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The power of a picture

Apr 17, 2012
They say a picture tells a thousand words. Then why is it that people seem to find it so hard to take a good one? Steve Jordan suggests why and what to do about it.

If you are taking pictures for your Facebook page or to show Grandma during her Sunday afternoon visit, quality is not too important.  But when it comes to sending them to the press, a little more care is necessary.

Composition

This image from Fox Removals and Storage that appeared in The Mover in June 2011 is a good example of a well composed image.  The people are well positioned and the lorry in the background adds interest, but does not dominate the frame.

In 20 years as a PR man I have just about seen it all when it comes to rubbish pictures: under exposed, over exposed, out of focus; people with wall lights growing out of their heads; and, as far as the moving business is concerned, thousands of classic firing squad pictures of reluctant packers lined up along the side of a grubby furniture van. It sometimes seems that every time I click ‘open’ on a new photographic offering the artist has contrived to find yet another way of making it totally useless.

Since digital photography has come along, the problem has got worse.  Now everyone has become an expert … or so they think.  Perhaps they should take a close look at some of their efforts.

As a publisher I really need good photos to help tell the stories and to make the magazine look good.  So does everyone else in my position. Send a story to The Mover and, as long as it’s not totally inappropriate, I’ll do what I can to get it in.  But if you are sending your stories further afield, say to the local press, they won’t work so hard.  If the picture’s rubbish, it will go straight in the recycle bin. 

Using a computer there is a lot we can do to make your poor pictures look a bit better.  We can change the exposure, get rid of red eye, brighten up the colours, crop them to pick out the best bits, or even add an effect to give them a special touch.  But if it’s not in focus, it’s junk.  If it’s too small we can’t use it.  If it’s badly framed, we can’t come by and take it for you.

You would not believe the number of images I get that are literally postage-stamp size, or out of focus, or both.  It’s obvious that the sender has not even looked at the picture before sending it in.  A complete waste of time!

So, looking on the positive side, may I make a few suggestions that would help you stand a better chance of getting your stories published, not just in The Mover, but anywhere.

  • Use a proper camera.  Your mobile phone or pocket camera might have 10 million pixels, but it has a lens the size of a pin head.  All you do is capture 10 million pixels of a useless image.  If you are sending pictures to the press, invest in a modest SLR camera … you’ll do much better.
  • Make sure the camera is focussing on the subject of your picture (probably a person), not the background. Fill the whole frame with the subject … we don’t need the whole office in shot to get a picture of Mavis in accounts.
  • Don’t point the camera towards the sun.
  • Set the camera at the highest resolution possible.  You can always make it smaller later.
  • Make sure the picture is in focus. Look at the picture before you send it off.  Would you print it?  If not, try again.
  • Pictures without people are boring.  Always try to get a person in the picture.  And you keep telling me that your staff are “your greatest asset”, so let’s have fewer pictures of isolated vans and a few more smiling faces.
  • Your corporate branding might be important to you but it’s rarely the subject of the photo.  If you want to take pictures of your staff in front of a van, get them to walk towards the camera so they almost fill the viewfinder.  Leave the van in the background.  I promise we can still see it.
  • Make sure the photo helps tell the story. A story about an unusual move you did should have a picture of the chaps in action.  A photo of the outside of the building just doesn’t say anything.
  • Re-format the media card occasionally: noise on an old card causes the image to be fuzzy. If your pictures are still not sharp, reset the factory settings – that should do the trick.

This is not the place for a master class on photography and I am no master.  I don’t expect every picture I receive to be a potential prize winner. But taking heed of the above would elevate your pictures to the top 10% of photographic submissions at a stroke even without any more in depth knowledge.

One specific problem that we have discovered is a feature of Microsoft Outlook that continually conspires against us.  When you attach a picture to an e-mail you have the choice to reduce the size of the pictures automatically.  After you have attached the file you can click on ‘Attachment Options’ on the right (see illustration). Please do not do this.  If this feature is automatically engaged you will reduce the size of every picture you send to become unusable in print. Please make sure it’s set to ‘Don’t resize, send originals’.

Every journalist needs good pictures.  Many choose the pictures first then look for the story second.  If you are sending stories to the press, you will greatly enhance your chances of publication if you send a picture that’s half decent.

Focus!

Now it’s tricky taking a bad picture of our Marianne, but here’s how.  The one on the left has her in focus and the branding a little fuzzy; the one on the right is the other way around – not so good. 

Size matters

When you attach a picture to an e-mail don’t reduce the size of the pictures automatically, as this will make it unuseable for print.  Make sure that under ‘Attachment Options’ (1) on the right, the ‘Don’t resize, send originals’ (2) option is selected.

 

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