Monday, April 26, 2010

Posing Picture Problems

When I was running an article workshop in Burton upon Trent on Saturday (hello everyone again!) a few questions arose about pictures. Yesterday, I marked a couple of assignments where the students had questions about pictures too, so I thought I'd pass on some of my answers to you here today.

Thinking about pictures is important these days. Most magazines contain pictures as well as words (although there are some mens magazines where the picture count is probably higher than the word count!) However, there are some points you should consider when you're investigating where to get pictures from.

Pictures are subject to copyright just like the words you create. How would you like it if someone took your words without asking? The same goes for pictures too. Ideally, the best way to get pictures is to take them yourself. That way, the copyright is yours and you can do what you like with them. But sometimes, you may not be able to take the picture, or someone else has taken a better image than you could manage. If you want to use their picture - GET PERMISSION.

Some people will ask for payment for using their picture. And why not? You want paying by the editor if he uses your words, after all. Never commit an editor to expenditure. You don't know what the editor's picture budget is (if he has one at all.) However, if you've identified a suitable source for a picture and you've made enquiries and the source is willing to consider allowing the image to be used, then pass all the contact details onto the editor. This will save them so much time.

Some picture suppliers will be happy for images to be used free of charge, as long as they are credited. That's fine - simply make this clear to the editor how the pictures should be credited. PR companies will often provide pictures free of charge if your article is offering good, positive publicity for their product/destination.

Don't Take From the Internet
The Internet is not a copyright free zone. Whatever appears on there has been created by someone, so taking it (whether it is text or images) is theft. However there is also another important reason. Picture quality. Internet images are low-res and magazines need hi-res images.

Most images on the Internet are 72 dots per inch. This means that there are 72 dots in every square inch of the picture, that go to create that image. This figure is used for two reasons - historically, computer monitors used to create every image on screen using 72 dots for every square inch (although this is changing now with HD). Secondly, images of only 72 dots per inch are quicker to download.

Magazines print pictures at 300 dots per inch. In other words, for every dot used on a computer screen, a magazine needs 4 dots. Put another way, to print a 72 dots per inch picture in a magazine, will mean that the size of the picture will be less than a quarter of the size it is on the screen.

Do you need permission to take photos?
As I said earlier, taking your own pictures is the best solution, because you know you have the copyright. Also, if you're taking pictures on a small digital camera, as long as it has more than 5 megapixels, the quality will be suitable for a magazine's 300 dots per inch requirement too, whilst reproducing the image at a sensible size.

However, you may need permission from the landowner to take pictures for use in an article. If you're not sure - check. Here in the UK, we have the right to take pictures from any public right of way. That could be the pavement of the street you live on, or a footpath crossing the countryside. (There is an issue with overactive Police declaring that you can't do this under various anti-terrorism laws - but actually you can.)

What you need to be aware of is when you're visiting tourist attractions such as National Trust properties. As soon as you step onto their property, you are no longer on a public right of way. There may be public access - but it isn't a public right of way - you are now on private property. Many places will permit photography for PERSONAL use, but not for commercial use. For many of these places though, a simple request in writing (by email or letter) to the organisation's PR department or spokesperson will grant you this permission. (Again, you could be offering them free publicity, so there's something it in for them.) Just be aware though that some organisations (such as the National Trust) may not grant permission. The National Trust, for example, has it's own picture library and because it is a charity, it would prefer magazines to pay to use the pictures in its own picture library. This may not seem fair, but private property is private property and how would you feel if someone came into your home taking pictures, without asking, which were then going to be splashed across a magazine?

Don't be frightened
Some of this may seem a bit daunting, but the golden rule is quite simple. Ask. If you're not sure, simply ask the organisation if you are allowed to take your own pictures or if they have pictures they can give you. Or, if you come across a picture that you think would illustrate your own article well, ask the owner if it can be used. They may just come back with a 'yes'.

And finally, if you're taking your own pictures, FILL THE FRAME. Whatever it is you are taking, zoom in and get it to fill the picture. When the image is published readers want to be able to see what it is you are referring to. Mentioning St Agnes's Church with it's intricately carved door is no good if the only picture you have of the Church is of the steeple poking up through the trees on the horizon six miles away!

Good luck ... and happy snapping!