Picture the final scene of, say, Scent of a Woman. Al Pacino is thundering away about what it means to be a Baird man, but he's absent his cane. He's got nothing to whack that table with to emphasize his point. The scene still shines, but there's something missing. Something subtle. Something to drive his point all the way home. But what the heck does this have to do with design? Imagine your page is this movie. Who's the star?
Here's a clue: It's not you. You're in the prop room sorting through canes trying to find the one that makes the perfect sound as it strikes that big wooden table. Your job is important, but not glorious. So, who's Al Pacino? In today's lesson, it’s the photography in your newspaper.
A picture is truly worth a thousand words and it is the strongest storytelling device at your disposal. Understanding it and using it well takes practice and experience. Here's a few tips to get you started:
1. Learn Photography
Nothing will help you more than simply learning the craft. Taking a picture and making a picture are two very different things. One requires pointing the camera and pushing a button, while the other takes a trained eye, a knowledge of light, timing and composition. Anyone can get lucky and take a good picture once in a while – photographers are the few who know how do it every day and often more than once.
So, how do you learn photography? Take a class, read a book on photography, look at pictures, ask questions. Many people react immediately to photos. They either like it or they don't, but those aren't good arguments to evaluate a particular image. You need to speak the language and to do that you have to know the language.
2. Trust Your Photo Editors
No matter how much you learn about pictures your photo editor always knows best. They've had direct contact with the photographer and intimate knowledge of the assignments. They're the experts in your newsroom and their opinions must be valued. Trust that they've chosen the best image to tell the story; trust that if they had something better it'd be in your hand. If you value their choices and handle their images with care you'll be guaranteed more flexibility in the future.
3. Question Your Photo Editors
Your picture editors are close to their photographers and close to the images. Your opinion as first-time viewer can open a dialogue between the design and photo departments and help shape your page. Whether you like the picture or not, ask why it was chosen, ask how big it should be played. From these questions you'll learn about the photo editor's style and preference. You'll learn about your paper's philosophy on photography. You'll gain trust. That's when you become a star, but just one among many.