How to… Get A Great PR Photograph

How to…
Get A Great PR Photograph
By David Saunderson & Warren Page
Part of the PR and Marketing How To Guide Series
42 Alexandra Road, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 6DA
T: 01252 408820 F: 01252 375027 E: [email protected]
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
Scope of This Guide
Understand What Editors Look For In A PR Photograph
Set Up And Take A PR Photograph
• Head And Shoulders Shot
• Non-Studio Shot
• Other Things To Consider
• Protect Yourself
• Know How To Use The Camera
• Take your Photographs
• Back In the Office
Submit Your Photographs
Briefing a Photographer
Checklist – Your contract with yourself
About the Author
Copyright & Disclaimer
About Win New Customers and How to Get more Guides
Front Cover photo by Andy Wright (see P8 for details)
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
Having a good photograph to go with a media release can make a real difference to getting
published. A good picture will interest the journalist or editor and help them understand where
your story can fit in to their publication. The photograph needs to be interesting, relevant to the
story and of good technical quality.
To be able to gain coverage in your local media for the benefit of your business.
To be more effective in your use of local media and your interaction with journalists
and editors.
Having read through this How To Guide you will be able to:
Understand what editors are looking for in PR photos.
Set up and take a PR photo.
Submit a PR photo with your article or new release.
Brief a photographer when you need to.
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
Understand What Editors Look For In A PR Photograph
Remember from the outset that a photo is primarily aimed at printed and on-line media. Radio
won’t use your images for obvious reasons and TV rarely use anything other than
professionally shot video, most of which they commission themselves.
If you are targeting a specific publication, have a look through back copies and you will get a
good idea of the sort of photos they use. Cut them out and paste them up together with your
story subject to remind you and give you ideas. It can also help if you need to brief a
professional photographer as it will help to guide them, along with your brief, thus cutting the
time they need to spend on the job and therefore your cost.
Standard pack shots (as used in product specification sheets
and brochures) are rarely what people want to see – unless
this is clearly the publication style for the type of article you
are submitting. If you are aiming for a news section of the
publication, then your photo should reflect the news content
of your story.
A word of warning: A lot of trade publications charge for
using a photo – they call it a ‘colour separation charge’ and it
can be around £125 or more depending on the publication.
Unless it’s really worthwhile to you to have the photo used,
decline as this should not stop them from using your story if
it is truly aimed at the editorial pages. If they contact you on
this point, ask them outright if it stop will item being used if
you do not pay. If it will not be used without payment you
are effectively paying for an advertisement slot so
you will then need to consider it on that basis. It
might be worth it to you or not – it’s your decision.
If the story is about a product, consider using a photo
that shows the product in use, with people in the shot
too – it gives it scale and relevance to the readership.
Sometimes head and shoulder shots (of the author)
can accompany an article in a publication. Many look
appalling and therefore reflect badly on the author.
See later for guidelines on how to avoid classic
PR shots generally show one or more people doing
something unusual – people like to see action in a
shot. A line-up is rarely engaging and the more
people included in the shot the harder it is to avoid it.
Therefore, try to keep the number of people in the
shot to 3 or fewer. This also means that if the photo
is used at a small size, due to space, the people are
still recognisable. Again, be guided by the publication
you are targeting.
Caption: Sarah of XY Gardens
puts her great display of plants
down to using Nemaslug Slug
Photo: DSH PR (
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
The best PR photographs are those that, taken
together with the caption, tell the story. In other
words if the photo and caption are used all by
themselves, the reader will understand the story
you are trying to tell.
Sometimes your story might be strong enough for
the publication to send out their own photographer
– this generally applies to local media for
practical/financial reasons. If you think your story
is strong enough to interest the publication in this
way, telephone them and ask to speak to the
picture desk. You can find their contact details on
their website and the receptionist should put you
through. If they have no picture desk, ask for the
news desk and then explore with them if they
commission photographs or the best way to
submit one to them. However, you should never
rely on a publication sending their own
photographer for an important photograph.
Publications have limited photographic resources
and if a big story comes up just before they are
due to be with you, they will get re-assigned and
you will have no photographer.
Caption: The team at Eastern Tyres,
Anytown, celebrate another successful
award – they never ‘tire’ of them.
Photo: Warren Page (
You can also talk to the publication to find out:
What is the preferred specification (file size, file resolution) for photographs sent in.
Exactly who to send them to.
How they prefer the photo caption to be included.
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
Set Up And Take A PR Photograph
The most basic photograph (but not the most exciting) is the head and shoulders shot. If you
are using this type of photo, it might pay you to get it taken at a local studio – you can use it
many times over so it could make a worthwhile investment.
If you do a head and shoulders shot, remember:
Make sure at least one background is plain, clean and clear –
no multi-coloured curtains!
Make sure there is no shadow on the final photo – This occurs
when someone is photographed against a wall using the flash
facility on the camera.
You can also get nose, chin and other shadows on the final
image if there is strong directed light. One of the easiest ways
to avoid shadows is to take the photo outdoors on an overcast
day, when the sunlight is diffused and shadows minimised.
You can always get someone to hold up a large card behind
the subject to act as a background.
Consider what you are wearing – should you have a shirt and
tie, jacket, overalls? It depends on the use of the photo. For
most situations a plain business style is best for both ladies
and gentlemen.
Look at the camera. Consider whether the person should be
smiling or present a neutral pose. Try different angles as in our
examples here.
If you do use a studio, you might consider taking a number of
different top clothes to wear so you get a variety of shots in
one session, making the most of your investment. You can find
local photographers on the Internet and ask them for their
prices, including the session time and fee and the final disk
price with your images on. You don’t have to have prints –
although you might want them!
Photos: Warren Page
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
-7For A Non-Studio Shot:
Make your picture relevant to the
story you are submitting as well
as engaging to the viewer.
Consider the people in the photo
– who should be in it and why?
Don’t always assume the
business owner is the right
person to be in the photo.
Use props to illustrate your story.
This could be a product in use, a
customer using a piece of
equipment, a sign written van,
the front of your building or even
a banner with your logo. Beware
making it look too much like an
advert for your product or service
though, as the photo should tell
a story that is of interest to the
readership – not self-glorification.
This photo shows how you can use props to create
an engaging photo.
Photo: Warren Page
Make sure people are smiling and make sure you have a shot where you can see that
everyone’s eyes are open. The more people there are in the shot the more likely it is that
someone will blink at just the wrong moment. Sunglasses (any dark lenses) should not be
included, unless it is very relevant to the story. Photographs look to reveal a story, whereas
dark lenses conceal.
Example: Your company takes part in a charity bike ride to raise your
profile. Therefore use bikes in the shot, with your people dressed in the
riding gear (perhaps with shirts bearing your company logo).
Other Things To Consider:
As well as the story angle, there’s
the angle of the photo. Consider
taking the photo from above (use
steps carefully), or from lower
down or off to one side.
Large cheques – these are oldfashioned. Some publications will
use them whilst others have a
policy not to. Check if in doubt.
The same goes for ribbon-cutting
and handshakes! They can be
totally boring and therefore of no
great interest.
If you are using a location other
than your business premises, you
might need permission to take
photos (e.g. shopping centres).
Combine an interesting prop with a different angle to
create interest and attract the editor’s attention.
Photos: Warren Page (
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
Make sure you have the mobile
contact details of everyone
involved in the photograph. This is
especially important for location
shots, where people might get
delayed by traffic – you won’t want
to stand there worrying what has
happened so some of them.
A complex shot involving the cast members of a West
End production, the client, props and branding – all in a
Royal Park (permission had to be gained).
Photo: Andy Wright (
Protect Yourself
Clearly you should have the consent of the people in the photograph to take and use the
photograph for its intended purpose – for submission to the media. If you are clear on what you
are doing and why, then this should be straightforward.
It is particularly important when including
children and young people (under 18
years), where parental consent should be
obtained. For example, many schools
obtain such parental consent as a matter of
course. You might need to evidence this in
writing and there are ‘model release’ forms
available to download from the internet –
one such site is the Association of
Photographers at
There has been an increasing tendency in
recent years for schools (and parents) to
require the names and ages of children to
be excluded from any photographs that will
be published, so be prepared for this.
The photographer had complete agreement from
parents for their children to be included in this
photo, which was used extensively in a
campaign that promoted buying wellington boots
from a specific retailer to help a charity.
You should, as a matter of courtesy send
Photos: Warren Page (
copies of the pictures to the people you
have used in the photographs. This can be the “valuable consideration” referred to in many
model release forms where adults are involved. This is because a contract needs to have some
exchange of value (consideration) in order for it to be enforceable. The site mentioned above
also has model release forms that can be used with children.
Please note: This Guide does not convey any legal advice and you should not rely on it
for legal advice in any circumstances.
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
-9Know How To Use The Camera
It might seem obvious, but make sure you know how to use the camera and set it to the highest
resolution for taking photographs. Don’t use a mobile phone camera. If you are not used to
taking photos, take lots so that you have a better chance of getting a good one. Generally
speaking once you have gone to the trouble of setting up a photo, you don’t want to have to try
to get people back to do it again!
Professional photographers use flash all the time, indoors and out. It means they can control
the light more closely to get a better shot. They also use flash guns that are ‘off camera’ i.e. not
the pop up one on the top or the automatic flash. If you have the skill, use the flash and
override the automatic settings where possible. Get some practise on this before the day on
similar types of shots and review your pictures. Look out for shadows (including within the face)
and of course red-eye.
One more thing – make sure your camera has enough battery life for the shoot!
Take Your Photographs
On the day, make sure you are at the location in good time to welcome those involved.
Organise your ‘subjects’, props and other elements of the photo, keeping to a clean and simple
image if you can – less can be more!
Take as many as you can (without losing the co-operation of your subjects).
Take a variety of landscape
and portrait photographs
Having a selection of both landscape and portrait shots means you can send an editor both
styles. This enables them to select the shot that will best fit the shape of the space they
envisage on the page.
Check your shots as best you can on the camera (remember that the more people are in the
shot, the more likely it is that someone will blink or look away just as you take the shot).
Once you have what you need, thank those involved in your photoshoot for their help.
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
- 10 Back in the Office
Once you have downloaded your photos, check them over. Crop out any extraneous material –
a tight shot will appeal more to the picture editor. Having said that it might be that the
background area is an important element of the story and that the photo makes no sense
without it, so long as the people within the photo don’t get lost in the background. It’s up to you
to judge it.
Having chosen the best, add your caption within the properties field of the image file. It is
important to do this as photos can easily become detached from the email and so if the photo
does not have the information with it, it can be lost and never appear. Include your contact
details in the caption information.
Re-size your photographs to a file size between 500kb and 1mb for most publications. You can
always tell them that bigger file size/higher resolution images are available if required.
Submit Your Photographs
If you have done your research earlier you will now have taken the right sort of photograph that
will be considered by the publication to enhance your news story or article. You will know what
format they want it in, what file size it should be, what resolution it should be and where to send
it. You can send 2 or 3 images, but you might need to send them as separate emails if the
picture desk has a size limit on emails.
Once you have sent it off, start planning your next one.
If you have managed to create a rapport with the picture editor, ask for their feedback (but not
when they are near deadline – always ask if it is convenient to talk). Publications use pictures
to create a better product to look at and so if you are supplying them with good photos, your
chances of them being used are much greater and you will be helping them in their job.
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
- 11 -
Briefing a Photographer
If you do not feel confident enough to take your own photographs it might be best to employ a
freelance photographer to do it for you. You can easily find a selection of photographers in your
local area through the search engines.
To make sure you get the best from a photographer (including a good price) you need to make
sure of the following:
1. Get the right sort of photographer, some are better with people than others. A press
background is preferable, as they are doing this type of work on a daily basis. Some
commercial photographers will be better at product shots and architecture but won't be able
to liven up people in suits with a couple of props. Check out their website if they have one.
2. It's important to make the photographer understand what you are trying to get over.
Photographers think very literally and will interpret a story in a straightforward way. Give
them the props they need to illustrate your story and also more importantly some kind of
3. Get the timings right. Get the photographer along a little before the shoot, but not too early.
It'll give them time to scout out the shoot and find the best spot. Tell them a finish time also.
They will need this to give you a quote anyway. They may also need to schedule
subsequent work.
4. Give precise details of the location, including a postcode.
5. Keep the photographer "in the loop" with any changes
6. Give them a realistic deadline. As soon as possible is no good.
7. Inform them beforehand if you need a couple of early images, they'll need to bring along
their laptop to do this. Tell them if you need a CD or just need a few shots e-mailed. This
will affect the price.
8. Trust the photographer to get the right shots, by all means tell them who's to be in what
shot, but some briefs can be too inflexible and the things that the client is asking for never
actually happen at all, without the photographer having control.
Taking photographs for PR purposes is very different from taking the family snaps on holiday.
Rather than capturing the moment you are creating the moment. With practice you can develop
that skill. If you prefer to give someone else the responsibility of taking the photographs you
now know how to go about it, what to look for and how it should work. This will save you money
and should ensure you end up with photographs that can be used for press purposes. Give
editors good photographs and will increase your chances of publication many times over and
you will get a reputation of submitting good images. Plus you can use them on your website
and on other marketing materials.
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
- 12 -
Do your research to find out what sort of photos the target publication uses and how
to submit a photo to them.
Visualise the photo you want to take.
Organise your props/location/timing (and your photographer if you are not doing it
Make sure you know how to use the camera.
Make sure you have the complete co-operation of those involved in the photo
(model release forms).
Organise the shot.
Check for shadows, etc and take your shots. Play the angles. Watch for closed
Back in the office, download shots from the camera and select the best (portrait and
landscape, cropping as necessary).
Add your caption and re-size if necessary.
Send off to the media with your story and contact details.
If you can, get feedback from the publication as to whether your photo is good, bad
or indifferent and how you might have improved it.
About the Authors: This How To Guide was written by David Saunderson of DSH Public
Relations Limited and Warren Page, press photographer.
David Saunderson is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and has been
marketing businesses through public relations for more than 15 years, both his own and those
of clients, ranging from small owner managed businesses to large companies. With a degree in
accountancy and management experience in both the public and private sectors, his
knowledge spans many areas of business and marketing. His strategic and entrepreneurial
experience has been utilised to achieve growth in a wide range of companies. David has taken
press photographs that have appeared in national, regional, local and consumer and trade
press for many years. David is a director of DSH Public Relations Limited, which he co-founded
in 1994.
Warren Page is a qualified press photographer (National Council For the Training of
Journalists) and has been taking eye catching images for newspapers, magazines and
businesses for 20 years. As a freelance photographer he has worked across the broadest
spectrum of press photography, including sports, celebrity, fashion, events, concerts and
ceremonies. You can see his portfolio of work at
Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011
- 13 Copyright Information: This How To Guide book and its contents are copyright and provided
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regard to accuracy, applicability or completeness of the book. The material does not constitute
professional advice as it presents the view of the authors and contributors as of the date of
publication. Due to the fact that conditions can change, the authors and contributors reserve
the right to alter and update their opinion. Furthermore they do not accept any liability for any
direct or indirect losses or damages arising directly or indirectly through the use of information
contained within this guide. If legal advice or other professional assistance is required, the
services of a competent professional should be sought. The reader is advised to consult with
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Copyright DSH Public Relations Limited 2011