Tag Archives: advice

Pressing A Button Is Not Photography

I went to see Salvador in the cinema, in 1986 or 87.


If you haven’t seen it, it’s about photojournalists covering the civil war in Salvador. Highly recommend you watch it! Also, there’s a spoiler coming up, so if you’re going to see it, stop reading, now and return once you’ve seen the film!!

In the film, the main protagonist is a photojournalist played by James Woods. As he’s trying to leave El Salvador to get back to the States, he’s stopped at a check point and roughed up. He was trying to smuggle out films of the civil war and these ‘soldiers’ find the films and rip out the film from the cassette, ruining the pictures.

As this happens, I jumped out of my seat and screamed out ‘NO’! To say my friends were shocked (all non photographers) and the audience most concerned, would be an understatement. My eyes were filled with tears and my heart was pounding. I had been a hobbyist photographer for around two years and this was roughly two years before I started working as a photojournalist. Having dedicated every penny to buying film and every spare minute to reading about and looking at great photography, already brought a deep association with important, quality work.

As photographers, we have a very deep connection to our work. It’s part of us. Its not a job.

The Less Than Thoughtful Client

I had a client a year or two ago, really trying to low ball some work and massively over play the usage, well above the license agreed and paid for. The response during the ensuing discussions, was “its nothing personal, its just work”!

I’ve had clients, trying to con me into giving away copyright, accept very low pay for it, with the almost definite lies of more work in the future (Which never appears. A cheap or dishonest client never steps up and each time one of us accepts such a deal, it affects everyone else after us and for us, the client will never return. The entire industry takes another step towards ruin). Unprofessionalism and dishonesty, never right themselves. Every time we give in, we encourage and enforce this behaviour as being acceptable.

So the concept of a truly passionate, dedicated creative professional looking at their calling in life, be it photography, film making, music, poetry, writing and so on, being ‘just a job’, goes to show extreme ignorance in understanding what we do, how we think and how we are.

Long term partnerships nurture amazing work, which in turn makes the person booking the creative work look great and retain their client or job. Happy boss / client, happy middle person and happy creative.

The sad fact that more and more, only cutting corners seems to matter, even be a priority and quality of work is no longer an issue for these types of people, means that society’s appreciation of quality is diminishing. Quality and thought can be in a great advert. It can be an Instagram campaign. A Facebook sponsored post. A point of sale poster in a shop. The client pays, the middle person takes the biggest cut, the actual creative making the work, gets cheated.

A few years ago, I had a huge multi-national company trying to get me to work for free, as they felt paying for my vision, creativity, experience, time and skill, would pollute the purity of the work and this brand only wanted to work with truly passionate people who believe in the brand. My response to this person was in the form of a compliment; praising that they seemed extremely passionate and dedicated, so I was certain they must be working for free. Needless to say, this was met with astonished silence.

Just because someone can push a button and accepts being conned, does not make them a pianist, a writer or a photographer. No one who truly cares for their work, will disrespect their own creation and devalue it.

Some Advice For Young Photographers

If you’re new to the world of photography, my first piece of advice is to research and never agree to a fee or license on the spot. Most dishonest clients will try the line that they’re right up against the deadline etc. This is a pressurising technique. Promise of more work as there’s a low budget, is also a trick. When faced with such things, I always promise to do an amazing deal on the fifth booking. This type of client never comes back for a second booking, let alone a fifth, as they are purely out to take advantage.

As for rates and what to charge, there are various licensing calculators, like fotoQuote or the AOP’s online usage calculator. These are complied from prices paid, for similar work and an agreement between clients and photographers. These are industry standard rates. You can use these as a basis to either quote directly from, or to negotiate near to figures. If your skill and work is unique, you can negotiate upwards, for example. There are also several photographer’s groups online, where advice can be garnered before making an agreement.

Copyright. This is yours by law. Its not the client’s. If a client wants a buyout, this can be arranged and negotiated. Never give this away for free. Ever.

Value your work and that of the industry.

A Note To Editors, Publishers And Newspaper Owners

How To Succeed In The Newspaper Industry

It’s alarming to see in recent years the closure of photographic departments (e.g. the Chicago Sun Times and countless weekly local papers) and the way great photography is cut from once brilliant newspapers. If someone with no understanding of newspapers, or business generally, wants to cut costs and increase profitability, the simple and easy thing to do is get rid of what costs the most; often this is the photographic department. The reasons are simple; camera gear and computer gear, including software, is expensive and sending photographers all over the country and the world accumulates in cost. After all, unlike journalists who can work many thousands of miles from a story, rewriting press releases or doing interviews over the phone, the photographer has to be there, in person. This is one of the aspects which makes photography the truest form of journalism; you can’t photograph what you can’t witnessA photograph is the only unaltered truth from a story.

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama.  Karl Court & Andrew Parsons in the press area. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama. Carl Court & Andrew Parsons in the press area. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

So, easy, let’s cut out or cut down the photography department and use user generated content; a big mistake; putting aside that often these are aesthetically weak and do not communicate the story, the source of the imagery is also unknown and therefore cannot be trusted. A good and unfortunate example is the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing where the Police were chasing the wrong suspects as they were led astray by “citizen journalists”. The other option is of course to use the wire services; excellent agencies like AP are journalistically, ethically and morally sound, often producing great content. Only problem is, this content’s available to all your competitors, blogs (both proper or run by individuals as a glorified hobby) and available for free on search engines.

There is also the option of giving iPhones to the reporters; after all, anybody can take a picture, right? Wrong! Many more people write than take photographs, so by this frankly idiotic reasoning, newspapers should certainly get rid of all writers as well.

Anyone can take a picture; just as anyone can write a word, sing a song, write a poem, paint a painting, run, jump, kick a ball, make a paper aeroplane; it doesn’t mean that they can do these things well, let alone properly and at a high level. It certainly doesn’t make these people photographers, journalists, singers, poets, artists, athletes, professional footballers or aeronautical designers and engineers. When it comes to things journalistic, a level of trust is needed as it’s important to get the facts right, be they in words or in pictures. Relying on pictures from bystanders (even if the term Citizen Journalist has come about, it doesn’t mean bystanders have the first idea about journalistic practice, value or ethics) and publishing these is a tragic mistake for all the various reasons outlined.

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama.  Photographers setting up remote cameras in order to get a second angle to their shooting positions. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

State visit to Britain by US President Barack Obama. Photographers setting up remote cameras in order to get a second angle to their shooting positions. Downing Street, London. May 25, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

At this point, you’ve ruined the quality of your newspaper and at best made it generic and at worst made it awful. Content is king. At this point, any businessman will tell you that you never mess with the essence of your product; you product is what keeps the company afloat. Give the consumer a reason not buy your product and they will stop buying. Loads of options there on the free market. Result? Your sales go down, advertisers at first barter for cheaper rates and then stop advertising. Your newspaper fails and closes. Whoops.

Look at the Daily Mail website and how astonishingly popular it is; ask yourselves why? Is it because many millions like to read the paper’s occasional almost racist stance on things or is it because the paper’s web presence has embraced photography and publishes the best photography available, daily, and thus pushes up it’s visitor numbers and has elevated the website to being one of the most popular in the world, often overtaking the NY Times? Clearly, it’s not the writing, it’s the power of photography.

So, “How To Succeed”. Dear editor, publisher or newspaper owner, people are moved by great photography. It catches their eye on the news stand and online and attracts them to your paper and the story. People never remember a great article they read months ago or a great piece of video footage from years ago. They will however remember pictures they saw decades ago. This is how a human being’s mind works and as this is your target audience, you should pay attention to the power of great photography and the effect it has. Just because you see great iPhone pictures produced by professional photographers, it doesn’t mean giving your reporters an iPhone is going to bring similar results. Just as a keyboard doesn’t make people award winning writers and a pot doesn’t make everyone a Michelin Star chef, a camera (be it a Leica, Canon, Olympus or an iPhone) doesn’t make everyone a photographer.

BRITAIN MANDELA 90TH BIRTHDAY CONCERT

In it’s day, The Independent was a great paper. It ran powerful, intelligent photography. They saved costs, got rid of the country’s best photographers. Now look at what the paper’s turned into; such a shame, such a waste. Realise that great photography and writing go hand in hand; marry this with great design and you have a winning formula.

This philosophy applies to local weekly, regional, evening, and national papers. Respect your readership and give them good material and they will stay true to you.

Now, go and hire some great photographers, produce a great newspaper, win awards, be proud, sell loads of copies, get many hits on your website, sell adverts and make your many, many millions.

Addendum:

As if proof were needed: The Chicago Sun-Times has now hired back four of the photographers it fired. Good to see that eventually they came to their senses (probably spurred on by a loss in advertising revenue) and realised what a vital role quality and journalistically accurate photography plays in a newspaper. More HERE