Category Archives: Publication of Photos

Issues related to publishing photos

Portrait or Headshot?

This portrait of my grandfather is one I value but it tells little about his life.

Are you writing a life story? Do you want to include a portrait or two of your subject? Let’s say you are planning to write a lengthy book or a short article. Your purpose could be to present the life of someone you admire or someone whose life has troubled you. You might be contributing to a family history or paying tribute to an individual on a special occasion. Whether your audience is family or readers in the larger world, likely, you plan to include at least one picture of the individual, and you are stuck. Which one is best?

At an earlier date, I wrote about a Karsh exhibit, and most certainly, he was a master at capturing personality in portraiture, but let’s be realistic. You won’t have Karsh quality photos at your fingertips.

 In fact, I seldom use headshots to accompany my writing. Why? Well, usually, they tell us very little about the person. Subjects pose for portraits, so the photos don’t capture the natural expressions of the individual. When possible, I prefer photos that have “story” or even actions in them. I like ones in which people are surrounded with things that are actually part of their lives. Of course, the individual may be away from home or even on a very exotic holiday. As a result, holiday photos may not reflect everyday feelings. When travelling, people are often more or less happy than when we are at home. Still, there is personality and story in such photos.

But headshots! Well, probably most people have cringed at the image of themselves used on passports, driver’s licences and similar identification documents. When I see my own, I can’t help but think, “Is that really me?” However, for legal documents, officials don’t want us to smile and look happy. Rather, they prefer to see the way we will look when police stop us with ticket in hand.

Am I saying that a portrait never works for me? No. Sometimes, photographers have interesting backdrops or subjects are encouraged to dress in costume, and I find those photos fascinating. But the backdrop or costume is not the person.

Also, some portraits convey little of the personality of the individual but reveal a great deal about the era of the photo. For instance, the hairstyle might be a perfect reflection of how the individual responded to the culture of the time. And that is personality. Whether the hair style comes from the late 1800s, 1920s or 1960s, we learn about both the person and the time frame.

However, the best portraits tell us even more about the person. Of course, most are still just head-and-shoulder shots, but if the person is wearing a uniform, we learn a great deal about the individual. If the uniform is a prison, school or military uniform, we have the potential for story. If the clothes are expensive-looking, we have yet another story.

Some headshots do tell us very little. Maybe you have to choose two headshots to create one story. For example, in one portrait the subject is a teenager but in the other, the person is now a senior. The differences are always significant. Some of the changes relate to weight and age, but occasionally we see personality changes, too.  The happy young person became bitter, or the angry teenager has developed smile lines. We know there is story behind the very different images, and generally, we would love to learn more. If there is nothing to discover in the image, if it is simply a headshot, keep searching for one that has a little more meaning or story.

Photos: Finding Focus

Writing, learning and history of the Canadian West have long been important to me, and, because I’ve used so many images in my books, I wanted to write about photos, too.  Instead of paintings, we have my husband’s photos on our walls, and I’m always interested in photography exhibitions.

Finding the focus for each subject has sometimes been a challenge. With writing and history, I am captivated by many themes and issues, and there is always something new to learn and discuss.

Determining my focus for the photo blogs has taken more thought. To care about a subject is one thing; to have a long-term plan for writing about it is another, especially if I hope to be helpful, relevant and timely.

So, what can I write about photography? Previously, I have said that I’m not a great photographer, but I think my husband is. I do take a few pictures, but most certainly, I don’t know enough about cameras, lenses and photo programs for the computer to be helpful.

Sometimes, a subject has potential, but the photo doesn't quite work.

Thankfully, after much pondering, I feel I have found my focus. How can I provide something that is helpful to readers? Well, I can write about many, many aspects of publishing photos, whether the photographs are contemporary or from days gone by.

What dots per inch (dpi) do you need for various publishing projects? Where can you find good history-related or archival photos to publish? What are sources for publishable contemporary photos? What is the best format for images you wish to publish? How much might you be charged for a copy of the image? What are commercial use fees, and what price range is reasonable? How does copyright apply to photographs? What is an appropriate way to credit photos? If you are publishing a photo, when should you feel free to crop or manipulate the image? I’m neither a designer nor a lawyer, but when it comes to publishing photos, I think I can be helpful.

There are so many more potential questions and possible answers, but now, I feel I know what ideas I want to explore in the photo category of my blog. I have some knowledge and experience in this area, and I’m happy to share both with you. So, in the future, expect ideas and issues related to publishing photos. What a relief to finally have a focus!

Photo Power Unites Us

Writers often praise the power of words, but images are equally powerful. Ironically, I write here of the wonder and power of photos without including images. Yet, for all who read newspapers and magazines or watch TV news and documentaries, the photos and videos from those reports remain vivid in memory for years.

Once again, I have been glued to the TV, not to simply hear the reports but to see images of events half a world away. Videos of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, and of the haunting faces of victims and rescuers, dominate screens in our living rooms. We survey flattened homes and watch communities being swept out to sea. Photos document vehicles floating and destroyed. They show us overturned ships, as well as nuclear power stations that have stood tall, little hinting of the hazard they hold, and then exploding to contaminate air and soil.

I treasure words, but the photos and video carry me to the centre of the tragedy. Certainly, earlier images from Japan impacted the world. Who can forget photos and films of the mushroom cloud after the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan at a time when it was a threat to the Allies? The era during which we live most definitely affects how we respond to images from the past, but whatever our responses, the world comes into our homes through published images, television, films and video.

Through photos, the landscape and experiences of others become more real to me. New Orleans is no longer simply about Mardi Gras and the French Quarter. Egypt and Libya are no longer settings for ancient history, but lands filled with contemporary people struggling to restructure their societies.

The day of the 9/11 tragedies, I was mesmerized by TV videos of toppling buildings, people jumping from office towers, terrorized New Yorkers fleeing on city streets, and firemen entering burning, unstable buildings.

Television has brought us haunting images from Haiti. At Christmas in 2004, I awoke to a TV video of the tsunami that devastated Thailand and Sri Lanka. I will always remember the photo of the crying, half-naked child running down the street during the Viet Nam War. The young man in Tiananmen Square facing the tank as it rolled down the street is unforgettable, and images from other civil and world wars have left me feeling distraught.

Outstanding Canadian photos help us relive our own past, too. Karsh’s portraits documented the famous from around the world, but most young Canadians know nothing of him.  In video and still-life images, we watched Terry Fox, his face filled with pain and struggle as he ran across Canada. But for me, those photos “spoke louder than words” about the determination, dedication and bravery of youth.

 Of course, joyful images are worth a thousand words, too. How lucky we are that someone’s funniest home video can have us howling but not at the moon. Often, it is the antics of animals or children that make us laugh until we cry. Whatever their subjects, I appreciate the work of the amateur and professional photographers, videographers and cinematographers who bring the world into my living room.