Smile, this one is for history: a short primer on what we look for in submitted photos

My grandfather turns 91 this year, and he’s a really smart guy. One of his interesting recent observations was that when he was a child, he had to pay a nickel to go to the cinema. Now, with smartphones, everyone “has their own cinema in their pocket.” It’s true – with services like YouTube and Hulu, one can call up whatever program they want at any time, and the ability to create user-generated content is greatly enhanced by the cameras and video recorders that mobile devices are often equipped with.
This ability to readily document events as they happen has changed the way news is covered in several ways. For one, it has made on-the-spot video and photos available in a way that would have never been possible even a decade ago, when video and photography required things like, well, actual camera equipment.
Another way that this digital photography explosion has changed the media landscape is in the photos that come to the newspaper from readers. Many of them document events that we are unable to reach due to time constraints, and sometimes serve as a sort of community-based force multiplier. The cameras on phones and digital devices keep getting better, too; I won a Minnesota Newspaper Association award for a portrait I shot using an iPhone in 2012. The technology now is a far cry from the primitive digital cameras I first worked with after starting here in 2006, that’s for sure.
We love using quality submitted photos in both our print editions and online, and I would like to pass along some feedback to the reading community in terms of what makes a photo more likely to run in the newspaper:
• All of our photos are edited to 200 dots-per-inch. This ensures that they are of high enough quality to look good when they are in print. So if you are going to send something in to the paper (and by all means, do), please try to make sure that the file is at least 1 MB in size. This will ensure that it survives the editing process.
• While this isn’t nearly as much of an issue now as it was even a decade ago, please send a digital copy whenever possible. We have the ability to scan printed pictures, but the quality of a digital image is better, and easier for us to work with.
• A little composition goes a long way. In fact, a well-composed photo can sometimes transcend whatever technical limitations are present in the device, as my award photo might illustrate. This means basic things: not having the sun at the backs of the camera subjects, creating a horrendous white balance issue; not having tree branches or picture frames “sprouting” from the subjects’ heads; and not having needlessly cluttered backgrounds that make for a busy picture. In short, keep it simple, and keep it clean.
• If you are using the flash, try to have it expose everyone equally, instead of blasting on person on one end of a line and leaving another in complete shadow. Also, don’t worry about red-eye. We can fix that.
• If the photo includes people in it, please provide their names, both first and last. We don’t run first names only, and in most circumstances, we don’t leave names out. So if you are sending a photo of people, please include who they are.
• If the photo you are thinking of sending in is about an event, like volunteering or packing food, consider sending a shot of people actually doing the work. It’s similar to the standard we try to apply toward photos that run with our stories: have the photo tell all or part of the story. While shots of people lined up and smiling are nice, it is better to have a shot of people actually doing whatever it is they are in the newspaper for. This is true for everything from building a giant snowman in your front yard to getting an award from the Rotary – action is usually preferred.
We’re not working under the assumption here that people are telling their photo subjects, “Smile big, this one is for the newspaper!,” but we do encourage people to share their moments with us, both big and small. We can’t promise that we’ll print everything we received, but we do welcome submissions, and following the suggestions listed above will hopefully give you, the reader, a better idea of what it is we are looking for with photos that come from the public.

Contact Joseph Palmersheim at joseph.palmersheim@ecm-inc.com

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