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THE CURMUDGEON: Vol. 5 – The Five Sins of Publicity Photos

Photo by Markus Spiske.

It happens to us all the time: someone submits a press kit or request for reviews, we’re intrigued and thinking about possibilities – and find that the photos are just unsuitable for publication purposes. There are many different ways that this can happen, so here’s a list of the normal sins:

  1. Blurry.
  2. Out of focus.
  3. Poorly lit (not necessarily the same as too dark).
  4. Overly processed (usually the result of Instagram filters).
  5. Text overlayed on the image.

One of the reasons that these problems is the prevalence of smartphones in the rehearsal studio – they are, as a camera people are used to and comfortable with, many people’s go-to pick for some quick photos. So let’s go deeper and look at the root causes:


A blurry photo that is generally unsuitable for publication. Photo by funkblast; used under the terms of CC AY 2.0.

Blurriness is usually the result of one of two things:

  • The camera is experiencing motion (shaky hands, the photographer is moving) inappropriate to the lighting and camera settings.
  • The subject is moving too fast for the camera to capture well, given the lighting and camera settings.


  • Use a tripod (which reduces camera motion).
  • If you’re having trouble capturing a scene during a rehearsal, consider posing the people being pictured.
  • Pay a little attention to the lighting. If in doubt, ask your lighting designer if this is a good spot to be taking a picture.

Out of Focus

This is an area where smartphones’ small screens sometimes mask the problem – if you never zoom in enough, you might not notice that the camera focused on that little prop and everyone’s faces are out of focus.


  • If your camera has a face recognition function, use it.
  • Take several photos of each scene you’re trying to capture.
  • Check your photos on a larger screen (10″ tablet minimum) than your camera/smartphone screen.
  • Delete photos that are out of focus.

Poorly Lit

A lot of rehearsal studios use overhead fluorescent lights that are great for power bills and terrible for photography. If you’re rehearsing onstage, you’re probably using some sort of work light (fluorescent or otherwise) that isn’t nearly as flattering as the stage lights. Common symptoms include having grey as the predominant color, dark shadows on faces, and an unhealthy greenish tinge to all your photos.


  • Take your photos in a place where your subjects are well-lit.
  • If you can, don’t use fluorescent lights.
  • Try using indirect natural light. It’s wonderful.
  • If posing pictures, use a reflector to fill in dark shadows.

Overly Processed

The best edits are usually subtle, and this applies to using photo filter applications. Super-saturated or desaturated might pop on the small screen, but often look terrible in print.


  • Think twice about using a photo filter for a PR image.
  • If you really like the look of a photo filter, send the photo in filtered and non-filtered versions.
  • There’s a time and place for very stylized images, but make sure that you give options.

Text Overlays

Remember: marketing and PR have different purposes and needs. Few publications will want to run your poster – so limit (and, ideally, avoid entirely) the use of text overlays. It’s also surprisingly common for photographers’ prominently watermarked preview images to be sent in, which just makes it look like you haven’t paid for the photos. You don’t want photos to be rejected because the licensing status is unclear!

While publications do want to include the photographer’s credit, this info is best placed in the image tag and caption where it can be read by screen-reader software for people with visual impairments.


  • Make sure that your images are free of text overlays.
  • Do include the photographer’s name/credit for your photos.
  • Do include a list of the people in each photo, including a left-to-right order and (if applicable) their role(s).
  • Make sure that your licensing includes “unencumbered” images that you can use without visible watermarking.
Amy Donahue