort to find a “copyright free” photo, whatever that might be (presumably a photo taken at least 75 years ago, so black and white then), the council’s design agency plucked a lovely photo of some white cliffs from the internet and used that. The only problem being that the photo they used was of the Seven Sisters, nearly 80 miles away in another county.
These errors probably aren’t that serious. Silly and embarrassing, and indicative of an amateurish approach to images, but nobody died and nobody got hurt. No, the prize for borderline negligence goes to the Swedish dairy firm Lindahls Mejeri, who bought a stock image of what they thought was a Turkish man in traditional costume to use on the packaging of their Turkish Yogurt. I’m not sure if it was low-fat yogurt, but there must have been some instant weight loss when the firm discovered that the face adorning all their yogurt pots and marketing was that of a Greek man. Those of you not aware of the political faux pas in this situation, just imagine that the feelings a Greek will have for Turkey are enough to curdle yogurt at 150 paces.
In that instance Lindahls are said to have paid an out-of-court settlement to the tune of over £500,000, such was the depth of the plaintiff’s hurt. Personally I wonder what the photographer’s caption read when he/she uploaded the image to the online stock library that sold the image onto Lindahls. Had the caption been misleading? or was it simply ignored?
And that isn’t the most serious case to have cropped up recently. In November of this year, The Guardian newspaper reported how The Independent had managed to confuse a photo of a Croatian film actor in Nazi uniform with a suspected Nazi WWII criminal Samual Kunz (oh the irony of his name!). This would be bad enough, but running the image next to the headline “Wanted for the deaths of 400,000 Jews,” this kind of error becomes serious, defamatory and potentially very expensive to settle. Take the cost of some spilt yogurt, and multiply that a few times.
I used to help run the picture desk of a regional newspaper, and was often required to find library photos of people featured in articles we were running. I was always careful about making sure I’d found the right photo of the right person, but if the story was particularly traitorous, for example reporting on the subject’s criminal activities, I would make sure I had three reasons to know that I had the right perpetrator. If I couldn’t be certain, I didn’t offer the photo for publication.
You have to wonder though if people handling images now have become too blase about the whole thing. Will it take a very high-profile case to make people a little more professional in their handling of images?
I’m going to finish on this rather tragic case of picture research gone wrong. On December 2nd 2010, this comment appeared at the end of an article on photographer Richard Mills:
would you have a photo of a grouse . We are looking for one for a brochure on a walking route in co tipperary .
The article was an obituary for… Richard Mills.