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How to Stamp Out Those Execution-at-Dawn Publicity Photos

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

three medical professionals doing the "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" poseLet's put an end to “grip-and-grin.” We’ll publish your outstanding publicity photo as an illustration of what makes a great PR image. We want to spotlight good examples that capture attention and tell a story, without resorting to…well, you know, the other kind. 

There should be a PR Professional Regulation that bans “execution-at-dawn” publicity photos.

We don’t know who coined that label, but we’ve all been bored by the nearly lifeless images it represents. It’s where two or more people are pictured shoulder-to-shoulder and smiling at the camera. Its cousin is the classic “grip-and-grin” image characterized by a handshake, passing a plaque or a surfboard-size check.

The only remarkable thing is that static and boring publicity images like these continue to find their way into print.

Publicity photos can either enhance a story (and increase readership), or they can instantly brand the material as too-boring-to-read (and assure that even a good story is ignored.)

Communications professionals are routinely part of the photo-decision food chain…planning, directing, selecting, editing or taking publicity pics. To help stamp-out visual drivel and static image clichés, here’s a roundup of quality enhancing tips, based on our experience and that of editors, publishers and photographers.

First tip: Hire an experienced pro.

A good professional photographer is a powerful partner in telling your story. Experience counts, and a working pro knows how to visually express an idea that grabs reader attention. If possible, make him or her a regular part of the team.

The basic rules of ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Quality publicity stills are paramount around the world, down-under and in your own backyard. Here’s a brief recap of rules about producing a good publicity still. The original ABC article [PDF is here] illustrates each point:

  • Every picture must tell a story.
  • Get as close as you can.
  • Make sure there is enough light and that the sun or light source is behind you.
  • When you have a good shot set up take at least five snaps of it from slightly different angles.

More top tips for better publicity pictures…

  • Consider a re-shoot rather than use a bad picture. A news editor may kill (or highlight) your story based on the picture alone. Go good-to-great or not at all.
  • Illustrate activity, action or implied motion. "Still" photos can still be visually dynamic.
  • Choose a location that helps tell the story. Use what's appropriate, but don’t force-fit a location if it isn’t a key element of the message.
  • Avoid visual distractions. Steer clear of busy backgrounds, contrived use of props, loud attire, unflattering poses and similar “annoyances” that draw attention away from your story idea.
  • Use natural, or natural-appearing, lighting. Avoid flash photography that creates a stark and cold appearance.
  • Vary the camera angle. Typically, there’s nothing inherently attention-getting about eye-level, head-on photography. Consider if a different angle will add visual interest (or not).
  • Allow a little air around the subject. Frame photos with an allowance for cropping. Give the editor or publication some flexibility to fit the image to their use.

The other first tip: take lots of pictures.

If you have the opportunity, consider a professionally taught photo course such as Nikon School. Perhaps the single most valuable idea that Nikon School teaches is that: “Photographers are known by the pictures that they show, not by what they take.”

It’s another way of saying that, when you can, take a lot of pictures. (There’s no added financial burden in this digital age.) Take many more photos than you’ll use or need…and select the best from among many.

This “secret” is one of the reasons that National Geographic and many other quality publications are known for the incredible pictures that they publish. Professional photographers will shoot hundreds of images, distill them down to a handful, and publish the one or two that are outstanding.

Take a minute and send us your best publicity picture examples. We’ll publish the really great examples of what’s being done to put an end to “grip-and-grin.”

And, for related posts, read: Keeping Up with a Picture Perfect World for Healthcare Marketing, and Is Your Professional Photo as Good as Your Professional Reputation?

Lonnie Hirsch

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