Using images in publications

(Adapted from a blog published on the Artworks Facebook page on Monday, 15 January 2018)

Professionally taken and well-chosen pictures can transform a boring publication into one that grabs the reader’s attention and draws them in to read more. Here are a few tips on picture choice, placement and treatment to make your next publication sizzle!

  • The resolution of pictures is crucial to a professional looking publication. What is acceptable for web is DEFINITELY not acceptable for print. Resolution needs to range between 240 to 300 dpi – a web pic is 72 dpi. Don’t artificially bring it up to 300 dpi – it will still look pixelised!
  • The cropping of a pic is very important. You can change the entire slant/focus of a publication by cropping out unnecessary people or objects. Cropping often improves a pic tremendously, but it can also remove the context. An unspoken rule for mug shots is that you can crop off the top of someone’s head, but never their chin. DON’T crop people’s feet in a wide-angle shot if you can help it.
  • Avoid a busy background (if possible) when taking photos of people. Be careful not to take/select a photo of a person with an object ‘sticking out’ of their head. If you only have these available, rather get us to deep etch them. 
  • Try and get a group to stand as close as possible and try to get as close as you can to them without chopping anyone out. 
  • Always clean your lens before doing a photoshoot! You will be very frustrated if a smudge, mark or insect ruins your perfect shot.
  • When shooting, shift your subject to the left or right of the middle, or crop your photos off-centre for a more interesting shot.
  • Get down to the same level as your subject/s – eye level is a much more flattering angle than above or below.
  • Watch out for ‘camera shake’. Learn how to hold a camera properly: use both hands, and hold it close to your body.
  • Also deep etch mug shots that have a shadow on the wall/screen behind the subject. Be aware of this when taking the photo as you may want an interesting background to be left in, e.g. a mural.
  • Get your graphic designer to clean and lighten/brighten your photos in Photoshop. There’s nothing worse than a dark face that is unrecognisable or scratches and dust marks on a pristine landscape.
  • The best photos are the ones taken with the sun behind the photographer. The worst ones are taken at midday, where the sun casts dark shadows, especially around people’s eyes, or in overcast weather. If you plan to use a silhouette for effect, that’s fine, but as a rule, if you are not a professional, stay away from photos shot into the sun.
  • Take and choose photos that are in focus. You don’t want readers to think that they need to increase the prescription on their glasses!
  • Take and choose photos with different angles to add interest, e.g. a photo from above or below the subjects.
  • When shooting or choosing photos of a function or event, go for an establishing shot (a wide shot of the venue). This will capture the mood. Then also include shots of the decor, food, speakers and other interesting details. The same goes for site visits.
  • Captions should tell the reader more than what they can already see in the pic (that is so patronising!) Provide some interesting tit-bit about the person or place, or something remarkable that happened there.
  • If you are working on a high-end, glossy publication and there is a budget, get your graphic designer to get sherpers made of the pages you are concerned about at the print stage. It will save on a reprint later.
  • If your graphic design studio is managing the print, they will do a machine pass at the printers, especially if there are reoccurring adverts in your publication. There are always variables such as humidity and choice of ink and paper, which will drastically affect your picture quality.
  • Choose paper depending on what you want your photos to do. High gloss, white paper will accentuate fashion and art, and matt looks great for corporate publications. You can also UV varnish individual photos to give them an extra wow factor.
  • Beware of asking getting your graphic designer to edit blemishes to the point where your subject looks like a humanoid/child model/alien life form. Similarly, be careful of asking them to edit out – or in – aspects of a photo. We once placed hair on a bald guy! Avoid the morally reprehensible…
  • Be aware of picture trends. There was a time where every publication we produced had to have a picture collage in it, but nowadays, it seems that blocks are back. These trends also tend to mirror the latest Photoshop capabilities.
  • Don’t discredit black and white and duotone photos. They can lend a certain mood, historic/old-world feel to a publication. 
  • Make sure you have the right to place a photograph in your publication. Photographers can sue you if you do not credit them and pay them for their photos.
  • Commission a photographer for a project based on their portfolio – what areas have they had experience in and what are their strengths? Match that to the needs and specs of the publication...
  • Don't be afraid to use photos that push the boundaries. It may just get readers to focus on an article they would not ordinarily read.
  • Use the rule of thirds or two-thirds. The early Greeks used this rule for centuries in art and painting. Knowing the rules and where to place a subject allows you to break them if it creates a better or more dynamic image. Imagine an image with a noughts and crosses grid superimposed on it. Where these lines intersect are your key points and it’s here that you can place your subject to the best effect.
  • Where possible, a cover should have one strong, arresting photo as a sure-fire way of getting people to read your publication.
  • Make your main subject the lightest or darkest element of the picture (or even the only element containing a certain colour) to make it stand out strongly. This also helps to emphasise shape and set a mood.
  • Choose an image with empty space to superimpose text. Photos that have large, clear areas, blurring or soft focus are best. That’s because highly detailed or busy images behind text can make the text difficult, if not impossible, to read.
  • Choose pictures that work well together on a double spread. You need to look at the two pages side by side to make a judgement call, as readers will open up a magazine and see the two pages as a unit.
  • Line can be a very important element in helping the reader to work his/her way through your image. Lines should lead the eye in to the photo. 
  • Make sure you get some short video clips of the events you are covering for a publication so that you can share them on social media!

Being mindful of these tips will go a long way to ensure that your publication is both engaging and striking, attracting readers to probe deeper and appreciate your hard work for the masterpiece that it is.

By Gaylene Jablonkay, Managing Editor

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DISCLAIMER: Please be advised that information provided in this blog post is just a recommendation and is subject to change. We advise you to contact us for professional assistance and advice rather than relying on the content supplied by the author(s) of this blog.