Making The Best Of A Photo Op

A story by Paul Berton in the London Free Press, titled “Making the best of a photo op,” caught my eye recently.

I try to shy away from government-related posts to avoid conflict with my day job, but I think this is useful advice regardless of whether you’re in government or not. This is my type of advice – simple, to the point and easy to do.

Key point #1: Brief the subject on what the photo op is

Berton gives two examples – one of Stephane Dion and one of Stephen Harper. Dion missed a great opportunity for good coverage of him at a summer art camp, largely thanks to fluffing the opportunity to simply get down at the same level as a kid at the photo op. Harper came close to doing the same, but (seemingly more by chance than design) managed to salvage the day.

It sounds like no-one briefed either Dion or Harper on what they needed to do for these photo ops. It’s easy enough to see it from the outside, but in the moment these things are easily lost.

Key point #2: Think the photo op through

Berton’s right – kids and politicians work in photos. Why? It resonates with people Try to get something with some emotional content in there. Unless you’re communicating arcane policy, there’s probably something.

If you want people to cover your story, don’t sit in front of a dull background in a media studio (unless you’ve got a slam-dunk killer story… be honest, you probably haven’t). If you do, don’t complain when you don’t get covered.

Be creative. There are way too many groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings. They’re dull. Unless you’re shooting for community paper coverage (which has its place), try to come up with something better. Even a tour of the place is better than a shot of your subject cutting a bright red ribbon. The same goes for cheque presentations – they’re just a cliche nowadays.

At the same time, be careful. If you’re going outside, check the weather. If you’re near a highway, make sure the traffic isn’t too loud. Don’t have the sun behind your subject. Test out the photo in advance. Think it through.

(Hat tip to Heather McCall at The Canadian Journalism Project)

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