FOCUS: VISUALS/PHOTOGRAPHICS - Readjusting the focus on digital photography. The quality of digital imagery continues to improves and the electronic transmission and storage of pictures is giving clients and PR agencies greater freedom and choice. Nick Pu

The digital revolution pulsing through the broadcast industries is also having a profound effect on a much more traditional medium - photography.

The digital revolution pulsing through the broadcast industries is

also having a profound effect on a much more traditional medium -

photography.



Film, prints and transparencies may not be dead yet, but many believe

they are definitely on the way out, and this is already having an effect

on the way PR practitioners use and deliver images.



It is the daily papers’ demand for the latest images to accompany

breaking stories that is driving the move to digital photography.

Digital cameras mean that images can be captured then transmitted via

modem or ISDN line to the picture desks in a couple of minutes. Compare

this with the traditional, and very time consuming, method of processing

film and producing prints and it’s not hard to see the attraction of

digital.



’Digital is the norm now, I can’t remember the last time I saw prints

coming in,’ says Daily Telegraph picture editor, Bob Bodman. ’If you get

a print or transparency it has to be scanned in, and it’s simply not as

convenient,’ he adds.



Daily Mail picture editor Paul Silva paints a similar picture. ’About

three-quarters of the material we receive is in digital form. We prefer

to get it this way because speed is of the essence. Even for a story

shot on Monday for the Saturday paper speed is important because the

editor will want to see it on Monday so he knows if it’s worth using as

a spread.’



And it’s not just in areas like news and sport where digital photography

is becoming widespread. The quality of digital cameras has improved to

the point where they are also being used for feature work. A top class

digital camera like the Nikon D1 - the camera used to capture the image

of Agriculture Minister Nick Brown with eclair on his face - costs

around pounds 3,800. ’The quality of digital cameras today is terrific,’

says Bodman.



One of the effects of the move to digital is that it has considerably

increased the number of images being sent to the media. ’Three years ago

we were receiving 800 to 1,200 images a day. Now it’s around 2,000,’

says Bodman.



Given the sheer number of images that picture editors have to wade

through it’s hardly surprising they don’t want to have the added hassle

of scanning them too.



’Photographs should be taken digitally and sent by ISDN,’ is Silva’s

simple message. Bodman agrees and, encouragingly, he finds that PR

agencies are heeding the message. ’More agencies have geared up, and

they know the way to grab attention is to get images straight to our

desktop.’



Cohn and Wolfe managing director Martin Ellis says the decision whether

to distribute photographs digitally is ’a no-brainer, it’s the way we’re

all moving.’



Ellis says there are two main ways of using digital. The first is to

direct journalists to a client web site where the news page includes

downloadable digital images, as it did with the launch of Jungle.com.

The other is to include a thumbnail scan of a selection of digital

photos in the press pack, so journalists can call and ask for the one

they want to be sent by ISDN, which is what the agency did for the

Bluewater shopping centre.



’The beauty of ISDN is that it saves the client money. The old days of

sending out 300 prints in the hope that one of them might get picked up

are over,’ he says.



In the meantime, Cohn and Wolfe account handlers are still using a

mixture of distribution techniques. One says 90 per cent of national

newspapers prefer images to be sent by ISDN, while regional papers often

require prints or transparencies. But another says that they always send

prints, and found no difference between national and regional

papers.



This apparent contradiction suggests there are, as yet, no hard and fast

rules.



Indeed both the Mail and the Telegraph admit they are prepared to accept

prints - if the pictures are good enough.



Another interesting observation made by one of the Cohn and Wolfe

account handlers is that images sent via ISDN can get lost among the

thousands of others transmitted this way. Instead, they prefer to sell

in a story using a print or transparency, and follow up with a digital

image if required.



Feedback from Cohn and Wolfe account handlers on consumer and trade

press also shows the importance of knowing your media. One says that

consumer magazines are only interested in transparencies and prints,

while retail trade media like prints and the technology press (not

surprisingly) want digital images.



GCI chief executive Adrian Wheeler also found that digital distribution

of images by staff at his agency was not as widespread as he had

assumed.



’It’s not used a hell of a lot yet, but everyone expects the transition

to digital during the course of the year,’ he says.



Wheeler believes that the move to digital is a positive development.



’It’s cheaper by a million miles, it’s so much more efficient for the

media because they can look and choose, and it’s better for us because

we can make a huge selection of pictures available without any

wastage.’



In the financial sector, however, Fishburn Hedges associate director

Sharon Murphy says that, with a few exceptions, images are still

distributed via print or transparency. ’We find with a lot of clients

that they prefer to produce prints and keep a photo library in this

form,’ she says. ’But we do regularly distribute pictures

electronically, particularly head and shoulders shots, for financial

technology clients.’



With digital distribution of images still not the norm, it is hardly

surprising that digital cameras are still not widely used in PR.

However, there are areas in which digital cameras are finding a role.

Commerzbank Global Equities corporate communications manager Rhiannedd

Jones says she uses an Olympus digital camera to take head and shoulders

shots of all people joining the bank. These are posted on the bank’s

intranet site, and have been used by the Times in its appointments

section. ’You can e-mail digital images immediately, so there is no time

delay and you are more likely to get a picture in,’ says Jones.



Cohn and Wolfe also has a number of digital cameras for use by

staff.



’If we’re covering press and client events we routinely take pictures

and if we think we’ve got something of interest to support the story we

send it out,’ says Ellis.



Digital has also had an effect on photographic agencies, although

attitudes towards digital cameras vary. Thistle Photography managing

director Alastair McDavid was one of the first in the country to buy a

Nikon D1. ’We’re now offering digital photography to every client. The

speed of digital photography is giving some PR clients a competitive

edge in delivering images in the format papers want,’ he says.



Thistle recently used the D1 at a financial services conference for

Fishburn Hedges. ’They didn’t want a flash used and digital works

particularly well in low light levels,’ explains McDavid. Another area

where Thistle is using digital cameras is to take pictures for

conference newspapers that are published overnight for distribution to

delegates the following morning.



But James Morgan, who runs an eponymous photographic agency, says he

hasn’t bought a digital camera yet, and rarely comes across a situation

where he might need one. ’You get better quality and control over images

using the traditional format. You can scan a shot at very high

resolution and then ISDN it,’ he argues.



But the main reason Morgan favours shooting on film is that it gives

much more flexibility. ’I have to consider what the client might want in

two weeks’ time. They may then say they need a high quality 12 by ten

inch print.’



Photographers will argue about whether you can get a good quality 12 by

ten print from the D1 - some say it is capable of producing poster-sized

prints - but most will admit film still has the edge when it comes to

quality.



Digital photography and distribution may not have completely taken hold

yet, but the growth of digital picture distribution services

demonstrates that there is a real appetite for getting images in this

way. Image.net distributed 400,000 images electronically and grew 100

per cent in the last year. ’We now have 6,000 registered users,

including national and regional papers, specialist and trade press,’

says managing director Simon Townsley.



The company specialises in distributing images for entertainment

industry clients such as BSkyB and Warner Bros, but also has corporate

clients including telecoms company ICO Global Communications and the New

Millennium Experience Company.



Image.net’s main business is maintaining an on-line picture archive for

clients, but a growing part of its work is actively marketing

images.



’We have good relations with picture desks. Images can get lost in the

mass of material if you don’t sell them in,’ says Townsley.



On-line photographic data-bases are becoming very popular, but CD-ROMs

still have a role to play. ’We’re putting stock images on CD-ROM and

finding this is really taking off,’ says McDavid. ’For subs it’s much

easier than going to the web and trying to download a picture. New

software like Photostation, which the Express and Mail have, means that

captions open up automatically in Quark and makes searching for images

easy. Clients that are using CD-ROMs have a much higher rate of take-up

of their pictures.’



CD-ROMs also have the advantage of being quick and easy to produce. ’The

cost of duplicating a CD is roughly the cost of duplicating two 35mm

slides, and you can store more than 500 high-resolution images,’ says

RPM Photographic director Lee Farrant. He stores all the images he

shoots in this way and uses CD-ROM to distribute very high resolution

images for magazine covers.



But there is a danger that PR agencies could get left behind in the

fast-moving world of digital photography. In his presentations to PR

consultancies, Morgan has found a distinct lack of understanding about

what digital photography is and what it can achieve. ’At least ten times

last week agency staff said to me ’I didn’t know you could do that’,’ he

says. ’Scanning photographs and sending digital images would save

agencies and clients a vast amount of money.’



For McDavid the choice is clear. ’If agencies want to get pictures into

print they’re going to have to wake up and go digital. With all the

technology coming into play PR agencies could lose out to new media

companies that have the technology in place and are providing a one-stop

shop.’





ELIMINATING THE PHOTOGRAPHIC ENDURANCE TEST



The Camel Trophy is an annual adventure sports event designed to push

contenders to the limits of their endurance. Supplying images of the

event for the world’s media is also a task guaranteed to stretch the

resources of any photographic agency.



This year’s Camel Trophy takes place over three weeks in July in Fiji

and Tonga, and for the tenth year RPM Photographic will be the official

photographic agency for the event. This year also marks a significant

moment in the evolution of digital photography, because for the first

time the majority of images of the event will be shot digitally.



’The quality and speed of digital photography now far outweighs the

disadvantages,’ says RPM Photographic director, Lee Farrant. Four

photographers from RPM will be using Canon DCS 520 digital cameras, each

costing around pounds 5,000 - almost half what they cost last year.

Image quality, says Farrant, is fine for broadsheets and magazines. ’Up

to A5 size you can’t tell the difference from traditional film.’



Shooting digitally means other substantial savings. For last year’s

event in Argentina and Chile, RPM took seven tonnes of film processing

equipment and a team of 16 people. For this year’s event only nine

people and far less equipment will be required.



This year’s Camel Trophy marks another departure because instead of

using Land Rovers as their primary means of transport, the 20 teams from

around the world will be using six metre long RIBs (rigid-hulled

inflatable boats).



Images taken by the four photographers will be stored and delivered to a

picture editor based on a dive boat, who will flick through the images

on a laptop, select and caption the ones he wants and send these via an

ISDN interface on a satellite phone to Camel Trophy headquarters in

Fiji.



Here images will be signed off and distributed, either by e-mail or

ISDN, to the media.



Every day six to ten news images will be sent directly to national new

agencies and newspapers around the world. Thousands of images will also

be placed on the official Camel Trophy web site. ’To turn round the

quantity and quality of images we need, digital is the obvious solution.

Three minutes after taking the photograph images can be back in the UK,’

says Farrant.



In addition to shooting news pictures, RPM will also be shooting images

for sponsors as well as pictures targeted at specific magazines. ’The

Camel Trophy is not traditionally carried in the sports pages in the

UK,’ says Farrant, ’ but it normally attracts a couple of features in

the broadsheets. However, our main targets in the UK are action and

adventure magazines.’





PHOTOGRAPHIC DOS AND DON’TS



- Do shoot on a digital camera if it is critical to get the image to the

media quickly.



- Don’t use a digital camera if the primary use for the images will be

posters at an exhibition.



- Do consider using a digital camera for things like mug shots. Very

good results can be achieved with cameras costing as little as pounds

600.



- Do scan negatives and slides to convert them to digital form. Don’t

use a cheap flatbed scanner. Use a film scanner and follow instructions

carefully or leave it to a professional.



- Do use Photoshop or similar software to improve picture quality, but

don’t go overboard and introduce unnatural-looking effects.



- Do caption and categorise pictures so they can be easily identified

and searched for.



- Do distribute images electronically to get them straight to the

desktop of the person you’re targeting. Images can be e-mailed in JPEG

format to give an idea of what they look like, but remember many

publications will not use them in this form. Use ISDN to send images

faster and at higher resolution.



- Do use services like PA’s PixElect or image.net for on-line

distribution of images if you don’t want to handle this yourself.





- Don’t bombard picture desks with too many images.



- Do make the most of digital images. As well as being sent directly to

the media they can easily be placed on client web sites and intranets so

they are available to interested parties 24 hours a day.



- Do set up a system so you can monitor the use of images posted on a

web site. If a publication downloads an image then you can follow up to

see if any more information is required. Also consider security.

Authorising access means images are less likely to be abused.



- Do use CD-ROM for distributing images at high resolution. It can also

be used as an inexpensive means of storing archive material, freeing up

space on your hard disk.



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