Videography and Political Photography Tips for Your Campaign

Political Photography Tips

Political Photography- The TCW Guide to Winning Campaign Photographs 

Political photography is a critical element for any political campaign, independent expenditure ballot measure or member engagement campaign.

Yes, 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 through social photographs as well as professional photography. This post is a guide for both, how to do it, where to start and what not to do. So, Let’s begin. 

  1. Have a plan for what kind of photography you need. Not all campaigns are the same. The message and issues of the campaign are different, and the look and feel of your photography may vary. Think clearly about the needs of your campaign, the message you convey, and how you will use and  capture photos and videos.  Write a photo memo that details your campaign photo and videography needs. In the past, folks have seen this as a photo shoot memo focused on a singular day, but think of this more as a comprehensive photo needs memo to lay out the how, what, when, and where of your photo and video needs.  
  2. You will need a photoshoot and a video shoot – make sure it reflects your overall campaign strategy. Even if you plan to get a lot of social media-based photos and videos featuring casual shots, you will still need a photo shoot. Your political photography should feature the people you’re trying to reach in a setting that fits within the context of your race. Are you trying to reach middle-aged residents in your district? Young families? Find volunteers for your photoshoot who reflect your audience, and the diversity of your potential constituency. What’s more, secure a variety of locations that are reflective and iconic to the district or state in advance. Whether it’s a business, a main street’s sidewalk, or park, you want to be sure that you’ll have access to it and that it’s within the boundaries of the district. Candidates talking to people is a hallmark of many campaign photos, but it’s not nearly as spontaneous as it looks. To get a good image, you’ll need to take multiple shots of many different volunteers in different settings and groupings. Plan to take pictures of your candidate alone, with one to two people, and with a group of four to five people and mix and match volunteers for different groupings. Also, be sure to have everyone sign a release form agreeing to have their image used in your campaign materials.
  3. Invest in a professional photographer. Your friend may have a great camera, but that doesn’t make them a professional. I’m sure we’ve all seen political photography that catches your eye for all the wrong reasons. Take the time to review portfolios and choose a photographer who has produced images that look natural and well-composed. To start your search for someone to take care of your political photography, check out the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). Most candidate campaigns can get away with just one day of shooting, which means when you hire a photographer, you can generally just pay a flat day rate, instead of a potentially costly hourly rate. After you hire a photographer, be sure to get in writing that all the images and their rights will belong to your campaign, not the photographer. 
  4. If you absolutely cannot afford a photographer, do your research. If you must take your own photos, you’ll want to read up on tips for shooting images that will work for your campaign. Below is a list of quick tips for creating your own campaign images:
    • Use a good camera
    • Use high-resolution photos - (in settings select the largest file size available)
    • Do not use digital zoom
    • Shoot the photo in good light and use a steady hand (with the subject still)
    • Do not resize the original photo
    • Store as TIF, JPEG, or PNG
    • Try to shoot as much as possible in natural light
  5. Stay outside. Shoot your political photography outside as much as you can. Natural light looks better and saves you time and money on artificial lighting. Save any indoor shots for the very end of the day, or at noon, when the light outdoors won’t be flattering. If you’re outside on an overcast day, you’re in luck: your images should look good at pretty much any hour of the day.
  6. Dressing for success. The candidate should change outfits at least three times throughout the day, showing a range of business casual to more formal clothing. You wouldn’t wear a suit to a park, so go for khakis or jeans and a nice shirt. Conversely, the park outfit might not set the right tone in an office or near a capitol building, so the candidate should have a suit at the ready. Volunteers should be dressed in casual or business casual clothes and generally should not be dressed more formally than the candidate. Explain to both the candidate and the volunteers that their clothing should be solid in color with no visible branding/logos, including campaign logos! Prints, especially stripes, tend to pull focus and sometimes even create unwanted moiré patterns on your images. They should also plan to keep accessories small and unobtrusive—your campaign photoshoot is not the day to debut a Kentucky Derby style hat. 
  7. Get shots that will work for your political ads. Think about the subject of your images and the way those subjects fit into the frame. Like an itinerary, it’s important that you put together a shot list to ensure you get what you need, and that your photographer knows what is expected of them. It’s highly likely that you’ll need to place text over at least some, if not all the photos you take; which means you also must make room for that text within the image. Talk to your photographer about leaving space on both the left and right sides of the frame for each shot, so you have a variety of options to work with. If all the shots you get are tight on the subjects, you’re likely going to bump into trouble flowing text over photos. Framing is important, especially in political campaign photography, and it’s something you should discuss with your photographer in advance of your shoot.
  8. Match subjects to your photos. Content-wise, this means thinking about the structure of your communications program. If you’re sending out a mail piece that tackles a serious issue, you want facial expressions that reflect what you’re talking about. Often, the best way to get a serious face out of a candidate or volunteer is to ask them to make a neutral face, rather than a cartoonish ‘angry’ face. Make sure you get the kind of variety you’re going to need to visually highlight a variety of campaign issues. 
  9. Scout locations. Just like with volunteer recruitment, it’s critical that you scout for locations before your candidate photo shoot. Take a bit of time and poke around potential locations before the shoot to make sure that the sites have good lighting, where you can see great photos being easily taken. Keep in mind that unless you are producing a custom type of shot (i.e., inside a courthouse), outdoor shots generally look more natural and turn out better than indoor shots. That said, make sure you remain aware of the weather as far in advance as forecasts allow. Nothing is more frustrating than being rained out.
  10. Planning for a hybrid photo shoot. Most modern digital photo equipment can shoot stills and videos. With the need to integrate digital advertising into your program, capturing some type of video is a must! Many campaigns use a hybrid photo shoot to do this. Make sure you are planning for digital b-roll and stills. This means clear set ups that work for both mediums, as well as extra staffing to move through the shoot set-ups. If you plan to capture audio and record script notes, this will take a lot more time, and additional budget to capture sound. A hybrid shoot is usually only 30 percent more, but if you are doing a full video set up this price can increase quickly. If you are planning to shoot stills and video on the same day and TV is not your primary medium, consider shooting b-roll only and recording scripts and testimonials on a different day.
  11. Use Photoshop judiciously. It’s certainly tempting to get everything you don’t like about your appearance fixed in Photoshop, but please don’t. People are already distrustful when it comes to politicians, so don’t lead with an image that is clearly altered to make you look like the embodiment of human perfection. Invest in quality political photography and trust the people closest to you to help you pick out great photos—they’ll probably be more objective than you are.
  12. Don’t forget the model releases! Whether you are shooting causal photos on a street corner or doing a full photoshoot, you need a signed model release. Before you let any volunteer go home, you must have them sign a model release form. This legally binding document lets you use all the photos you shot, and makes sure folks know you are going to use their photo and video for a political campaign. If you are shooting in private homes or locations, consider creating a site release form to get permission to shoot in a location. Depending on the size of your candidate photo shoot, you may want to consider creating “head shots” or individual images of the volunteers, in which they are holding a piece of paper with their name on it, so you can put a name to a face if any issues do arise. 
  13. Don’t stress! During photoshoots, the most important thing is to get the candidate to relax! Stiffness and discomfort are magnified on camera, so encourage campaigns to recruit people the candidate knows and likes to use as volunteers. Crack jokes and be sure to have water and snacks on hand to keep the mood up. The goal is for the candidate to look warm and trustworthy, so the more you foster that atmosphere, the better! 
  14. 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’re looking for help with your political photography, but also creating mail pieces and digital ads and producing mail programs, and digital ad buys, we have good news! You’re already in the right place. Have questions about political photography? Or want to chat about your campaign, connect with us here

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