Taking Pictures and Telling Stories at Our Libraries, Part I

By Cindi Trainor |

Show off Your Library Staff with Great Portraits

This summer, I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in a LITA Preconference session with Michael Porter and Helene Blowers titled, "A Thousand Words: Taking Better Photos for Telling Stories in Your Library."  Michael and Helene shared great tips for using and reusing photos to record and relate the stories of our libraries and our communities, and I explained and illustrated the basic principles of photography, and that pictures can be improved by understanding how these principles work together to produce a properly exposed image.  There was a ton of content shared over the day; over the next few months, the “Take Pictures, Tell Stories @ Our Libraries” series will share some of this and other photo-related content with TechSource readers.

Every year, our library hosts a breakfast in the library where faculty come and meet their library liaison.  This year, our Library Advancement staff put together a display of photos of all the library liaisons to help faculty identify who we are.  Many of these same photos are used on LibGuides and Facebook profiles.  Great web profile portraits can be taken with any digital camera, if you keep a few simple rules in mind.

1. Turn off the flash. The default flash setting for most small, hand-held digital cameras is "Auto," meaning that the flash will fire if the camera's light meter determines that there is not enough light falling on the subject.  Unfortunately, the light from these tiny flashes is usually overbright and washes out any depth or detail in the subject's face.  It's ok to use Automatic mode, but look for the flash icon, often shaped like a lightning bolt, and turn it off.  The exception to this rule of thumb comes when your subject is lit from behind.  Photographers often use the flash in this instance to fill in the shadows and properly light the subject.
2. Since in most cases the camera will not be lighting the scene, portraits must be taken in an area bright enough to make a good exposure.  Place the subject near a large window so that indirect light falls in a diagonal across his or her body.  Avoid direct sunlight, unless you like portraits of squinting faces.
3. Get closer to your subject.  It may seem obvious, but one thing that really distinguishes a portrait from a snapshot is that a portrait is not a shot of a scene but a person, and only the person.  Make sure that no objects clutter the foreground or background.  Placing the person a few feet in front of a blank wall will ensure that he or she is the focus of the picture.  Crop the resulting photo so that only head and shoulders of your subject are in the shot.
4. Experiment with different locations and take a lot of pictures.

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