Taking good photos

Taking good photos

Introduction

Here are some professional tips on taking photos that tell your story, for use in spreading the word about your Fellowship.

Why worry about taking good photos?

Pictures are vital for websites and blogs, whether you are writing for your own one or contributing articles to other people’s sites. Pictures are also the best way to get your posts noticed and retweeted on social media. Presentations come alive with them. And they may make the difference between getting media coverage or not.

But dull shots will let you down. You might remember the event that they represent, but other people will not. So you need to tell your story within the frame of each shot.

What works

The most powerful pictures tell a story. They dramatise what a situation or idea is about. They do this by including visual elements that stand for the key elements of a story.

For example: if your Fellowship is about school meals provision, then the key visual elements will fairly obviously be a school, a meal, some pupils or cooks. These equate to the setting of the project, what the project is, who is benefiting and who is implementing. You can apply this simple formula across most kinds of project photo.

There may be extra elements to the project/story/photo, but usually a strong photo is a simple one. It conveys one story, not all the many stories in your whole Fellowship. So try to take simple clear photos that convey your story simply.

In addition, action shots are more powerful than shots where no one is doing anything, or everyone is frozen and looking into the camera. For the purposes of telling your story, selfies and team shots (everyone lined up in a row) are not very useable.

Must have

There are two absolutely key shots you always need to get:

  1. You in action – doing the activity you’ve set out to research, or in the location with a backdrop suggesting where you are. These should be mid-shots not close-ups, with your face shown very clearly (not in shade, not at an angle). Ideally you should be doing something, rather than smiling at the camera. (The latter are useful too, but less so.)
  2. Your project idea in action – the schoolchildren doing their activity session, the lecturer doing the lecture in front of a crowd, etc. Shots of beneficiaries are always useful.
Example of Fellow in action on location
Example of Fellow's project idea in action

How to do it

Our top tip is to plan this in advance. It is unlikely to happen as an accident. Professional photographers ‘pre-visualise’ their pictures, thinking about what elements they want to include in a shot. This helps them to identify where and when they will find them, and so to plan an itinerary that will deliver those elements. You are not on a photographic trip, but if you’re after that schools meal shot, then it would be wise to plan to arrive in a school canteen just before lunchbreak.

Professionals will make a shotlist of all the key images they want to capture, and this helps them to check as they make their journey that they are getting the shots they planned.

You may want to take proper photographic gear, or just use your smartphone. Be aware that for printed publications (including newspapers and magazines), a photo needs to be around 5MB in size as a minimum, 10MB is better. For websites it is less, but it is still recommended to aim to take photos in as high-resolution as possible, as they can be resized to a smaller size for digital use So you may need lots of storage cards, or somewhere to download shots as you go along. ‘Hi-res jpegs’ are a standard format.

Whatever you use, try taking shots that work with the light: that means having the light source behind you when you take a shot, so that light falls onto your subject rather than silhouetting your subject. Indoor shots will benefit from any natural light (windows etc). Outdoor shots are best early or late in the day, as midday light makes everything look flat.

If photographing people, try to show them in their context (eg their workplace or home), ideally doing something. Mugshots are not very useful. Team photos tell no story, nor do photos of meetings round tables. If you have to snap a conference, then try to liven it up by showing the audience in the foreground, with the speaker looking towards them from the middle distance.

Whatever your subject is, try to fill the frame with it, so that your audience know what to look at and focus on the story you want to tell, not on random areas of non-story items or dead space.

There are plenty of online tutorials, many free, if you want more detailed or technical advice.

Permissions

In the UK you are not legally obliged to ask permission for taking a person’s photo, if it is in a public space. In other countries (eg France) this may differ. For the purposes of report writing, websites or articles, you do not need ‘model release’ to photograph people. But in any country, asking their permission is a sensible courtesy and may save you from incurring suspicion or hostility.

Be aware of the ethical and safeguarding issues around photographic children and vulnerable groups. And of official sensitivities about photographing government buildings, military installations, commercial premises etc.

Further advice

Contact Rachel McKenna, Content Editor, on rachel.mckenna@churchillfellowship.org.

Why worry about taking good photos?

Pictures are vital for websites and blogs, whether you are writing for your own one or contributing articles to other people’s sites. Pictures are also the best way to get your posts noticed and retweeted on social media. Presentations come alive with them. And they may make the difference between getting media coverage or not.

But dull shots will let you down. You might remember the event that they represent, but other people will not. So you need to tell your story within the frame of each shot.

What works

The most powerful pictures tell a story. They dramatise what a situation or idea is about. They do this by including visual elements that stand for the key elements of a story.

For example: if your Fellowship is about school meals provision, then the key visual elements will fairly obviously be a school, a meal, some pupils or cooks. These equate to the setting of the project, what the project is, who is benefiting and who is implementing. You can apply this simple formula across most kinds of project photo.

There may be extra elements to the project/story/photo, but usually a strong photo is a simple one. It conveys one story, not all the many stories in your whole Fellowship. So try to take simple clear photos that convey your story simply.

In addition, action shots are more powerful than shots where no one is doing anything, or everyone is frozen and looking into the camera. For the purposes of telling your story, selfies and team shots (everyone lined up in a row) are not very useable.

Must have

There are two absolutely key shots you always need to get:

  1. You in action – doing the activity you’ve set out to research, or in the location with a backdrop suggesting where you are. These should be mid-shots not close-ups, with your face shown very clearly (not in shade, not at an angle). Ideally you should be doing something, rather than smiling at the camera. (The latter are useful too, but less so.)
  2. Your project idea in action – the schoolchildren doing their activity session, the lecturer doing the lecture in front of a crowd, etc. Shots of beneficiaries are always useful.
Example of Fellow in action on location
Example of Fellow's project idea in action

How to do it

Our top tip is to plan this in advance. It is unlikely to happen as an accident. Professional photographers ‘pre-visualise’ their pictures, thinking about what elements they want to include in a shot. This helps them to identify where and when they will find them, and so to plan an itinerary that will deliver those elements. You are not on a photographic trip, but if you’re after that schools meal shot, then it would be wise to plan to arrive in a school canteen just before lunchbreak.

Professionals will make a shotlist of all the key images they want to capture, and this helps them to check as they make their journey that they are getting the shots they planned.

You may want to take proper photographic gear, or just use your smartphone. Be aware that for printed publications (including newspapers and magazines), a photo needs to be around 5MB in size as a minimum, 10MB is better. For websites it is less, but it is still recommended to aim to take photos in as high-resolution as possible, as they can be resized to a smaller size for digital use So you may need lots of storage cards, or somewhere to download shots as you go along. ‘Hi-res jpegs’ are a standard format.

Whatever you use, try taking shots that work with the light: that means having the light source behind you when you take a shot, so that light falls onto your subject rather than silhouetting your subject. Indoor shots will benefit from any natural light (windows etc). Outdoor shots are best early or late in the day, as midday light makes everything look flat.

If photographing people, try to show them in their context (eg their workplace or home), ideally doing something. Mugshots are not very useful. Team photos tell no story, nor do photos of meetings round tables. If you have to snap a conference, then try to liven it up by showing the audience in the foreground, with the speaker looking towards them from the middle distance.

Whatever your subject is, try to fill the frame with it, so that your audience know what to look at and focus on the story you want to tell, not on random areas of non-story items or dead space.

There are plenty of online tutorials, many free, if you want more detailed or technical advice.

Permissions

In the UK you are not legally obliged to ask permission for taking a person’s photo, if it is in a public space. In other countries (eg France) this may differ. For the purposes of report writing, websites or articles, you do not need ‘model release’ to photograph people. But in any country, asking their permission is a sensible courtesy and may save you from incurring suspicion or hostility.

Be aware of the ethical and safeguarding issues around photographic children and vulnerable groups. And of official sensitivities about photographing government buildings, military installations, commercial premises etc.

Further advice

Contact Rachel McKenna, Content Editor, on rachel.mckenna@churchillfellowship.org.