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5 Steps to Seeing Your Production Photos EVERYWHERE

09.21.10 | 3 Comments


CATEGORIES ideas, marketing, social media

(This photo was taken with a fancy rented underwater camera rig by Portland Center Stage photographer Owen Carey. Pictured is Kevin Reed as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard.)

Got your own great photo from your show? Don’t you want to see it EVERYWHERE? Read on.

Recently, The Royal Opera House sparked controversy by pitching a legal  fit when a blogger posted press images from their production on their blog without permission.

The reasoning? The images were the copyrighted intellectual property of the theater company and were not to be used, willy nilly, by non “official” sources.

The real subtext? A 30 year tradition of treating photos (and access to them) as one of the great un-spoken leverage points of traditional arts PR. “You want photos?” the PR person taunts, “You’ll have to run the gauntlet and go through me first.”

To be fair, much of this preciousness about photos starts with photographers and the theatrical unions, both of which have long-held contractual traditions relating to the copyright protections of an individual image, with rules and assumptions designed more for protecting artists and photographers’ rights than spreading the word about a show efficiently. Which makes sense, in a way. Until recently, a photo used to be an incredibly expensive thing to create, print and share.

They were precious commodities, and distributing them was a significant line item in an arts organization’s marketing budget.

These days, of course, it can be done free by any idiot with an iPhone.

But SHOULD it be done by any idiot with an iPhone?

Or do you risk seeing your precious work turned into a photoshopped nightmare on some dude’s poor taste comedy blog for the amusement of yokels who will never see your show?

And the truth is that for most smaller arts organizations, the lament is not, “why did this blogger use our photo without permission?” but rather, “WHY ISN’T ANYBODY USING OUR PHOTOS?”

We know that, while a picture may be worth 1000 words, when it comes to getting the word out about a show, a great photograph in the right place can be worth 1000 butts in seats– but only if the people writing about your work actually USE your photos. This is true whether its an article seen by thousands, a blog post seen by 100s or a Facebook post seen by an audience members 50 theater nerd friends- after all, those passionate Facebook friends can sometimes be your best WOM sales resource.

So is there a way to increase the use of your photos across all these media without compromising the intellectual property rights of your photographers and theater artists? Absolutely. It’s about having the right conversations with the right people and then using social media technology to your advantage- both in how your images get spread and how your artists copyrights get protected along the way.

Below please find a simple, 5 step strategy that even the smallest theater company can use to increase the amount of press their show gets by increasing the ease of access to their show photos.

Because the truth is, you can have it both ways: you can protect your photographers’ and artists’ rights (and the perceived image of your show) while getting the benefit of seeing your photos used more places and more effectively by simply:

1. Making better photos that are 2. easy to use (online and in print) and 3. hard to use badly.

“Ah, yes,” you say. “BUT HOW?”

1. Get Your Photographer on Board. You may have an existing contract with your photographer that spells out exactly what uses of your images are allowed. Or you may have no contract at all, because your ‘photographer’ is actually a staff member or ensemble member or friend of the “family.” To get better leverage out of your press photography, the first thing you need to do is sit down and get in agreement with your photographer that it will be in both of your interests to create images that are easier to distribute digitally. You’ll need your contract to specify that the images you purchase from them can be distributed digitally and used on social media sites– you may need to talk through a new cost structure for this, to ensure that your photographer doesn’t feel that the new system is lost revenue down the drain for them.

To balance out the new digital rights you’ll be requesting, build in assurances that you will do everything in your power to ensure that their photography credit will follow the image wherever it goes after it goes out in the world. If you have the capacity, explore options that allow your photographer to make more money off any prints of the photos, and create opportunities for them to market individual show prints to audience members and others, using your marketing materials as a starting point for them to advertise their services and work. Remind them that bloggers and Facebook fans are not a great potential revenue stream for them, but nostalgic audience members wanting a memento of the show very well can be.

    Then, get this new agreement in writing so that no one gets a nasty surprise later when an image turns up someplace unexpected.

    2. Create Images that Work in a Digital and Press Environment. Your pictures are useless to most  media outlets (online and in print) if they don’t:

    – Have a resolution of at least 300 dpi at a print size of 5″ X 7″. Don’t have a camera (or a photographer) that can give you that resolution? Get a new one. You are wasting your time otherwise. It’s that simple.

    – Don’t put any copy on the image, and DON’T send a poster image. You wouldn’t believe the number of “press photos” that get sent that are really just a pdf of the postcard with show name, dates, etc right over the image. They’re never ever going to print this. So don’t send it.

      – Have all the captioning information for the photograph accompanying the photograph everywhere you distribute it. If they can’t tell immediately who took the photo, who is in it, and what it is of, they will pass over your image in favor of one that has that info readily available. This is the most common mistake I see small companies make.

        Three Ways to Caption:

        Good: Title each .jpeg file with the photographer’s name, production, and actors pictured. Makes for a long title but keeps that crucial info right with the picture. Then include a word doc with every press release that lists expanded photo captions for each image, matching the caption on the listing to the name of the jpeg.

        Better: Embed a caption on the image itself by putting the image on a slightly larger canvas in Photoshop and writing the caption on the canvas, making the caption a permanent part of the image (that can still be cropped out easily by a designer).

        Best: Do all of the above, and, as an added security, include the caption information in the “metadata” of the image. This can be done through photoshop as well, under the “file info” tab. That way, no matter how the image gets cropped, the file will still have the caption following it wherever the image goes.

        Think about file size. The graphic designer wants BIG BIG BIG but the journalist will be massively annoyed if you overload her inbox with files that take up all the space on her hard drive. If your digital images are larger than 10 MB most e-mail servers will bounce them. I don’t actually recommend attaching photos (I’ll explain why in a minute) but if you must, be sure to keep the total size of all the photos you send under 10 MB.

        Provide versions that are prepped to be easily thrown into a blog post, email, or Facebook post. The major paper might need giant files for print, but the online media (and the journalists responsible for re-posting their article to the paper’s online version) don’t- they need images that are sized right to pop onto a page with the click of a mouse. Yes, many bloggers know how to open the photo and edit it down to the size and resolution they need. But they’re more likely to use the photos if you go ahead and save them the 5 minutes per image that takes.

          3.  Get Yourself a Flickr Account. This is hands down the easiest, most practical, most public way to share your press images. It’s also free (unless you want to spring for the small fee to have a Flickr Pro account). Why a Flickr account (vs. creating a page on your website to upload and download photos)? For starters, the technology is turn key (no testing your web designer’s technology on poor unsuspecting press folk), its robust, and most people already understand how to download a photo from Flickr. For each photo you post to your newfound Flickr account, do the following:

          – Add the photo to a “set” you’ve created that is specific to the production, and put all the basic information about that production (cast, designers, run dates etc) in the description box for that set.

          – Title the image with something simple and memorable to help people navigate quickly to the image they want.

          – Put the full caption information in the description field for the photo (another place to make sure the artists and photographer credits stay with the photo!) and include any fine print about usage restrictions.

          – Add “tags” that make the image more searchable- your company name, your community, the show title, actors who are in the show, etc.

            4. Put a Link to Your Flickr Account on Your Website. Often bloggers, especially audience members with personal blogs, will go straight to your website for information without directly contacting you. If they can find your photos easily without having to pick up the phone you are much more likely to see those photos get used. You can place the link on your “home page,” your “newsroom” page, the show page or, for best results, in all three places.

            5. Include the Link on EVERY Communication You Have with a Member of the Press. Don’t make them dig back through old emails to find the link to your photos. Include the link every time. Will they prefer a link to a series of photo attachments? Most writers I’ve talked to have said emphatically YES- it doesn’t junk up their inbox with a bunch of attachments they’re just going to forward to the art department anyway, and, crucially, it helps your email escape their automatic spam filters, which tend to reject emails with big attachments.

            It  goes without saying that once you have this link available, you should also post it to your Facebook page, your Twitter profile, and include the link in your promotional email about the show (a link to photos is usually the most popular click through on an email… even more popular than the “buy now” link).

            Of course, you can do all of this, but if your photos are pictures of actors in rehearsal togs staring at each other with their scripts in their hands, they won’t get used no matter HOW high res they are. But that… well that’s a topic for another post.

            How do you currently distribute your press photos? Got any other quick and painless tips and tools for getting them created and distributed? Do tell.

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            • One of my closest friends is a highly-regarded, much-sought-after theater photographer — the best-known and most-often-hired photographer in the city in which he lives. He shoots for virtually every theater in town… and it’s a major town we’re talking about. I have a feeling that if I were a theater and I tried to discuss #1 with him, he’d be willing to entertain the conversation, but his thoughts about increased compensation would make it a difficult chat. (I will in fact email him a link to this post to see whether he cares to comment.)

              What I wonder, then, is whether there aren’t other ways to entice photographers to get on board. Is there an argument to be made that it would be good for them in some non-monetary way?

              • If your photographer’s not on staff, then offer a great big ad in every program for every show. That puts their work before a targeted audience that now knows and presumably likes their work. “Hey, it’s the photographer who made the awesome poster for this show!”

                It’s worked a little here with our photographer. (Granted, I’m married to our photographer, but still…) She considers her time on Riverrun projects as a “work for prints” situation, or pure advertising.

                If you can say “your work will be in front of every person who sits in a seat in our building,” that’s a very good thing. If you have gallery space that can be given over to a show of their work during a busy theatre season, even better. Play up your connection with your photographer, highlight them as part of the theatre’s family, and your patrons will have that much more reason to hire them for outside work.

            • Trisha Mead

              The argument is twofold, I think, and I agree that it is delicate.

              The first is just what each of you have pointed out- are there other ways you can help them use the photography they do for you as an advertising opportunity?

              The second is that, given the dramatic changes of the last 3 years in how media works, the images they provide have dramatically less utility for the organization if they cannot be shared digitally (and as a corollary to that, the reality that there’s no evidence that online media will pay for images when they can just as easily cover something else where the images are free- so the restriction is not actually a revenue generator anymore. It’s a restriction that potentially loses money for the theater without raising money for the photographer.

              But in my experience the core issue for many photographers is how their photos will be handled by a wider audience- respectfully and with appropriate crediting. Be vigilant about assuring that the photos are used respectfully and captioned well wherever they pop up and you can alleviate much of the concern. It takes time to shift the paradigm, but its a shift worth making for all involved, I think.


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