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Getting the Most Out of Pictures for PR and Marketing

Having great pictures for PR and marketing is vital and this blog is about increasing the chances of improving your supply of useable pictures. It is not about camera gear or a photography tutorial. I am not a professional photographer, but as PR person I have an insatiable appetite for pictures to tell my clients' stories. Pictures are essential to achieving this successfully. Examples here are my own attempt at taking pictures.

Computer component

Let me be clear from the outset, always commission a professional photographer if you can. Why take any unnecessary risks if you need the shot? However, there are occasions when there is no choice but to use a picture taken by a none-professional. For example:

  • A site engineer had the only opportunity and suitable access to take a record picture during installation of equipment.
  • The only pictorial record of an event were snap shots taken by someone else.
  • Budget precludes the commissioning of a professional.
  • The availability of pictures are outside of your control as they are being provided through a third party.
  • Access to site may not be allowed or be possible.

Computer CPU

Always Think Pictures

To make sure you have enough images it is important to cultivate a culture where the use of pictures within marketing is a high priority. Think of each company activity as an opportunity and evaluate if a professional can be engaged. There are many potential opportunities, some like a new product or installation are obvious, but less so are:

  • The first product rolling of the production line.
  • A formal contract signing.
  • A trainee's first day or milestone achievement.
  • Stages of a product being developed.
  • Stages of an installation taking place – these can make great time-lapse sequences for video.
  • The 1000th, 10,000th, 50,000th, etc., rolling of the line.
  • 25th year of an employee (sadly an increasingly rare event these days!).
  • An important new piece of production equipment being delivered.
  • An employee being involved in something exceptional outside of normal work.
  • VIP visitors.
  • Breaking the turf on new-build premises.
  • Charity involvements.

Portrait photography

Create a Picture Library

Having pictures is not much use if no one knows what exists and where they are located. A high priority should be to audit what you already have. Look after original negatives, transparencies and digital files. Yes I did say negatives and transparencies – any company over ten years old is likely to have these, but their usefulness will rapidly diminish if they are not cared for correctly. Get them scanned and digitised and purchase proper storage materials for originals. Make sure all digital files are backed-up off site. Don't waste your investment in creating images and then neglecting their care, entrust the responsibility to someone who will catalogue and control how they are used and who will police their return to the library.

When you scan negatives and transparencies there may be copyright implications. This is important, because even if you pay a professional photographer to take pictures for you, the copyright remains with the photographer unless you negotiate the release when you hire them. Part of cataloguing should include the photographer’s details and any other source information.

Portrait photography

Using a None-Professional

Warning! Be realistic. A typical professional costs around £500 to £1000 for a full day shoot. And there is a good reason for that. Professional equipment is hellishly expensive, they have years of training and experience, they require hefty insurance, it takes time processing images after the shoot and, like all of us, they need to make a living.

If going down the none-professional route keep your expectations in check, but do aim for good, clean, in focus images and you will be okay. Photography is a popular hobby. Perhaps one of your employees is an enthusiastic amateur – have you ever asked?  There is no point reinventing the wheel, if you have someone that is already a dab hand with a camera. A small contribution towards some kit and the kudos of being the official company photographer could save a small fortune. Consider paying for training courses as additional incentives.

If you equip engineers with digital cameras, get a professional in for a briefing seminar on how to take better pictures. Also, there are thousands of self-help videos on the web.

Tips for Taking Pictures

The following is not meant to be a tutorial – just some things to think about that will help you take a better picture.

All Photography

  1. Read your equipment's manual and spend some time practising and getting familiar with its various functions and controls. Take some test shots in conditions you expect to encounter.
  2. Use a tripod. Keeping a steady hand if you have been operating machinery or been involved in heavy manual tasks is difficult. Camera shake is one of the main causes of blurred pictures. Another advantage of a tripod is that it slows down the picture taking process and gives you more time to think about the composition.
  3. Make sure anyone appearing in the shot is wearing the correct company clothing and safety gear. Good photos are useless when someone is not wearing safety helmets or operating equipment in a correct and safe manor as they are supposed to do.
  4. If colleagues appear in shot, give them notice so they can be prepared. Even in messy site conditions it makes a better picture if work-clothing is clean and company logos visible. Note, if using images for PR, don’t include too much branding; generally, magazines prefer shots without.
  5. If the subject of your photograph is surrounded by clutter then try and clear it away. If you can't clear it, cover/obscure it or get closer to the subject to hide it out of shot. Take several pictures from different angles and distances from the subject.
  6. If you are shooting a product, ensure it is as clean as possible and is free from surface defects and damage. After all, you want it to look good! An exception to this might be if you are purposely trying to show hard wear and tear or other aspects of a product in use.
  7. Professionals look for lines, light, shapes and textures in a picture. For example, vertical lines suggest power while horizontal lines are more harmonious. Lines can lead the eye into a picture, often straight to the subject. Look for natural lines in a scene.
  8. Bracket shots if you can. This is where you adjust the exposure setting of the camera either side of the correct setting suggested by the camera’s own metering of a scene. Your camera manual may explain how to do this and there are many YouTube videos.
  9. Take lots of pictures – memory cards for cameras are cheap, so click away. Remember to carry spare batteries and a spare memory card!  

Outdoor Photography

  1. Check weather forecasts. Wait for the right weather conditions and best light. Interesting natural lighting occurs early morning and late afternoon/early evening when the sun casts longer shadows. A picture of the same subject taken at these two times will reflect two different moods. Taking pictures during mid-day in a high sun means little shadow which can give flat looking images.
  2. Try and make sure the sun is behind you.
  3. If company vehicles will appear in the picture get them washed so they look pristine.
  4. When framing the subject look out for telegraph poles, fences, tree branches or other objects that can detract from the subject of the picture. Walk around the subject and see which angle is best. Maybe a higher or lower vantage point will create a more interesting image.
  5. If you have to shoot in busy public places try and judge when the area is the quietest. This is easier in the summer when the days are longer and you will be afforded the opportunity to shoot pictures early. Keep in mind privacy and copyright issues in public places.

Indoor Photography

  1. The main difficulty with indoor pictures are colour casts created by mixed lighting. There may be nothing you can do about this and modern cameras have automatic compensation. Check your manual for settings. Getting it right in camera can save time trying to correct it in desktop software like Photoshop.
  2. Don't take pictures with the subject directly in front of windows or bright light sources as this may confuse the auto-exposure system on a camera resulting in a silhouetted image (which is okay if that is the effect you want to achieve).
  3. Make sure no sensitive company information is pinned up on notice boards or in other areas that appear in shot.
  4. Avoid flash if you can. The shutter speed indoors will often trigger automatic flash. Uncontrolled flash will reflect off glossy surfaces in a bad way that will ruin the shot. There is a skill to using camera lighting indoors to avoid this happening. The alternative, is to switch off the auto-flash and allow the shutter speed to drop –  this will mean the exposure will take longer. The drawback here is camera shake and blurred pictures. The answer is to put the camera on a tripod. If you have to use flash look out for reflective surfaces and try and avoid them being in shot. Another option is to increase ISO, but this is moving into more technical aspects. If you want to know more Google 'the exposure triangle'. 

Portrait Photography

  1. Most people don't like having their picture taken so trying to pose a static shot often results in the 'mug shot' effect. Then there is the dreaded red-eye. A simple solution is to take the picture outside. Here flash is not needed – so no red-eye, and people are often a little more relaxed in a more open environment than posed behind a desk or flat against an office wall.
  2. When taking simple portrait picture make sure just the head and shoulders (third of the way down the chest) is in the frame. Depending on the lens on your camera this may mean moving quite close to the subject.
  3. The lens on a mobile phone camera is not flattering, so if possible try and get a camera with a lens you can set to between 50 and 85mm focal length.
  4. Focus on the eyes – these are most critical element in any portrait. They must be sharp and in focus.
  5. Avoid harsh light and try and find a neutral background. Professionals understand light and can use it to great effect. However, our aim is more modest we just want a good clean, in focus and useable image.
  6. Ask you subject to stand at a slight angle to the camera rather than flat-on. Unless you are going for a more arty effect have them look directly at the camera.
  7. Give your subject time to prepare. If your subject likes to do their own makeup, that is fine. However, note that the makeup used by professional photographers is different to over the counter consumer makeup; it is designed to take account of studio and other lighting.

More photography tips here.

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Posted by Adrian Maguire on 30 January 2018

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