Every journalist has a gripe about dealing with PR people. Mention pictures, however, and the criticisms come thick and fast. These range from large image files clogging up inboxes to faulty formatting.
The Sun's acting features picture editor, Harry Miller, says: 'It was taking us so much time to process all the images we receive in the wrong format that we had to set up specific scripts on our system to convert the files for us.'
Heat's deputy picture editor, Angela Mash, adds: ‘PR people don't always tailor their images to the right publication. We get loads of pictures for stuff that we'd never publish in a million years.'
Alongside these complaints is the suspicion that the problem is straightforward. Attuned to the power of the written and spoken word, it appears that many PR people don't 'do' pictures.
'Ten years ago, sending images involved putting a set of transparencies or prints in an envelope and the expertise was all on the shoulders of the relevant publication,' says Jez MacBean, founder of online image library, PRShots. 'Digital technology has shifted the responsibility to PROs, many of whom struggle with digital imaging.'
Recognising that quality graphics can make or break whether a PR story makes it to press, PRWeek put the 10 most commonly asked questions to a panel of experts.
1 What is the difference between images for the web and images for print?
I get requests for 72, 150 and 300 dpi and don't understand why it makes a difference.
This is slightly tricky, as dpi only refers to the resolution of an image (see glossary), not its size. The simplest solution is to ask the relevant picture desk what they want and how they intend to use it.
Otherwise, assume that everything should be at least A4 size and follow the general rule that 72 dpi is web standard, 150 dpi newspaper standard and 300 dpi is glossy magazine standard and above.
2 How do I evaluate the quality of my image and if it is poor, how can I change it?
Most graphic software packages such as Photoshop list the resolution and size of an image under the ‘File' menu. However, a simple test is to zoom in and see if the picture becomes blurry or pixelated (low quality) or stays sharp (high quality).
Be warned: Only play around with copies, not originals.
3 Some images get bounced back because they are too big for the recipient's firewall. What is ‘too big', and how can I compress files for emailing?
This is definitely a case of asking the recipient what their inbox will take. However, Lewis PR client services director Jon Silk says: ‘Generally, 5MB is a good guideline for the maximum file size to be emailed.'
Many publications now have dedicated email image portals that will accept larger than normal files.
Any graphics software will allow you to reduce file size or save images in formats that take up less space. But again, compression compromises quality and recipients cannot get that back.
4 I need to take a decent headshot on the office digital camera. Talk me through it.
Having quashed any delusions of becoming the next Annie Leibovitz or Terry O'Neill, there are three easy steps to take, according to professional portrait photographer Tom Campbell:
‘Firstly, find a plain background - a wall or a door - preferably inside. Secondly, talk to the sitter and make them feel comfortable and at ease.
Ask them to stand or sit against the background and look into the camera.
The camera should be at eye level. Thirdly, take a selection of shots - smiling, serious, confident - and select the most suitable one.'
Things to avoid include positioning the subject facing direct sunlight as this makes people squint, and aggressive or bright backgrounds - Campbell recommends neutral shades such as grey or beige.
Any cropping or sizing should be left to the publication's designers, while you
call in a professional to do the job properly for next time.
5 I need to get a straightforward product shot taken. How should I brief the photographer?
The brief should be as detailed as possible and ideally issued at least two weeks in
‘I'm not saying that PR people are not good at their job, they're just not good at my job,' says Matt Dickens, director of photographic agency onEdition and former staff photographer for The Sun and The Evening Standard.
‘A professional photographer should be adding to what you do, so you should include them in the planning and not present them with a foregone situation.'
Things to look out for include hidden charges - usually by the hour - for digital or post-production work.
‘It's best to get a price for the job with a detailed list of how the finished product is to be seen and used by a client,' says professional photographer, Angus Findlay.
‘Get quotes from two or three photographers and do not accept a keen price for a series of unedited images passed on a CD only showing the product against a white background.
I only price for a completed product shot, as I never like to see my work leave the office in a rough or unfinished stage.'
6 I need to find a generic photo to give to a journalist. How can I go about finding and purchasing one?
The easiest route is to contact a large international picture library such as Rex Features or Getty Images. Both stock millions of photos and will manage the whole research, rights, clearance, distribution and payment process for you.
Alternatively, the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA) provides links to the majority of UK suppliers on its website and has a facility to source suppliers via picture category. This is useful for meeting more specialist requirements.
Having registered with an individual picture agency, you can search its archives on screen, place your selection and email the image to your journalist.
However, BAPLA operations manager, Angela Anderson, warns: ‘It's important to track which agency supplied the image and it would be up to you to talk to them about the intended use of the picture and discuss payment.'
Also make sure you include any relevant copyright details when you email the picture to journalists (see question ten).
7 What processes does a picture go through before it gets printed?
PR folk need not worry about this unduly, as much depends on the publication and its in-house production capabilities.
Put simply however, on receipt, pictures are usually checked for content, format and quality - loaded, coded, then saved.
After which, the art editor or designer positions and sizes the photos they want in an onscreen page layout.
These pictures are ‘touched up' to correct any simple colour or other errors - a task often undertaken by a repro house - then downloaded for the completed pages to be signed off and sent for printing.
8 I have a great set of images that I want to send to a publication. How I should I format and label them?
This one gets picture and production editors hopping mad. ‘I know we have an unusual system, but why, if I phone and tell PR people: "Please send 300 dpi RGB jpegs" (see glossary), do they still send CMYK eps and tiff files?' asks The Sun's Miller.
Similarly, freelance picture editor, Jim Selby, who works for the Daily Express, is mystified as to why so many images lack the relevant labelling. ‘If people don't include a caption in the file information, then having loaded the images, we can't find them on our system,' he says.
These are not petty gripes: Miller highlights that his newspaper receives up to 12,000 news images a day.
Professional photographer Angus Findlay underlines the point: ‘No matter how good the photograph is, it will never be used without attaching a caption and contact details. A number of times I have had PR agencies calling me about a picture that has become separated from its press release or email. When I explain about the file information, they are amazed, saying they never knew.'
9 I have loads of decent photos from one of my clients. How do I make them available to journalists so they can look through them and download the ones they want?
One way is to create a quick-view ‘gallery' on the media section of the corporate website, with various download options. This route is favoured by many car manufacturers and fashion retailers.
However, Debbie Eales, group magazines editor at the Kent Messenger Group, who regularly compiles fashion and lifestyle guides, says: ‘A big failing is that many corporate sites have loads of shots, but no product pricing details, so you still have to go back to a PR person.'
She adds: ‘We have 400,000 readers, but PR people are still sometimes a bit sniffy about us
being a regional publisher.'
Other options include using a professional online PR image library service that is free for journalists to use. ‘You need to make life as easy as possible for journalists when they are facing deadlines,' says Jez MacBean, founder of PRShots, whose clients include Debenhams, Diageo and The Body Shop.
‘We have a massive established user-base and rigorously check the size and quality of each image before passing it for release.'
10 What does copyright mean? Do I have to credit a photographer, and do I have to pay for an image every time it is used in a publication?
Copyright is literally the right to copy and getting it wrong could land you in a heap of legal and financial trouble.
Under the 1988 Copyright Designs & Patents Act, copyright in a photograph belongs to the person who creates it - the freelance photographer or in the case of an agency snapper, the agency.
This means images can only be used in ways that were agreed at the time they were commissioned and any further uses must be approved and paid for. Hence the advice from bodies such as the NUJ that contracts should always be made in writing.
The photographer can also assign copyright to a third party, and there are various buying models based on several factors including exclusivity, territory, number of uses and media type.
BAPLA's Anderson recommends royalty-free images for multimedia use. The Intellectual Property Office (www.ipo.gov.uk) offers further advice.
Finally, yes, you do have to credit the copyright holder for using their images. If you fill in the file information copyright details, you can also ensure that those rights are met.
Case Study Who needs a picture agency?
In April, Lewis PR launched Lewis Imagebank, a searchable online library of royalty-free photography. Visitors to the website can search by category or keyword more than 3,000 images, created by the agency's inhouse photographers, and download them for use in their own marketing or PR.
According to client services director Jon Silk, the service took around three months to create at a cost of £20,000 and originated as an internal system for sharing pictures across the agency's network of global offices.
‘It consolidates what we've been doing all long - creating bespoke photography to enhance PR and improve press coverage,' he says. ‘We have amassed a huge library of images to meet our clients' needs and realised other marketers, advertisers, designers, journalists and bloggers would benefit from access to it.'
Images range across business, lifestyle, people, places and technology and cost £80 for the royalty-free use of a low-resolution (72 dpi) version and £150 for high-resolution (300 dpi) usage, with a charge of £400 for exclusive rights. There are also discounts for clients and an option to order bespoke images if the library doesn't hold a suitable picture.
jpeg ‘Joint photographic experts group'
(a photographic standard) - a compressed image with a small file size, good for emailing. Beware: ‘Jpegging' can damage pictures.
tifF A ‘tagged image file format' image saved without damage, which is good for printing, but often too big to email.
eps An ‘encapsulated postscript' file, similar to a tiff. A vector.eps is a non-photographic image like a logo that can print at any size. These need special software to be seen, so are often overlooked by PROs.
pdf A ‘portable document format' file containing graphics and text, viewable by anyone with Acrobat Reader. PDFs can be different resolutions, so only some are printable.
dpi Dots per inch, a measure of the resolution of an image, but NOT its size. A picture can contain 300dpi but still only be 0.5in wide!
RGB Red, green and blue, the colours used to create a screen image.
CMYK Cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black), the inks used to create a printed image.