Political Campaign Photography

by Julie Watson (She/Her)

Political Photography Tips

A Step-By-Step Guide to Political Campaign Photography

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially in the world of political communications, where space is limited, and readers’ attention spans are minimal. This means that the images you choose for your campaign are critical and will likely require some level of investment. In any campaign, resources are finite, so it’s important that you’re able to maximize quality while keeping a close eye on your bottom line. In today’s social media savvy world, there is a lot of political photography that is created by both a professional photographer and just a regular iPhone. This post is a guide for both, how to do it, where to start, and what not to do. 

Have a plan for what kind of photography you need.  Every campaign is unique. From the message and issues to the visual aesthetics, your photography and videography can vary greatly. It's important to have a clear understanding of your campaign's needs, the message you want to convey, and how to capture photos and videos that align with those needs. Start by writing a comprehensive photo memo that outlines all your photo and video needs. This memo should focus on the details of how, what, when, and where you will capture the visuals, rather than just a plan for a singular photo shoot day. 

Plan for a photo shoot and video shoot. To ensure a successful campaign, it's important to have a cohesive strategy that includes high-quality photography and videography. Even if you plan to use social media-based photos and videos that feature casual shots, a professional photo shoot is still necessary. Your political photography should feature the people you want to reach in a setting that aligns with your campaign's goals. It is important to identify your target audience and recruit a diverse group of volunteers for your photoshoot who reflect your potential constituency. Additionally, secure a variety of locations that represent your district or state's iconic features in advance. Whether it's a business, a main street sidewalk, or a park, make sure you have access to it and that it lies within the district's boundaries. Campaign photos often feature candidates speaking with individuals, but it takes multiple shots of various volunteers in different settings and groupings to capture a good image. Plan to take pictures of your candidate alone, with one or two people, and with a group of four to five people, and mix and match volunteers for different groupings. Remember to obtain signed release forms from all participants, giving permission to use their image in campaign materials. 

Invest in a professional photographer. When looking for a political photographer, it's important to choose someone who has a portfolio of natural and well-composed images. Your friend may have a great camera, but that doesn’t make them a professional photographer. To start your search, you can check out the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). Typically, a candidate campaign only needs one day of shooting, which means you can hire a photographer for a flat day rate instead of an expensive hourly rate. Once you hire a photographer, make sure to get in writing that your campaign will have ownership of all images and their rights.
If you absolutely cannot afford a photographer, do your research. If you plan on taking your own photos for your campaign, it's important to know how to capture images that will work effectively. Here are some quick tips to ensure success:

-Use a high-quality camera
-Plan for high-resolution photos (select the largest file size in settings)
-Avoid using digital zoom
-Take the photo in good lighting and with a steady hand (keep the subject still)
-Don't resize the original photo
-Save the image as TIF, JPEG, or PNG
-Whenever possible, shoot in natural light for the best results. 

Stay outside. When taking political photographs, it's best to shoot outside as much as possible. Natural light tends to look better and saves you both time and money on artificial lighting. Reserve indoor shots for the end of the day or around noon when the outdoor lighting isn't as flattering. Overcast days are great for photo shoots, as your images should look good throughout the day. 

Dressing for success. Throughout the day, the candidate should change outfits at least three times to showcase a range of business casual to formal clothing. It's inappropriate to wear a suit to a park, so khakis or jeans paired with a nice shirt or blouse should suffice. Similarly, the park outfit may not be suitable in an office or near a capitol building, so the candidate should have a suit ready. Volunteers should dress in casual or business casual attire and should not dress more formally than the candidate. It's important to explain to both the candidate and volunteers that their clothing should be solid colors and free of visible branding or logos, including campaign logos. Prints, particularly stripes, can be distracting and may create unwanted patterns in photos. Accessories should be kept small and unobtrusive. 

Get shots that will work for your political ads. It's important to communicate your expectations to your photographer prior to the shoot. You may need to add text to some or all of the photos, so be sure to discuss leaving space on both the left and right sides of the frame for each shot. This will give you more flexibility when it comes to editing the images. Tight shots of the subjects can make it difficult to add text, so framing is a crucial element to discuss with your photographer beforehand. 

Match subjects to your photos. When it comes to the content of your communication program, it's important to consider its structure. If you're sending out a mail piece that addresses a serious subject, the facial expressions used should reflect the topic. Instead of asking for a cartoonish 'angry' face, it's best to request a neutral expression to achieve a serious demeanor from candidates or volunteers. Additionally, ensure that you have a diverse range of facial expressions to effectively highlight various campaign issues. 

Scout locations. When planning a candidate photo shoot, it's important to scout potential locations ahead of time. Checking out the sites in advance will help you ensure that you have good lighting and a strong background. Keep in mind that outdoor shots typically look more natural and turn out better than indoor shots, unless you are trying to capture a specific setting like inside a courthouse. However, be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast so you don't end up getting rained out. 

Planning for a hybrid photo shoot. When it comes to digital advertising, capturing video content has become essential. Most modern photo equipment can capture both stills and video, making a hybrid shoot a popular choice for campaigns. However, it's important to plan for both mediums by creating clear set-ups and having extra staff on hand to move through shoot set-ups. If you plan to capture audio and script notes, be aware that this will require more time and budget. A hybrid shoot typically only adds 30 percent to the cost, but a full video setup can quickly increase the price. If TV is not your primary medium and you plan to shoot stills and video on the same day, consider only capturing b-roll and recording scripts and testimonials on a separate day.

Use Photoshop and AI judiciously. While it may be tempting to use Photoshop or AI tools to alter your appearance in photos, it's best to avoid doing so. In today's society, people are already skeptical of politicians, and presenting an image that is clearly altered could further erode trust. Instead, opt for high-quality political photography and seek feedback from those closest to you. Their opinions can help you choose the best photos to use.

Don’t forget the model releases! When taking photos, whether it be a casual street shoot or a full photoshoot, it is important to have a signed model release. Before sending any volunteers home, make sure they sign a model release form. This document legally allows you to use the photos you took and ensures that individuals are aware that their images may be used for political campaigns. If you are taking photos in private residences or locations, consider creating a site release form to obtain permission to shoot in that location. Depending on the size of your candidate photo shoot, it may be beneficial to take "head shots" or individual images of volunteers holding a piece of paper with their name on it, so that you can easily identify them if any issues arise. 

Don’t stress! When taking photos, it's crucial to help the subject feel at ease. Any stiffness or discomfort will be very noticeable on camera, so it's a good idea to ask the campaign to recruit volunteers that the subject knows and likes. You can also crack a few jokes and make sure to have refreshments available to keep the mood light. The main objective is to capture a warm and trustworthy image of the subject, so planning to create a positive atmosphere is key. 

Have a real budget for photography and video. Most campaigns spend 60 percent or more of their money on communications. Good political photography runs from $1,200 to $2,400 per day and hybrid shoots are $2,500 to $3,500 a day; sound and a big crew can run a lot more. 

If you need help with political photography, creating mail pieces or digital ads, and producing mail programs and digital ad buys, you are already in the right place. Have questions about political photography? Or want to chat about your campaign, connect with us here!