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Digital Photo Tips & Hints

Info from a Pro...

Shooting Digital Photos For Publication

Adapted by Diane Ortiz K2DO, NYC/LI PIC, Public Relations Committee ARRL

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to shoot a good picture for publication. Having a quality camera with you and being alert for a good photo moment goes a long way, especially if the event has enough significance and you are the only photographer. That said, having a basic understanding of what makes for a good publication photo can allow you to be a valued photo contributor to Amateur Radio and other publications.

Shoot With the Highest Resolution Possible

As a first rule, let me suggest you shoot in the highest resolution possible (jpeg Fine as a minimum). One and two megapixel shots may be fine for family four by sixes, but publications want four or five megapixels or higher if possible.

One reason is that good print quality demands high resolution. Readers expect sharp pictures! And speaking of sharpness be sure your photo is in focus. High resolution pictures that are out of focus are not usable. Several things contribute to focus, not the least of which are camera shake and depth of field. To combat camera shake, always shoot at the highest shutter speed possible, but never less than the reciprocal of the focal length of your lens (i.e. 50 mm lens = minimum shutter speed of 1/50th of a second, 200 mm lens = 1/200th of a second). Shutter speed and depth of field go hand in hand and require a tradeoff depending on available light. Just remember that the higher the f stop, the greater the depth of field. Ansel Adams always shot at f64, but then he was photographing fixed landscapes with a tripod mounted camera.

A second reason is that your picture will likely be cropped by the photo editor. Photo editors by effective cropping can turn the ordinary picture into an effective news shot. The more you crop and then change size for publication fit, the more the higher resolution becomes important.

When You Can, Take Lots of Shots and Cull Them Later

A staff photographer for National Geographic, a publication renowned for the quality of its photos and for how Geographic photos effectively brought other cultures into our homes said that he would literally shoot hundreds of shots to get the handful that would make for a Geographic story. Shooting from different angle perspectives, with various focal length lenses, and bracketing for exposure and depth of field control, he could get the perfect shots that Geographic demanded.

With the advent of digital photography, there is no financial constraint holding us back from shooting quantity in the pursuit of quality.

When Framing Leave Some Room Around Your Subject

Here, we get back to editorial cropping again. When you leave room, the editors can do their magic, and they can also make the photo fit. As photographers, we can never be sure how our photos will be used in various publications.

Document the Content of Your Photos

Proper documentation starts with on-scene documentation of the Who, What, When, Where and Why. Accuracy of documentation is essential!

Use the Visual Information Reference Identification (VIRN) standard. A typical filename would be like the following example:


In this example, the first six digits indicate date of shot in two-digit year, month, and day sequence (here it shows August 11, 2005). This is followed by a dash and then the letter “H” for Ham Radio. This in turn is followed by another dash and the last four numbers of the photographer’s Social Security number and initial of last name. Next is another dash followed by the photo sequence number for the day’s shooting. Slides, negatives and prints use sequence numbers 1-499 and digital photos 500-999 (here it is the first digital shot of the day). Finally, the .jpg extension.

As this naming system tells nothing about the content of your picture, this information must be provided in another place in your photo file. Information can be placed in the File Properties part of your file, or if you use Adobe Photoshopâ and Photoshop Elementsâ for photo editing and management, put the information in the File Info part of the photo file. This can be accessed in Photoshop or Elements from the File menu, and allows you to enter Title, Author and a detailed Caption for the photo. If you don’t have a photo editing program that supports this, include the caption in your email.

Shoot Pictures of Ham Radio Operators in Action

As a general rule, a picture of a dignitary at an event may work well for some publications, but tells nothing about the contribution of Amateur Radio. On the other hand, a shot of a ham radio operator IN ACTION is often worth 1000 words.

Action shots include all aspects of ham radio activity – an Education Instructor in interaction with students, putting up a station, radio operators on the mike.

Context shots, such as a shot of Alltel Stadium for the Superbowl story can SUPPLEMENT action shots, but should never substitute for them. A ham radio operator receiving a special award may SUPPLEMENT other photos in a biographical piece, but is no substitute for a picture of the award winner in action.

Beware of Cigarettes, Inappropriate Attire, Improper Procedure and Unflattering Shots

While some magic can be technically and ethically done in Photoshopâ, a lot of otherwise good photos get trashed by editors because they cast less than a positive light on Amateur Radio. A cigarette hanging out of the side of Humphrey Bogart’s lip may have been fine for the African Queen, but in the mouth of a ham radio operator it is taboo. We want to be treated like professionals and we need to look the part!

Also and finally, the Golden Rule of Public Affairs Photography is “Photograph others they way you would like to be photographed.” Avoid unflattering shots.

With quality, properly-documented photos, you can make an important contribution to Amateur Radio.

Good shooting!


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