Photographs of people

Why use photos of people?

Photographs attract the reader and help them visualise the information

The use of photographs is a powerful means of attracting attention to your documents. Here are some pointers to help you make the most of photographs in your documents.

You can't beat a picture of a person if you want to set up a connection between the reader and the document.

Photos of Individuals

Have them look at the camera

If the subject isn't looking at the camera, it suggests that there was something more interesting than the photo shoot going on — and the reader can't see what it was unless that is also included in the shot.

So, unless you need to show something else besides the person — such as the computer they're operating or the food they're sitting down to eat — have them look directly at the camera.

Looking at the camera has two other benefits: it builds a connection with the reader and gives the photo a center of gravity.

Connecting to the reader: it's the old "The eyes seem to follow you around the room" syndrome.

But it's absolutely true — the reader looks at a person who looks back at them. And we get what we're constantly working towards: a direct connection between reader and material.

Centre of Gravity: placing illustrations on the page raises questions of optical weight and balance. Remember those school lessons when you had to find the center of gravity of an object — the point at which the mass of the object was centered.

An illustration with an optical "center of gravity" makes life a lot easier — put the center of gravity in the right place and the rest follows. With the subject looking at the camera, the eyes become the center of gravity; get the eyes in the right place on the page and the rest of the photo will follow.

Crop them tight

This applies to all photos but more so to pictures of people. That wonderful picture of the new Production Manager in the company newsletter — the one with her sat behind that imposing desk with the wall chart and the potted palm — is in the newsletter to introduce her to everyone else, so that people will recognize her when they meet her.

When they do meet her, she won't have the desk, wall chart or potted palm with her — she may even have changed her clothes since the photo shoot.

The only thing that she'll have with her, that also appears in the photo, is her face. Crop the picture so that it features the important stuff; resize it to take up the same amount of space and the picture will show far more detail of what matters.

Groups

As well as cropping them tight, group them tight.

Some of us aren't very good at being physically close to other people. So when we stand as a group, composed of individuals around half a meter across at the shoulders, we stand with about 30cm "comfort" space between us.

This means that almost 40% of the so-called "group" photo is actually composed of the spaces between people. Get them to stand as close together as they can and then tell them to close up!

Use photographs with implied motion

It may be actual movement of an object or it could be simply the motion along a sight line. Either way the motion carries the reader's eye and so takes them along your carefully planned route through the page.

So remember to imply motion in the direction that you want them take as they read your document. Don't have motion that takes them prematurely to the bottom right-hand corner of the page and don't have movement running away from the rest of the page's content.

Number and size

If you have a single photograph: the amount of space devoted to it should reflect its importance and its quality.

Since the eye travels down the page, it's usually better to have your photo in the upper part of the page. That means that, once readers have been attracted to the photo, they look below it to the copy.

If you were to put an arresting photo at the bottom of the page, it would attract the reader's eye and it would then be difficult to get them to lift their focus back up the page.

If you have a photo that deserves a lot of space: devote up to 60% of the page to it. Don't go to much more than that or the picture will dominate the rest of the page and no-one will read the copy anyway.

If the photo needs more than 60%, consider giving the whole page over to it and pitting the copy on the facing page.

If you are using two photographs: use one large and one small.

Two photos the same size set up a conflict — the reader isn't sure which should be the focus of attention.

We equate size with importance — make the more important picture larger. The difference in size will give you a dynamic to move the reader's eyes around the page from large to small. This principle holds good when you have three or more photos on the page.

The one time when photos should be of similar size is when you have a series of "mug-shots". It's the type of thing that appears in the newsletter — meet-the-staff biographies, sales persons of the month and so on. To have different sized photos sets up invidious comparisons of apparent worth of the people shown.


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