Welcome to our July 2015 newsletter: The power of pictures

Last week, Michelle Obama lifted the 40-year-old ban on people taking photos during public tours of the White House. She announced it on Instagram.

The White House understands not just the power of the image itself, but the power of appealing to a world where everyone’s a photographer.

This month we share some of our thoughts on pictures and power.

As always, we’d love your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam,

Jenni Metcalfe, Mary O’Callaghan (newsletter editor), Sarah Cole, Alison Binney, Jane Ilsley, Tom Dixon and Elisabeth Berry.


Elevate your perspective

By Alison Binney

One of my favourite recent purchases is a monopod. It has truly reinvigorated my passion for photography.

No, I don’t use it to take selfies – although that is possible.

The main reason I love the monopod is that I can now extend myself to be almost 4 metres tall and take those bird’s-eye photographs that give me a different perspective.

I am always on the hunt for a new angle, so I find the monopod valuable for photographing crowds or groups, and tall objects.

I first prepare my lighting and make sure the camera is in autofocus mode.

Then, most importantly, I set the camera’s timer-mode to either 2 seconds or 10 seconds. I usually choose 2 seconds, as 10 seconds is a little tiring on the arm; you can get the shakes while waiting for the shot.

Then I hoist the monopod up above my head, wait for the audible snap, repeat this a few times and choose the best framed photo.

I am often surprised by what the camera reveals from this angle and how it adds to my bigger-picture storytelling.

This over-sized bronze chair is one of 68 that form a Holocaust memorial sculpture in Krakow; each chair symbolises 1000 Jews. The chair was too tall for me to get this shot without the monopod. The higher angle also made the shadow look starker than it did to my naked eye, and at the lower angle.
Photo: Alison Binney

Picture stories

By Mary O’Callaghan

A quick browse of my phone’s camera roll reveals, as I suspected, mostly photos of nature, rowing and social gatherings.

But interspersed among these are photos of recipes, quotes, wine labels, receipts and a few magazine typos (for sharing only with other editors).

There’s one of my bedroom’s bare-bulb light fitting for showing to the person in the lighting shop, one of my laptop’s underbelly for emailing to the IT guy, and one of the rear of my tractor for showing the mechanic – when his questions got technical, I just pointed to the photo and said, ‘there, that thing’.

In seconds, I can swipe down through a visual cascade of memories. Every picture has a story behind it and, put together, I guess they tell something about me and my life.

Cascade of memories. Photo: Mary O’Callaghan

If you’ve got a great photo that tells a good story, have a look at National Geographic’s Your Shot.

You can submit your photo-and-caption to an ‘assignment’ such as Climate change in your life, Islands, Dog days, Road trip. The assigned photo editor will review it and decide whether to include it in the final collection. You may even get direct feedback.

Even if you don’t contribute, the photos are fantastic and the editors’ explanations of why they chose each photo offer photography insights and tips.

[Thanks Sarah for the tipoff on Your Shot.]

Dodging clichés in images

By Sarah Cole

Journalists covering agricultural beats in northern Australia must have it tough lately. How do you keep finding different images that illustrate drought?

The ‘cracked earth’ image is so commonplace that at least one organisational style guide I know has banned it.

Cracked soil at Chowilla, SA. Photo: Willem van Aken

Often it’s about balancing the downside of using a clichéd image with the upside of having your audience know immediately what your story is about.

Using drought as my example, here are some ideas for selecting more powerful, less clichéd images to accompany your stories:

  • Put the people from your story front and centre.
  • Get high – really high if you can afford it. An aerial shot offers quite a different perspective to the ‘cracked earth’ close-ups and the ‘dying crops and animals’ images.
  • Portray an emotion. Drought evokes many emotions in readers; pick one and focus on it, as long as you don’t feel it’s exploitative.
  • Surprise people with a quirky photo, such as a row of emus on the horizon.
  • Show a solution. For example, Grant Stainer’s photos of a researcher riding a ‘Mike-mobile’ are quirky while also showing action to help farmers combat drought.

Moving pictures – get smart

By Jenni Metcalfe

Smartphones are making it easy for scientists to take vision of their work out in the field or in the lab, or to record part of a conference presentation they wish to share.

Here are my tips for using a smartphone video camera:

  1. Use natural light. Try to have the sun behind you or beside you, rather than in front of you (unless you are filming a sunset/sunrise).
  2. Avoid glare from concrete, buildings, glass and water. Move to somewhere where there is shade so that the light is more even.
  3. Before filming, make sure your phone battery is charged and switch to flight mode so you don’t get interrupted by a call.
  4. Hold the phone on its side so you are shooting landscape rather than portrait. Otherwise you’ll get vertical bars on the left and right side of your video. And make sure you are shooting the right way up, not upside down (you’ll save time on editing).
  5. Keep your phone as still as possible—shaky vision makes people seasick. You can buy a special tripod for smartphones or try resting the phone on a level surface. You can also use your elbows as a tripod base for your hands.
  6. Use different angles to shoot your vision – from above or below.
  7. Try editing your video on your computer using free software (Movie Maker for PCs and iMovie for Macs).
  8. Keep it short. Less than 2 minutes is good.