FOCUS: PHOTO LIBRARIES/PHOTOGRAPHY - Project the right sort of image/With ever increasing numbers of pictures available to editors at the touch of the button, PR agencies must tailor photography to publications in the same way as news releases. Nick Purdo

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.

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

using it.’

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 says.

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.


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.’


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



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

underprivleged children.

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.

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