Monday, June 22, 2015

Visual storytelling? Forget your smartphone

Our local PRSA chapter held its award ceremony last week. Many great public relations campaigns, agencies, and practitioners were recognized. And deservedly so.

My Canon camera. By Mohylek (Own work),
 via Wikimedia Commons
I'd share photos, except I wasn't there. And most of the photos posted on social media by the event's attendees were uniformly awful. Poorly lit, under-exposed snapshots -- the incriminating fingerprint of a smartphone camera that uses a tiny sensor and fires a tiny LED to produce a feeble flash. Or has no flash at all.

(I'd link to their pictures, but it's unfair to show colleagues in less than flattering photos.)

Footnote: this isn't specific to the Rochester, NY PRSA chapter. I've now seen shots from the Buffalo PRSA Excalibur awards event; they aren't any better, and in some cases, look no better than any after-party selfies you've seen.

Listen, I get it. People don't want to carry two devices. A stand-alone digital camera has to be charged, and adds weight to a pocket or purse. It's one more thing to bring along. And a smartphone allows you to upload photos to Facebook immediately. (Without editing. Bleh.)

As a literate culture, we are increasingly dependent on telling stories visually. PR people know this, because every winning PR strategy relies on YouTube, Vimeo, or another way to share still or moving images. Audiences expect visuals, and often skim past content with visual content.

And poor visuals really stink. They tell the viewer: "We didn't care enough about this story to include a picture."

So, for events and occasions that demand visuals, organizations need to hire a photographer with a camera designed for low-light photography. Or enlist an experienced volunteer with comparable equipment to help document the events. (In a town like Rochester, NY -- home to a university with a very strong photography school -- this should be simple.)

Most days, I carry a four-year-old compact Canon digital camera in my briefcase. It isn't the latest, and doesn't pack 20 megapixels. But it does an infinitely better job of visual storytelling when used correctly. In the right hands.