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The most-shared content across all platforms contains some kind of visual asset, whether image, infographics or video. It is no accident that we favour this format: Human brains evolved to be effective image processors because humans evolved to have eyes. It’s science!

News outlets know this as well as any marketer or PR professional. They use photography to sell papers, entice clicks and, most importantly, to tell powerful stories. And while staff photographers are a shrinking entity, many media outlets will still send cameras to events that feature newsmakers, or which they believe offer a newsworthy angle and a great potential image.

Coming into #elxn2015, there were many complaints by media about the photo opps staged by Federal candidates. CBC journalist Alison Crawford posted a terrific piece explaining why political parties do this, and what journalists see when they attend such events.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau paddles a canoe down the Bow River in Calgary, Alta. on Sept. 17, 2015. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Sometimes it goes well. Sometimes the candidate is captured while genuinely demonstrating the message of the day. But sometimes despite best efforts, it doesn’t go well. If the opportunity is too forced, too staged or too restrictive, the attending journalists and photographers lose interest in the message and find other angles to cover, and who can blame them?

“Iconic and memorable photos are almost never made at staged opportunities unless things go very, very badly,” warned Amber Bracken, President of the News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC). “An example of a captured iconic moment is Rod MacIvor’s photo of Pierre Trudeau carrying Justin under his arm. 

On Aug. 10, 1973 Rod MacIvor snapped this shot of RCMP Inspector Denis Ling saluting then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who is carrying son Justin to a garden party

For a memorable staged opportunity that went badly, think former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein catching a pie with his face. This version was captured by Adrian Wyld for the Canadian Press.”

As with all media relations, working well with photojournalists requires a bit of advance know-how. If you are part of an event with genuine newsworthiness and which offers a good photo opportunity, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep it real. Don’t over plan or stage ridiculous activities. The best pictures (and coverage) will come from events that are planned for real stakeholders and the community.
  • Let them work. Photographers only need a reasonable amount of access and they can make the photos on their own without your art direction — no matter how well intentioned.
  • Don’t box them in. A photographer with limited access is a frustrated, unhappy photographer. If you think the event is going to be crowded or that photographers may need a little height to see better, it can be thoughtful to reserve a riser but do not make it mandatory for photographers to stand on it.
  • Consider the sight lines. If there is clutter in the background or unsightly walls behind the subject or podium, this will make for an unattractive and possibly unusable shot.
  • Let there be light. You can’t make pictures without light so if your event is in a dark room, be sure to plan for professional stage lighting. Equally irritating to photographers is when the podium is strongly backlit or in the shade when the background is in the sun. Ultimately it is the photographer’s concern to sort out problems with lighting, but do control what is in your power to control.
  • Arrange access. If a news outlet informs you that they’re sending a photographer, let your VIPs know so they are prepared (photography activity can be distracting), and ensure security and other staffers are aware and able to provide necessary clearance.

“Photojournalists are not there to make your client look bad, or good. We are there to represent the truth to the best of our ability and strive to maintain objectivity at all costs,” advised Bracken. “At the same time we also strive to capture the world beautifully, your client included.”

While you can often purchase usage rights to news photographs, it’s always a good idea to hire your own photographer, whose shots you can art direct, to ensure you have enough visual content to suit your own marketing needs ongoing.

About Laurie Smith

Laurie Smith is VP, Customer Marketing at Cision. Follow her @LaurieSmith

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