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Friday, July 29, 2016

Government Communicators: Focus on Event Photography

Award-winning video producer Ann Ramsey contributed today's post. She is a senior producer at the US Department of Health & Human Services in Washington, DC.

Press conferences, roundtables, ceremonies, observances: these types of events are familiar material for the government communicator. Want to step up your game? Use photography. If you need great content—and who doesn't?—consider partnering with your staff photographer. The photos he or she shoots will be engaging visuals that you can turn into quality content.

But partnering with your staff photographer has more advantages than meet the eye:

History. Christopher Smith, staff photographer at the Department of Health & Human Services, has worked through many Administrations, knows the principals of the Department and their schedulers intimately, and can anticipate their photo requirements. Plus, he can locate past event photos going back many years. For commemorative projects, his image repository is a goldmine.

Economy. No licensing fees are required when you use your agency’s own photos, and no permissions are required to cover an open-press or a public event. Photography makes an effective complement to video; and if your budget doesn’t allow for video coverage, photography can work wonders all by itself. Professional photographers are available on a day-rate virtually anywhere, if you have none on staff. 

Authenticity. Stock photography is polished, inexpensive and convenient, yet has its limits. Viewers may "tune out" stock shots unconsciously as being promotional. When it comes to events, images of real faces and places have the edge over stock shots for authenticity—a priority for every government communicator. 

Quality. Professionals are equipped for the job. Lighting and special lenses can overcome obstacles such as dim rooms, cramped conditions, or far-off podiums. A
s important, professional photographers have been trained to tell a story or evoke a mood in one frame. Here are a couple examples:


For a group portrait at a conference, HHS staff photographer Christopher Smith brought a light-stand and wide-angle lens, and posed the subjects. The image of the group-members together, sporting their cause-related wristbands, evokes a sense of team spirit.
Equipment and know-how really make a difference. In a candid shot of HHS Secretary Burwell at a feedback session, our eye is drawn to her face by the photographer's use of selective focus and a long lens.


Staff photographers' role expanding

Traditionally, staff photographers cover any number of events, most often to provide visuals for the media and for archival purposes. But the role of the photographer is expanding with the new media formats in use today. Consider:

Social media. Many professional-grade digital cameras now have Wi-Fi connectivity, making immediacy an option. Well-composed photographs are eye-catchers for posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other social media sites, whether in real time or afterwards. With photographs, your posts can be picked up by image-based search engines such as Google Images.

Electronic press releases, blogs and websites. A clear, relevant photograph helps hook audiences of your agency’s electronic press releases, blogs or Websites, where the event can be explained in detail. Putting a text caption or headline with the photo clarifies immediately what is being shown. 


Tools for partners and stakeholders. When sending pre-event announcements to partners and stakeholders, attach downloadable photographs for them to re-use as tools in helping you get the word out. If there are too many photos to attach, hyperlink email recipients to where the photos are stored (Flickr, Dropbox, an FTP site, etc.).

Ready to go to work? 


A professional photographer will reliably produce quality material, and be a godsend when you’re working out image selection, distribution and archiving. 
Here are some tips for effectively directing your staff photographer:


In advance: For smooth planning, inform the photographer of the advance team, event location, best arrival time, and any parking and security issues. Explain what the interior lighting is likely to be, and whether any exterior shots are needed. Provide the event rundown if possible, including any special access to VIPs or arrangements being made for the media. This helps your photographer set up for the shoot.

Before the event starts: Tell the photographer what your needs are. According to Christopher Smith, pros don’t need much detail. “I can plan what needs to be shot for most events," Christopher says. "What I really need to know is who the principals are, where and when the photos will be used, and whether anything special is going to happen at the event. For example, if the speaker is going to show a report or a plaque from the podium, and I know ahead of time, I can remind the presenter to hold it up for a few moments so I can get the perfect shot.”  For shooting format, Christopher finds the medium-resolution JPEG setting efficient for editing and storing.

At the event: Assist the photographer with any logistical matters. Help him or her to anticipate what comes next, and where. Indicate anything you would like covered that you may not have mentioned. After that, get out of the way. If you allow photographers to handle the shoot in their own way, you are likely to get the best material.

After the event: Give the photographer any details needed for assigning metadata. Specify what deliverables you need. A folder with a few selections? A Flickr download of the whole shoot? Some prints to distribute? Your digital media team will know how best to optimize photos for different social media platforms. If you are your own graphics department, here's a guide. Keeping file sizes small will ensure easy loading on line. Again, if you have no digital experts on hand, try using iPhoto, or access a free compression tool like Image Optimizer.

WAY after the event: Lest we forget, our friends at NARA in College Park will ultimately want to add our event photographs to the 8 million shots already archived. Keep your photos organized. It will save headaches later.


NOTE: This post first appeared in Federal Communicators Network.

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