Good quality photos of researchers ‘doing science’ may be the difference between your media release turning into a satisfying page-5 picture story or being reduced to a 2-sentence brief on page 18.
These tips are for digital cameras.
You don’t have to do a photography course or buy the latest expensive SLR camera to take good-quality photos that newspapers will print.
- Put some thought into the shot so that your photo tells the story. Newspapers (and their readers) do not want a photo of an Antarctic researcher sitting behind a desk—they want to see the researcher out on the ice.
- Think about why you are taking the photograph, who will be looking at it and why. Most people look at a photo in a newspaper or a magazine for three seconds.
- Give yourself time to be a little creative. Newspaper journalists can take 90 minutes and several rolls of film to get just the right shot to please their editors.
- Get close to your subject. They should fill most of the frame.
- Consider the background. Unless it helps tell some of your story, keep it plain and simple. Get rid of unnecessary clutter that will detract from your photo. If you can’t, take the person to somewhere with a better background. Avoid extremely light or dark backgrounds.
- Frame your shot. Most photos have one important element. It could be someone’s face, a piece of machinery or a part of the landscape. Your photo will be more interesting if you place the important element away from the centre of your viewfinder. Try mentally dividing your viewfinder into vertical and horizontal thirds. Where two of these lines meet is a good place to place the centre of your important element.
- Use different camera angles. This will give your photo a different perspective and make it more interesting. Try getting up higher or down lower than your subject. Stand on a chair. Zoom in and out to find the most interesting shot.
- Take both landscape (horizontal) and portrait (vertical) photos. This gives the publisher more choice.
Taking the photo
- Hold the camera steady to avoid blurring. The best way to do this is to prop your left hand underneath the lens, like a tripod base, with the camera resting on your palm and your thumb and forefinger around the lens (use your right hand if you’re left-handed). Then rest the camera against your cheekbone and nose as you look through the lens. Operate the shutter with your right hand. Hold your breath while you press the shutter gently.
- If your photo includes a body of water or a clear horizon-line, hold your camera level.
- Take lots of photos trying different angles, compositions and lighting to reduce the risk of getting only unusable photos (with people blinking, looking away or moving).
- Tell a story with your photo. Use props or ask the person to do something interesting (examine a plant, dig a hole etc.). Acknowledge that this may feel awkward or strange to them. Avoid shots of people sitting at desks, sitting at computers, shaking hands or standing in a row. Take them to where they do practical work, whether it is the laboratory or out in the bush.
- Focus on the people, not the landscape. The publication may use only one photo, so try to take one that shows, for example, both the eroding riverbank and the scientist studying the erosion.
- Close-up head-and-shoulder shots can be useful, especially if the background relates to the story.
- Make sure that the person’s eyes are not obscured by sunglasses or a hat; ask them to remove any items that block the view to their eyes.
- Do not line the person up with their back against a wall – the photo will look flat and boring and the pose is not flattering.
- Do not include all 30 members of the research team in one photo. This might be ok for an internal publication. Limit it to three people if you can. You will probably need to have them move closer to each other than is comfortable.
- Don’t have the person looking straight into the camera lens. For a more natural look, ask them to look to one side.
- Do not stand the person in front of an organisational banner.
- Make sure your subject is the largest object in the photo. Don’t dwarf them in order to also fit in a prop, such as the ship that took them to Antarctica. Here are two options:
- Bring the person forward away from the object (the ship) so that the object is in the background, but the person fills most of the frame.
- Frame the person and a small part of the prop. For example, you do not need to show the entire ship for people to know it is a ship.
- A close-up of the subject holding a significant object close to their face can be interesting. For small props, such as a Petri dish or a rare flower, a regular portrait photo of the researcher will not show what they are holding or doing. Get up close by either:
- bringing the prop right up close to their face, as if they are studying it, or
- holding the prop slightly in front of their face, just below and next to their chin.
- It is not necessary to include the entire object or even the entire head of the researcher. Well-cropped images of faces can also be effective.
- Focus the camera on the eyes of your subject. It is vital that their eyes are in sharp focus in any photo. Even with a photo of a farmer and their prized tractor, focus on the farmer, not the tractor.
- Point the viewfinder at the person’s eyes.
- Hold the shutter halfway down to make the camera focus on the eyes.
- Move the camera to the left or right to improve the composition so that the person is not exactly in the middle of the frame.
- Morning and late afternoon are often the best times for photographing, especially for getting well-lit faces, where the face is being lit from the side or front-on.
- Use natural light if possible. Unless you have a professional studio for taking photos indoors, the best place to take photos with your automatic camera is outdoors. This avoids red-eye, odd shadows, dark backgrounds and washed-out subjects caused by too much flash.
- Try to photograph in overcast conditions. If it’s sunny, look for filtered light—under a tree, for example.
- Avoid glary areas, such as concrete and buildings that reflect the sun. Even bricks add glare so it is best to move to an area with foliage.
- Photograph with the sun behind you so that it lights up the person’s face. If the light is bright and in their eyes, ask them to look down to rest their eyes, then look up as you take some shots, then look down again to rest their eyes.
- Watch out for background light that could overexpose your shot or make the person’s face too dark. If the strongest light is behind them, try using a flash to fill in the darker areas in front.
- If the sun is casting strong shadows on the face, use the fill-flash option if you have it.
- If the person is wearing a hat or a cap, tilt it back for a better view of their face.
- Use a flash when taking photos inside.
- Include the who, what, when and where in your caption.
- Include the names of everyone in the photo and check spelling.
- List people from left to right. If some people are standing behind others, list them in the order that their heads appear in the photo from left to right.