UNP (then United Northern Photographers) was founded in 1997 by picture editor and managing director Hamlet Mejloumian. Established to provide an independent and cost-effective alternative to large multi-national agencies, UNP tapped into the desire for a more ‘boutique’ photography service: hands-on, available, responsive. Within three years the name was updated to United National Photographers as coverage had expanded across the UK. The company is now the UK’s largest independent provider of press and PR photography, with 57 freelance photographers on its books.
"While our network of photographers is national, we are proud of the local expertise of our team. Each of our photographers have well-established ties with regional publications operating in their area as well as national publications and are familiar with their content and editorial style," said Mejloumian.
Benefits of using an agency
One of the key advantages of using an agency is the fact that the client has a single point of contact for all its photographic needs, says Mejloumian.
"We are able to guarantee a consistent level of quality. Our photo editors have been with the company for decades and they have the quality and experience to assign the right photographer for the right shoot. Effective collaboration is crucial between the client and photo agency, as well as the photo agency and photographer."
Mejloumian reiterated the availability of UNP’s photographers as another one of its major assets. "Agency photo editors are ready and available pretty much 24/7, 365 days a year, and available to answer calls or emails straight away. PR consultancies and their commissioning account managers don’t have time to Google individual photographers, and this makes us, as one of our clients described us, an ‘invaluable extension’ to the team," said Mejloumian.
Areas of expertise
Versatility is another area of strength for UNP. "In an average day, we would expect one of photographers to do a few shoots, perhaps one editorial and one PR shoot. To maintain the quality, we limit the number of shoots we allocate to a photographer each day, bearing in mind the post-production time they’ll need after each shoot to edit and deliver the images.
"We deal mainly with well-established freelancers who are flexible and, preferably, newspaper-trained. Ideally, we are looking to work with photographers who have a documentary photography background. Saying that, the photographer must have a good eye for what makes for a successful PR photo and good communications skills," added Mejloumian.
Which picture stands out?
"If you asked me a few years ago what picture I was most proud of," said Mejloumian, "the answer would have been one that makes the front pages of national newspapers, especially broadsheets. We used to love to have double-page spreads in, say The Guardian. Now, it’s a different story. Newspapers hardly commission anything, as they’d expect to get it all from major agencies as part of a subscription service.
"The majority of today’s photos are shot for social media. Even though the reason, style and quality of the photography has not changed, the usage has. So, with any photo shoot commissioned by PR and communications departments or consultancies, if the photo – even a good old-fashioned cheque presentation or turf cutting ceremony – makes it to the papers or is a hit on social media, it makes me proud."
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