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Etc.: News Photos 101
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Six months ago, this space of your favorite weekly newspaper included tips on how to get your favorite weekly newspaper and other media to cover your own or your organization’s news.

(The column of tips from my quarter-century in the news media can be read at

This seems like a good time to revisit one part of that column because of some issues we’ve been having with photos submitted to your favorite weekly newspaper. I am nowhere near the quality of photographer of Mark Hirsch, but you don’t need to be another Mark Hirsch (whose book That Tree makes an excellent Christmas gift, by the way) to take serviceable photos with your digital camera or cellphone.

We ink-stained wretches appreciate your submissions, because we can’t get everywhere. (Just look at The Week on page 1B to see how busy we get around here.) Readers like photos, and we like to use photos, but we can’t use photos that aren’t printable for various reasons.

We prefer digital photos to photographs. (Some readers are now asking: What are “photographs”?) When we get printed photos, we have to scan them before the things we do to put them in The Journal, and every time something is scanned an amount of quality is lost.

When sending photos, send us a horizontal and a vertical photo, if possible. Sometimes one photo fits better on a page than the other. Photos of individuals work best when they are vertical-format photos, but group photos work best as horizontal photos.

When you’re taking group photos, take more than one photo. If, for instance, you’re taking a photo of six people, you probably should take at least six photos of that group. The more people in the photo, the higher the probability of someone looking somewhere other than into the camera. (And when you’re taking large group photos, tell the photographed that if they can’t see your camera, your camera can’t see them.)

Your group photo usually shouldn’t have more than eight people in a row. Very long rows make for very wide, but short, photos in the newspaper, and as a result the faces are all quite small, so readers can’t necessarily tell who’s in the photo. You’ll notice that photo captions (or, as we call them, “cutlines”) are written front row to back row, left to right, so you should write them accordingly.

Photos need to have as high resolution as possible. (The upper limit is probably 10 MB, because of our email software.) The photos you see in The Journal are all set by our photo software at 200 dots per inch. Photos online are usually just 72 dpi, so an online photo is not necessarily printable in the newspaper. Unless they’re really large, photos sent as PDFs won’t turn out well because, similar to scanned photographs, quality is lost when they are converted from paper to electronic form.

Don’t judge whether you should send a photo based on what it looks like on your cellphone or camera, for obvious reasons. Photos might look just fine on a 3-inch screen, only to have blur or focus problems appear on bigger computer monitors. (Blur results from people moving while the photo is being taken; focus problems can be from a photo not being focused, which can happen even on autofocus cameras, or from insufficient resolution.)

Photos taken inside will most likely require a flash. Point-and-shoot cameras and cellphone cameras have built-in flashes, but those can create problems. Do not take photos in front of open (that is, uncovered) windows or doors, because the camera will think it’s shooting a photo of the window and set itself accordingly, and the people or object you’re actually shooting will be dark. (For the same reason, don’t take outdoor photos toward the sun. In fact, outdoor photos work best on cloudy days; photos with sun include shadows when the sun is to the side, and people tend to squint when they’re looking into the sun.) Similarly, don’t take photos against shiny or glossy backgrounds, like woodgrain paneling or framed pictures, because the flash is likely to bounce right back at you and mess up the brightness of the objects of the photo. (One way to get around that problem is to put yourself slightly off center, instead of directly opposite who or what you’re shooting.)

Don’t call attached files just “Press Release” and “photo.” We get a lot of “press release”s and “photo”s. We also get a lot of photos that have the photo number, which means nothing to us. When I’m doing layout, it’s hard for me to tell who sent which “press release” and “photo.” File names should include either the name of your organization, the name of your event, or some other sort of identifier that a media type (particularly one who’s up late) will be able to discern. (File names are easy to change by right-clicking on the file and selecting “Rename,” as long as you don’t delete the part after the period, because “.jpg” or “.png” or “.tif” represent photo files.)

To repeat something I wrote previously: When sending publicity for an event that includes a photo, send it to us four weeks before the event. Remember, we’re a weekly newspaper, so we need time in advance of your event to get it in the paper. Sometimes we can get something if we get it a couple days in advance, but that is the rare exception. We have more than one place in The Journal to list events, so that four-week window is helpful for you and us.

I’ve run out of room to include very much on composition, other than avoiding blur, fuzziness or bad lighting. One other tip: Get as close to the photo subject as you can, as close as 6 feet. The farther away the photo subject is, the more problems you’ll have with the photo.