Nailing it – six tips for the perfect PR photocall

Gavin O'Callaghan

27 May 2021

Once upon a PR time, getting that prominent position in print was the Holy Grail for every communications campaign. In today’s digital age, the advent of tools like omni-channel assets, micro-targeted campaigns and influencer marketing may have dulled the shine of print somewhat, but the visual impact of landing your PR shot in a high-profile position – front page, above the fold, national broadsheet – is still valued by every business, large or small. The right picture(s) can make the difference between blanket media coverage for your company’s news release, or facing a stream of polite-but-firms on your followup calls.

However given the torrent of images gushing into picture editors’ inboxes on a daily basis, how do you make your PR photocall stand out from the crowd? If the right picture can make or break your campaign, how do you make sure you get the right picture in the bag?

Over the course of many years commissioning and executing PR campaigns for clients of all shapes and sizes, here at dyjaho we’ve learned a thing or two about what goes into a successful shoot. Whether you are handling communications for your company or looking for the right agency, we thought we’d share six tips we’ve learned along the way.

  1. Leave it to the pros

You wouldn’t get your dog groomer to upgrade your company’s IT infrastructure, nor would you ‘have a bash yourself’ when new equipment needs to be installed to the highest professional and compliance standards. And yet… when it comes to visual communications there’s often a reluctance to engage (and pay) a professional photographer. We say: get over it, and fast. If you want the job done right, you’re going to need a pro behind the lens. The hockey-stick progress of smartphone camera technology, with filters, portrait modes and whatnot, has given every hobby photographer notions of being the next Ansel Adams, and more power to them – but when it comes to making sure your image lands in print, you need a much broader technical skillset than point and shoot, you need the right range of lighting and lenses to cover every eventuality – and even then, getting the image on the storage card is only half the battle.

A professional news/PR photographer is a must for commercial and corporate communications campaigns as they bring to the table not just technical expertise but:

  • A deep knowledge of what individual publications and/or editors may be on the lookout for;
  • Personal relationships with those editors (who will often pick up the phone or do a solid if the snapper asks nicely);
  • Working experience with media IT systems and technical specifications (file sizes, file formats and holiest of holies – accurate, spellchecked and detailed captions embedded in every file)
  • An accurate and up-to-date media distribution list (many photographers will take on sending out the photos themselves, if you wish).

Indeed, technical skill with the camera is not to be sniffed but in our experience accounts for maybe one third of what you need from a photographer, the next third being a working relationship with picture editors (HUGELY increasing the chances of your pics being seen and used) and the last third being… the people skills to make standard setups become standout images.

  1. It’s about the people, stupid

Not to harp on about the value of a proper press photographer for your PR job (ok, maybe just a little) but many years of experience has taught us that the quality of a pro snapper is measured not in f-stops or shutter speeds but in how they are with people, and specifically their skill at making people overcome their natural nervousness in front of a camera, emerge from their shells, and shine. The enemy in any photoshoot is STRESS – stressed-out people suck as subjects, stressed out snappers make substandard decisions, stressful setups make for shit photographs. If anyone is going to be stressed out, try to make sure it’s only you 😉

Let’s face it, your typical PR setup is going to be a group of three-to-six people, all dressed up in their Sunday best, shuffling uncomfortably and wondering if this was a good idea. The right photographer will step into this scenario and immediately take control, directing proceedings in a firm-but-fun way that allows everyone to relax and begin to enjoy themselves. That self-deprecating humour poking fun at their own inexperience/lack of skill? Deliberate. That nonstop patter of jokes, commentary and compliments all-the-while subtly changing setups and manoeuvering people into position? Totally deliberate. That knack of getting normally buttoned-down individuals to crack a smile and do something silly which suddenly gives the photo a bit of spark? Takes years.

If you find a photographer who can frame and take a set of quality shots when the material is right in front of them, great. If you find a photographer who can charm people into eating out of their hands, draw a smile from a stone and generally make magic – keep them on speed-dial. Those are the pictures that will land, and the camera settings have nothing to do with it.

  1. Get the basics right

Now that we have sold you on the necessity of leaving PR photography to the pros, let’s take a look at what else goes into making a shoot work. We’ll come to creativity in time, but you’d be surprised how many people jump straight into blue-sky thinking without getting the basics right. Here’s a checklist of things to think about.

  • Subjects: Who is going to be in your photo and what, if anything, are they going to add? What is their reason for being involved? Whose responsibility is it to brief them and crucially – for making sure they are all available at the same time, on the same day, in the same place?
  • Timing: Sometimes the timing of your PR call is dictated by external forces e.g. the diary availability of your principal subjects and/or photographer, but there are still some basics to tick off. Want to take a picture of your Christmas lights? Don’t schedule a daytime shoot. Looking to show off your fabulous gardens? Don’t neglect the weather. Whatever your chosen time make sure it is communicated clearly to everyone, well in advance, with confirmations received. And give yourself plenty of time to get there, and plenty of time to execute the shoot without being caught by the clock.
  • Location: Similar to timing, your location may be dictated somewhat by the subject of the shoot but on a very basic level, make sure everyone involved knows where it is! If doing an external shoot no harm to have an option B for bad weather or low light.
  • Brief: This is the document sent to all participants (particularly the photographer) outlining the details above as well as the creative idea(s). You can never be too specific in the brief – when it comes to location get right down to room numbers, Eircodes or even GPS coordinates rather than ‘the field behind the factory’ (Which campus? Which building? Which corner of the field?). A detailed brief removes the potential for confusion which can lead to lost time, and stress.
  • Permission: Is your chose location public or private? Do you need permission to shoot there? If so, have you got it? If you don’t know – find out! (and have a Plan B in your back pocket).
  • Consent: You may need to have consent from subjects or participants, particularly if taking pictures of minors in a private setting. Have consent forms prepared and ready to sign.
  • Captions: Each picture will need to be accompanied by an accurate caption listing all of the subjects, crediting the photographer and offering a summary of the setup. This caption is embedded in the file that is sent to picture editors. Most photographers will do their own captioning (old-fashioned notebook and pencil on the job, digitally entered later) but on a busy shoot you can make their life easier (hence, less stress and better pictures) by being ready and able to do it yourself.
  • Checklist: Make a checklist of shots you need to capture on the day, print it off and have it to hand. A photocall can be a bustling, high-energy scenario with chatting between subjects and the photographer on a creative flight of fancy, making it all to easy for a crucial setup to fall between the cracks. Tick off your list one by one to make sure you get everything you need to.
  1. Unleash your creative juices

Now we get to the interesting bit – creativity. It goes without saying that in order for your image to stand out it needs to pop off the page, and a line of executives in suits just won’t cut it, no matter how exciting the contents of your annual report. To bring life to staid images you need creativity – and again this is where a pro photographer will shine, using clever angles (up high, worm’s eye) and framing (reflections, geometry, frame-within-a-frame) to draw the viewer’s eye and give focus to the shot. Much as a quality photographer will take people management in hand when they step into the ring, so too a seasoned snapper will strive to find the standout shot from any given setup. However, there are a few things you can add into the mix to make their life easier:

  • Props: It’s always handy to have a few props within reach – the old reliables such as foam hashtags and giant insta-frames have been done many times over in recent years but there’s a reason for that; in the right context, they work. Hard hands and architectural blueprints can stand in for a vision of the future in the absence of any physical development, an artist’s easel can express a change of creative direction, bricks and blocks building for the future. Whatever props you use try to align with the company’s branding and key messaging.
  • Kids: Again there’s a reason why so many PR photographs feature random kids – the presence of effervescent smallies gives character and spark to staid corporate setups that elevates the images enough to catch a picture editor’s eye. It’s an old trick, but it works – if your company communications is kid-related/child-friendly consider bringing in the small guns.
  • Animals: See ‘kids’. Given the choice, most people would prefer to look at a picture of a golden retriever than your Chief Financial Officer. Again the animal card can only be played in appropriate situations, but bear in mind the furry factor when looking to land.

The key is to ‘think different’ – present the photo editor with something that they (ergo the audience) haven’t seen before, or failing that, a fresh twist on an evergreen them. Whatever creative ideas you think of, narrow down to max 2-3 setups, include in the brief sent to the photographer well in advance of the shoot and if anything is challenging or technically difficult, make sure to pick up the phone and chat it through with your chosen snapper – he or she will have their own thoughts on what will or won’t work, based on years of experience, and you’d do well to take them on board.

  1. Movement

Again one to be considered in planning – and a setup that any photographer worth their salt will have in mind – but it’s good to be conscious of the power of movement when trying to capture energy in the frame. There’s a marked contrast between a group of individual standing/sitting and looking at the camera and that same group walking/running/jumping/moving – the injection of kinetic activity into the setup is often just what’s needed to diffuse tension, loosen people up and create that sought-after balance of natural poise and dynamic energy.

Or, in simple terms, get them to get up and walk towards you – and see the difference it makes.

  1. Messaging

Finally, it’s important not to neglect the necessity of including your company’s branding and/or campaign messaging in the photocall (hello foam hashtags!) but it’s equally important to note that over-branded imagery is a turnoff for photo editors. Resist the urge to stick a company logo on every surface and every visible item of clothing, and defend against that urge if others are advocating it.

The right PR photo will delicately blend relaxed and natural subjects, an eye-catching composition and subtle company messaging into a balanced whole – overdoing it on any of these ingredients will spoil the recipe.

So in summary

  1. Get the basics right
  2. Get creative
  3. Find a photographer you can trust and
  4. Keep things stress-free!

Want to know more? To talk about creative campaign ideas, link in with our network of photographers or if you just need help getting your PR campaign off the ground , get in touch with us today.

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