Sunday, May 25, 2014

Great PR photos: it's not about the camera

The most important tool to get usable PR photos isn't a $5,000 digital SLR camera. Or a camera phone. Or some in-between device, like a point-and-shoot digital camera.

It's your brain. The thinking machine between your ears. 

Yes, I can tell you about tiny imaging sensors that capture grainy, disappointing photos. Or how any bright light source you see on your smartphone's screen will trick the camera into under exposing the shot, making faces dark and unrecognizable. Or how that tiny flash won't light up anything further than six feet from your lens.

But you won't care. Or won't remember. So, instead, let's talk about your brain, and how it ought to think about PR photos. It should ask three questions, well before you decide that photos of a PR event would be good to have:

1. How quickly does the world need to see these photos?

2. Where will these photos be used?

3. What message will the photos say about your brand?

First, how quickly? Ninety percent of the PR photos we capture don't qualify as breaking news. So there's no need to rush them on to Instagram or Twitter without first editing them. Any tablet capable of shooting photos can run apps that correct them. Free programs like Picasa can remove red-eye. Even if you aren't using Photoshop, you should adjust lighting and crop the photo before catapulting it into social media.

Second: what's the destination? Facebook or an annual report? Facebook is ephemeral, temporary, and quickly forgotten. Grip-and-grin handshake photos may be fine here, and you can squeak by with snapshots. Corporate newsletters and annual reports require better, publication-quality photos, with highly controlled lighting. 

And a good PR pro should make a case for hiring a professional photographer who uses real cameras. And who can edit photos for flawless results. In these circumstances, only use your smartphone to call a professional. 

Third: how will the photo impact your brand? When you see a bad photo in a story about a business, do you think: "Boy, they're too stingy to spend money on decent photography"? That's what I think, and it's worse if the brand has anything to do with image capture: smartphone makers, colleges offering photography degrees, manufacturers of inkjet printers, etc. Your client deserves not to have his or her brand tarnished by crappy photos. 

My advice: plan ahead. If there's any chance of a photo from your next PR activity appearing anywhere beyond Instagram, you're better off trusting the photography to someone who knows which equipment will deliver quality images. 

Save your smartphone for family snapshots, not client events.