Every day thousands of PR pictures are consigned to the bin by
despairing picture editors. Badly composed, poorly presented, out of
focus or just plain boring, these pictures represent a wasted
opportunity, and a waste of money. Yet with a little more care, thought
and creativity it is possible to satisfy the demands of hungry picture
editors on everything from the nationals to the trade press who are
crying out for good photographs.
Good photography begins with a good brief, but many photographers who do
work for PR agencies are critical of the briefs they get from PR
’PR people tend to know what they don’t want, but often not what they do
want,’ says freelance photographer, Mark Turnbull.
Most photographers want as tight a brief as possible, and that ideally
involves calling them in for a discussion. ’I’m quite happy to pop in
and spend time talking through ideas, but it doesn’t happen as often as
I’d like. I tend to get phoned up, given a brief rundown and then asked
if I can turn up,’ says Turnbull.
’The more research before you arrive on location the better the
photographs you are going to get,’ says photographer Grant Smith.
’Thinking you can wing it, have a brief chat with the photographer and
get away with it is a mistake. Re-shoots are inevitable and that starts
getting expensive,’ he adds.
The most important information photographers need is what the photograph
is intended to illustrate, and which publications it is aimed at. Good
editorial photographers pride themselves on understanding the style and
requirements of the publications they supply, and if they don’t know a
particular market or publication they will take the time to research
’We tailor our photography to picture editors throughout the country,’
says Stewart Goldstein, vice-president of photographic agency
Eyecatchers, which merged with Medialink International earlier this year
to form Medialink Eyecatchers. ’Each national newspaper has its own
identity in terms of photography.’
Goldstein believes that the trade press should be treated in the same
way as the nationals. ’Just because they are trade press does not mean
they should be treated as less important. I’d try to give them exclusive
pictures so they feel special. It’s better to appear on the front cover
than the back cover or not at all.’
A checklist of information that photographers need should include where
the shoot is to take place (and whether permission has been sought to
shoot there); the number of people involved; how much time is available;
and what film stock is required - specifically whether this is colour
transparency, or colour or black and white print.
Getting such information makes the photographer’s life easier, and can
help keep down costs. ’If clients don’t know what they want then you’ve
got to come prepared for every eventuality, which means bringing a lot
of equipment,’ says photographer Simeon David.
’I recently did a job for a company in the City where we decided on the
morning of the shoot that we’d do it outside. This allowed me to travel
light, so I didn’t have to drive in and incur parking costs. It’s small
things like that which can keep costs down.’
Alastair McDavid, director of Thistle Photography, points out that it’s
equally important to brief clients.
’You have to brief clients on what clothes to wear and the location and
timing of the shoot. It’s too late to discover at the shoot that the
client is dressed in black if it’s going to a colour publication, and
that they’re not prepared to jump through a hoop.’
To try to pre-empt such problems, Thistle Photography now offers
training courses for PR people, and includes tips on arranging
photographic shoots on its web site.
The real challenge in PR photography is coming up with ideas for shots
that will grab the attention of picture editors and demand that they use
the photograph, even if the story itself is not particularly strong.
’With product shots it’s pointless having the person in focus but
holding an out of focus product, yet it happens time and time again. The
product must be shown to best advantage, so the structure of the picture
is always built around the product,’ says McDavid.
’Always ask yourself who is going to use the product. A photograph
depicting an end user is often preferable to the sales director and you
can turn it into an action rather than static shot,’ he adds.
Goldstein recommends more of a lifestyle approach to product
’The last thing papers want is a straightforward snapshot of the
product. If it’s a shot of a mobile phone, they want to see someone
Another dilemma in product photography is how much branding to
McDavid recommends a subtle but astute approach. ’If you have someone
holding the product by their face then it is difficult to crop out,
whereas if they’re holding it by their waist it can easily be cropped,’
He also recommends bringing a few spare logos so they can be positioned
in a shot.
When it comes to shots of chairmen and chief executives a large part of
the battle is getting them on your side. ’Our philosophy is built on
gaining trust from chairmen,’ says Goldstein. ’You have to understand
what the company wants and what is acceptable to the paper. The company
doesn’t want the chairman to look ridiculous and the paper wants him to
look interesting. Getting it right is down to experience.’
In the past, Eyecatchers has taken successful portraits of British
Airways chairman Lord Marshall stretched out as if ready for bed to
launch new first-class seats and BOC Group chairman David John on stilts
launching his company’s sponsorship of a Covent Garden festival of
Getting the chairman out from behind the desk and onto the shop floor
seems to be one way to successful profile photography. ’I try to relate
the individual to some aspect of the company. This can be difficult for
a finance company because it may not be very tangible, but normally you
can find an interesting way to place the individual in their working
environment,’ says Smith.
Turnbull recommends getting a sense of action in the shot: ’Rather than
just showing the chairman with his arms folded, you can put a person in
the foreground and show the chairman having an animated discussion with
them, which gives personality to the shot.’ Mixing flash and daylight
can also bring a sense of movement, adds Turnbull.
Group shots are notoriously difficult to make interesting. ’Rather than
having people in a line you can put them on a staircase or have some
sitting and some standing so you can change people’s height. Shooting
from an elevated position with people in a semicircle looking up at you
also makes a more visually interesting photograph,’ says McDavid.
As with shots of individuals, locating a group within their working
environment is a good idea. ’I recently had to do a shot of ten people
from a finance company and I used a City backdrop to make it
interesting,’ says Smith.
Increasing use of digital photography is likely to provoke more demand
for good pictures. ’With digital photography publications don’t have to
pay scanning costs so they will be using more pictures, which is great
news for the PR industry,’ says McDavid.
’Photography can make or break a story. Pictures are used bigger now and
they have immense power,’ insists Goldstein.
MANIPULATION: ACCEPTABLE UP TO A POINT
When the Sun removed a woman in a wheelchair from a shot of the England
cricket team celebrating its series win against South Africa at
Headingley in August, it once again brought the issue of image
manipulation into the headlines. The Sun later printed a full appology
together with a copy of the original photograph.
At the start of this year, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) added
picture manipulation to its Code of Practice, stating: ’Newspapers and
periodicals must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or
distorted material including pictures’.
’The point about picture manipulation was part of a raft of changes
introduced following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales,’ says Guy
Black, director of the PCC. Before picture manipulation was added to the
code, the Commission had dealt with just one complaint, about a small
girl who was unable to smile who had been given a smile by an
insensitive newspaper. The complaint was upheld because the picture was
deemed to be misleading and distorted.
The lack of complaints about picture manipulation seems surprising. ’The
relative paucity of complaints makes me think picture manipulation is
not quite such a problem as it’s made out to be,’ suggests Black.
There are perhaps two reasons for the lack of complaints - the long
tradition of picture manipulation dating from the birth of photography
which has made it almost acceptable, and the sheer difficulty in
detecting when a shot has been manipulated thanks to the sophistication
of software such as Photoshop.
Until there have been more complaints it will be difficult to specify
exactly what is unacceptable. Black says: ’It’s where the entire meaning
of the picture is changed that manipulation is unacceptable’. But he
adds: ’It’s only by judging particular cases that we can flesh out the
The PCC’s code applies to trade titles and PR photography as much as
news photography, so what is the PR industry’s view on manipulation?
’I don’t think there’s anything wrong with manipulating images in PR
photography. Clients are out to deliver perfect pictures to
publications,’ says Alastair McDavid, director of Thistle
’We’ve used picture manipulation to add branding to shots,’ says Cohn
and Wolfe’s managing director, Martin Thomas. The agency organised a
photo shoot of footballer Alan Shearer holding a dummy version of a
World Cup guide sponsored by client Braun. The shots were later
manipulated to include the real guide and distributed to the press.
’Benign picture manipulation is acceptable in order to produce pictures
that do the job for your client. It’s a time saver because you could
spend two or three shoots getting a shot you’re happy with.’
CD-ROMS: SUBJECT BUZZ WORDS REVEAL GREATER CHOICE
Photo libraries have been distributing images on CD-ROM for some years
now, but more recently they have begun to introduce subject-specific,
fully keyworded discs. Late last year The Stock Market (TSM) launched
its Idea Discs, a series of themed discs containing over 2,000 low
resolution images searchable by over 7,000 descriptive and conceptual
keywords. Titles released so far include Concepts, Sports/ Health and
Fitness and Corporate/ Communications, and new titles are being produced
every few months.
Such discs make it easy to search for images especially when time is at
a premium. The low resolution images can be used for layouts and full
resolution images ordered in time to be sent to repro.
’Users can browse by category and type a keyword or combination of
keywords, which can be specific or conceptual, for example football or
speed,’ explains Nick Harris, marketing manager of TSM.
Eleanor Rudolph, art editor on PC Dealer, is a regular user of the Idea
Discs. ’We are a weekly publication and when we have a feature that
comes in two days before it has to go to repro there is no time to
commission illustration. The Idea Disc enables me to type in a concept
and download a low resolution image and then layout the feature so that
it can go to the subs. I then give the Stock Market the number of the
image and they send it to me in the post.’
Other photo libraries are also producing subject-specific, searchable
CD-ROMs, including The Image Bank. ’Searchable CD-ROMs work very
That’s how clients today want to think. For example, they can type in
’power’ and get a variety of ideas to illustrate it,’ says Image Bank
managing director, Mark Cass.
Publishing manager of PR agency The Reputation Managers, Gordon
Blackwell, says he sometimes uses images from CD-ROMs to illustrate some
of the 50 newsletters the agency produces each year. ’Themed CD-ROMs
make it very quick and easy to find images,’ comments Blackwell.
CD-ROMs may be popular at the moment, but industry experts believe
on-line searching and delivery may usurp them. ’Our clients can now get
access on-line to over 120,000 images and download them using a
password. We have major clients using our web site, and where they are
using it they’re using it exclusively and a lot,’ says Cass. By
contrast, he says clients use CD-ROMs intermittently.
’We have 35,000 images on the internet and this is probably a superior
way of searching,’ says Harris. ’There’s a greater selection of images
and these are constantly being updated. We can also deal with particular
events of the year, for example at the moment there is going back to
DIGITAL: TURNING TO THE FORMAT OF THE FUTURE
One dilemma that press and PR photographers currently face is whether to
go digital. With a good quality digital camera costing upwards of around
pounds 10,000 - not to mention all the other equipment such as a scanner
and powerful PC required to give full digital capability - it’s a
difficult decision to make.
Thistle Photography trialled a digital service for about ten months
before launching it in September. Thistle director Alastair McDavid has
no doubt that digital photography is the way forward.
’It makes editors’ lives much easier as it extends their deadlines and
cuts their costs because they don’t have scanning costs. When they’ve
got a space to fill at the last moment they can ring a PR person and ask
to have a photograph delivered in five minutes.’
To meet the lunchtime deadline of a national newspaper, Thistle recently
used a digital camera to take a shot of Noddy for Biss Lancaster to
publicise the London Taxi Association’s annual trip to Brighton for
Thistle also used digital cameras to take shots for daily issues of
Travel Trade Gazette Europa at the ITB show in Berlin, and for Public
Finance magazine at the CIPFA conference in Brighton this year.
McDavid believes that the jump to digital will prove difficult for
freelance photographers. ’PR agencies are going to be looking for
companies that can do all the manipulation and enhancing as well as
taking the shot.
All pictures from digital cameras need enhancing because they’re soft
and they need to be put into the right size and the right number of dots
per inch,’ he says. For this reason, McDavid expects individual
photographers to band together to gain digital capability.
Freelance photographers Mark Turnbull, Grant Smith and Simeon David all
say that they have not yet found any demand from PR people for digital
photography. ’Most of the work I carry out does not require a quick
turnaround. Labs can process the film in two hours and it can be on
people’s desks in three hours,’ says Smith.
’Digital capability is not something we insist on from photographers,’
confirms Jonathan Hemus, deputy managing director of PR agency The
Reputation Managers. ’If clients are looking for coverage in areas that
expect digital photography we’ll select a photographer with that
It seems the transition to digital photography is likely to be gradual,
with most photographers and agencies easing their way into it at first
through digital distribution.