Sunday, August 13, 2017

Photos For Publications - Composition and Content

Many amateur photographers are asked if they can make a photo or two for possible publication in a club or organization newsletter, or possibly for submission to a local newspaper for publication in the community section. While it is up to an editor to decide whether a photo is run, the quality of the image can influence whether it runs at all.

I have photographed a variety of community events for the San Mateo Daily Journal since 2010. These are the guidelines I follow for my images, and I suggest you consider doing the same.

Arranging For Time: If you know a photo will be taken, arrange for the event organizer to get you subjects together at a specific location, at a specific time.

Landscape Orientation: I always compose my images in the landscape (horizontal) format. Since the caption is placed below the image, the wider text line is the more efficient use of this limited space. Trust me on this one.

Visual Content: Every images communicates to the viewer at two levels:
  • Recognition: The viewer recognizes something in the image that relates to the event. This would be appropriate logos, trophies, or certificates.
  • Inference: The viewer recognizes something to suggests a mood. Smiles, hand gestures, and body posture contribute to the "feeling" of a photo. 

Photo #2
In this particular image (Photo #2), the words "Presiding Judge Criminal" add some intellectual value to the image - you know exactly why the bailiff is armed and why he has a "Don't mess with me" posture . Without the sign on the door, it is only a photo of a bailiff. His facial expression adds to the image. The inference is clearly there. It would certainly not be as compelling a photo if he was smiling.

Photo #3a
Directing The Viewer's Focus: There are several  aspects of this photo that might make it a "first pick". Notice that all of the dancers have a similar stance, so there is symmetry in the repeated triangles of their bodies (Photo 3a).The grill of the truck in the background suggests a marching formation you might find at any parade.

Incidentally, they dancers are just warming up, as making a photograph during the actual parade can be distracting to other viewers. No sense in making it difficult for others to enjoy the actual parade.

Photo 3b
This second variation has one main difference: The dancer at camera left is looking up, directing her gaze towards the middle of the photo (Photo 3b). The two dancers at camera right are also looking towards the middle of the photo. This subtle difference keeps the viewer's attention inside the photo.

There is a single distracting element in the background - the costumed dancer walking out of the frame. The image could not be cropped tighter without cutting into a the right-most dancer's arm and leg. The image is pretty much the way I saw it in the viewfinder, which is to say it was only slightly cropped.

Photo #4
Props: In this shot, you can see that the subject is holding his plaque and the check, making it obvious that he has won an award (Photo #4). One can infer from his smile, and the onlookers in the background, that he's pleased with the presentation. If you look in the background, you can see that everybody is looking at this young award winner.

Photo #5
I made Photo #5 as a record shot of the members of an philanthropic organization, and not the shot I had planned to submit. As it stands, it's a great shot of a group of women, but there is not hint to why they are together. As it turned out, the shot I wanted and the shot the organization wanted were at cross purposes.

The 4 B's: There is a general rule about what makes a good, publishable photo called the "4 B's". Simply put, the most publishable shots will have "Babies, Babes, Beasts, or Blood". One could argue that I met the second criterion, but without any props, the photo has no real context.

This shot from the same organization went a little overboard from the inference, but there is no doubt in the viewer's mind as to what the photo's backstory is. Admittedly, those in the front row say it all, while the back row fills the shot out.

Looking back, I can find a lot of flaws with the photo, many that could have been easily corrected. The reality of the shots include the difficulty in getting everybody together, the time it took for everybody to get their awards, and the five minutes I had to make the photo before the evening's Mistress of Ceremonies began her presentation. And when all is said and done, nearly all of my subjects would rather be doing something else.

Glare: When photographing award recipients, have them tip the awards down slightly. This will eliminate any glare issues. 

Photo 6a

Backgrounds: The background to be used to define the location, and often the relevance, of a photograph (Photo 6a). Here, it's pretty clear who the event sponsor was, and the microphone suggests that that the subject is speaking to a large audience.

I tend to crop to the same proportions as 35mm film (aka Aspect Ratio of 1.5). In this photo, any addition reduction of the photo might lead to clipping part of my subject's left hand.

Photo 6b
This variation was accomplished by zooming in with the lens, rather than moving about in a crowded dining area (Photo 6b). While not essential, zoom lenses allow you to crop you images in a variety of ways without the loss of image quality that comes with extreme cropping.

In both of these shots, the subject placement closely follows the classic "rule of thirds" placement of the subject. This is more about the speaker and less about the sponsor.

Photo #7
The Ceiling As A Background: Unless you are photographing in outer space, there is always something behind your subject. Whether you can actually see it is another story. For this shot, the ship's sail, suspended from the ceiling, suggests the nautical theme of this fundraiser (Photo #7). The photo was made from a relatively low camera position so the sail could be included.

To make the shot, I placed a second flash on the floor and aimed it towards the sail. Some light spilled onto the auction prizes on the left side of the frame. I might add that in the interest of space, the editor cropped out the ceiling and the sail.

Photo #8
This last shot was made in the Redwood City Courthouse, known for its ornate stained glass highlights. Immediately after their last dress rehearsal, I made this shot. It took 8 speedlights to get the effect I wanted: 2 fired from a softbox, one on the floor as a low fill, three aimed at the back walls (these had orange gels to give the walls some warmth), and a single speedlight pointed at the back of my middle subject's head. They were very cooperative, and posed in a manner consistent with their characters. The shot required almost an hour of preparation and only five minutes of shooting time, probably the most time intensive shot I've made to date. It is probably my favorite, and gives you the idea of just how far one might go to achieve some interesting visual results.