Our account director and resident snapper Verity Clarke provides her ten top tips on making PR photos great (and also what not to do)
Photography is a passion of mine. It started as a child, my dad worked for Curry’s and had access to the most amazing film camera and would spend his weekend snapping away at me in the garden eating worms, wearing flat caps or smoking a fake pipe (don’t ask). I was the most snapped toddler in the 1980’s before Prince William came along and stole the limelight.
I treasure those photos now but as a grown up (and considerably less cute) I now enjoy my time behind the camera. I am very lucky to be able to weave my passion into my day job.
My first ever job was at the Asian Express newspaper and I was buddied up with fellow journalist Natalie Dybisz. She showed me the ropes and together we filled the monthly publication with local news stories and features AND took the supporting photographs.
Natalie had a wonderful eye and could capture a story in a single shot. While at the annual Mela festival I was trying to take pictures of busy crowds (never a good press shot) while Natalie found a cute little girl wearing fancy dress and waving a flag. You can guess which picture made the cut.
It was an absolute honour to work with Natalie and with the beauty of social networking I still keep in touch with her and am delighted to see her blossom into an internationally renowned fine art photographer. She has published two books and is behind the self-branded, large-scale production ‘The Fashion Shoot Experience’ in London, LA, New York, Europe and Iceland.
I knew she had “made it” when I spoke to my sister’s wedding photographer and he was in shock that I had worked with her, she was a photography superstar and he had written his dissertation about her work.
When Natalie left the paper my boss regularly asked me ”why can’t you take photo’s like Natalie” – I wish I’d had the foresight then to explain why.
But Natalie did leave me a PowerPoint. A very special PowerPoint. She imparted her wisdom and common sense tips about making a good editorial photograph. I remember the tips every time I take a photograph or plan a shoot.
As a PR person you don’t necessarily need to know how to take a good PR photo but you certainly need the vision. Sometimes I have to close my eyes and put my head in my hands to bring forward an image from the back of my brain. Other times the image is just there and then I have the challenge of making it a reality. Over the years I’ve blagged free fire breathers, a pink Cadillac car, dangled over a rock face, designed a digital shopping trolley prop and coaxed sobbing children into smiling (that last one is not as harsh as it sounds).
In the planning stages I always ask myself the following questions:
- Can you imagine this photo leaping off the news pages (online or in print)
- If words didn’t exist would this picture tell the story?
- Would it persuade your journalist to turn an average story into a page lead because of the photograph?
After comparing your vision to the questions above you are ready to make your creation a reality. So here are my top ten tips on making a great PR photograph.
But first a disclaimer: For those of you who take the time to read our blog or case studies you may notice that I have done the things that I’m telling you not to do in photography. But sometimes needs must and you may have many elements to contend with including budget.
Sometimes the brief is not in line with reality but if you follow these simple rules it will help make good PR photos into great ones.
I have used Approach PR’s press shots that I have personally worked on to illustrate my tips, to read the full story behind each picture head on over to our PR photography Pinterest board.
- Make it BIG or make it small – the use of props help to tell the story and the use of oversized or miniature props is an excellent way to communicate this. Also play with depth, for those Father Ted fans out there – is it small or is it far away?
- Don’t take the obvious road – it may be that I am cynical and jaded but I always let out a big sigh when I see the firing line shot, two business people shaking hands or a giant cheque (yes I know I was for big props earlier). These are tried and tested methods but also tired and tested methods. Instead of a big cheque donated to a charity why not communicate where the money will go? A big stack of wrapped Christmas presents or a food parcel with a bow around it is much more effective.
- Go outside – use the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, it’s the world’s greatest movie set. This instantly localises you if you want to attract local attention. We love the much photographed Cow and Calf but always aim to go for an angle that is different from the iconic outline.
- It’s all about me! – This one can be a sticking point with clients. If your company, charity, group has a lot of hardworking people in it, those people should be recognised and celebrated. Involving everyone in a team shot is great for team building and often it is insisted that everyone should be pictured in the photography plus it is great for capturing a moment in the business. But for a PR photograph generally I feel less is more. I’d prefer to work with one to three people rather than 10+. A business needs a spokesperson or a face – think of Richard Branson, Howard from Halifax Bank. It doesn’t have to be the MD but that often helps.
- Colour me in – A pop of colour always helps a photograph. Think carefully about use of colour from everything including a dramatic grey sky to a pink hard hat. This will also encourage the print press to publish you in colour.
- Use a professional – I often take the snaps for charity events or community driven initiatives and I’ve had success with this – at the last count I have secured five of my own photographs on the front page of the local Ilkley Gazette. However I would always recommend using a professional PR photographer. There are many types of photographers out there and someone who can capture a beautiful wedding won’t necessarily know what will work for a press photo. I recommend looking in the paper you would like to be in and taking note of the photographers who are published (there is usually a caption). Here is a shot of one of our photographer friends who always has a car bootful of kit/props/enthusiasm.
- Trust your photographer – Relax, smile and trust your photographer, we often find the best shots come in the last third of the shoot (which will take an hour if you want a decent shot) so have patience and roll with it. It will be totally worth it.
- Don’t rely on Photoshop – Yes technology has moved on in leaps and bounds, yes we all know a Photoshop whiz who can work wonders but be wary. This is not an advert and the press will not trust a doctored image. You might get away with super imposing your logo onto the sky, using an Instagram filter or adding/removing people but don’t be surprised if you get negative feedback from a journalist because the shot looks fake. I’m reminded of this poor tourist who asked “the internet” to Photoshop his picture so that he looked like he had his hand on top of the Eiffel Tower. The response was sarcasm at its best (if not a bit mean).
- Chins – if you feel your images will be unflattering and you wouldn’t be happy with even the most striking shot because it has caught your bad side then practice posing so that you feel more confident. I once had the most horrific picture printed in the local paper after I collected an award, the photographer was below the stage and all he managed to capture was my chin and my hips. The picture featured in an impressive full page spread but that cutting has never seen the light of day because of how I looked.
10. Use Pinterest – Collect inspirational pictures so that when you need a boost of creative thinking you can refer to your pinboard. Here is a further collection of our favourite shots and there are back stories of the images included in this blog too.
My next blog will be about making the best use of your photography for SEO purposes. Watch this space.