Where JP fail, others choose to follow

I had promised myself I wouldn’t re-visit the subject of Johnson Press or anything else quite as depressing for a while. The reaction to that article was incredible, receiving over 360 hits in two days which, for a modest blog such as mine is quite a big deal.

Indeed I had every intention of keeping things upbeat for a while, but then I got one more reaction to the article which I just couldn’t ignore; an email from someone whose situation perfectly illustrates the insanity which has overtaken newspaper publishing in this country. The victim of another publisher taking a short-term view and discarding both staff and reader loyalty in the hope of bigger margins.

There’s really nothing I can add to what this photojournalist says, so I’ll let their email speak for itself. Reproduced with permission…

Great to read your blog about Johnston Press.

Days after their announcement the publisher that I work for as a retained photo journalist also announced that it was going down the free content route and will no longer require my services!

The new model is to copy and paste press releases, and the associated pictures, thus removing my position.

I gather that everything is now geared towards ad revenue and pleasing PR people and press officers in the hope that they will advertise with said publishing group. As a result, all critical reporting has been banned in case it upsets said PR departments and everything will now be portrayed as sunny, regardless of the reality.

On the odd occasion a picture is needed from an event the ad man or webmaster will go along with their tablet, iphone etc and take a picture that is “good enough”. The parting shot was “with digital photography nowadays, we don’t need a retained photo journalist”

An editorial policy where PR people dictate content, as that’s what will happen, is an odd policy to adopt for a news publication. But hey, got to keep those PR people happy!

I was retained for 10 years and they just cut me adrift as if I never mattered. Over that decade the publisher would constantly apologise for not being able to pay me more (1k a month), but when they abolished my position this figure suddenly became a “considerable amount” . Loyalty, what ever happened to it?

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.

2012 in Pictures (well, mine anyway…)

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.

Acting college student Tom England of Frome

January: Tom England of Frome poses for his acting college portrait

Snowplough operative with truck and shovel

February: Overnight snow meant a last-minute task taking pictures in Cirencester for Mitie’s snow-clearance service

Dr Vince Cable speaks at the BBSRC Innovator of the Year awards, London

March: Dr Vince Cable addresses an audience of scientists at a bio-science innovation awards event, London

Empty warehouse interior

April: Warehouse interior near Exeter, soon to be the distribution hub for a toy importer

Olympic torch relay handover at University of Bath

May: Olympic torch relay handover at University of Bath

School science experiment with big yellow flash of flame with pupils looking on

June: Whitstone School website and prospectus

Rugby Sevens team captains in Bath

July: Programme cover shot for the J P Morgan Rugby 7s final in Bath

Christmas tree in office setting

July: As you would expect in July I’m photographing Christmas trees in an office setting

Millennium Square, Bristol, Triathlon England sporting event

August: An Olympic event organised by Sport England in Bristol’s Millennium Square saw all weather from bright sunshine to torrential rain.

Abstract image of wire page binding on a roll

September: Abstract image for Corsham-based digital print company Orbit

Pumpkin soup in a bowl, with sparkler lit in an apple

October: Exciting new venture Local Morsels online food magazine launches with an Autumn edition featuring pumpkin soup and sparklers in apples

Farmer in his Somerset milking parlour with two milkers

November: Marksbury farmer Stephen Bendall uses a robotic milking system in his dairy. I just like this portrait which I took at the end of the session

Cheese-maker cuts a round of cheese at Frome Super Market

December: Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy cuts unpasturised cheddar at Frome Christmas Super Market

Homeless Portrait

The other week I was taking public relations pictures for a hotel in Bath. Their staff were volunteering to help at a local soup kitchen for the homeless, and they wanted shots of the volunteers and organisers preparing to hand out the food. I was told by a volunteer from the local church that was involved, I should avoid taking pictures of any homeless people as it might upset them. I’ll be honest, I felt a little patronized as I think by now I know what to do in delicate situations, but I got on with arranging the shots I needed. It was so dark, it would have been impossible to take pictures without flash so I was only ever going to take pre-arranged photos. The PR photos went well, and I used a small portable lighting system to try to make things look brighter and more inviting, and as I finished I turned around to find a man going by the name Squirrel sitting behind me. He was hoping to have his photo taken too, so I included him in some shots. Then his girlfriend, Hayley, came over. All she wanted was a nice photo of her and Squirrel together, and it was a pleasure to oblige. I did ask if they would mind me blogging the photo and they were fine about it, so here it is. Squirrel and Hayley, eating out together.

“Squirrel” and Hayley, Bath soup kitchen.

Groundhog Assignment

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.

call centre lady

Hardly an original idea, but the wig, expression and phone receivers make it eye-catching

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.

call centre lady at Wickes for Children in Need

This time the bunting added colour and gave more clues to the story

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.

Case Study: PR photos for multiple titles.

Although I still take the occasional magazine assignment, I don’t deal directly with newspapers as often as I used to, their rates being low to non-existent. However, the many years I did spend working for newspapers means that when I’m commissioned to undertake public relations photography for a corporate client, I have a pretty shrewd idea of what’s required.

This case study centres on a recent assignment for EDF Energy, which is working with its charity partner ParalympicsGB to find ways to help reduce the environmental impact of multi-sports events and related training facilities. In this case, EDF Energy were working with ParalympicsGB athletes, coaches and managers and the University of Bath.

Over a period of two weeks in August, members of staff from EDF Energy sites around the country came to the ParalympicsGB preparation camp to assist as athletes trained at the rather excellent sports facilities of University of Bath.

What EDF Energy required of me was an individual photo of each of their volunteers that would go to the local paper in their respective home towns as a local interest story. Of course this would also give EDF Energy some PR too, as well as ParalympicsGB and the facilities at University of Bath Sports Training village.

For a couple of hours a day on three separate dates I attended the training camp and went around getting the required shots. We’d hoped to get pictures of the EDF Energy volunteers working closely with the teams, but for the most part this wasn’t going to be possible due to the tight schedules and the intensity of the training, so it seemed the best option was to work as inconspicuously as possible to get the job done.

What I ended up with was really a series of portraits with something of the training in the background, or a relevant backdrop to try to tie the portraits in with the context of the story.

The results, some of which I’ve featured here, got good showings in the regional press, so I’d say the whole exercise was pretty successful. I wish the ParalympicsGB teams all the best in 2012.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

Teams busy with training makes a good backdrop to the portrait.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

EDF customer service advisor from Hove, Louise Foreman of Newhaven, gets to chat with ParalympicsGB powerlifter Adam Alderman during a break in training.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

Sometimes a banner backdrop was all that was available, but a smile lifts the picture.

EDF staff member volunteering at ParalympicGB team training, Bath

These groovy banners also made an interesting backdrop for a simple press portrait.

Oi! Tim! What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken?

I don’t much enjoy trying to answer that question (especially when it’s asked like that), but since it’s a question I get asked, well sometimes at least, I thought it might be an idea to do an article on it.

Probably the simplest answer is that I tend to like whichever was the best photo from my most recent assignment at the time of asking. I do tend to prefer more recent work, perhaps because with every brief, with each new location, there are challenges to be met and overcome and I still love to learn something new from each shoot. And maybe it’s that having a press background, I tend to see older work as having passed its sell-by date.

Of my press photography, I’d still say my favourites are my photo of Tony Blair campaigning in Oldham in 2001 and the portrait of Tony Benn in Bath. Those pictures seem to sum up the evangelical character of the former prime minister, while the other sums up the thoughtful, statesmanlike manner of Mr Benn. More recently, the unguarded shot of Richard Noble of the SSC Project pleased me in its informality and got a decent showing in Director magazine

news cutting bath chronicle 1992 election showing chris patten defeat

Capturing a historical moment has a certain buzz.

When I look at my recent commercial photography, I’m often drawn to the simple, relaxed corporate portraits, especially where I’ve captured something of the subject’s character, but I also have a fondness for the beekeeper portrait, which was not only tricky to light, but was tricky to shoot since I was in full protective gear and surrounded by bees at the time. The beekeeper was a decent chap too, and gave me some honey after the shoot. Of course, what’s important is how the photo looks, not what was involved in getting it to look that way, but each picture has an emotional attachment for the photographer, which is why we’re often the worst judges of our own work.

Looking at my gallery of public relations photography, I’d single out the portrait of the barbary lion, partly because he’s so handsome and also because everyone who sees that photo reacts with a “wow” or similar, which is always encouraging.

Apart from the lion, I’m quite fond of the PR photo which I took for the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative. The idea of making it look as though the fridges in the middle of a field might actually be working tickles me, and adds an extra dimension of interest to the shot.

portrait photo actress penelope keith

Actress Penelope Keith in mid-interview. Never published, but still a favourite.

There are many photos and assignments I’d rank as favourites, but going back beyond the last 12 years leads me to that period when I was a staff photographer, so don’t have the copyright in those shots, which means I can’t publish them here.

There’s the shoot I did in Norway with the Royal Marine Reservists, which included a striking shot of a marine bursting up through freezing lake water during a survival exercise, his shocked expression and the water droplets cascading from his hair making it almost uncomfortable to view the photo. Or the single frame I managed to get of HM The Queen arriving at Portsmouth Harbour train station on a drizzly night, simple headscarfe and clearly not expecting a photographer, though smiling all the same.

Delving even deeper into the past, I’ve featured here a couple of favourites from the very beginning of my career, when I freelanced for the Bath Chronicle. Now I think about it again, it isn’t just my recent work I’m happiest with. I think I have some pretty cracking older shots too…

How about you?

Whether you’re a professional or amateur, do you have a favourite of your own? Or perhaps there’s a photographer you admire, or a particular photo that sticks in your mind. Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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