Cairncross Review Review (Part the Second)

The silence is deafening and so is the noise.

The problem with the Cairncross Review is that it tackles issues which should trouble us all, and deeply, yet I’m seeing very little discussion of it not only amongst former journalist colleagues and photographers, but also the wider public.

Much of the problem seems to stem from a general lack of awareness that it was even being undertaken. When I look through the list of organisations and individuals who submitted responses to the call for evidence, all the usual suspects are there (Johnston Press, Facebook, Google, The Guardian, News UK), but not a lot from individuals with specific interests in the industry.

From the general public there were 588 responses, but the report doesn’t publish more than excerpts of these submissions. On the one hand, that’s a larger public response than I was expecting. On the other, it’s pretty abysmal given the importance of a thriving local press sector for our freedoms and democracy.

This relatively low response will be a result of factors such as ignorance of the existence of the review, apathy and perhaps most understandably, an exhaustion brought about by the constant white noise of Brexit debate.

And even I am sitting here wondering why I care so much for an industry which has now given me less than half of my professional life. I’m too busy with keeping my own business running (as well as trying to expand my documentary work, which is in itself a response to the collapse in local journalism) to invest in a future which will be entirely out of my hands.

For now I just need to summarise a few points from my reading of a selection of the responses, in no particular order:

  1. Facebook and Google consider themselves innocent in all this, indeed they claim to be putting masses of cash back into regional journalism and it’s the publishers which are failing to take advantage of the new opportunities open to them.
  2. The publishers consider themselves innocent in all this and their sales were fantastic and revenues strong until the nasty digital boys came and smashed up their game.
  3. Neither side can quite bring themselves to admit the truth, instead pushing positions which are self-serving and often delusional.
  4. Government ultimately has no answer to this. Whatever they do will be wrong and will end in tears, corruption and a slow death for local journalism (followed some time later, probably a Wednesday afternoon, by national journalism).

Whatever happens though, I will try to keep an eye on developments. I can’t help it, and I really do believe that if you care for democracy and a diversity of voices in the many media available to us, you should at least make an attempt to bone-up on the broad outlines of the Cairncross Review and the developments which arise from it.

From next week though, I need to get back to talking about my own work and personal projects before the crashing silence and deafening noise get too much.

Working Effextively

If you look at my corporate communications photography you won’t see much in the way of special effects or filters. I would describe my style as clean, bright, modern and (influenced by my news background) mostly un-touched by stylistic manipulations.

That isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the work of photographers whose images might be more stylised in their finish, but it has to be done with purpose, consistency and definitely mustn’t be overdone. So it’ll be interesting to see if the release by Google of their Nik Collection imaging software as a free download (up to now it’s been a relatively expensive suite of editing tools) will have a noticeable effect on many professional photographers’ portfolios.

Will there be a rush to explore and play with the multitude of effects (believe me, there are many, possibly hundreds), each tweakable to one’s heart’s content?

I decided to download the software myself and have a play. After all, I am sometimes asked to do black and white conversions; this requires more than just removing colour from an image. I’ve always been happy with how I do this in Lightroom, but could the Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom enable me to do this better or quicker?

The other plugin I wanted to try was the Analog Efex Pro 4 part of the suit as I wanted to see if there were colour treatments which might suit some of my clients looking for a particular look for the web or brochure images.

The gallery on this page shows some of the results of my “playing about.” I’ve included one version which shows what can happen if you just apply one of the automated effects without due care and attention. I’ll leave you to guess which one it is.

Roll your mouse over the preview images to see what software was used and click on an image to see it larger.

I have to say that in my limited time using the software I’ve found the vast majority of it to be surplus to requirement, but then there are always great swathes of any imaging software which most photographers never use, it’s just a matter of finding the useful bits and sticking to using those.

Perhaps a bigger issue for me, and I’m willing to accept this might be a novice mistake, is that I can’t see how to apply edits across a range of images in one go, known as synchronising in Lightroom. I’m assuming there is a way of doing this (maybe saving edits as a preset?), but if not then it could mean using any of these editing tools is going to be long-winded for anything other than occasional, individual files.

On a lesser note, the difference between a Lightroom mono conversion and a Silver Efex one seems to be a matter of preference and probably some more tweaking in the software. If there isn’t an easy way to synchronise adjustments across images within the Nik software, it’ll be of little benefit.

I suspect I will turn to the Nick software on occasion, but maybe more for personal projects or experimentation on individual files. I think it’s safe to say I’m not going to start applying filters regularly to my images by default, probably only when a client requests it.

 

 

SO LONG, SEO-UCKERS!

In April 2010 I wrote a blog article about the frustration caused by photographers who don’t do what I do getting their websites SEOd as if they did. Not only frustrating for me, but also for clients genuinely looking for a corporate, commercial or press photographer in the Bath, Bristol and Somerset areas (see what I did there?).

The majority of perps in the search-engine fraud were wedding photographers fishing for the extra calls, but if a client clicked to their site looking for examples of that type of work, they were often disappointed; galleries entitled Corporate Photography or Press Photography often containing nothing but… wedding images. Something of a waste of time, and I was frustrated by a lack of intelligence on Google’s part to seek out and demote these sites, making search results more relevant.

I’m happy to report that Google do appear to have been reading my blog, and now a search using the terms you would expect a potential client to use to find me sees my website listed top or at least on the first page. Especially pleasing when I’m competing against a glut of photographers in places like Bristol and ranking highly for Somerset.

Dr Vince Cable speaking at Innovator of the Year awards, London

A press picture for a corporate client, and definitely not a wedding photo

How have I achieved this? Well I stick to using simple, standard terms, and ensuring the images I upload for my clients are properly tagged, captioned, keyworded etc and plugging away at things like this blog.

In other words, my SEO efforts are honest. I don’t WANT to be found under wedding searches, or family portrait searches or plumbing and electrical searches. I want to be found for what I do, and it’s nice to be able to report that I’m getting new clients as a result. I’m not saying I do a perfect job, but I do my best and try to avoid keyword loading.

Hopefully those wedding photographers didn’t spend too much time or pay too much money to SEO ‘experts’ only to have their sites demoted by Google, and I do indeed hope they’re getting top listings for what they actually do.

Head Above the Parapet

I just want to say (smiles coyly to camera) what an honour it’s been (wipes tear from eye) to be (voice cracks) Freshly Pressed by WordPress.com (fans face with hands).

No, this article isn’t going to read like an Oscar acceptance speech, but of course I’m really pleased with all the attention my blog received as a result of being Freshly Pressed. I’d seen the Freshly Pressed feature of WordPress when I very first signed up and presumed it was just something that happened to other people’s blogs, never mine. So I was somewhat taken aback by the sudden spike in views and comments on my last post, and at first didn’t twig what had happened.

LEGO figure with huge camera

Since becoming a full-time LEGO photographer, I find the equipment heavier than ever.

And now I need to thank a lot of people for reading, liking, commenting and subscribing to my blog. However much emotion is removed from text on a screen, believe me I’m quite humbled by all the attention my blog has received by being “Pressed”. Thank you to everyone, and of course thank you to the human/and/or computer algorithm that chose my blog to be featured.*

The nature of the post that got featured was, perhaps even more so than previously for me, Ranty with a capital “R”. I’d seen a link to the article and accompanying photo about wild horses in Peterborough, the red mist descended and I was off. I probably wrote the “LEGO photo” article more quickly than any since my very first blog article.

But whenever I write about issues surrounding photography about which I feel strongly, I worry. Am I going too far? I know some of my clients also read my articles and I’m mindful of how I come across (just cross?) to them. By airing issues that are important to the future of professional photography, am I risking alienation from those who give me my living? I sincerely hope not. The clients who use me probably know me better than to confuse the professional photographer with the amateur blogger, and of course I know the difference between tackling issues that matter in a mature way, and ranting in a “life ain’t fair” sort of a way about how the World owes me a living.

It’s clear though that while I’m willing to stick my head above the parapet on issues I feel strongly about, other photographers stick firmly to the cuddly corporate line; their blogs being purely geared to Google rankings, crammed with keywords designed to get them up the search tables.

That isn’t to say I don’t use my blog to promote my work too. I sometimes publish case studies, which are my way of highlighting some of the work I do at the same time as giving those clients I feature a little added publicity, however modest.

Even with case studies I hope I give business owners and marketing managers ideas on how to use photography more effectively. Oh, and of course I need the added Google juice the blog brings. It’s the only way I can get my site listed higher than all the social photographers who pretend to do commercial photography, but who pay lots of money to get higher listings for work they don’t specialise in… but that’s another rant, which I’ve already had.

Perhaps it’s unfortunate that an article which is more strident than my norm should have got the “star” treatment, but I hope all my new subscribers (as well as my dedicated clients) will stick around because through these articles, in between flogging my wares and airing my views, I’ll still be writing about issues which have a great impact on the Profession and its future viability, because I don’t believe in pretending the issues don’t exist.

Gosh, I got a bit serious for a moment there. So I’m just going to say thank you again and please pass on my link to anyone else you think would value what I have to say, and I look forward to writing many more articles. From the ranty to the corporatey to the downright silly.

Thank you (runs off-stage, sobbing and clutching huge bouquet of flowers).

*Erica Johnson, Editorial Producer for WordPress.com assures me the featured blogs are chosen by human beings, not algorithms. Thank you Erica!

Cameron reveals “I am the walrus goo goo goo Google.”

This article had been destined to talk about the appointment of Andrew Parsons as official Downing Street Photographer. A subject upon which indignant middle-Englanders could really grind their teeth, a favourite past-time for Daily Mail readers.

However, my plans changed when I read the BBC article about David Cameron’s intended review of UK copyright laws. Might this be my chance to grind my own teeth about something? Again?

stop 43 campaign logo modified

ALL photographers need to work together for fairer copyright laws.

It’s taken a while for the review to be announced because, to put it mildly, the government has been rather busy with other things. However, it was a pledge of the Tories in the wake of the passing of the Digital Economy Bill (passed in the fag end of the Labour government) to re-visit the issue of copyright because part of that bill, the Orphan Works clause, got ditched as a result of coordinated, intelligent campaigning by photographers and specifically the Stop43 group. This time, the remit for unauthorised use might not even be limited to orphan works.

So here we jolly well are then, another six-month review of copyright (there have been one or two previous reviews, largely ignored) and this time David’s stated aim is to make UK copyright law “fit for the internet age.” A slightly worrying statement given that in his announcement he refers to a claim by the founders of Google that businesses such as theirs would never have launched in the UK because apparently our copyright laws are tighter than those in the US.

In the main, our copyright laws aren’t much tighter than those of the US, not that Google ever took much notice of the boundaries of US copyright law either . It’s fair to say that Google would love to be able to move through the internet like some content-consuming blue whale, monstrous mouth agape and everything in its path swallowed up whole and ready for commercial exploitation. Whale poo for sale, made from other people’s creative works.

The statement mentions the rights of creators, but we need to be sure this is more than just lip-service, especially as the BBC article states: “The six month review will look at what the UK can learn from US rules on the use of copyright material without the rights holder’s permission.”

That phrase “without the rights holder’s permission” is problematic because the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable will need to be set, and you can bet the likes of Google will lobby hard to have it set in their favour. They’ll assume that whatever they do, creators will continue to create. Not if their work is constantly stolen and devalued, they won’t. And as usual, the rights of consumers who have paid for that content won’t be taken into account.

My clients won’t take kindly to finding work I’ve shot for them turning up elsewhere, outside of their control and possibly misrepresenting them. And with my right to control use diminished, I will no longer be able to defend my clients’ rights over the pictures they’ve paid for.

That the review will happen is a good thing, but the starting position needs to be more positively in favour of creators and holders of intellectual property, for whom the internet has been a great way to get their work “out there” and get seen, but which mechanism has often led to mass theft rather than mass commissioning of fresh, or licensing of existing, work.

Another big risk is that as with previous reviews the government will turn to the wrong people when seeking advice from the side of the creators, just as it did in the early days of the DEB debate. It’s all very well talking to the National Union of Journalists, who have failed in the past to stand and fight the photographer’s corner, and whose only concern (naturally and understandably) is news photographers. Or the Royal Photographic Society, whose membership consists largely of people with little or no reliance on photography for an income. There are numerous groups whose focus is either too narrow, or membership not representative of the professional photographer.

This time, the government must listen to a much broader range of photographic groups and individuals than the Labour government did during their reviews. They must also dismiss the selfish wishes of those who simply find copyright inconvenient to their wants. This review could influence a law which might not change again for 30 years or more, so if the government wants to get it right, they’ll need to listen to the right people, not just the likes of Google, Facebook and whoever the “next big thing” happens to be. Mr Cameron will need to slip off the Google goggles, and see the reality that faces the UK’s creative individuals.

Laughing Stock?

black ladies laughing

What reaction does your website get?

When was the last time you gave your web site an overhaul? Or does it sit there, Miss Haversham-like, gathering dust, all dressed up for the big day then left to decay, alone and unloved.

Maybe it’s time to pay the old dear a visit and see how she’s doing. A neglected web site will do nothing to help your business. Dust and cobwebs building up, broken old links. Oh, and that “designed by a toddler” look, just doesn’t cut it any more.

Naturally, when it comes to a spruce up, you’ll want to add some fresh photos to the site, so this and the next article will shine a little light on your options.

As a professional photographer, I’m always going to promote the benefits of proper, bespoke photography for your site. Not just because this is my blog and I’ll say what I damn well like (though it is and I will), but because it’s true.

However, I’ll start with stock images as it is still quite a popular choice. For all its faults, I can’t single-handedly convince the entire Universe that using cheap stock is a Bad Thing, so instead, for those of you hell-bent on using the cheesiest imagery you can lay your mouse on, I’ll give you some tips on how to get more out of it, and how to avoid some common problems.

  • Avoid the Generic:

You know what I mean. Those pictures of Californian business clones in suits, in executive board rooms, laptops and mobile phones at the ready, teeth shining like polished piano keys… Try to think beyond the obvious, and dig a little deeper into the archives of the stock image sites. There are only about 40 million images to choose from.

  • Watch the price:

The headline price of most stock sites will tell you you can have photos for as little as £1 each. This may be true, but you’d need to be buying around 750 image credits a month to get those prices. The average stock image will set you back £10 – £20. Prices are creeping up too as the libraries struggle to turn a profit.

  • Check the T&Cs:

You must read the small print before buying! Royalty Free doesn’t mean copyright free. There are very tight restrictions on how images can be used. In most cases, Royalty Free refers to the fact that you don’t have to renew image licences over time, but you will need to pay again if you want to move or duplicate an image from one project to another, or one media to another. When updating a web site, check if you need to pay to bring old images into the new site.

  • Beware bogus libraries:

Sites which offer very cheap, or even free images, may not be legitimate. They will trawl the net for pictures, gather them up, and offer them as licensed images when in fact they are stolen. Make sure you know who you’re buying from, because you will be liable for any breach of copyright.

  • Google Images is not a stock library:

Google images is great for getting to see a photo of just about anything you can imagine, but you need to assume that everything on the internet is covered by copyright, and using “found” images on the net is theft and you can get caught.

  • If things go wrong:

If a picture on your web site turns out not to have been correctly licensed, it will be you that will get the legal letters, the court orders and the hassle. Regardless of who put the site together, it will be you and your business that will be treated as the beneficiary and publisher of the offending image. It’s then up to you to litigate against the web designer (or whoever put the site together) for any losses caused by their negligence. Seek early legal advice from a specialist copyright lawyer. It could save your business from fatal damages or court costs.

Please use the comments box here to share your thoughts or experiences on using stock imagery in your business publications and website. Next week, I’ll deal with using commissioned photography.

If you would like an independent audit of the photography on your website, which will highlight any likely legal issues, drop me a line for more information.

Captain Caption Flies Again!

Faster than a speeding bullet, and just as hot, he’s back with more information on how captions can help save the day, and as the marketing gurus like to say, “drive business to your website”. I make no such inflated claims, but getting traffic to your site may be a start on the road to “threading the needle of success.” I swear someone actually wrote that in a blog.

Following on from the previous article, where I explained that embedded captions in the photo’s IPTC file are an excellent idea if you want a news desk to be able to identify the subjects in your press release pictures, there is another very good reason to caption pictures fully and accurately.

You see when Google (other search engines are available – no, really they are) send their spiders to crawl your site, they can see the text and even understand it to some extent. But when they come across a jpeg image with no caption, Google just sees a blank space.

Think of it as describing the photo to a blind person. If you want Google to index your page and its contents, you need to tell it what’s in the photos.

Blank jpeg showing what google sees when there is no caption in IPTC fields.
Google sees a blank space when there is no caption.

Search engines love photos, because they love content-rich sites, and pictures help with that. Search engines also want to know that the content of a site is relevant to the site itself, so again you can use captions to reinforce the content of your site. Google will love your site that little bit more if the pictures of furniture on your furniture restoration web site are described accurately, because the pictures and the written content will match up.

In addition to the caption describing the picture contents, you can use the Alternate Text field you see when uploading an image to a blog to give the spiders something else to latch onto.

If someone googles “queen anne table restoration” they’ll get search results on pictures as well as main web sites. If your site has properly captioned images, this can help draw visitors to your site. It’s another way of making it easier for search engines to find relevant content, so why not make use of it? It doesn’t cost anything but time.

frozen frost on a cobweb spider web

Use Alt Text and caption fields to improve SEO of your site.

One thing you need to be wary of if you don’t want all your caption time to be wasted is when using automated saving software, such as the Save for Web option in Photoshop because this strips out the IPTC data.

The Save for Web function is a throwback to the days of dialup internet connection, when IPTC data was seen as bandwidth-hungry and unnecessary. This is no longer an issue with broadband, but web designers use it as a quick way to deal with images. Unfortunately it causes problems, not only with captions and keywords being stripped out, but also with copyright information being discarded too, which can lead to legal problems which I’ll deal with in my next article.

So get writing those captions, give Google, Bing and um… whoever what they want. If you don’t feed the spiders good stuff, they’ll come after you!

So until my mummy washes and irons my superhero outfit, it’s time to say, UP! UP! AND AWAY!