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How to take the perfect PR picture

This guest blog is by Matthew Horwood (@matthew_horwood) a professional freelance photographer based in Cardiff who specialises in creative press, public relations and corporate/commercial photography. His clients include national newspapers and agencies, businesses and leading PR companies (Brighter Comms included!).

To get the perfect PR picture you should ideally use a professional photographer with professional kit. But time and budget pressures often mean that’s not possible. So here are some tips for taking the perfect picture for any budget no matter what your equipment.

Variety

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Remember to shoot a variety of shapes and sizes – landscape as well as portrait, closeup as well as looser pictures. Newspaper designers need images that are the right shape for the page so giving them a range to choose from will increase the chances of your picture being used. Consider taking pictures with negative space to the right or left of your subject as often designers will use this space for a headline.

Simplicity

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Try not to overcomplicate things. Do you need all of those senior managers in the picture? If someone is not relevant to the story you are trying to tell then the picture is better off without them. Keep things simple and think about what you are trying to communicate and who the story is really about. If it’s possible to get the subject doing something related to the story then this is always preferable.

Branding

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Try to keep branding subtle. It’s a fine line but many pictures never see the light of day because of too much emphasis on a logo and not enough on the people that make the story. If there’s too much branding the picture desk may either crop the picture in such a way that the branding is no longer visible or just bin the image altogether. With that in mind, if you’re going to incorporate branding try to keep it as a small but integral part of the image.

Background

Back when I was starting out as a trainee photographer at the Western Mail I was sent to photograph David Hurn who is a photographer with Magnum – a prestigious and world-famous picture agency. David offered me some very simple and straightforward advice: pay attention to the background as much as the foreground. It’s tempting to get carried away with what’s right in front of you but getting the background right is just as important. Avoid anything that detracts from the picture – a neutral background focuses the viewer’s attention to where it should be: on the subject.

Props

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Adventurer Jeff Smith is going to climb Everest and paraglide off the top.

PIC: Matthew Horwood / Media Wales

A photographer’s best friend! A PR picture should tell a story and props are a great way of conveying the story visually. If you have ‘office worker climbing Everest’ then it’s no good having him sat at his desk in a suit. Try to get the right props in place beforehand rather than scrambling around during the shoot – it may take a bit more preparation and your client may take a bit of persuading but if it’s the difference between a picture getting published and not then it’s well worth it. Giant cheques don’t tend to go down too well, though, so you may want to avoid those.

Lighting

Without professional lighting equipment you will have to rely on the light you have. You might not have control of your light source but you can move your subject. Try to have your light source to the side of your subject. Outside photography can take advantage of the best light source around – the sun. But be careful not to shoot on bright days without cloud as strong light can cast strong shadows and cause your image to look washed out. Also, you don’t want your subjects squinting at the camera. Try to find a way to diffuse the light yourself, such as in the open shade of a building or large tree.

Details

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Launch of Cardiff Children's Literary festival at the Old Library, Cardiff.

Picture shows pupils from Radnor Primary School. School refused to give names.

PIC: Matthew Horwood / Media Wales

Look out for the details: clutter in the background, rubbish on the floor or even seasonal items that may date a picture. I always ask people to remove lanyards and don’t be afraid to tell the client if his tie is wonky – it’s a lot easier to deal with before the picture is taken than afterwards.

Captions

Be sure to send an accurate and descriptive caption with each picture. Remember the ‘five Ws': who, what, where when and why.  Ideally, embed the caption into the image using photo editing software. This will make life a lot easier for the picture desk, which will be receiving and processing thousands of images every day.

Preparation

As with most things, preparation is key. Arrive early to check out the location and find suitable places to take the pictures. Your subject may only be prepared to give you 10 minutes of their time (it happens surprisingly often) and if that’s the case you’ll be glad of the time spent beforehand choosing a suitable setting. Finally, it sounds obvious but check everything prior to the shoot – make sure your batteries or smartphone are fully charged and you’ve got enough space on your memory card.