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NUJ photographers' and videographers' summit 2017

14 February 2017

It was a day for journalists who work with images – photographers, videographers and others – to come together to share professional knowledge and expertise and network.

The vast majority of photographers are freelance and the day represented an opportunity to discuss collectively the issues and concerns in the industry. A motion at Delegate Meeting had called for a summit to discuss the current situation: one where staff photographers are becoming an endangered species; a world of internet publishing with a careless attitude to copyright; and the need for photographers to diversify their talents and create new markets.

If there was one strong message that came out of the day it was that people value and can be persuaded to pay for news they can trust.

There was also a tip on how to make almost £17,000 without taking another picture.

Alastair Good created the first video journalism unit at a UK newspaper at the Telegraph and is now a news video producer for various clients including Reuters and GQ magazine and provides training in multimedia production. He said the backdrop of "fake news" was creating a real need with the public for sources of information they could trust.

He argued that just as music fans, who used to download tracks illegally, were persuaded to pay up when companies made it a simple transaction, people who want reliable and authoritative news will also buy from sources they trust if it is made easy for them.

Laura Davison, Alastair Good & James West
James West, Alastair Good & Laura Davison

But it isn't easy. Laura Davison, NUJ national newspapers and agencies organiser, described the situation in the local press as brutal, with all the major publishers pursuing a policy of cutting staff photographers in the misguided hope that user-generated content would provide their images.

Former staff photographers found themselves with freelance contracts on poverty rates and responsible for providing their own kit. Not surprisingly many have voted with their feet and moved out of the industry. 

The publishers' strategy has of course backfired. Newsquest has had to warn its staff not to rip off photographs from the internet because breaches of copyright were starting to cost the company dear. Meanwhile it has become patently obvious to readers that the quality of images has dropped.

Trinity Mirror is now pursuing a plan to increase its use of videos. As part of a restructuring it has cut jobs, but also created new video-production posts. This could be an opportunity for photographer members, however the union will seek assurances that these jobs will not be just desk-based roles and that the work will include creating quality material for websites.

The summit also gave members the opportunity to speak to James West. co-founder of Alamy and his colleagues, about the "evil empire of stock photography".  NUJ members have been critical of rates paid by agencies, including Alamy, but James said there were signs that people were starting to realise that if they wanted quality photographs on their websites, they needed to pay for them. 

Nick McGowan-Lowe & Natasha Hirst
Nick McGowan-Lowe & Natasha Hirst

Natasha Hirst, works in Wales, is a member of the NUJ's national executive and has been a freelancer since 2010, specialising in political and campaigns photography. She urged members to look to their local communities for stories and to reflect their diversity and life experiences. She also raised the issue of diversity n the photography industry, where more than 80 per cent were men.

As a union, she said, the NUJ needed to address the barriers preventing women from getting work as press photographers.

"We don't want to lose valuable talent," she said."It is also important to have diversity in the industry to have a range of people with an understanding of all sectors of our communities to provide them with a voice."

Keeping on top of the technology is important. Members were advised to continually refresh their skills. Neil Turner, a vice-chair of the British Press Photographers' Association, who ran a workshop on "Making a living with the skill set of a press photographer", said that when work was quiet, freelances should use the time to enhance their skills by taking YouTube tutorials and signing up to NUJ training courses.

Videography may be flavour of the month, but very soon we could all be grappling with virtual reality.

More important than the technology is the story. Morag Livingstone, founder of Livingstone Media, is a film maker and documentary photographer. Her workshop topic was how stories can be told through multi-media. "I don't think we should call ourselves photographers or videographers, we should call ourselves storytellers," she said.

Other workshops on offer included a session with Tamsin Allen, a partner at the law firm Bindmans, and Belfast photographer Kevin Cooper of Photoline on the restrictions and rights of taking photographs in public and tips on how to operate during demonstrations and riots. Nick McGowan-Lowe, chair of the NUJ’s freelance industrial council, and Natasha Hirst gave 21 tips on how to go from a staff photographer to freelance, which included guidance on managing finances and winning commissions. Campaigning photographer David Hoffman and Pamela Morton, the NUJ's assistant organiser for freelances, gave a session on how to avoid getting ripped off by ensuring copyright infringers pay up and how to use the small claims court. They also explained how find out where your photographs have been used.

And, how to make almost £17,000 without taking another picture? 

final panel
David Hoffman gives an important tip

As the workshop leaders came together to take part in a panel session, chaired by NUJ president Tim Dawson, to conclude the day, David Hoffman revealed that last year he made  £16,707 from chasing up people who had used his pictures without permission.

All pictures: ©  Mark Dimmock

Speakers' biographies

Tags: , photographers, videographers, images, summit, freelance, networking, Alastair Good, Laura Davison, James West, alamy, Natasha Hirst, diversity, Neil Turner, Morag Livingstone, multimedia, Tamsin Allen, bindmans, Nick McGowan-Lowe, David Hoffman, Pamela Morton