This week’s blog is written by Steve Phillips, picture editor at the South Wales Evening Post. Steve is also an NCTJ chief examiner for press photography and photojournalism and chairman of the NCTJ photography board.
Famously in the old BT adverts from the 80s, Beattie, played by Maureen Lipman declared: “An ology! He gets an ology and he says he’s failed. You get an ology, you’re a scientist!” There are now millions of people carrying cameras with them every day but does that make them photographers?
In the digital world everyone can instantly take photographs with mobiles, i-pads, compact cameras and even reasonably priced digital SLR’s which have lots of aids to make sure your pictures are sharp and perfectly exposed. They can be published immediately onto social media websites and shared with the world.
So are press photographers relevant anymore? I would argue they are more relevant than ever. But then I would, I am a picture editor. Whilst I see the occasional excellent submitted picture form so called citizen journalists, I also see a huge number of poorly composed, badly exposed and out of focus pictures which sadly are only fit for the recycle bin.
Yes there are more pictures media organizations can use from the public, but if I filled our newspaper with submitted pictures we would find our readers would quickly reject it. With all the competition out there newspapers need great front page pictures and eye catching pictures to show off their inside pages more than ever to grab reader’s attention.
There is still room for pictures that jump off a page and demand the accompanying story must be read. We also still need to be able to turn out creative eye catching pictures from that WI cheque presentation and not bore our readers to death with mediocrity.
The recession has hit our industry badly and there are certainly less staff press photographers around now than five years ago. That’s one of the reasons the NCTJ introduced a photography module for journalists on its Diploma in Journalism. It is aimed at giving reporters the basic skills to get a useable picture if there is not a photographer around. But reporters will never be a substitute for press photographers and nor do they want to be. As in life some can take great pictures, the majority cannot.
I get some passable sports pictures, but there is no way I could rely on the public to fill our sports pages with cracking shots from a top football or rugby match. Shots which create the essence of a match and portray the critical moment the game turned on a tackle or superb bit of skill. Then there is photographing people outside court. It’s difficult enough for us professionals to get it right sometimes.
So, in my humble opinion, NCTJ trained press photographers are vital to the industry but we must and are moving with the times. Aspiring press photographers have been trained on how to shoot good quality videos for the last five years. Our aim is that they leave their courses legally sound, knowing how to produce rich content such as videos, slideshows and blogs for websites, accurate captions and with an awareness of how to use social media to promote the products they work on.
We encourage them to write extended captions which can be dropped onto a page with a picture and even do some writing. It is vital the ways things are going that photographers are as multi skilled and as valuable to their organizations as possible. The web is a huge opportunity for the visually skilled to express themselves and press photographers should embrace the opportunities it brings.
We live in a visual world and increasingly sophisticated consumers can easily differentiate between the plain bad, mediocre and the excellent. As we move ever deeper into this digital journey it is vital news organizations have the best still and moving images to stand out from the crowd. Press photographers provide this excellence. We may be an expensive commodity but we are worth it.