FOCUS: PHOTO LIBRARIES - News images in an instant/Photography has entered the digital age and picture libraries have a choice to make in the way they take and send photographs. Katrina Dunbar reports

Choosing pictures is no longer a case of leisurely poring over glossy catalogues or searching through dusty archives. Images are available on screen at the touch of a button, thanks to digital technology - which is taking an increasing chunk of the picture market in terms of distributing images.

Choosing pictures is no longer a case of leisurely poring over

glossy catalogues or searching through dusty archives. Images are

available on screen at the touch of a button, thanks to digital

technology - which is taking an increasing chunk of the picture market

in terms of distributing images.

When the owners of major photolibraries - such as Getty Communications

and Image Bank - start making major investments in digital distribution

systems, this suggests that the days of photographic prints are


News is leading the digital revolution, since this is where speed is

paramount and high resolution is not so important for newsprint. Digital

cameras, which allow an image to be directly imported onto a computer

and downloaded to the picture desk via ISDN, are at the cutting edge of

photographic technology - but it is important to make the distinction

between digital images - taken on a digital camera - and digitised

images which have been taken on film and scanned into a computer.

Martin Spaven, picture editor at the People, is using more and more

digital pictures primarily because of the time savings: ’If I am getting

something from Yorkshire and have film couriered it can take up to a

day. I can have a digital image within an hour.’

According to Clive Howes, of photographic agency FNP: ’Most newspapers

are looking to go filmless. The Daily Mail spends a million pounds a

year on film without the cost of processing, so they could save pounds 2

million a year by going digital’.

However, PA’s head of syndication, Bridget Croker, warns: ’I think

agencies going only digital with digital cameras are ill-advised, unless

they are only interested in newspapers’.

This is exactly what Clive Howes was interested in when he launched FNP,

the first completely digital picture agency, a year ago. FNP has had 800

pictures published in the national press to date, and its three

photographers had 40 pictures printed in the Sunday press following the

funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Digitised images originally shot on film are a serious growth area with

products and services emerging to meet communications needs.

Corbis Corporation was founded in Washington in 1989 by Bill Gates to

take a piece of the digital media action. ’Corbis Corporation’s raison

d’etre is the digital market,’ says general manager Martin Ellis.

Searching for an image takes seconds with its archive system, and

clients can be sent selections on CD-ROM or ISDN more quickly than via

most traditional libraries.

Despite more than 50 per cent of their clients still wanting pictures in

print form, Ellis points out that two years ago very few were able to

take pictures digitally and believes that in three years’ time the

majority will be on-line. ’Print will not die, but it will definitely

move into the minority,’ he says.

Two of the newest products on the market are and PA’s

PixElect. runs on software, which is distributed to journalists free of

charge, while PixElect uses PA’s dial-in ’bulletin board’ system which

distributes pictures to the UK press.

The benefit of both services is that pictures are made instantly

available to picture editors, saving time and the expense of manual


Companies can also store corporate identities and their full range of

visual material on the system. British Airways, for example, used

PixElect to distribute images for the launch of its new identity.

Clients get regular reports showing exactly who has downloaded what

image when, and clients can collect reports hourly if they need to

monitor a day’s news story.’s statistical report on Twentieth Century Fox’s blockbuster

The Full Monty makes impressive reading, showing that over 200

publications downloaded images in the two-week preview period, ranging

from the Bath Chronicle to the Face and the Big Issue.

While these products position themselves as an alternative to

traditional photolibraries such as Tony Stone and Image Bank, these are

also embracing digital technology.

Image Bank, which is owned by Kodak, bought Picture Network

International last month, which will serve as a digital distribution

network throughout the world carrying images from Image Bank and other

photo libraries. Managing director Mark Cass says that the company is

also working on digitising everything including its film, stills and

moving footage.

And Getty Communications - which owns Tony Stone Images and Hulton Getty

- has just snapped up PhotoDisc, which supplies images on CD-ROM, giving

Getty a digital distribution network under the new company name Getty

Images. As far as creating digital pictures is concerned, Tony Stone set

up a digital design team two years ago to experiment with creating new

digital images from scratch or by fusing digital technology with classic


Not all photolibraries are as fast to move to digitisation, however.

Robert Harding is one who is being more cautious. His picture library

was originally established to service publishers but now does about 50

per cent of its work for advertisers and designers.

’We are working on a new corporate identity and investing in ISDN, but

we haven’t upgraded before now because our clients do not have the


At least 95 per cent still want hard print - that is where the market is

at the moment. We send out CD-ROMs and catalogues, and for every one

image sold via CD-ROM we sell 500 from the catalogue. We are getting

calls now for ISDN, but that’s nearly all from newspapers.’

Harding points out that the costs involved in digitising a library of

two million pictures would be enormous. The smaller specialist picture

providers and charities are largely unable to afford to go digital.

Friends of the Earth, for example, scans in transparencies itself for

use in its campaign materials, web site and quarterly newsletter. It

does not have an ISDN facility, however, and therefore cannot provide

sufficiently good quality images digitally.

The Ministry of Defence is among several large organisations which have

opted to employ an agency to set up a digital library system for


It took on Image Data Systems (IDS) to centralise its archives and now

has 30,000 images on the system this year, and aims for a further 15,000

per year over the next two years. The MoD is also about to launch a new

’hot folder’ of news images on its system.

It appears, then, that print and digital technology will continue their

co-existence for a while yet. But, as the People’s Spaven says, content

always wins over other factors when choosing pictures: ’At the end of

the day you want that ideal picture and it doesn’t matter what it’s

taken on or how it’s delivered to you.’


Less than five per cent of news images are currently taken on digital

cameras. In sport, the biggest growth area, it may be between five and

ten per cent. The price of digital cameras is coming down and the

quality is improving. The compact types selling in the shops for around

pounds 200 produce an image that looks as if it has been taken off a


Professional quality models like the Nikon AP Kodak used by PA’s chief

photographer Adam Butler cost around pounds 10,000 but he believes they

will soon be reduced to around pounds 5,000, bringing them within reach

of freelance photographers.

He says that almost all the photographers trailing the general election

were using digital cameras: ’You had to in order to keep up. I did the

last election on film and it cost the office thousands to get people to

meet me at various points in the day. This time all the parties had put

the necessary equipment beside each seat in the bus so we were literally

transmitting pictures en route between photo opportunities.’

With a digital camera the photographer’s life is much easier. ’I don’t

have to warm the chemicals, process in a makeshift darkroom and scan in

the image before I send it down the phoneline,’ says Butler.

Freelance photographer Dean Hollowood, however, has no inclination to go

digital: ’I like being in the darkroom and playing. Things happen there

that you don’t expect and that’s part of the creative process.’ Paul

Wombell, director of the Photographers’ Gallery, held the first

exhibition about ’photovideo’ - photography and the future of

digitisation - in 1991. He believes that picture libraries are not about

to become obsolete.

’Photography has always existed alongside other media and one of the

reasons it will survive and has done for 150 years is technology. Film

won’t disappear in the same way that books won’t,’ he says.


The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, was undoubtedly the biggest

photocall in history and speed and quality of pictures were vital.

The Press Association used 30 photographers to cover the event, three of

whom used digital cameras. The first pictures of the Princess’ cortege

were out on PA’s wires within 15 minutes of it leaving the palace gates,

thanks to a digital camera and a Macintosh computer in a nearby hotel

room. It would have been difficult for a runner to get through the

crowds to a photographer to pick up film at that time.

PA’s head of syndication, Bridget Croker, worked round-the-clock with a

team of a dozen people when the crash news broke in the early hours of

Sunday morning. On the day of the funeral she left the office at 3am

after sending images digitally around the world during the day.

’Every major magazine in the world has run our pictures - from Paris

Match to Australian Woman’s Day. However, if magazines have a choice

between a digital camera picture and one that is shot on traditional

film, they will still usually choose those shot on film,’ she says.

Newsweek waited the extra time it took to get the film version of the

picture of the procession through Hyde Park which they had by 10pm on

Saturday night.

PA’s chief photographer had one of the six prime positions opposite

Westminster Abbey. Head of news pictures, Martin Keane, took the

decision to put a film camera in that spot because he regarded it as too

important to opt for the poorer quality images of a digital camera.

He also wanted to have a permanent record of such a historic event,

bearing in mind the market for the onward sale of pictures which could

not be achieved with just one image captured on a PC.

On the day of the funeral, the Evening Standard was on newsstands by

12.30pm with a picture of the three princes looking over Diana’s


The picture had been taken on digital camera by an FNP photographer,

manipulated by Clive Howes and transmitted to the news desks within 15


When it comes to the coffee table version of what the media are

referring to as the most high-profile funeral in history, no digital

camera images will be used and pictures will probably be selected from

prints over a period of weeks, if not months.

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