Bringing It into Focus
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Crediting the Great Photographers Who Make Artists Look Great
THERE have been a few occasions over...
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the past few weeks where photography and accreditation has been thrust into my world. A couple of weeks back, rather randomly, I was approached via email by someone who stated I used his photograph for an article. To be fair, I did, and it was years ago. I shall not name him or the article but it was a shot of a band I found on Google that I needed to fill a space. I was looking around to see who took the photo and, although the shot appeared on a few different pages/blogs I could not find the name of the credited photographer. Of course, like every shot I use, I always try and find a name that I can credit and make sure that I do not let that slip. On this occasion, it was difficult to do so I just labelled it, I think, ‘Getty Images’ – it seemed like a press shot and, if I could find a name later, I would add it in. I had been warned by some that photographers are pretty protective and many can get quite angry when it comes to this sort of thing. Suffice to say, the email(s) I received were not that warm and, actually, legal action was threatened – the man, as he said, decided not to do that as he was a nice guy (that slipped me by!). I could appreciate his point regarding his work: if you use someone’s photo then you need to ask or pay for it.
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He kept going on about me stealing from him and it was like I was taking cash from his wallet. The fact I do not earn money from anything I publish means I would not have been making money and, if I asked for permissions for a non-commercial publication, it would be unfair to charge me to pay for a single photo like that. That particular arse-wipe was a bit of an anomaly when it comes to photographers. Another time, last week, I was sitting in a coffee shop right next to BBC’s Broadcasting House and I heard a group of photographers talk about companies like British Airways using their photos without permission. This one bloke was particularly vocal about the matter and how they did not approach him regarding commercial release; he would have provided a fee estimate and worked that out. He was pretty passionate about his corner and I could agree with him. If you have a big organisation that is using photos for big campaigns and making money from it then it seems unfair that they would take it for free. I do not know how that issue was resolved but I think there was some sort of challenge. Most of the interactions I have had with photographers has been pretty positive. In a lot of cases, they will email me a link to their website and ask that it be added.
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I always look for this but, on some occasions, I just include the name of a photographer without linking through to their website – that is my bad. They are happy for a shot to be used because it gives them more exposure and brings people their way. It is heartwarming when they are pretty tolerant and nice and, in fact, we all just want to make great work and give credit where it is due. I would be a bit annoyed if someone used my words to sell a product and made money but, if there was any other situation, that would be okay. Unless it was libellous or offensive, it would be great to see my words used elsewhere. The angry photographer, when emailing, suggested – in a rather snarky way – that I take my own photos and I would not run into situations. It is impossible for journalists to publish pieces and take their own photos. We rely on these professional shots for our work and, of course, cannot afford to do it ourselves – nor do we have the skills or time to go photo every artist we interview (in many cases, a lot of photos are about older acts and it is impossible to snap them). I can understand the fervour and anger when photos are used either uncredited or unpaid but most people do not do it deliberately – I always endeavour to give credit and make sure I am not ripping people off.
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I have an enormous amount of respect for music photographers because they are the unsung heroes of the industry. Look at all the great shots out there and it is amazing to see how many timeless and eye-opening examples there are. Whether capturing a unique live moment or creating these ornate and cool portraits, the photographer is an essential cog in the music machine. Were it not for them then music would be so much duller and many artists would not get as far as they have. I see so many big websites not credited photographers and, whilst it is wrong of them, it makes me think about my situation. It is unreasonable and impossible for me to pay for every photo I use – as I use hundreds every month – but making sure that, where possible, photographers are credited is key. If I worked in a business where we profited from these images then I would make sure, in every case, photographers were being paid: it is not feasible for smaller blogs and people like me to stump that up and do this. I do agree, to a degree, with the angry photographers who are doing this hard work and then not getting credit. Think about the other side and journalists who never get paid and are trying to make this great work. They are never willingly looking to fleece anyone but, at the same time, everyone needs to respect that representation and credit is required. To be fair, I have only ever faced a few photographers in the last seven years and most are very nice.
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As I said, most are looking to have their work spread and they want more people to see what they do – having their images on other sites allows people to do that. I do think that we overlook photographers and assume that they are inessential in these times of Instagram. Everyone can take their own shots and, every day, we see an ocean of images uploaded to social media. There is a big difference between those amateur snappers who can put a filter on something and call it a photo and those who have dedicated their careers to capturing the finest shots around. Whether they are a newcomer photographer or work for a big publication, I am always stunned by the quality I see. I think, the more we can take photos easily, the less they are valued. So many people think that photographers are not required but look at the quality and imagination they bring and tell me that! Whether it is a booked shoot or someone takes photos at a gig, the process and expense is obvious. The photographer has their great gear – that costs many and is not cheap – and then they need to pay for travel and, a lot of times, tickets for the gig. They need to then take a few shots to get that perfect one and, after that, edit and post it online.
It is a long process and one that costs them money – I do wonder how much profit there is when it comes to being a photographer. Consider all the realities then one can understand why there is frustration when someone sort of pinches their images. It is a hard situation because, on the one hand, you do not want to deny anyone credit and money but, again, there is an absolute need to use images and journalists cannot be without them. More often than not, when I have emailed a photographer asking for permission, they never respond. Once or twice, I contact them on Twitter and might get a response but it is often very hard. Most photographer are very gracious and nice so, if you are unsure, contact them and say what you are doing and whether it is okay to use an image – they are very warm and just want their work credited. I always look to hunt down the source and ensure that I give credit. The music industry is in a bad place and, with venues closing and everyone being able to take photos, one wonders how easy it is for photographers to thrive. I do not make any money from my work and wonder, with so little money available via advertising, how it is possible to sustain and be ambitious.
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I have nothing but respect and solidarity for all the great photographers who make musicians come alive and reveal new sides. There are great articles that explore the relationship between photography and art; how some are professional and, to others, music photography is a hobby. In any case, we must ensure that all the fine work is given credit and, going forward, bring into focus how easy it is to use images. I am always uncomfortable when I cannot find a credit but, knowing how good the shot is, feel compelled to use it. It does bother me but there are endless sites and portals where one can get the same image and it seems like a bit of an impossible situation. I am not suggesting we go as far as making sure every image posted online is posted via a website where it gives credit and provides contact details of the photographer – you need to either credit them or contact them first. I have seen some pretty big sites not provide adequate credit so I feel like some system needs to come in.
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If in doubt – and there is no credit – then track down the photographer and send them a quick email. Most do not charge and, for the most part as I said, they are all very nice. I endeavour to be as ethical and responsible as I possibly can and I know full well how hard it is to succeed and profit in an industry when so much is being given away. I feel that pinch so, if the boot were on the other foot, then I would be displeased. If you need a great photo for free then there are sites like Unsplash - https://unsplash.com/ - where you can grab them. This is the site I have used for the images for this piece and alongside each image there is a credit (making it nice and easy). If you have read this and feel that photography is a challenge and a harsh career then do not fear. It is a great medium and such a rewarding path. It is hard to make money at first but I know so many photographers who started on humble ground and are now taking images for some huge musicians. It is a great profession and one where you can reveal new sides to an artist. That sense of achievement is immense and you can make a good living from it. These are difficult times for everyone so I can appreciate frustration that comes from photographers when their images are used and we do not name-check them.
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I am minded to be more conscientious and aware but, going forward, what happens when there is a perfect image and I cannot find a name for?! The smart thing to do is to leave it but it worries me that there are so many shots being shared and, at no point, is anyone credited. I have seen the same happen for articles and features: someone will quote from someone else and not say who; hog the credit themselves and lift someone’s words. At the end of things, photographers are as important as anyone in music and they do sterling work. I love seeing all the hot new photographers emerging and how brilliant their work is. Without them, journalism would be poorer and we need to start respecting that. The odd brutal and unpleasant communication from a photographer seems like a small hit if it makes people like me more aware of what their lives are like. Similarly, nobody is trying to steal and be sneaky: we are all putting out work and doing our best to make sure we do not under-cut and steal. My features and interviews would not be the same were it not for the fantastic photographers who provide these rare and extraordinary snaps! They do brilliant work so let’s make sure we give them credit where it’s due. Think about all the great photos out there of established, iconic and newcomer artists and wonder where the music industry would be...
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