A reporter’s 5 tips for better PR photos
News outlets welcome submitted photographs. Newspapers still have some professionals who take photos, but other services rely heavily on pics sent with press releases.
If you’re wondering why yours weren’t used, or have been cropped beyond recognition, let me spare you some grief with five tips for improving photos.
Media outlets use certain photos because they understand what will appeal to their audiences. When all’s said and done, it’s the readership that dictates how much advertising can be sold and therefore how well the company does. So any journalist faced with a choice of two photos is going to put them through some sort of selection process to find the one readers wil prefer.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the factors a reporter or editor takes into account when selecting images, but it’ll give you a good idea of the most common mistakes people make when sending PR pics to newsrooms.
1: Spot on, the landscape
All their images are laid out as landscapes (wider than they are tall). With that in mind, any portrait-shaped photo is going to be cropped or resized in strange ways by the website itself.
It used to be that landscapes displayed better on-screen, but that was back when desktop computers ruled the internet. With portrait-shaped mobile devices so ubiquitous, you’d think that would have changed.
But it turns out most people hate scrolling past long pictures, so having a landscape photo at the top of the article with the news copy below it is still the audience’s preferred layout. Research shows people give up if they don’t reach the words quickly enough (and they’re very impatient).
Traditionally, this is also why newspapers used multiple columns of text rather than spreading sentences across whole pages – it’s much easier to scan and a reader feels as though they’re making progress if they’re moving down a story rather than across it.
If you notice news websites all look vaguely alike, this is why. Their website design isn’t based on voodoo – it’s generally been well-researched to ensure it keeps people’s attention and is easily digestible.
Landscapes aren’t the only shot, but most news websites and social media feeds prefer them. If you send landscapes, you’ve avoided one obvious hurdle to publication!
2: Hope you dislike crammin’, too
This is a common mistake made when organisations can’t leave anybody out of a photo. Line ‘em all up, stand further back and take the shot.
And then it’s completely ignored in favour of a head-and-shoulders of the chief executive who’s quoted in the release.
It’s simple, really – but brace yourself for some maths!
Go back to those news sites and look at the photos. They are around 200 pixels wide on the homepage, and maybe twice that on the story itself.
So if you have 25 people in a line standing shoulder to shoulder you’ll be lucky if their faces are 8 pixels wide.
You may know who was in the photo, but nobody else can recognise anyone in it. Instead of having the whole team in the pic, you have a bunch of indistinguishable blobs.
In practice, it won’t happen because anyone considering the picture should crop it down.
Save yourself the effort by putting no more than half a dozen people in a shot – and don’t let them stand in a line!
3: The eyes have it
Tight photos of faces are always appealing to newsdesks, for a few reasons.
Space is at a premium in newspapers. Any wasted space could have been used to run another story, and newsprint is too expensive to leave unused. So leaving huge swathes of your shot filled by whatever happens to be in the background guarantees it’ll be cropped.
Cropping and expanding, however, blurs detail. Better to have you send a tight photo than to have to resize it later with software.
And why faces?
Again, it’s down to audience research. People spend longer looking at photos of faces than of anything else. Research suggests it’s really about eye contact – we can’t help but meet an artificial gaze.
So if your photo has just a few clear people looking out of it, it’s more likely to be noticed by the journalist and the audience.
4: Shoot the exciting event, not the dull aftermath
If you’re a press photographer, please look away now.
These are known as “Grip & Grin” shots, responsible for traumatising any number of snappers assigned to take them.
They are loathed by newsdesks because… well, just look at them. Two people and a cheque don’t tell a story. The audience can’t tell who’s on either side of the cheque, don’t care about the prominently-displayed logo, and can’t see how much it’s for when it’s resized for the internet.
It probably won’t be used. In fact in the mid-90s a number of regional papers in the UK went so far as to ban them under their editorial policy. As far as I know nowhere on the Isle of Man is quite that strict about them, but in general any other photo will do in place of a G&G.
Most frustrating is when someone asks why it wasn’t used, before revealing the money was raised through “a sponsored Star Wars fancy dress marathon waterfight for kittens”.
Where is my photo of that?
Always photograph the event. After all, that’s the part that takes most effort and planning – and it’s what the audience wants to read about. For journalists, it’s the old familiar “Waterfighting Jedi kittens raise £50k” or “novelty cheque interrupts chief executive’s dinner” conundrum.
5: Learn from how they’re used
There are three sorts of photos to a journalist: popped, ‘shopped and dropped.
If it’s popped into a story unaltered, well done!
If it’s been photoshopped in some way what’s been done to it? Was it because there were too many people? Too much background? Wrong shape?
Or was it dropped altogether? If it was, have a look at the photo again and try to imagine what grabbed the journalist’s (and therefore the audience’s) attention. It it’s “nothing very much”, that’s probably why it never appeared.
By looking at the sorts of pictures that are featured prominently, you can get a good idea of journalists’ preferences. And checking if your own images have been used or spiked teaches how you can improve your shots next time.
Of course, it could be the press release accompanying the photo wasn’t exactly highly newsworthy, but that’s a story for another day…
Chips Cheese Gravy Media can teach you all sorts of tips and tricks like this, picked up over 25 years in local, regional and national print and broadcast news. Contact us to find out more about our training seminars and managed media services!