With a high-quality camera in seemingly every pocket on campus, talented full-time photographers and several proficient shutterbugs on staff, News and Media Relations has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to photography.
However, with those abundant options come issues: overlapping shoots, questions over credit and inefficient credentialing are some of the issues that can arise.
What follows is an attempt to guide our unit’s capturing and publishing of photos in a way that respects photographers’ job duties and any working relationships established in the field as well as social media specialists’ need to document day-to-day campus life and meet daily expectations of high output. It’s also a list of best practices for the shooting, editing and archiving of photos in the social media office.
Additionally, it may be helpful to review Penn State News’ visual and editorial guidelines: http://news.psu.edu/story/319372/2014/06/26/penn-state-news-story-photo-and-video-guidelines.
News and Media Relations’ staff photographer has the skills, equipment and contacts to be the social media team’s go-to-person for photography.
— Social media staff should regularly monitor Penn State News and the Flickr archive for shareable images from the staff photographer. In addition, the staff photographer should notify the social media staff when images suitable for social sharing have been posted and/or share any additional images that weren’t uploaded to the News CMS or Flickr.
— If a member of the social media office is looking to shoot an event that requires credentials, staff photographer Patrick Mansell (firstname.lastname@example.org) should be notified first. The staff photographer will assess the need and may choose to file the formal application to the appropriate entity and schedule shooters.
— Members of the social media team intending to photograph an event on campus should first consult with the staff photographer. If the staff photographer will be shooting, that does not automatically preclude a social media specialist from joining him or covering at another time. Early notification is intended to prevent confusion at the event and double-coverage when it’s not necessary as well as to better inform the overall editorial staff.
— Photographers should consult the UCS calendar titled, “L REIDAR JENSEN’s Event Photography” to make sure someone else isn’t already planning to shoot an event. (To have access to the calendar, please email Reidar at email@example.com.) If an event is already on the calendar, consult with the staff photographer. Two photographers may be appropriate but coordinating that effort will be key. If your event is not yet listed on the calendar, create an entry and send a quick heads-up to the staff photographer, who may wish to offer specific instructions. Day-to-day, “around campus”-style photography should not be placed on the calendar nor should any photo assignments related to specific stories.
— The staff photographer is the chief shooter for all major campus events, unless otherwise noted – football games, commencement, homecoming, THON, etc. – and the bulk of the social media team’s corresponding photo posts should reflect that contribution.
— If anyone from the social media office assists the full-time photographer with a shoot or takes on an assignment for Penn State News, images must be edited and published in the brisk manner of a news outlet. Images with captions should be published in the CMS within 24 hours, preferably sooner. However, the staff photographer may request to edit and publish these images to the CMS. In that case, photos should be emailed or shared via Box with the staff photographer within 24 hours.
— In writing all captions, accuracy and clarity are crucial. Anyone taking photos should make note of the day, location and names (from left to right) if a few people are featured prominently. Sufficient background information should also be provided if what’s being done in a photo is unclear. As the Associated Press advises, “Try to anticipate what information the reader will need.” Space constrictions will often limit what information can be shared in a social post, but having these details could prove helpful if the photographer needs to obtain more information or if the image is later used by News. Shooting for News requires a bit more digging, typically a student’s academic year and major are listed as well as background on the topic or subject.
— On occasion, the social media office may be able to leverage the work of marketing’s full-time photographer. Specialists should notify Michelle Bixby (firstname.lastname@example.org) in advance to avoid sharing any images that are being saved for upcoming promotional materials.
— When shooting images that will be shared with News and uploaded to flickr, social media shooters must embed caption information into the file through Photoshop or other photo editing software. (Photographer credit can also be embedded in an image.) If the staff photographer is tasked with publishing the images to News, he should also be provided with the captions via email or given access to a document listing the corresponding captions.
— Candidates for Around Campus photos of the day, should be submitted to the staff photographer who will make the call on the News/flickr-worthiness of each image.
— Be aware that photos uploaded into the CMS will be made public on News and flickr (if the “Upload to flickr” box is left checked). To privately share photos, say if a caption is incomplete or an image is embargoed, use email for small batches and Box for larger sets.
— Vertical images are rarely useful for the News site.
— Image size for News photos should be around 8-inches by 12-inches at 300 pixels per inch. Photos used for social media will likely have to be much smaller to fit on some platforms but should maintain 300 ppi.
The multitude of photogs and their varying levels of activity on social media as well as character limitations on platforms can pose a challenge when it comes to crediting a photographer’s work.
— On social media, full-time News and Media Relations staff, including the staff photographer and social media specialists, will not commonly receive credit for posts given the frequency. However on occasion, an exceptional image or streak of high-quality output may be recognized with credit – either by name or account handle. (See examples.) Images submitted by faculty, staff and students outside of News & Media Relations should be credited if space allows.
— To enhance an intern’s portfolio, the social media team may opt to credit student interns more frequently. This should only be done with the intention of recognizing a work, not promoting an account.
— Given the 140-character limit of a tweet, it’s crucial that an adequate explanation of the image is provided and the potential for engagement is maximized through mentions and hashtags. Then, photographer credit can be considered.
The ease with which photos can be altered in Photoshop, Lightroom and various apps has generated confusion as news services grapple with the ethics of how much editing is too much.
— Because so much social media content is linked to Penn State News, photography should conform to many of the standards of ethical editing adopted by news organizations. The Associated Press allows cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments but “The content of a photograph must not be altered in Photoshop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph.” (http://www.ap.org/company/News-Values)
— However, given the popularity of Instagram as well as ready-made image filters on phones, a high level of photo manipulation is not unusual on social media. The likes of Instagram and Snapseed offer a slew of filters and editing options that provide the
opportunity to alter reality by significantly changing colors and adjusting the tone to the point that some areas are so black objects disappear. Any Penn State social media photos that feature significantly altered coloration should never be shared with the News site (see guide) and also should be avoided on social platforms where significantly altered images are less commonplace. If a colorized or altered photo is placed in the flickr archives, it should be noted that it is “digitally enhanced” or a “photo illustration.”
With smartphones making everyone a shooter, we can differentiate ourselves from the pack by adhering to some photography fundamentals – even if we’re only armed with a smartphone.
— Get close enough to fill the frame with the real subject. As the old photography saying goes, “When you think you are close enough — get closer.” The subject should be in-focus and not lost in a vast, irrelevant background. Moving in also eliminates most of the clutter. Beware of bright or obtrusive objects in the background that draw the eye away from the subject, such as a tree branch that is seemingly growing out of someone’s head.
— Use the rule of thirds to create well-balanced and interesting shots. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically. Then frame shots so the most prominent elements are along the lines, preferably at one of the four points where the lines intersect.
— Candid shots of action — things getting done, human interaction, etc. — are preferred over posed photos — people smiling for the camera, “line ’em up” shots, etc.
— Shoot fronts, not backs. Don’t be shy, show people’s faces.
— Seek frames of reference or framing elements — subordinate shape that surrounds the main subject or somehow sets it off and gives it scale like window frames, arches, gates, bridges and lampposts.
— Avoid harsh lighting. If shooting in the midday sun, find some shade. The best outdoor shooting times are at dawn or late afternoon/early evening. If shooting indoors, seek natural light; avoid lighting from incandescent bulbs.
— Explore multiple angles when shooting subjects.
— Take at least four or five shots to get one.
The social media team is in a position to contribute significantly to Penn State News’ image archive on Flickr.
— Considering the frequency of postings and the emphasis on day-to-day campus life, not all social media images are suitable for the flickr archive. However, the team should upload shots into the Penn State News CMS (which feeds flickr) with embedded captions that could prove useful in the future on News and by communicators.
— When uploading to the CMS, consider “Are these photos usable to other communicators around the University and do I want the outside world to have access to these photos; are they worthwhile because they represent an event or timely news topic or important people?” If yes, upload to flickr. If no, uncheck the “Upload to flickr” box in the CMS.
— Campus is viewed as a public space, and with that, the people out and about are fair game. As a courtesy, photographers are encouraged to introduce themselves, explain the purpose of the images and hand out business cards before or after shooting.
— Special caution should be taken when photographing children on campus, particularly at youth camps. Photographers should contact the organizers, who have previously distributed waivers and can point out any children whose parents didn’t consent to images. In other situations, the photographer should always seek consent from a parent if photographing a child.
— If a photographer feels a shoot warrants a release, a form is available here.