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Taking a Quality Photograph

August 20, 2013
So we meet again under the auspices of Public Information. This month, I want to talk a bit about my personal crusade: teaching government professionals how to take a compelling, interesting photograph. 

We have it easier than any photographers in the history of the modern world – we can take a photo, see it instantly, and edit the image for maximum effect. But that ease is deceptive, and most people will take what they can get when it comes to pictures. These incredible tools we have at our disposal have to be used in order for your government to succeed in today’s crowded media environment. 

Almost nothing can help your story get told like a great photograph, and yet I see terrible, boring images used every day. I die a little inside each time, because as a designer I learned telling a story visually is a powerful method for successful government communications. 

Given the space constraints of this column, I’ve summed up the basics in Commandment form:
 
  1. Thou shalt not use a picture from a cell phone in a professional media communication
    As with all rules, there is a slight exception – you can post cell phone photos to a social media site if you’re trying to tell the story of being “on site” at a special event.
  2. Thou shalt invest in a good camera and flash AND take a basic photography course
    You want an SLR with lenses that can be removed.
  3. Thou shalt follow the Rule of Thirds
    The Rule of Thirds refers to the composition of an image. When you take a photo, divide the screen into thirds horizontally and vertically, like in a grid. Your dominant element should fall somewhere in those thirds that’s pleasing to the eye. The rule of thirds works for depth, as well. Think of all your photographs in terms of fore-, middle- and background for maximum visual appeal.
  4. Thou shalt shoot outside as much as possible for best light
    The insides of most City Halls are boring. Most cities, however, are not. Use what you’ve got. 
  5. Thou shalt not take static photos at eye level
    Get on the ground, stand on a chair (it makes people look thinner and more youthful to shoot down on them). Tilt the camera slightly. You want to entice the eye. 
  6. Thou shalt compose images that encapsulate the story being told
  7. Thou shalt get close to subjects
    Don’t be shy – usually, the closer you get, the better.
  8. Thou shalt use pictures of animals and children whenever possible
  9. Thou shalt get photos of everything you could possibly use
    You aren’t paying for film anymore, so take hundreds of shots. Need one headshot? Take 10. 
  10. Thou shalt experiment
With just a modicum of effort, you can make your communications stand above the rest. Differentiate yourself with high quality images, and you’ll never be wanting for coverage.
JASON WRIGHT
Jason Wright is Communications Manager for the Georgia Tech Research Library. Up until November 2015, he was the Director of Innovation and Engagement for the City of Milton where he oversaw all aspects of the city's branding and communications efforts, including transparency, automation, design, photography, printing, web services and social media and public outreach.

Prior to Milton, Wright spent seven years working in the magazine and newspaper business. Most recently he was editor of both the Milton Herald and Alpharetta–Roswell Revue and News, where he wrote, edited, photographed for and oversaw design of the weekly papers. Prior to that, he worked as a writer, editor, designer and photographer for local, regional and national publication.