Media Relations: Photography - How A Great Picture Can Get You a Major News Story


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Odds are you have access to a medium or big town newspaper. Have a few extra minutes? Flip through it and pay close attention to the pictures.

Do you see any awkwardly posed shots of a politician handing a check to the staff of some local nonprofit? Do you see a “ribbon cutting" shot to mark the opening of a new park? Do you see a bunch of head shots of executives?

If you looked at one of the top 100 newspapers in the United States, odds are you didn’t. So why do people keep posing for these photos in the same unoriginal (and ineffective) manner?

It’s cheesy and minor league – and it may be hurting you.

Why? Because a great photograph can actually move a story that would otherwise be in the back pages onto the front page. Again, look at your local paper. Over the next few days, you’ll probably notice that there are a few stories that make it onto the front page for one reason only – the great picture that accompanied it.

Craft a Clever Photo Op

One recent client works for a major nature park. Each year, Steve meets with a group of school children to teach them about the wildlife in the park. Reporters and photographers occasionally attend in order to write a local story about the visit. But he always speaks to the kids indoors and uses slides to make his point. Not exactly the stuff of a great photo.

Here are three ways to improve Steve’s next photo op – and yours:

1. Create An Action Shot: Photojournalists like to capture moments of something in the process of happening – a cheerleader in midair, a thief being arrested, or a woman laughing hysterically. Instead of teaching in a drab classroom, Steve should teach his seminar outdoors against the backdrop of the woods. Instead of slides, Steve could show the kids actual stuffed birds. As the kids lean in to see the bird, the camera goes click – and a great photo is born.

2. Take ‘Em Where You Want ‘Em: About a decade ago, the radio station I was working for moved to a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. So I never understood why the grand opening press event was set up outside. Newspapers clicked pictures of that dreaded ribbon cutting, and although one ran, it was buried in the back of the paper.

The station’s management should have arranged a photo op in the main studio. They could have set up banners inside the studio highlighting the station’s channel number. They could have had their three biggest stars clowning around in the picture to lend the impression of a “fun and friendly" station. Instead, they squandered a great opportunity for free advertising.

3. Consider Time of Day: Great outdoor photos require great light. Early morning (dawn) and late afternoon (dusk) provides photographers with terrific lighting; just keep in mind that the late afternoon timeslot may make it hard for the reporter to meet his deadline. If you can, avoid scheduling your event to coincide with the midday sun, which tends to wash pictures out.

Brad Phillips is the founder and president of Phillips Media Relations. He was formerly a journalist for ABC News and CNN, and headed the media relations department for the second largest environmental group in the world.

For more information and to sign up for free monthly media relations, media and presentation training e-tips, visit .


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