Friday, July 8, 2016

8 Simple Photography Tricks Every Librarian Should Know

Let's talk about library photography. If you are lucky, newspaper reporters will come in and cover your programs. But even if they do, it is still important to take your own pictures of your events for the library website and social media, at the very least. However, photography is something that they don't teach you in grad school, so we're left to our own devices. Over the years, I've learned a few tricks that have upped my photography game. Maybe you'll find these helpful, too.

#1. Camera type does matter!

I couldn't believe how much of a difference it made when we bought a DSLR camera, the Canon EOS Rebel (thanks to the our teens voting for a Photography Makerspace). Sure, you might get some great shots with a regular camera or on your phone, but even leaving the DSLR camera on auto, it automatically blurs the background. Overnight, I became a better photographer! It is worth the money to upgrade.

#2. Focus on patrons, not your performer.

A photographer expert gave me this great tip that I never even realized -- if you focus on the performer, you are giving that performer free publicity. But if you focus on the faces of your patrons enjoying a performance, you are giving your library good publicity. Just make sure you get their permission before you post the photos online.

#3. Take pictures behind your performer.

So, to help you get a good spot for focusing on your patrons' faces, you should plan ahead. Ask the performer to move a few feet out into the audience and then station yourself behind them. If your patrons are sitting on the floor, lie down on your stomach so you'll get a good angle.

#4. Natural light makes the best pictures.

I learned this trick when I was taking shots of my newborn. Nothing looks better than bathed in natural light. Use this to your advantage -- focus on the people who have the best natural light on them. If you are in a room that has no or little natural light, turn on as many lights as you possibly can ahead of time to increase the quality of your pictures. (Especially since you'll want to turn off the flash if you are taking photos during a performance.)

#5. Focus on the eyes.

Even if you don't have a DSLR camera, many cameras these days have a function where you can pick a focus. When you're trying to get a great shot of a specific patron, make sure you're focused on the eyes. When the eyes aren't sharp, the picture won't look right.

#6. Be creative!

The subjects of your photos don't always have to be centered in the frame, or looking at the camera. Frame the shot with a bookshelf, to remind the viewer that the event was in a library. Get behind a viewer at a program, so you're looking over their shoulder to see what they see. Or, if you want to avoid faces, focus your shots on the finished products.

#7. Add the photography release to your registration.

There is a big debate about whether or not a library needs to have a photography release form. If you decide to do this, make it easy for yourself and patrons and include it right into your registration. If it is paper sign-up, you can hand them the release immediately afterwards. If it is online registration, even better! In my previous job, I worked with Eventkeeper to format a section to our online template form that was the Photography Release statement and asked them to mark "yes" or "no" if they accept these terms. I used this registration template for ever major event, but technically patrons only need to sign the form once and it covers their lifetime. But however you do it, it is good to have the majority of the releases done so you only need to worry about walk-ins at your event. (It also makes your newspaper reporters very happy to have this done ahead of time.)

#8. Create a Photographer Volunteer Role.

Lastly, if you are trying to run a program, it is really hard to also find time to take pictures. To solve this problem in my previous library, I created a volunteer role for in-house photographers. We opened it up to teens and trained them for a few days, then they could select which of the upcoming programs they wanted to cover. It worked out well for us and the teens really enjoyed it and took impressive shots. I made sure they downloaded their pictures on my computer before they left and then I used them for our social media, making sure to give the teen photo credit. It was a win/win partnership for us!

Do you have any photography tips? We'd love to hear about them in the comments.


  1. Whenever possible, get close to the subject--especially if it's a person. Move in on them, or use a zoom to get the shot from a distance. Move in!

    1. I second that! :-) Thanks for commenting.

  2. I like your idea of a photography makerspace--how did you set it up?

    1. A good question. We had a small Teen Room in the basement, so I wasn't able to leave equipment out for them to try whenever they wanted. We bought the DSLR camera, a green screen (pop up from the "Green Screen Wizard"), a pop-up light box and the program Light Room. Then we made lots of photography programs, teaching them to use the equipment in fun ways. I had a few experts come in and teach them photography tricks, too. Teens were able to bring their own cameras (and some had DSLRs!) and our presenters also allowed the teens to practice on their spares, too, in addition to our camera. Our best program, though, was the in-house photography volunteering. Many teens came to the training and came back to cover a program or two. They loved borrowing our DSLR and treating it like a professional assignment. Some of them even stayed late to edit their photos before submitting them to me. It was a lot of fun!

  3. I am wondering how to organize an audience when some have declined the photo release. Do you split the seating in half to create a "this half of the room for release-signers", and then shoot only towards that angle? Ideas?

    1. Another good question. In my experience, we only had one or two families that have said no, so it was really easy to avoid them in the pictures. If I did catch one of them, I would try to crop them out or blur their face in editing. If a lot of people opt out, that might be tougher. I don't see any problems with you mentioning to them to sit on the left side of the room to avoid the camera. They may not listen if the right side has better seating, but that might be helpful. You can also change the way you take pictures, too. You can take one from the back of their heads, even if they opt out. (You just can't take a picture where they are identifiable) You can focus on any of the volunteers that the presenter calls to the front. If they made something in the program, you can ask for a group of them to stand together and show what they made. In my next post on this topic, I am sharing a list of photography shots to help people look for good moments. Good luck!