You can cut down on a lot of photography-related headaches with clear instructions to your members and contributors—but what details should be included?
By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
It is a common problem in association publishing these days: Thanks to today’s convenient photo-taking gadgets, from inexpensive digital cameras to cell phones and portable computers, more and more people think of themselves as photographers. As a result, association publishers are receiving more and more photos that are less and less publishable, especially for their print publications.
In response to a recent request to the Association Media & Publishing listserv posted by Christine Avery, managing editor, membership publications for American Payroll Association, colleagues offered a variety of ways to help members improve their basic photography skills so images submitted to association publications are more publishable.
Key concerns for Avery are:
• Portraits—how to take a quality portrait with good lighting, standard background, focus/sharpness, and resolution for print, etc. "We have been known to receive photocopies of (driver’s) license pictures or black-and-white photocopies for our monthly pub,” Avery says.
• Group shots—how to take quality images of chapter groups or award winners.
Some association publishing professionals address this challenge by giving detailed guidance to their members and other contributors on taking better photos; others hold events on that topic and make the findings available in various ways, often through online videos. Still others try to distill guidelines into easily understood instructions that are standing elements of their publications.
I believe that the best approach is to keep directions for photo submissions as simple as possible. Many people never bother to read the instructions on their digital cameras or cell phones and just start clicking away. They may not know the default settings on their cameras or how to change those settings; what DPI, resolution, TIFF, or JPEG mean; or how to frame an image before shooting, crop it effectively, or enhance quality with editing programs. I would rather have someone send me an 18x24-inch, 72 dpi image that I can crop and resize to fit my publication’s needs than trust the fiddling and fixing to someone who does not know enough about photo manipulation to do it well.
For example, one association newsletter, whose contributors are professionals in the museum field, uses this language for photo submissions: "Images should be provided at high quality (400 dpi), preferably as TIFFs or JPEGs, either color or black-and-white, with detailed captions.”
For publications whose members may not be as sophisticated in their use of cameras, a good alternative language might be: "Please take photos for submission with cameras at their highest-quality settings. Either color or black-and-white is fine. Please do not crop or edit images before sending them; that will be handled by the publication.”
A Little Help from My Friends
Avery got back some great advice from her Association Media & Publishing colleagues on the listserv. Colleagues’ on-list recommendations included the following wealth of information to help members become better photographers (some items have been edited for space or clarity):
• Douglas R. Kelly, editor, Marine Technology magazine, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. "We’ve cut down the 5,000-word thing on resolution by telling most of our authors: ‘Photos must be 300 dpi at a minimum of 6 inches in width.’ An over-simplification, but it works maybe half the time; the other half they still send us 100 dpi at a half-inch in width.”
• Erin Young, editor, Educational Horizons and Go Teach magazines, PDK International Family of Associations (PDK Pi Lambda Theta/Future Educators Association). "We’ve tried to simplify also by telling them the file must be at least 1 MB in size. This has cut down on the number of photos that we receive that are way too tiny.”
• Steve Spicer, WE&T managing editor, Water Environment Federation. "We boil it down this way: ‘Digital images should have a resolution of at least 300 dpi. Images from a 4-megapixel camera or better set to the best setting work well.’”
• Rita Zimmerman, communications coordinator, American Inns of Court. The Bencher magazine of the American Inns of Court provides these guidelines for submitting photos: "Please submit .jpg or .tif files with a minimum resolution of 300 dpi (high-resolution). Headshots should be 300 dpi and at least 2x3 inches. Please note that photos and images posted or saved from the Internet are low resolution and not suitable for commercial printing. Original photographic prints are accepted.” Photos will only be returned on request as part of its Submission Guidelines.
• Kate Conley, periodicals director and editor, Learning & Leading with Technology, ISTE, International Society for Technology in Education. The ISTE Brownbag Committee developed a detailed set of guidelines for photos submitted by members (edited for length):
1. Use natural light whenever possible, with the sun behind you or over your shoulder (shooting directly into the sun is seldom a good idea). Indoors, find the brightest spot in the room and position your subject directly under it. If you need to use flash, try to ensure there's still some additional light so the flash is not the only source of light.
2. Follow the "rule of thirds” and imagine your screen is a tic-tac-toe board; position your subject or main focal point along one of the vertical or horizontal lines. Try to avoid placing your subject dead center. Some smartphones have an option to "turn grid on”; this will help you follow the rule of thirds and also will help ensure that the horizon is steady and straight.
3. Move in close. Try not to include excess dead space, and consider how small details might make your photo more interesting. Try not to use the zoom function.
4. Keep the phone (or camera) firmly planted—lean against something steady, like a wall, or use small tripod.
5. On iPhones running iOS5, you can use the volume-up button on the earbuds to release the camera shutter—a great option for low light or unsteady conditions.
6. Tap the touchscreen just before taking a photo. On most smartphones, tapping the subject in your frame adjusts the lighting to match the subject (which is great when you have to shoot into the sun or you’re shooting a dark subject in a bright space).
7. Turn on HDR (high dynamic range) imaging. The camera will take two photos—one that focuses on the brights and one that focuses on the dark areas—and then stitches the two images together into a single good shot.
8. Clean your lens—a Q-tip will work.
9. To mimic the polarizing lenses used by professional photographers to get the best outdoor shots, hold a sunglass lens as close as possible over the camera lens.
10. Get familiar with two or three editing apps so you can edit shots as you take them. That’s much easier than processing dozens or hundreds of shots days or weeks later.
Links and Resources
See Final Proof article, Smartphone Photography 101.
Check out these photography iPhone Apps:
* Fotor CameraBag
* Novelty/fun apps: FantasyLens, Comic Touch, ColorSplash, Faces Wild!
Good Android apps for photography include:
* Retro Camera
* Pic Say
* Camera 360
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is a freelance writer/editor/proofreader whose trademarked motto is "I can write about anything!”® She is a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.