Click goes the election starting gun

Alan Sparrow on the trials of election photojournalism

The moment a general election is declared, newsrooms draw a collective breath, news editors wonder if this is the event that will put their careers into free fall and picture editors wonder about their budgets.

Coverage of election is an expensive business for newspapers and a headache for picture editors. 

Each party leader will have a “battlebus”, and to buy seats on board will run to many thousands of pounds for each journalist/photographer that gets one. The costs cover transportation to events, overnight stays when necessary, and being on board the bus gives opportunities in the campaign that you might not get if you are not on board.

Managing editors wishing to save money will discourage picture editors from having photographers on each bus leaving, the picture editors living on edge that they might miss the picture of the day.

Major agencies like the Press Association and Getty have bigger resources and are more likely to be at each event plus local agencies attend as the election caravan arrives in their area. 

That said, the competitor in you wants your photographer to be there and for he or she to get an edge, a little something that separates your coverage from everyone else’s.

Press officers work at the photo op for the day, the moment to make your candidate look like prime minister material. But these orchestrated events are also the point where a keen eye can scupper all that effort. The random sign behind the candidate pointing to exits as your candidate’s popularity tumbles in the polls can be dynamite - or in the case of Ed Miliband just eating a sausage sandwich.

There are political moments on the campaign trail that people remember, such as Gordon Brown and his “bigoted woman” gaff ,and unscripted members of the public who argue with your candidate such as Tony Blair confronted when visiting a hospital.

In 1983 there were photo opportunities for Mrs. Thatcher which included her feeding a calf and walking in a wilderness, and to prove she was prepared to get her hands dirty she visited a farm, which gave rise to Roger Bamber’s all-time favourite story:

“During her election campaigns Margaret Thatcher always provided her accredited press team with a daily photo opportunity. On this occasion in Cornwall it backfired. She was telling a TV crew about a Cornish farm’s corn harvest and plunged her hands into a pile without finding out what was underneath… manure.

“I offered it to The Sun, which loyally never used it.  But it’s been used a lot since.”

Alan Sparrow was a picture editor for over 40 years and is now chairman of the UK Picture Editors Guild ( and founder of Fleet Street’s Finest, where this image can be obtained - https://fleetstreetsfinest.com


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