Don’t be the bird that swallows the plate.

I’m a huge fan of Black Adder, and there are many hilariously memorable scenes, but the one which springs to mind as I write this week’s article is in Black Adder II when Percy enters Black Adder’s chamber wearing an outrageously large neck rough. On seeing it Black Adder remarks that Percy “looks like a bird who’s swallowed a plate!”

Why is this relevant to anything I have to say about photography? Well it’s simple really, dear reader; When a business plans its photography in small, manageable chunks throughout the year it can cope with getting what it needs without too much drama, but leave it for a year, two years, five years, and the project becomes rather like a bird swallowing a plate. Trying to ingest the ingestible, and risking some kind of injury in the process.

I’ve said before that photography should be treated as part of the over-all marketing plan, not as part of the web budget, because photos can be used in print as well as web. Try printing a website as a brochure, and you’ll start to understand what I mean – they’re separate budgets within the over all marketing budget.

By keeping your photography fresh and up-to-date you might very well spend a little more over time, but at least you won’t have a colossal expenditure to make in one go if you’re trying to start from scratch, having neglected the photography for some years. And since business people like to say “cash is king,” doesn’t it make sense to make smaller investments that add up to a solid image library than to trying to buy your entire photo library in one huge gulp?

So keep headshots up to date regularly, don’t wait until there’s a week’s worth to be shot unless you’re prepared for the cost. Keep on top of product, site, process and PR images. Consider planning a shoot every three months (or whatever suits best, so long as it’s regular). Or at the very least, review what you have and what you need on a quarterly basis.

espresso cup and small change

You’re buying the coffee, not the cafe. Buy in stages and don’t insist on all copyright.

To extend the subject a little, think more carefully about the image rights you need. Consider restricting your requirements to (for example) a three-year time limit. Certainly avoid all-rights or full copyright buyouts as it’s extremely rare for a business to actually require these rights, and most sensible photographers will charge more if you demand full copyright because they’ll assume you wish to allow other businesses use of your images, when the photographer might reasonably expect to be able to re-licence the images to those third-parties (with your permission, of course).

Certainly it’s normal for editorial images to be bought on licences that are limited by print run, territory/language and duration of use. Commercial images tend to be sold on wider licences, but limits can help in the negotiation process and you can always top-up the licence later.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here, or have a favourite Black Adder scene, feel free to comment below.

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  • Ken of London August 10, 2011  

    I see a world made of turnips ………………..

    I have a plan so cunning …………………..

    I have just read through your blog a few times and I couldn’t help but think the whole subject of commercial photography is unnecessarily complicated, it should be far simpler. I guess this is why people went to image libraries in the first place because they offered simplicity, immediacy, varied quality and lower cost

    Then I guess the Stock people got greedy and messed with the formula leading to quality photographers dropping out so the punters where left with banal junk. Which has made them come back to engaging commercial photographers again who carry the complexities of individuality, personal service, professional quality and higher cost.

    Any business that only looks at the cost rather than the benefits will ultimately lose out to their competitors who have a long view of investment in all facets of their business.

    As for the complexities of the photography world, well get to know your photographer, use them regularly and things become far less complicated and a lot more fun.


    • Glass Eye August 16, 2011  

      More cunning than a very cunning thing.

      Commercial and editorial can seem complicated. Really it just requires clarity and honesty. The rest is simple (ish). I’ve simplified my licensing a lot because I’m mostly dealing with people untrained in the imaging industry, and because their needs tend to be regional rather than national/international and the images tend to have a shelf life of about 3 years. If they’re still using the same images beyond that, apart from special circumstances they’ll not be doing themselves any favours and need to consider a new shoot. It all works out in the end.

      Apologies for tardy reply, I actually did take a short holiday this time. Just catching up now.

      All the best


      • Ken of London August 16, 2011  

        A holiday?! I see narcissism has crept into your personal style then 😉

        • Glass Eye August 16, 2011  

          Yep. Six days looking at rain in co Durham. It’s all “me me me” isn’t it! 😀