Some groups seem to have all the luck when it comes to taking pictures that make their group look exciting. But, is it luck? Probably not. They start with plenty of large, action-oriented photos that tell a story and then crop and brighten them to zero in on the good story.

Here are five tips to help you create photos that tell your story well.

1- Take lots of photos with your camera on the highest resolution setting

Thanks to digital photography, you can take lots of photos and discard what won’t work later. Don’t take two photos of your speaker and pack up your camera. Take twenty shots of the speaker and twenty shots of the crowd so you can choose the best ones later. Take your camera to an event or meeting even if you’re not sure that you need it. Give yourself choices.

Use the largest file setting on your digital camera
(usable photos are usually 4 MB or more in your camera’s memory). For print, you’ll want to use 300 dots per inch or higher (screen images, however never need to be more than 72 dots per inch). The more dots per inch in the original image, the higher the file size of the image. This means fewer files will fit on your memory card, but you’ll have more options to choose from later.

Then comes most of the work: selecting the right photos.

2 – Each photo has only one thing to say. Only one thing.

A good photo does only one thing, so that it can do that one thing well. An effective photo shows us one person, tells us one story, or makes one point. For example, if the one thing the photo has to do is introduce us to a person, focus on their face. Don’t show the person sitting at a cluttered desk (unless the story is about their cluttered desk).

If you want the viewer to get a sense of your terrific demonstration, don’t aim for one photo that includes everyone who was there and everything they were saying. Instead, plan to use three to four photos, and let each convey one distinct moment at the demonstration. Use your camera to capture one action at a time that tells a story. A shot of few people who we can see well and tell what they are doing will tell the story better than a photo of a large group where we can’t see faces or read the signs.

When working with your photo, choose the one thing that you want the photo to say. Keep the focus on that one idea.

3 – Plan to crop and brighten

Most photos benefit from cropping and brightening. Crop to eliminate anything that does not help tell the story, or that distracts the eye. You can leave in the background if it’s not distracting. Keep the focus on the one story the photo is supposed to tell.

Photo before cropping  Photo after cropping

Brighten the photo — it’s surprising how often it helps the subject pop. Most image editing software has some “automatic” settings that will lighten the photos and correct the contrast for you. You can always undo it if you don’t like the results.

If you have a PC, Irfanview is excellent free software for correcting your photos’ brightness. On your Mac, Iphoto can make brightness corrections for you.

4 – Use the two-second test.

As you select and edit your photos to share, imagine that a stranger is only going to glance at it for two seconds. Assume that they won’t recognize the person, the place, or the time of day. If nothing in the photo is familiar, how obvious is it what the photo is about? If a person can’t tell what the photo is of in two seconds, you have lost the chance to tell your story. Go back and crop and brighten more until it’s obvious at a glance what the photo is about.

5 – Consider what is the right size and proportion.

File size (discussed earlier) is not the same as the visual size of the image (how large it looks when a human is viewing it.) When using a photo in a web page or email, always use a photo that is as large as possible without overwhelming the text that goes with it. This is to support the two-second rule, so that the viewer can glance at the photo and know what it is.

In some cases, you will need very small photos. When creating thumbnails (images that are less than an inch in any direction), make sure that a stranger can still tell what is in the picture. Instead of the “two-second test,” think of the thumbnail as having a “half-of-one-second test.”

Remember  to always use “alt tags” when displaying images on the web.

There are several reasons why a photo may not be visible to a website visitor. Visitors who are using screen readers count on “alt tags,” as do users on low-bandwidth access or on mobile devices. Use the “alt tag” to describe the image in human terms (example: “Anita Rodgers, Program Director” instead of “ARodgers-PD”).

Hungry for more photo skills?

Here are some great tips on photography from the Kodak website

When you start getting dozens of photos that tell a good story, you can then upload your photos to a site like Flickr where you can organize them into albums, turn them into slideshows, or share them with media makers and other groups who can use the image to promote your group.

Let your photos tell your story: decide what story your photo is telling, take plenty of large, action-oriented images, then crop and brighten to make them easy to look at. People will comment on the results!

Photos from MRG grantees Portland Jobs With Justice (top photo) and Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network (cropped photo).

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