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A photograph can be the deciding factor between gaining media coverage or not. When faced with two otherwise equal stories, editors will pick the one with the better illustration.

Photographs can dramatically increase viewership of articles. Many people look at photos in a magazine or newspaper and read the captions before they read the article. Photos remain just as important for digital publications. The cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words remains valid.

The Ideal PR Photograph

An ideal PR photo will:

  • convey the important elements of a story in a single frame,
  • grab readers’ attention and prompt them to read the story,
  • and subtly sell the company’s message.

Follow these tips to create PR photographs that attract the attention of editors and readers:

Keep it simple. Organize people and objects to keep wasted space to a minimum. Beware of cluttered backgrounds.

Because publications have different preferences, take a range of alternative shots with different poses and different lenses with different focal lengths to accommodate their various needs. Try a photo from a greater height for an alternative view.

For photos of people, remember the four W’s: who, when, where and why.

For photos of company products, photograph the product in its specific environment and isolate it within at least one picture.

Obviously, photos must be in focus and have good contrast and resolution. Photos should also be well lit and easily understood. Take black and white photos for newspapers. They reproduce better. Since newspapers have poor resolution of photographs, the original must be clear with few dark sections where it’s difficult to discern details. Most magazines and trade journals prefer color photos; color photos are mandatory for websites.

Photos need to be at least 150-300 dots per inch for print newspapers, and 88-100 dpi for web use, notes Marjorie Comer, a PR pro at Axia Public Relations. Magazines need at least 300 dpi for publication. You can check the dpi by right clicking on the image before opening it and going to properties.

Framing is also crucial. Photos should be centered, and the subject should fill as much of the frame as possible. That saves editors the trouble of cropping it. After you first focus on the subject, try taking a step forward. One of the major errors in photography is being too far away; closer is almost always better.

Consider tagging the images. When published online, tagged images are searchable and can drive traffic back to your website.

While PR experts and photographers still recommend using digital cameras whenever possible, phone cameras continue to become more advanced.  But make sure your phone camera’s resolution is adequate since some models produce low-resolution photos. Explore the device’s settings, consider downloading a camera app, and follow other recommendations for using phone cameras. You have more control of your phone’s camera than you may think, especially with a camera app, writes Michael Kelly for The Hartford.

Action Photos Attract Interest

Portraying action is a key to taking a good PR photo. Instead of looking at the camera, the subjects should be involved in an activity related to the story. They can watch and listen to someone speaking. The speaker can hold something to show the group — ideally something related to our organization. Try a side shot of them in a horseshoe setting. Don’t be afraid to stage the photo.

Try a triangular photo composition. The photo’s main subject looks at one of the other people and other two look back. Show the product prominently in the photo – but avoid being too in your face. If appropriate, include a company logo in the photo – but, again, be subtle.

If possible, limit the number of people in the photo to three. Solid color clothing works well.

Write a caption, also sometimes called a cutline, that describes the scene and names the photo subjects. Use active verbs, and name the people in the photo from left to right, front to back. Be concise but informative when writing captions. The more information you include, the more information the journalist and readers will have about the event. But beware of too much information – especially information that does not relate to the subject. Too much detail distracts.

If any photo subjects are not members of your organization, ask them to sign a release form permitting you to use the photo in your promotional materials.

Despite preferences for action photos, some articles require headshots. Media-savvy organizations have headshots of top executives on file and posted in their online newsroom.

When submitting photos, remember best practices for media pitching. If you send multiple photos to an editor at once, you may need to send them via Dropbox or a Google Drive shared folder. Be sure your images are labeled, so the media can easily distinguish which photo is which, Comer adds.

Bottom Line: Well-done photographs can be instrumental in gaining media coverage and promoting your organization. The best photos portray action, encourage people to read the story, and subtly support your message.

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This article was first published on Feb. 6, 2015, and updated on Oct. 13, 2020.