Picture this

As advertising becomes evermore surreal, designers are finding photolibraries a source worth having. Amanda Lake talks to the top users and abstainers

Open any photolibrary catalogue and you are bombarded with images from cyclists to cabbages. Ever considered using them? A host of top designers do. One of them is Tutssels creative design director Glenn Tutssel, who frequently incorporates photolibrary images within projects. Photolibraries have had bad press in the past, but Tutssel couldn’t give them a better review. Others remain unconvinced, including Dolphin’s creative directors Phil Sims and Rob Petrie, who prefer to commission photography. The decision on whether to use them often depends on the type of job and the size of the budget, but here’s a lowdown of what’s what, followed by case studies of new projects which use photolibrary and commissioned imagery.

So when is it best to use a photolibrary? Well, for a start, they’re good for gathering a selection of images which are needed quickly. Or they can be use to generate ideas. Images can be found instantly by looking through photolibrary catalogues and CD-ROM systems and by using the photolibrary researchers.

Most libraries don’t charge research fees, although it’s always best to check with the photolibrary. But thanks to the CD-ROM, photolibrary material has become incredibly quick to access, with a variety of keyword searches and cross-referencing options.

CD-ROM catalogues can be used in the photo library, but your own copy will cost around 38. Few are sent out free – unlike the traditional catalogues which are delivered free-of-charge to designers, ad agencies and magazines.

Speed isn’t the only advantage when using CD-ROM – there’s no worrying about losing or damaging trannies, no holding fees and no wasting time scanning in pictures. Despite this, the catalogue/trannie option is still the popular choice. According to Martin Pittaway at Robert Harding Library, 70 per cent of users choose the catalogue option. So much for the digital age. But does ease of use on the CD-ROM mean compromises in areas of image quality and enlargement? Tutssel says that even if an image is viewed on screen he would still take out the original transparency to check it under a screen glass as “images on screen are pixilated”. However, the Corbis catalogue maintains that digital images can be checked efficiently by using a calibration test and controlling the environment in which the test is being made. Enlarging images does seem to be quite restrictive, anything up to A4 size is clear, after that the results can deteriorate.

Another advantage is accessibility and availability of images. This is useful when budgets are low or exotic imagery is needed and commissioning a photographer proves too expensive. So why hire a photographer when images are often well documented in photolibraries? It all depends on the project. Photolibrary shots are taken by different photographers in different styles, so if a series of photos is needed it may be best to commission work.

Photolibraries document international images well, but according to Tutssel: “The problems arise when you want a detail of, say, the Great Wall Of China. These types of images are not often stocked, but photographers and photolibraries are beginning to address this.” Petrie adds: “There is nothing worse than seeing a record sleeve which makes you think ‘oh, that’s from such-and-such a photolibrary’.”

If you are looking to produce a one-off, it’s best to generate ideas and talk to photographers. The other thing to bear in mind is that fees for photolibrary images are dependent on the run of the product, the size and where it is circulated. It’s often cheaper than commissioning photography, but expect to pay large fees for worldwide campaigns. Basically you pay for the usage. So the key is negotiation, deals are made between the photolibrary and the client to find the right price to suit the campaign and size of budget. And don’t forget that, along with the larger libraries like Magnum and Tony Stone, there are specialist libraries such as Allsport.

If the perfect picture isn’t found there are alternatives, such as manipulation, to create the ideal picture. It is commonplace for the designer to manipulate images, but it’s also becoming a practice in photolibraries. According to Andy Saunders, director of photography at Tony Stone Images: “35 per cent of our images are digitally enhanced.”

There are two types of manipulation: low- level manipulation which is becoming increasingly common and involves highlighting particular areas to make the picture look clearer and taking bits out to make the image tidier. This is often used on images already in stock. The second is high-level manipulation which involves tinting and colouring.

Many images are now generated with manipulation in mind, rather than as an afterthought. And as photolibraries extend their ranges and use manipulation tools more, the choice of images available becomes greater. But possible problems loom as photographers and manipulators battle out the ensuing copyright muddle.

When a photolibrary picture is borrowed how far can an image be manipulated? This is a tricky one and likely to be a grey area for some time. Robert Gubas from Tony Stone says: “We encourage anyone to use the images creatively, but within reason, and to respect the fact that the copyright always remains with the photographer.” It’s always advisable to approach the photographer if manipulation is being considered.

Corbis give guidelines on the editing of images, and clearance has to be discussed before the images are given to the client, as some pictures may have restrictions on how they can be modified. Remember the legal case between Tony Stone and Corel? A result is expected at any moment. Let’s wait and see which way the verdict swings.

Project: Corporate brochures for Lafarge Aluminates

Designed by: The Partners

Interviewed: Frances Jackson

Project: French concrete company Lafarge Aluminate’s recent corporate brochure contains a mixture of photo- library images, archive material and commissioned photography. As all the images in the brochure relate to the copy provided by Lafarge, the pictures chosen had to be very specific. Lafarge’s head office and subsidiary companies’ archives yielded a large percentage of the production-line, tools and techniques shots, the rest had to be obtained through other sources.

It was obvious to the team that the task of finding product shots should be given to Image Bank France. “They were asked to look for two or three public areas including airports, offices, shopping centres – spaces which would have a certain type of flooring, but which were not from England. Image Bank France was used because it would be so difficult to set up shots of European public areas, we would need to go through the right channels to get railway platform or underground station imagery. It was more accessible this way,” says The Partners designer Frances Jackson. While the photolibrary was given a specific brief, “we could afford to give our photographer more creative judgement when shooting the final site pictures for us,” explains Jackson. The five commissioned pictures were taken by Siôn Touhig, who has worked with The Partners on various projects in the past. “We knew he would be ideal for the project as he is an on-site rather than an art photographer.”

Manipulation: The photolibrary images were edited to make them suitable for the brochure. This included taking out inappropriate people, in one case a gunman. All of the images were overlapped and tinted to make them look more interesting as many of the archive shots were very old.

Photolibrary verdict: Thought that photolibraries were quite expensive but “we were sent a good selection of trannies and they were quick to deliver”.

Project: Shower gel packaging for Boots

Designed by: Tutssels

Interviewed: Glenn Tutssel

Project: Tutssels knew instantly that photo library images were necessary to complete the Boots shower gel range. Why? Because it would be “almost impossible to get a shot of a wave with the sort of feeling you want, let alone four different types of wave which evoke the feel of each product”, says Tutssels creative design director Glenn Tutssel. Pictor, Ray Massey and Images Colour Library were given a very specific brief, because the picture you obtain “depends on the researcher knowing what stock they have and being able to visualise what you want”.

Manipulation: “The wave images were cropped then re-jigged to fit on-pack, and the colourways were completely changed on Quantel Paintbox from being very monochromatic to reflect the colour of the product,” says Tutssel.

Photolibrary verdict: Tutssels frequently uses photolibraries and feels they are excellent for choice and variety, quick to access, save research time and generally offer a great service. Does Tutssel have any reservations? “Sometimes it would be terrific if they could pay a greater degree of attention to the brief. Occasionally you get the feeling that you’ve been given a bunch of photos on the subject matter rather than the brief you set them,” he says.

Project: Advertising campaign for Centec

Designed by: Still Waters Run Deep

Interviewed: Anita Brightley-Hodges

Project: The latest bus and poster advertising campaign for Centec, designed by Still Waters Run Deep, aims to stimulate interest in the training enterprise through- out London. According to consultancy creative and managing director Anita Brightley-Hodges: “We came up with various straplines such as ‘It’s not what’s on it but in it that counts’,” to play on the fact that anyone is welcome to visit Centec for training or career advice. They’re not interested in appearances but in what people have to offer. So fun images of bizarre headgear were needed. Both Hulton/Deutsch and Corbis were approached with a brief to find “wild, peculiar and retro headgear. We suggested oversized hats,” says Brightley-Hodges. Hulton/Deutsch specialises in old, particularly 1940s, black and white prints and responded to the brief with a series of images which fitted the bill. “We received wacky prints of two women, head to head at a bus stop,” which is now part of a London bus campaign, “a guy weight lifting with his head, a girl’s face totally covered with an oversized straw hat and glasses and another shot of a woman, this time with masses of rollers on her head connected to some sort of machine,” says Brightley-Hodges. It was decided one more image was needed to complete the campaign and that was left to Corbis, which responded with another wild picture of two people sunbathing with paper bags on their heads. This respectively turned into a poster and postcards. Brightley-Hodges adds: “The images had the quirkiness we wanted while the bizarreness captured people’s imagination.”

Manipulation: All the pictures were cleaned up on the computer and relatively minor adjustments were made, such as backgrounds being “knocked back” to make sure the overall picture wasn’t too fussy and the figures were emphasised.

Photolibrary verdict: “We received a good service because Hulton/Deutsch is specialised and therefore needs to have good customer care. Larger photolibraries often don’t really know what you want because they have so many clients.”

Client: Poster and CD collections for Renaissance

Designed by: Dolphin

Interviewed: Rob Petrie and Phil Sims

Project: The ongoing poster campaign and CD compilation for Midlands-based dance club Renaissance by Dolphin contains pure commissioned photography. Photography became the vehicle to provide Renaissance’s one-off events with the freshness the campaign needed and it gave Dolphin the opportunity to commission photographers Merton Gauster, who they thought were ideal for the project. On each poster a natural image has been chosen to reflect the relevant time of year. It began at Easter with Quail eggs and is continuing with summer flowers and beach objects.

Photolibrary images never entered the equation. Dolphin does look at photolibraries catalogues but doesn’t often use them. Photolibrary images weren’t suitable for the Renaissance project “because, for example, we wouldn’t have found an image of a pure feather, it would be from the wing of a bird, which would then need manipulating,” says Dolphin creative director Rob Petrie. He adds that photo- library images are “synonymous with dance culture. You get a lot of ads now using photolibrary images of birds flying and stuff like that. We wanted to generate something that was one-off, special and that no one had seen before.” And by using photography Dolphin has created a “trademark” for itself.

Creative director Phil Sims adds: “Other problems arise with photolibrary images, for example, unless the original or large format trannies are used, anything blown up bigger than A4 size can deteriorate.” This would cause problems for Renaissance’s street campaign and advertising in the style press, and fees for re-printing images would have to be negotiated.

Manipulation: None of the poster imagery was manipulated, although the flower on the CD collection was cleaned up on Paintbox.

Photolibrary verdict: Dolphin has used photolibrary images in the past, in very literal ways and only if an image is unobtainable, but it prefers to commission photography.

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