The digital revolution pulsing through the broadcast industries is
also having a profound effect on a much more traditional medium -
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 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
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,’
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,’
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
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
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
This apparent contradiction suggests there are, as yet, no hard and fast
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
’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
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
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
’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
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
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
’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
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
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
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,’
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
PHOTOGRAPHIC DOS AND DON’TS
- Do shoot on a digital camera if it is critical to get the image to the
- 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
- 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.