20/20 #15 — Worth a thousand words: Good photo, bad photo, graphs & charts, etiquette, permissions

Taking photos

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but that’s only true for good pictures. A photograph is good for an article if it:

  • is clearly related to the subject matter
  • is an arresting visual image (kids and pets; close-ups; unusual point-of-view)
  • is in focus and frames the subject (you can do a lot with cropping and sharpening on-line)

Etiquette and permissions

Do you need to ask permission to take a photograph? Public places are fair game. Usually, there’s no legal requirement for permission, but it’s a matter of common courtesy. If you are taking a photo of a building, it is unlikely to object or have its feelings hurt. Ditto for a giraffe at the zoo. But if you are photographing, even in a public place, and an identifiable person is in the photo, you might consider getting permission.

One glaring exception to the rule: always get permission to use photos of children, preferably by getting written permission from a parental unit. (See attached permission form.) Schools often have permission forms on file and know which children can be photographed.

Finding photos

Sometimes you don’t have a camera. Sometimes you can’t get a good photo. You may still be able to get a photo by getting a photo from your subject or by going on-line. Use photos that are in the public domain or get permission. Some on-line possibilities:

  • websites of organizations, agencies, businesses – may have photos of their work or, as a last resort, a logo
  • politicians’ websites — almost always have good head shots of the politician, and they almost always want their photo published widely
  • artists and musicians – may have websites or MySpace pages
  • Flickr and Creative Commons — search for photos by subject, date, place, and check the permission status by clicking on “Some rights reserved” under “Additional information” on the lower right column.

Copyright and Creative Commons

Photographers own their work, and we need permission to publish it. Copyright laws protect work from being used. Creative Commons is a form of sharing the copyright license that allows wider public use.

Even if a photo is available for use through Creative Commons sharing, you need to give credit to the photographer by linking to (1) the page where it is displayed, (2) the photographer, and (3) citing the license.


Christmas Lights 2014

Photo by Greg Gjerdingen, published under Creative Commons license.

Graphs and charts

Sometimes graphic art can add more to the story than photos. Excel spreadsheets offer simple ways to create graphs and charts. With some advance notice, we may be able to get a graphic artist to create other illustrations.

Keeping your editor happy

  • Send artwork by email, and keep the files reasonable in size
  • If you don’t have a photo, think about what might work, and make a suggestion.
  • ALWAYS send the photographer’s name, the names of any people in the photo, and a suggested cutline.

Questions for discussion:

1) What kind of artwork would you use to illustrate a story on

  • budget cuts?
  • economic stimulus?
  • Central Corridor?
  • health care plan?

2) What is an example of a story for which you might use a graph or chart as an illustration?

3) What other kinds of art work could you use in stories?

Sample Photo Release Form

Organization Name


City, State, Zip

Permission to Use Photograph

Subject: ____________________

Location: ___________________

I grant to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, its representatives and employees the right to take photographs of me and my property in connection with the above-identified subject. I authorize the Twin Cities Daily Planet, its assigns and transferees to copyright, use and publish the same in print and/or electronically.

I agree that the Twin Cities Daily Planet may use such photographs of me with or without my name and for any lawful purpose, including for example such purposes as publicity, illustration, advertising, and Web content.

I have read and understand the above:

Signature _________________________________

Printed name ______________________________

Organization Name (if applicable) __________________________

Address __________________________________

Date _____________________________________

Signature, parent or guardian _______________________

(if under age 18)


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