Posting photos to the web easy, necessary

I have a new requirement on my staff this year: Everyone who submits a beat report needs to also submit a photo to accompany it.

It’s easier to do than you think, especially with the prevalence of cheap digital cameras or, even better, camera phones (see the example in this post).

CHECKING IT TWICE: Dozens of students check for their names on a list outside the activities office window on Aug. 22 to see if they made the House of Representatives this year. Applications were due Aug. 19, and, according to the list, more than 400 students in Grades 9 to 12 were accepted. The first House meeting will be Aug. 24 at 10:30 a.m. in the Freshman Center cafeteria. Jim Streisel / Photo

Eye-trac studies support the idea that stories with accompanying photos get significantly more views than stories without images. Therefore, we want to do our part to increase that readership on our website. Plus, a story with a photo gives us more options; we can post it in our “Top Story” news hole (or carousel), for example, since that space requires a photo.

You don’t have to be a great photographer with expensive equipment either. In fact, the web actually supports the lower resolution photos a typical camera phone provides than the high-res ones from a digital SLR.

That’s not to say I’m sending the kids off with no instruction. Rather, I have spent some time discussing the following topics:

News value
I would rather run a poorly composed but newsworthy picture than a well-composed, non-newsworthy photo any day of the week. So we’ve spent time talking about the elements of news. In other words, I tell the student journalists, how can you take a picture of the people in the club or activity you’re covering that shows them doing something newsworthy? Is the club hosting a call-out meeting? Take a photo of the club leaders conducting that meeting. Are they preparing posters for Homecoming? Get a shot of a small group of them cutting and pasting those items.

Bottom line: We want pictures of people, not things. So, Johnny, that may be a fantastic, artistic close-up of a flower, but it’s not news. Get a person in there next time.

There are lots of composition rules; I tell my students only of a couple. Rule of thirds in the first one. Keep that subject matter in one of the thirds of your frame. Simplicity is another. Be aware of your backgrounds so you don’t have a bunch of clutter surrounding the people you’re taking pictures of.

I have encouraged my students to take a couple of steps to improve the quality of their pictures. First, they need to get close – really close – to see emotion and reaction. Second, they should try kneeling down to shoot upwards (get the source’s eyes) or get up high and shoot down.

As in print, the most widely read copy online are captions. We need to provide as much news in our captions as possible. That means writing them at least two sentences long, including information in the first sentence that tells readers what’s happening in the picture and information in subsequent sentences that gives readers additional newsworthy information.

And that’s it. My kids are still new at this, but they’re learning. And they’re getting better. I guarantee your kids will, too.

Oh, and I know some schools (ours included) have policies against students using cellphones during the school day. I simply sent an email to our staff explaining our new procedure for including photos. I told staff members that they were welcome to confiscate a phone being used by a journalism staff member for a purpose other than picture taking (it’s pretty obvious when a kid is texting versus taking a photo). So far we haven’t had any problems.

3 thoughts on “Posting photos to the web easy, necessary

  • September 10, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Great post, Jim. I’m going to share this information with my staff to improve our Photo of the Day and captions.

  • February 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    A bit overdue, but hello to all! I just joined up some time ago. I used to be on SP forum too (long time ago, different username), so I am new here but not new to the Placebo thing in general, getting back into the swing of things, so to speak, after a bit of a break. I love exploring and learning new things about myself and others. I am an incredibly open-minded, bi, fun, smart boy, I am 31 years old and not one person believes that is really my age. I guess I am well preserved lol.

    It’s nice to meet you all. I look forward to connecting with all of you in conversation and possibly making some new friends. Come say hello!

    “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above-average drivers.”
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