It has been said that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Through pictures, student councils can visually illustrate their activities, projects, and impact they have on the school, students, staff, and community. With the digital technology today, anyone can take pictures without concern for how many shots are on a roll of film or the cost of getting photos developed.
The reality is that not all pictures are worth a thousand words and in fact many photos taken end up being deleted. The following tips can serve as guidelines to help you take the best possible photos for publication and display, to increase your numbers of useable photos, and to encourage you to take more shots.
Camera vs. Phone
Always consider your event when it comes to photography. For ceremonies, special speakers, etc., it is usually best to use a good camera. Even better—line up a photographer (student or adult) to be responsible for taking photos. Even though people can get amazing shots with phones these days, there are limitations to a phone's camera. Candids and casual photos taken during activities and meetings can result in good pics, but don't rely on phones completely. Many people have good cameras on their cell phones, but special events call for the best quality photos. Ask around your school for the best photographers. There could be journalism or yearbook students and teachers, or a parent can get great photos.
Types of Photos
Always think variety. Always shoot more photos than you will use. Shoot from different angles and places to include as many people as you can; having more than one image from any event will ensure that there are enough images from which to choose.
Candid: One goal is to capture the climate of the project or activity, so images of individuals engaged in the activity are best. It is helpful to have various groups of people represented—students, staff members, and administrators—as well as representation of the diversity of the school community. This is particularly important for projects and activities. Group shots are fine but un-posed/action images usually catch the reader's eye best.
Staged: Sometimes you just miss the chance to take a picture. In those instances, explore the possibility of recreating or 'staging' the shot. It might be the presentation of a plaque or trophy, or a student casting his/her vote at the ballot box.
Panorama: Panoramic photos work well when you have a large group of people you want to photograph but you don't have a wide angle lens, and you don't want to move back so far that you can't see their faces. Some phone cameras have panorama settings and there is free software for computers that lets you 'stitch' several photos together to create your panoramic shot. Panoramic shots work best when people are stationary such as at a banquet or standing around. Movement can distort the photo.
Groups: Group photos give you the chance to create an instant accounting of who was there, was a member, etc. Use them sparingly, but there should be one or more group photos taken of your council or chapter annually. This would be one where a photographer works well.
Selfies: Selfies have gone main stream with the advances of cell phone cameras and social media. They make fun shots to add to your files and include in presentations. Use Selfies sparingly in combination with your other photos that you post to your council's or school's social media sites, or in presentations.
Camera Angle: To facilitate obtaining a variety of images, consider a variety of camera angles and locations—walk around the participants while they're working, use wide-angle, focus on each individual for an image and then the group. It often takes many shots for at least one dynamic image to emerge.
Check your backgrounds: Scan the area, look for clutter or distraction and quickly change the framing or location of the shot if the background interferes with your subject.
Lighting: Maximum natural lighting is best. A slightly overcast sky is a benefit as it diffuses the light, keeping it from being too harsh. Avoid lighting that casts hard (dark) shadows across faces; use the camera's flash to fill in the shadows. Know your camera's flash range. For many cameras it's only about 10-12 feet. If you are unable to add additional lighting be sure you are closer to your subjects.
Get Closer: Don't always rely on a camera's zoom function, physically move closer. If using your cell phone camera, don't zoom at all. Rather, take the photo and then crop it by enlarging and positioning it on your screen, and then take a screen shot of that image. In many group shots, the people get swallowed up by the background. Take a step closer and fill the frame with people. Faces will have more clarity on closer shots, but don't cut off anyone's head, arms, or feet—although cutting off everyone's feet by closing in on the faces is just fine. Make your picture by taking an extra minute to rearrange your subjects or take shots from other angles.
Avoid cropping images too tight: While close up images are fine for special effects, work to provide some space around the central image to facilitate effective use of the image at the production end where cropping can occur. Often interesting shots are taken with the subject slightly off-center.
Focus, focus, focus: Avoid submitting any images that are not sharply focused, at least where the main subject is concerned. Having background or nonessential individuals out of focus can be an effective tool for an image as long as the central subject is sharp. This is one reason you see photographers taking multiple photos... just in case.
Color: Strong colors make photos exciting. With editing tools, it is easy to raise or lower the saturation of color to give just the right amount.
Black and White: Photos in black and white can sometimes better reflect emotion or time, and add variety to the way images are displayed.
Rule of Thirds: Using the rule of thirds, you can turn your photo from bland to grand. The rule is essentially looking through your camera as if there was a tic-tac-toe grid over the image you see. Your goal is to put the main focus of your photo (a face, hand, etc.) at the point where two of the lines would intersect. Whether you take the photo to place the subject at an intersection or crop the photo to reach the effect, doing so will create an interesting or exciting perspective that will draw the audience to what you want them to see.
Eyes: Look at the photo just taken—are all of the people's eyes open? If not, keep the group in place and reshoot. One hint is when taking the shot, take two pictures one right after the other so you have an automatic backup and hopefully avoid seeing closed eyes. This last suggestion is particularly helpful for those still using film-based cameras.
Photo File Specs
File Quality and Size: It's most important to set the camera to use the highest resolution possible to get the pictures to look good in print or projected onto a large screen. The name of the setting may vary so your camera may call this something like best quality, super fine, or 'large'. Digital photos are measured in pixels. Generally, the more pixels there are in a photo, the larger the file size. For printing and projection purposes, using a 1MB or greater size file is preferred. Files of that size will usually have photos that are at least 1,000 pixels in width which is a good minimum size to use. Always try to start with a higher resolution photo. Photo files can be downsized or compressed for production or posting purposes, but no one can increase the pixel size or quality of smaller sized files.
File Type: Digital cameras record photos as specific file types. The more advanced DSLR cameras often give the user options. Most often, basic cameras and phone cameras save pictures as .JPG files. The JPG is the preferred format for submitting photos to NASSP and is widely used by most social media sites.
Scanning: There may be printed photos that already exist in your council or chapter archives or that members possess, and which you want to transfer to digital format. When scanning a photo, remember to set the scanner output to save as a JPG file. You will also need to set the resolution on the scanner to at least 300 ppi in order to get a good, sharp scan of your photo.
Captions and Ethics
Captions: Whether you are preparing your photos for print or electronic display, it is helpful to include captions that explain essential information about select ones. When was it taken? Where? Who is in the photo? What is taking place? Be sure to include the school name and city/state information along with the caption.
If you are submitting your photos to NatStuCo , captions are important and needed when the photos are used in publication. Captions can be submitted via email but please reference the name of the photo attached when doing so. When sending in a printed photo, include this information on a separate sheet—please do not write on the back of the photo.
Photo credit and date: Always try to give credit to the person who took the photo you might use or publish, including yourself and the date of the photo. To help you remember that person and date, include them as part of the file name. Using numbers for dates will help keep file titles shorter, e.g., Induction 2013_grobertsphoto_032813. The photographer's name should also be included with any photo you submit to a newspaper or to an outside organization like NatStuCo .
Permission: It is essential that all local permission forms have been signed and collected at your end before sending in any photos. Any recognizable individual in the photo should be identified and permission obtained prior to submission. Please comply with the rules and regulations of your school or school system for all such media releases. Consult with the principal or the school system's public relations office if you have questions. Occasionally we find the need to request a copy of such forms, so please keep your forms available for at least a year following the submission of any image to NASSP.
NatStuCo student councils are involved in many dynamic projects each year. The national office values receiving stories of successful events to share with our members around the country. For both our print publications and our online presence, we always enjoy including good photos to supplement the written articles.
Also remember to enter your projects with photos into the National Student Project Database found on the NatStuCo website.