Flaming good luck

As a corporate and press photographer it’s not always possible to predict what will happen on any given day and last Tuesday was one of those days when a very welcome surprise dropped into my lap.

I’d woken up thinking my regular Tuesday networking meeting would be followed by admin and blog-writing, there being no bookings on the diary that day. However one regular client had other plans for me.

The Olympic torch relay was setting off from University of Bath for the city’s leg of the torch journey, and it just happened that the university’s staff photographer had been taken ill. I got an early call during my meeting asking if I could cover at the last minute.

I didn’t need to be asked twice. I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of the procession as it passed through Frome, but to be given the chance of a paid commission to cover the event setting off from Bath was too good to miss.

Even on days when I’m not expecting a last-minute call I take the core of my kit in the car when I leave home, and on this occasion I already had most of what I needed with me. I just had to pop home for my 80-200mm f2.8 lens and slap on some sun cream (nothing worse that standing around in the baking sun waiting for an event to happen and slowly getting sunburn).

I arrived well ahead of the event for a briefing session and was told the one shot the University really needed was a torch-bearer in front of the sign at the campus entrance. This wasn’t a shot I could set up because you can’t just dive in and interrupt the procession, so it was a case of keeping nimble and thinking fast.

The shot very nearly didn’t happen. The sponsors’ buses came through, then there was a gap and I could tell the torch bearer was coming up the driveway because of the crowd reaction. What I hadn’t quite anticipated was a socking great press truck which had to turn slowly at the junction where I was positioned, the only point at which I could get bearer and sign in one frame, which blocked my view of the bearer at the crucial moment. I had to think and move fast.

Olympic relay torch handover at University of Bath

Olympic Torch Relay sets off from University of Bath. Torch bearer Fay Hollister passes the flame to David Malough as the procession leaves University of Bath Claverton Down campus.

The frame you see here is one of only 4 I had time to grab before the changeover was done and dusted and my chance to get THE shot gone forever. I’d have liked a better view of the sign with fewer Met police runners blocking things up, but there’s only so much you can achieve in about 15 seconds.

Need a press photographer?

children carrying yellow pages

Names (left to right) and reason for the photo are essential IPTC information.

Don’t go looking through the plumbers section of the Yellow Pages then.

Well, that’s an easy lesson to remember, but where it gets trickier is when you search for a press photographer and you come across dozens of on-line listings for photographers who claim to do press work, but have no experience or training in the field whatsoever.

Some will be primarily wedding photographers, others will be studio and portrait photographers, but the question to ask is, “do they have a press background?” This is easily checked because they should be able to tell you where they trained and which paper or agency trained them.

You might just want a photographer to cover an event for you for PR or to set up some one-off PR images, but unless the photographer actually knows what local, regional, national or even trade press want, you could be wasting your time and money.

It isn’t just about style either. Many wedding photographers talk of offering “reportage style” photography in their wedding packages, but that’s not the same as newspaper or reportage coverage of an event destined for a journalist’s in-box.

One common error amongst the un-trained photographers doing press work is to forget to take suitable captions to go with the photo, so the desk won’t know who is in the photo, which names belong to which faces, where the event happened, why it happened… everything the desk needs to be able to use the photo.

Non-press photographers aren’t au fait with things like technical requirements either. File size is a big bugbear of many journalists as they’re either sent files which are far too small to be publishable, or the files are so huge they crash the paper’s entire email system. Not a good way to win positive press coverage.

Sometimes using someone not familiar with press best practices or even trained in relevant areas of law (as all trained photo-journalists are) can be downright foolhardy. Sometimes photographers need to know the law in order to be able to stand their ground and get the job done in the face of a belligerent jobsworth, and other times they need to know what the limits of legality are in order to avoid committing an offence. You don’t want your PR job to miss deadline because the photographer has stepped out of line and ended up in the back of a police van. You equally don’t want your published PR photo to land you in trouble over some inadvertent defamation. This too could backfire into very negative PR.

It’s a simple message this week. Press photography is a distinct and separate discipline, and not best carried out by just anyone with a camera. You’re spending money on PR, so spend it wisely and get great results, safely.