Photocalls… aaaargghhh!

On the day when several US wire services took the principled decision not to distribute images from the White House that they had not themselves taken I thought that the timing was right to resurrect one of my own opinion pieces which expresses how I, and many of my colleagues, feel about the pre-arranged photocall. At their very best they can provide useable photographs, but the rest of the time they merely offer up banal images. The question is…does it have to be this way?

Organising photocalls should be a separate profession, but it isn’t. Public relations firms seem to have the knack of setting up ridiculous tableaux with pointless props and “C” list celebrities whilst many companies have their own in-house marketing teams who try to shoehorn as many executives in grey suits into a photograph as possible.

No matter how many of the assembled highly skilled and hugely experienced professional photographers tell the PRs that their idea of a photograph will never make it into their newspapers, the PR people still seem to make it a matter of pride to stop us getting good pictures.

Just when you think it couldn’t become more farcical they hand out the press releases. Many of these documents weigh more than a decent SLR (lens included) and a large photocall may well account for a couple of trees (branches included). How many times do we have to tell the PR people that a single sheet of paper with the relevant names and a one paragraph summary of the event would be a lot more desirable? (and environmentally friendly!). These days the release could even be on a USB memory stick or even passed around by bluetooth, which goes even further to reduce the carbon footprint of the event.

In these days of digital photography and laptops you would think that they would at least organize a bit of space so that some of us could use it to acquire and send our pictures – maybe even lay on some wi-fi. Apparently what is actually needed is some fatty canapes, white tablecloths and wine at 11am. We would really appreciate some thought about parking (not plentiful in London) and rapidly approaching deadlines, but the PR would rather fuss about name badges and being seen to be working hard trying to accommodate some obscure request from someone with little or no need to be there. PRs – get your priorities right!

So, if you are organizing a photocall soon here are some tips:

  • Make sure that the photocall notice is issued in good time and doesn’t make inflated claims about what is on offer.
  • Organize parking or make it clear where the nearest public parking can be found.
  • Keep any signs and logos to a minimum – if it doesn’t need to be there, get rid of it.
  • Welcome photographers and give them a run through of what might be likely to happen.
  • Listen to the constructive criticisms of experienced photographers who will suggest changes and improvements to your plans.
  • Make sure that the photographers are given enough time and space to do their jobs. Keep bystanders at bay and, if you have employed your own photographer, make sure that they allow the invited photographers priority.
  • Provide an accurate and concise press release – it could be on a USB flash stick to save paper and help photographers cut and paste correct spellings
  • Arrange space, power points and even wi-fi connections to enable photographers to file their images

Photocalls are the jobs that none of us want to be sent on. It need not be like that, but a small army of PRs out there seem determined to promote mediocrity and banality.

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