Use photographs for greater impact

Good commercial photography is a great business investment. When you have completed a $100 million project, for instance, the cost of photographing the project is not even a drop in the bucket. I worked as corporate affairs manager in three large engineering companies as well as Amcor, an international paper and packaging company. Each year in the preparation of our annual report in all of those companies, I would work with commercial photographer, Joe Vittorio, to take some great shots of various multi-million dollar projects, flying thousands of miles across the country for the work. The images can be used over and over for many different purposes over a long time. For instance, a media release is immediately more usable if you supply a good photo to accompany it. Therefore, it is worthwhile to ensure you use photographs for greater impact.

Above 3 photos taken by Joe Vittorio.

Photo 1: Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority electricity transmission lines and the Tumut 1 hydro power station (with the white water pipes in the middle distance, right) in Tumut, New South Wales, Australia.

Photo 2: Iron ore being loaded onto a train in the north west of Western Australia.
Photo 3 Electricity turbines in the Snowy Hydro-electric Authority’s Murray 1 power station, New South Wales, Australia. (That’s me in the shot to give a size comparison of the turbines.)

The internet has brought a resurgence of the visual image into our everyday communication. Digital cameras and cell phones with integrated cameras have generated an explosion of images into everyone’s lives. Photographs that accompany text strengthen the impact of your written words, so make the commitment to use photographs for greater impact – not just stock photos if you can avoid it.

Photographs offer the benefit of instant and powerful communication. They are indeed worth more than mere words, especially when people’s ability to read and write is not improving. Gen Y is not a good example of a literate generation. The universal use of txt msgs by Gen Y means they cant spl or evn use spl chekrs. Its gdnite to gd spelng.

Some lessons I have learnt from using a good photographer:

  1. Plan ahead so you don’t waste the photographer’s time – they are expensive to have idle. Whether in the office photographing executives or out in the field shooting products and projects, don’t have the photographer stand around doing nothing. If you need models for the shot, make sure they are ready when you want them. Get the photographer to set up lights and check settings so are ready to shoot immediately the ‘talent’ becomes available. With field shots, ensure you have all the necessary permissions and clearances well ahead to time to shoot and to enter the areas you need to. It is worth confirming these the day before the shoot. But once you are in place, don’t cut the photographer’s time. Give them enough time to check creative angles. The greater creative quality from this should motivate you to use photographs for greater impact
  2. When taking field shots, plan the time of day for the shoot if possible. Natural light is best in early morning or late afternoon. The warmth of the light at those times is worth waiting for. Filters can help in dealing with grey clouds and adverse conditions, but seek those best times for the ‘money’ shots.
  3. Expect your photographer to make the effort and take the time to shoot from a variety of angles. Don’t hesitate to clamber over structures to find creative angles. Take standard shots for straightforward uses, but take the time to find creative shots as well – close ups of textures and people as well as objects. You will find, as I have, that graphic designers love the creative shots to illustrate points in a brochure, report or website. One day for a project shot, the photographer and I stood for an hour on the path under the side of a new bridge my company had built, to take dusk shots of people walking, running and cycling with the outline of the bridge stretching along behind them. The graphic designers loved these shots so much they put one on the front cover of the new corporate brochure and used another internally as well.
  4. If your product or service is intangible, try getting a creative photographer and/or graphic designer to suggest creative alternatives such as photographs of interesting people using the product or service in action (preferably reasonably realistic, not looking contrived like a cheesy shot of a model). And make sure they are wearing all the right safety gear if you are setting up industrial or workplace shots – or your carefully taken shots could be vetoed by safety staff.
  5. Since the web enables so many photos to be hurtled around the world so fast, copyright and clearances need to be attended to carefully. When you arrange for a professional photographer to take shots, you need to ensure anyone featured in the shots signs a model release in advance to authorize you to use the shots for marketing and communication purposes. Otherwise, they have the right to sue you for illegal use of their image, or at least prevent you from using the shot. If the shot shows your employees, you need to get their signed clearance. Same with employees of other organizations if the shots include some recognizable staff from elsewhere. This is especially important on websites because the shots could be copied by anyone in the world for any purpose. You also have to ensure you aren’t shooting sensitive subjects. With many security people paranoid about terrorists possibly photographing potential target sites, you need to ensure you and your photographer are cleared well ahead of time to shoot your pics. You don’t want to be mistaken as potential terrorists by over-zealous security staff, bystanders or police.
  6. Beware the format used for digital pics. Professional photographers usually take shots in high-resolution RAW format, which provides more dense detail and more opportunity to manipulate the images on computer, eg by Photoshop. The downside to RAW images is that they take up a huge amount of space to store or email. A single RAW pic may take 30 megabytes of storage space – far too big to email to anyone.
  7. Most still images we see on the Web are on JPEG files, which are much more manageable than RAW files. However, you need to be aware that every time you open and close a JPEG file, you lose part of the data because of the file compression that takes place. Repeated access will result in loss of quality. Most consumer cameras only use JPEG format images, and therefore aren’t suitable for quality reproduction in print. Photos from cell phone cameras used to fall well short of being worthwhile to reproduce in print, but year-by-year, the quality of such pics is improving and is OK for web and social media use in particular – and sometimes for printing where the quality is not a vital requirement.

I hope these tips help you to use photographs for greater impact in your professional work.

Further reading

You can read more on this topic in my article, “Visual images will interest media in your news angle.”

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