Whilst redesigning this site, by far the least appealing part of the job has been going through old posts, adding pictures. To the uninitiated, this may seem like a relatively simple task – just find a photo and stick it in the top right-hand corner of the post, yes?
Alas, there’s a little more to it. There’s the slow churn through Photoshop, resizing a high resolution image so that it’s suitable for the web, then captioning, adding titles and descriptions and uploading through WordPress. It’s an annoyingly time-consuming fiddle.
I strongly suspect that anyone running a newspaper travel section, travel magazine or travel editorial website would admit that sourcing pictures is the most irritating part of their job. Very few publications these days will pay to send photographers out to take the required shots – one of the worst aspects of shrinking editorial budgets. That means the photos generally have to be sourced from image libraries – for those publications not too tight to pay for them – from the writers themselves or from whoever does the PR for the destination or attraction concerned.
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Why good writers aren’t good photographers
Good writers are not necessarily good photographers. It’s rare that you’ll find someone who is equally good at both skills. Many writers are adequate photographers, but they are two fundamentally different arts that often require being at a place at different times. A photographer, for example, wants to get that shot of a palace or castle at dawn or dusk when the light is best. A writer wants to be there during opening hours. The right photos, in other words, aren’t necessarily going to come from the writer – especially if they’ve not been briefed to get them in advance.
Sourcing ‘free’ pictures
What generally happens, therefore, is that begging emails go out to the relevant PRs to send pictures through. Some PRs are much better at this than others. In the ‘others’ category, you’ve got those who simply don’t respond, those who respond with images that are too small to print and those who require you to go through a convoluted registration process for a password-protected image library, then make separate applications each time you want to use a picture.
This is a horribly time-consuming process – and that’s before you’ve even downloaded the pics off the email/ website, put them in the correct format, captioned them and got them on the page.
There’s also a golden rule that if you need eight pictures, six of them will be fairly easy to get hold of after a bit of email tennis. The other two, though, will be ballbusters, requiring hours of chasing, explaining that the eventually provided pic isn’t suitable and messing around with ill-suited registration systems that need an approval from someone who only checks their notifications once a week.
Added fun for freelancers
That’s bad enough if you’re doing it in-house. Doing it as a freelancer requires extra levels of explanation, offers no access to the paid-for image libraries that the publication has a contract with and – once the pictures are finally collated – there’s the laborious, tedious process of sending a number of big files over to the publication.
In my experience, sourcing and sending pictures for an article takes at least as long as writing the article itself, and often twice as long. If I’ve agreed to provide a word and pictures package from the outset, then I’m going to make sure the sum reflects this.
“Could you just shoot over some pics?”
However, there seems to be a trend for writers being asked to source and provide images with no additional compensation. Worse still, it’s as if being asked to provide the images on top is a small, barely inconvenient favour. “The story will need ten images – it’s alright if you source them, yeah?” It as if those photographs will gather by osmosis while I’m typing; a natural by-product of doing the writing that I might as well send in the same email as the finished copy.
Let it be said for the record, oh wide world of publishing, that this is most definitely not OK. I’m not going to do your picture research for you in return for no money. And this is for exactly the same reasons that you don’t want to do it in the first place; it is an incredibly time-consuming and not even vaguely enjoyable job. It’s like asking someone on the check out whether they’d mind stacking the shelves at the same time as serving the customers given that they’re already in the supermarket.
It’s not just the photographers that are being cheated out of a job here, but specialist picture researchers too. And it’s about time the writers stood up and said “no” before it’s too late.