Goodwill Hunting

I’m thinking it would be too easy to write yet another tale of woe about a small business getting caught with unauthorised images on their website, and if you read my blog regularly you won’t need me banging on about copyright yet again so I won’t. Of course if you want to know more about this, read The Guardian consumer column which will enlighten you further.

Instead I’m going to tell you a new and surprising fact; Photography is more crucial to the promotion of business than it has ever been.

That I’m saying this isn’t perhaps all that surprising. What IS surprising is that it’s been said by John Owens in PR Week. If you’re a photographer, you might be peeling your eyebrows off the ceiling after reading that. Yes, an organ of the public relations industry is extolling the virtues of photography in brand awareness. I utterly commend the article as essential reading to all PRs who either don’t know, or who might need a reminder of the importance of good quality, engaging imagery for their campaigns.

Richard Noble of Bloodhound SSC project on the phone

Behind the scenes, un-staged photos (such as this one of Richard Noble of the Bloodhound SSC project) are championed by the PR Week article.

The piece even concludes with an immensely useful check list written by Matthew fearn, picture editor of The Daily Telegraph, for PRs wishing to get exposure in national newspapers, but which is also a perfect outline of good practice for PRs sending images to trade and local press too.

There are one or two points in the article where I would advise caution, as you would expect me to (knowing what a cynic I can be), but I think they’re worth a little extra consideration.

The author sites a couple of examples where big name brands have engaged the goodwill of their customers to help with social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. In one case Lego asked customers to send in creative images of their models for use in what was a highly successful Facebook campaign. Lego’s head of social media Lars Silberbauer says, “At Lego, we are at a stage where we would rather build a stage around our customers’ content than a campaign using fixed assets.”

I say, “Yuhuh I bet you would.” Fixed assets are expensive and customer-supplied content is free. I’m not actually saying brands shouldn’t do this, but it must be done in good faith and brands need to be aware that crowdsourcing can backfire.

In the case of Lego, where customers knew exactly how their images would be used, the campaign was a success. In the case where Instagram wanted to grab rights from its users for unspecified use, the exercise blew up in their face. I wonder how many times a brand loved even as much as Lego could use this exercise. People are increasingly aware of the commercialisation of their non-commercial photos, and while I don’t condemn crowd participation per se, I would urge brands to ensure their use of freely-offered images is circumscribed and boundaries are clear.

You might conclude I’m worried about the public taking PR work away from me, but that isn’t such a concern. As long as the public aren’t being taken for fools and brands play fair, I’m comfortable with this. Any business doing PR properly will have a range of different avenues for exposure, including social media and low-end imagery alongside higher-end imagery, press PR and advertising. It shouldn’t be treated as a one-or-the-other equation.

PR is vital to any business of any size. It’s bad PR to use other people’s images without permission, it can be good PR to ask for pictures if the deal is fair, and a good photographer with real newspaper training and experience can help you get exposure at a fraction of the cost of advertising. So go hunt goodwill, just don’t shoot Bambi’s mother in the process.

Tri-ing Weather

For the last two weeks everyone (almost) was going Olympic mad and while I was pretty cynical about the whole thing in the build-up, ten minutes into the opening ceremony I was completely won over.

Professionally-speaking, apart from covering the torch relay as it left University of Bath, I’ve had very little involvement in the Olympics. However, I did get to cover the “Triathlon Live” Give It A Tri event in Bristol’s Millennium Square last week, an event held at various locations around England and organised by Triathlon England to bring active sports to the public.

Teams and individuals visiting the event could try swimming, cycling and running, all on machines and in a high-tech swimming pool and against the clock. It was great fun, but the weather tended to keep the crowds away from the open-air seating where they could sit and watch live Olympic events on a giant screen.

It did make for some interesting shots, a couple of which I’ve featured here.

Swimmer in swimming pool with virtual current generated by water pumps.

When the sun came out, the water was lovely.

Man under large Union flag umbrella in deckchair at Millennium Square, Bristol.

It may have been thirsty work at Wimbledon, but in Bristol there was an abundance of water.

Thistle hurt!

Isn’t Facebook wonderful? One minute you’re merrily promoting your fashion/corporate hospitality/events/recruitment/Nigerian food business, building up follows and likes, the next it looks like Jack Nicholson a-la “Here’s Johnny!” has been at your page with an axe.

Exactly this scenario befell Eagle & Thistle, who apparently run a fashion/corporate hospitality/events/recruitment/Nigerian food business (clearly wishing not to be pigeonholed into one sector).

All was going well until they sent a letter out to some (a?) photographer asking if they would be interested in working for free. What an opportunity! Of course the opportunity was too good to miss. The opportunity, that is, to expose Eagle & Thistle as gouging scroungers who thought photographers would love to work for a commercial business for nothing.

Here’s the letter they apparently sent:

“I am contacting you regarding two small shoots that we have coming up at Eagle and Thistle for images we require for our up and coming website. (Please see our facebook page for more info on the company http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eagle-Thistle-Group/201311073242812).

We need four images to represent each area of the company; Fashion, Food, The Eye and Recruitment.

We are hoping to do one of the shoots on Monday the 4th July in a studio for three images; one for fashion, one for food and one for the eye.

The second is for the recruitment section which will be held in an office/meeting room. If you are happy with moving location on the same day we can do that or if not Tuesday or Wednesday would be great. 

We would also like retouching done within two-three days if that would be suitable for you. 

Unfortunately this job would be unpaid but it would provide great experience and images for your portfolio to work with a huge up and coming company. 

More details of the shoot such as moodboards and briefs will be available should be you interested in working with us. 

Thanks so much for your time and if you are available please get back to me” 

Before you could say “let’s do some really bad PR today” photographers had exchanged the tempting offer across a number of social networking sites, and the Likes and comments on E&T’s Facebook page went into overdrive.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t as a result of photographers stumbling over each other to get the unpaid commission. The red mist had descended and E&T’s PR went a bit spoggley. Not only were they getting vitriolic comments from angry photographers (yours truly included), but they didn’t realise what was going wrong for several hours. According to a E&T statement, they were made aware of the situation on their FB page via a phone call. Since Facebook is currently their only real marketing tool at the moment, you’d think they would have been monitoring it a little more closely.

Once they spotted the mess they were in they were quick to apologise, closely followed by disengaging from all their Likers and deleting comments that didn’t quite fit the E&T image. Then removing the apology, because with all the comments gone it no longer made sense. Nice way to do PR.

As for the shoot which should have happened today, presumably the results will soon appear on this holding page, replacing the photos which E&T are already using, for which you might hope they’ve paid or got permission.

In the meantime, enjoy the embedded video, which I think really sets the quality benchmark for this “huge up and coming company” who apparently are helping fashion label Bunmi Koko (no sniggering) with forthcoming events. Good luck, BK, but keep an eye on your Facebook page…

As a bonus treat for you all, I’m including some of the choicest comments from the Facebook page as well as the apology, because I know E&T would be mortified to think they’d permanently deleted them all. Just click to view:

IMPORTANT UDATE:

Following the publication of the above blog article, I was contacted by Anthony, general manager for Eagle & Thistle to discuss the background of the original request for free images, and the resulting backlash through Facebook and other forums.

Having spoken to Anthony it seems clear that the original request was made more as a result of inexperience than out of malice, and I’ve explained to Anthony why so many photographers (myself included) were so angered by yet another request for free imagery.

According to Anthony, some comments made directly to him were extremely aggressive and included racist comments and death threats. I would like to assure Anthony that such comments would not be condoned by myself nor by the vast majority of professional photographers, in fact I hope not by anyone, photographer or not. Race isn’t what this blog article is about and racism has no place in our industry.

I have advised Anthony that if such threats have been made that these should be notified to the police. If anyone attempts to make threats via the comments section of this blog they will be blocked.

Furthermore, Anthony would like to make the following statement on behalf of Eagle & Thistle:

“Eagle & Thistle is a startup business finding its feet and learning as we go.

Last week we sent an email to a photographer asking if he would be able to undertake a photo shoot for our website, but with no resources at our disposal we couldn’t offer payment. And though the content of the email wasn’t meant for wider consumption, it never-the-less became public and resulted in a backlash against us.

We realise now that this request was naive and ill-considered, that photographers also have to make a living, and that quality photography is what helps businesses to establish and grow their reputations.

In light of this we wish to make it clear that from now on we will endeavor to work ethically with all our suppliers, in the same way we hope our clients would work with us.

We apologise for having thought that photographers should offer services for free, and hope that in future we can build good working relationships with all our suppliers, including creative professionals.”

Case Study: The Photo Call

Rebecca Adlington

This photo call test shot of Rebecca Adlington was more interesting than the shot the PR lined up for us.

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

Martine McCutcheon book signing Harrods

Martine McCutcheon wrote a book about the first ten minutes of her life.

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.

Does sex always sell?

Leilani Dowding

A popular pic. Can you see why?

Another trip down memory lane this week, and this time I risk accusations of blatantly fishing for blog hits by featuring this photo of former Page 3 model Leilani Dowding. She’s modeling a bikini which Swatch wanted to promote at the time (no pun intended) as there was a watch incorporated into the design.

There is a reason for this picture being here though, because it’s been fascinating to see that although my website is dedicated to corporate, press, PR and commercial photography, this is the photo which has had the most views out of all the pictures on my site.

I don’t mind revealing that it’s had 138 views to date. That isn’t all the people that have seen it, since you can see it without clicking on the website thumbnail. That’s how many people in about 18 months have gone to the trouble of clicking on the thumbnail image to see it larger.

Bearing this statistic in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Marilyn Monroe comes in second with 103 views, but then my Skinheads picture scores 89 to achieve 3rd place. A slightly worrying top three, but of course the hits aren’t necessarily related.

Now I should be pleased that some of my pictures are so popular, but this rather odd bag of stats highlights that just having a picture seen a lot isn’t going to bring in business. Indeed, I think I can categorically say that none of those three images has ever pulled in a genuine client. My examples of corporate portraits and the like, with much more modest hits in the range of 30-50 have done a better job of bringing in work.

It just goes to show that pretty photos don’t always bring in work. A popular picture isn’t always going to bring in business. For businesses using photography, if it’s shot well and is relevant to your business it’ll have a much bigger impact on income than something which is just “very nice to look at.” This thought should guide how you present your business.

In the meantime, I can’t bring myself to take the Leilani photo down. It’s obviously bringing pleasure to some people, and she certainly adds a splash of glamour to the gallery.

As for Leilani herself, she was lovely to work with. Utterly without pretense, and of course, thoroughly professional. We’d previously done a shoot together to promote a gardening kit giveaway for the News of the World, but that picture isn’t half as glamorous!

I understand she now lives and works in Los Angeles. I doubt she remembers me 🙁

Case Study: Conference Photography

Conference venues have had a rough time in recent years. Events can be expensive to run, and sometimes they’re expensive to attend, so where businesses have dared spend the money at all, they’ve often seen photography as a luxury bolt-on.

In my role as conference photographer I noticed a decline in appetite for this particular service in 2008/2009, but looking back over 2010 I’d say demand has increased again.

Getting quality photography at a conference has often been pretty low on organisers’ lists of priorities – that is until the conference is over and someone wants to “PR” the event. At which point they discover that all they have are some iPhone snaps which aren’t much use for anything at all except maybe viewing on an iPhone.

scientist delivering conference presentation

Balancing lighting on the speaker and their presentation takes some effort.

I can tell a client hasn’t given too much thought to photography prior to the event when I get the call the week before it’s due to happen to ask if I’m available and what the cost would be. They booked the venue about a year in advance. They booked the speakers, sound, lighting, video, staging, caterers, cleaners door staff etc etc. And (relatively speaking) at 5 minutes to midnight, somebody thought: “Oh! I think we might want some pictures from this event!”

Now I applaud these people for thinking so far in advance because as I said, some don’t think of it until the event is over, by which time it’s a bit too late to go back in time to shoot what should have been shot in the first place.

So if your organisation is considering a conference, which after all can reap great benefits in public relations, client relations and exchange of ideas with partners and clients, I would urge you to consider the benefits of getting coverage, and of getting that coverage done professionally.

Conferences can be very useful in that unlike most other events or times of the working year, they tend to be the one time when a significant number of staff and executives are in one place at the same time. So think about getting fresh headshots done – a small setup in a side-room or quiet corner is ideal for this.

Regen SW conference debate in Bath

More obscure shots can be useful later on.

A conference with industry-wide or even public interest, has scope for extensive PR. Pictures of key speakers talking passionately at the lectern, or as a panel of experts can add spontaneity to what might otherwise be a dull PR shot. For other PR uses it’s handy to get a relaxed portrait of key speakers at the venue, perhaps with relevant props visible in the shot.

Employing a professional (like wot I is) means not only will you get the vital shots you need, but you’ll get quick turnaround and you’ll also get the shots you never even realised you needed. Those little details that others would walk past, but which come in handy for future uses such as brochures, annual reports etc.

Of course you might find you have a keen photographer amongst your staff, but do they know how to handle the difficult lighting at these events? Balancing light on the speaker with the slide behind them isn’t always easy. They’ll also tend to miss the details I mentioned, and they often can’t turn the work around quickly. Finally, using a member of staff is all very well, but shouldn’t they be paying attention to the conference rather than the settings on their camera?

I cover conferences of all sizes, taking pictures which clients can then use for internal and external communications, press releases, websites, brochures, future presentations; the list is limited only by one’s imagination. In terms of cost, the photography has to be one of the better value ingredients of a good conference. The food can only be eaten once, while the photography can be used again and again, long after the taste of plastic ham sandwiches and greasy tea has passed.

Going a bit Google

Question: When is a wedding photographer not a wedding photographer?

Answer: Apparently when they say they’re a commercial photographer, a press photographer, an architectural photographer, a spoon, a pomegranate. Whatever their keywords and web blurbs say they are that week.

You may sense from this post that I’m a little fed up. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m frustrated at the number of new clients telling me they were looking for a commercial, press or PR photographer (in other words, a photographer with the requisite experience for the work they’re looking to get done) but had to wade through pages and pages of Google search results of wedding photographer sites to get to mine. I’m not half as frustrated as those clients are, but I feel their pain.

Google is a great tool, but it becomes pointless if businesses pretend to do what they don’t, and try to attract visitors who will rarely convert into clients, and who will probably regret it if they do.

I know some wedding photographers can take good corporate, commercial and maybe even decent press photos, and they’ll have galleries on their sites to prove it, but most only ever do weddings. On the rare occasion they get near a corporate shoot, it often ends up looking like a wedding in an office.

So why do photographers pretend to do something they don’t and mostly can’t do? Perhaps they think clients are stupid and won’t know the difference, or they think that since they mainly work weekends it might be nice to pick up the extra work in the week. They clearly also believe that once you have a camera, you can tackle absolutely any photographic assignment. Regardless of the actual kit, experience and skills required.

wedding photo for press article

In my defence, this was shot for a feature on eco-friendly weddings.

So off they go with their keyword blunderbuss, kerblamming their site with keywords that have only a tenuous connection to what they actually do.

I don’t list weddings as one of my skills. I don’t put “wedding” in my keywords. Neither do I put “puppies”, “Bat (or Bar) Mizvahs” or “christenings” in there. Why? Because I don’t do them. Just like I don’t do plumbing, antique restoration or brain surgery. Why compete with people who already know what they’re doing and have the workflow, supply chain, mental skills and experience to do those jobs?

Recently I added my details, with keyword tags, to a local creative forum website. Within a week, a wedding photographer had done a copy and paste of my keywords, then added “wedding” to the end. A look at his website showed no sign of all the disciplines he’d listed, except weddings. He’s clearly on a fishing trip for extra work, but his entry, like a blunt pencil, is now largely pointless.

If anyone needs to do a web search for a photographer to take pictures for commercial publication, they will have to be sure to type “-wedding” (thus removing any site ranked using that word) into the search box in order to get more relevant results, which seems a bore. But if these jack-of-all-photography types are going to insist on using keywords like a drunk uses expletives, it may be the only solution.

I could strike back by adding all the weddingy keywords to my site, but there’s no point in that. Did I mention I don’t do weddings?

The public are getting wise, proceed with caution…

Friday Thought.

Commercial and public organisations are constantly on the lookout for new ways to engage with customers and the general public. This is understandable and very easy to do now that the internet is highly interactive. Done properly, it can work very well.

However, not all such campaigns are successful in attracting positive PR. One popular idea is to engage with your public by asking them to give you free stuff. Most often, for obvious reasons, photos.

A classic example is when some bright PR spark decides that it would be “cool” if customers sent in their best photos for the company to use for free in its web site, advertising and publications. The conditions for giving the business this free stuff will normally be couched in very legalistic terms, with conditions so harsh, unforgiving and one-sided that only the clinically insane would take part in such a scheme. The bigger problem perhaps is that many customers will ignore the T&Cs because they don’t expect their big, cuddly corporate to do anything underhand or greedy, so they tick the “I have read and understood” bit, having neither read nor understood what they were committing to.

If your organisation is looking into trying this kind of customer interaction, let me sound a word of caution. Amateur photographers are getting wise to this kind of exercise. They’re beginning to understand that if somebody wants their photos, their photos must have a monetary value. Just as if you asked them for the keys to their car, or for a few hours free graft, they understand that while any idiot can give something away for free, it takes a special kind of idiot to do it willingly. And amateur photographers aren’t idiots.

Several organisations and businesses have already bought themselves some negative publicity trying this kind of exercise. The UK’s Environment Agency recently put out a call for graduates, keen on photography, to become free labour suppliers of photos. The BJP wrote an article about it, the EA had to take their Facebook page down at one point, and then finished with a spectacular U-Turn.

Other organisations currently fighting a backlash from photographers include the publisher Archant with their Great British Life photo competition, and Greater London Authority wanting free photos for their new web site. I know there are many more examples, but you get the picture (for free!)

pro-imaging website screen shot

Pro-Imaging advertise competitions as Rights On or Rights Off. Click to see the full list.

Photo competitions which hide rights grabs are another example where photographers, both amateur and professional, have forced a change of terms and conditions, but only after much negative publicity.

The examples of companies which have attempted this particular wheeze and then had to change their T&Cs to be more like a photo competition than a phishing trip is too long to list here, but you can check out the Pro-Imaging web site to see what makes a competition fair, and see which organisers have adhered to the Bill of Rights which has been drawn up through industry-wide consultation.

These schemes and scams keep popping up, and most get battered down by hobbyists and professionals working together for the better ineterests of photography. Why companies and organisations continue to make the same mistakes time after time is a mystery, but I do see the tide turning against this trend for what has been described by others as “loser-generated content”.

So use the internet to interact with your clients and your audience, but don’t ask too much because your clients can quickly swamp the message you intended to broadcast with the ugly sound of protest at unfair practices.

“How much?!” A guide to photography rates.

Welcome to my blog-type thing, I’m glad you could make it.

Having convinced you in my previous blog of the terrors and pitfalls of using micro-payment stock photography for your corporate website and brochure (in short, every time you use istockphoto, a fairy dies), this time around I was going to lay out what level of investment is required to hire a real photographer to take genuine photos that will make your business stand out from the generic stock crowd.

Unfortunately it’s nigh on impossible to condense all possible fee structures into a single blog article, so I’ve come up with a much better answer.

Basically, what you need to pay for photography falls somewhere between you being embarrassed at expecting so much for so little money, and the photographer being embarrassed at charging so much for something they’re professional enough to make look easy.

There, I think that covers all the bases.

Well ok, there’s a bit more to it than that, so I will try to guide you and leave you better equipped to work out what your budget should be.

The first considerations are the quality, style, creativity and experience of the photographer you’re looking to hire. Also, what the photos are to be used for and for how long. These elements will almost certainly be the most influential in setting costs.

Many photographers will quote a time rate, but others like myself will work out a project rate based on the brief and what the pictures are to be used for. This tends to reflect the true value of the work produced, while also avoiding sneakybeaky add-on charges that can crop up when a project is priced on a menu basis.

One element which is often overlooked by clients is the post production time. Post production is what gets a digital camera file into shape ready for either electronic or print use. The file straight from the camera is no use for either, so the photographer has to spend time after the shoot preparing the files for publication, including adjusting colour, exposure, resolution and many other time-consuming and rather dull tasks.

As a guide, a day’s shoot can easily equate to a half day’s post production, though this also varies from project to project. Again, in my case I’ll generally include a certain amount of post production so there are no nasty surprises later.

Ok, so you really want some hard figures? Speaking for myself a project can be as little as £190 for a locally shot PR event with a limited shelf life. At the other end of the spectrum, I have charged £1,500 per picture for complicated national projects with multiple, ongoing uses, vast coverage and a lot of planning involved.

lloyds tsb cheque presentation to housing association © Tim Gander

Good PR shots get good publicity. © Tim Gander

In that first example, the client might be slightly abashed to know that I’ve brought 20 years’ experience, £20,000 worth of equipment and free exposure in local newspapers for less than it would cost to hire a plasterer for half a day. In the latter case, I felt suitably scared of screwing up the client’s expensive campaign that I made damn sure the results exceeded their wildest expectations.

When considering the budget, try to take into account the financial return you hope to get from the exercise. If you want a good return, you’ll need top-notch pictures. Rather than trying to find the lowest talent that will do the job for your budget, it might be better to spend extra so that your project punches above its weight. Better to spend a little more and find you’ve got pictures that really project your message than find you’ve spent too little and the project fails. Ha’peth of tar anyone?

For further guidance on typical prevailing fees, see:

“NUJ Freelance Fees Guide”

barbary lion

Barbary Lion © Tim Gander

Finally, if you like this lion photo I have a free A4 digital print I will send to the first UK-based reader of my blog to email me their name and address.

Until my next blog, when I’ll help you through the process of choosing a photographer, take care, and I wish you all the best with your business.

“Tim Gander is a press, PR and commercial photographer based in Somerset, who likes to talk about himself in the third person”

Article and photos © Tim Gander. All rights reserved 2009