The importance of a good publicity photo

If you are producing a play, you know you need them. Gone are the days of putting the word out about a photo call, and having a bunch of photographers and TV cameras show up to get a shot to accompany a story or review. Those guys just don’t have the resources–you have to bring it to them. And, you gotta be smart about it.

A good publicity photo is more than a necessity. A really interesting and arresting image can actually get you additional media coverage. I recently did publicity for TigerMilk Collective’s Exit Commander Kitty. I got them a preview in the Vancouver Province, but they got themselves on the cover of the entertainment section with this photo.

Kirsten Slenning as Kitty
Kirsten Slenning as Kitty

Here are some tips for getting a great picture.

1. Hire a pro. Having your BFF take a bunch of photos with their Cannon Sureshot is not going to cut it. Figure out how much money you have to spend, then put it out some photographers, and see what they can do for you. Try to hire someone that specializes in theatre photography, and look at their websites and past work. My favorite is Pink Monkey Studios. They did this fantastic image for Metamorphoses.

2. Go for a theme. Do not, under any circumstances, and I can’t emphasize this enough, take a publicity shot that is a scene from the play. Many theatre companies get caught up in “but the set’s not done yet, the costumes aren’t done yet, we can’t get the shot.” You don’t need the set, you don’t need the costumes, what you need is an idea. Think about your show, and try to boil it down to theme that is only a few words long. And then think about a visual image for your theme. Think ‘iconic.’ This image from Beirut is one of my all-time favorites.

3. Get a little variety. Newspapers will often ask for “portrait” (which means the longest part of the photo is vertical) or “landscape” (which means the longest part of the photo is horizonal). It depends upon what kind of space they have to fit the photo in, so make sure you have good shots in both formats.

4. But not too much variety. There was a time in the past when you needed to have B&W and Colour. Not any more. Just take colour shots. Do B&W if you want, for emphasis, or to fit with your theme, but these guys all have Photoshop and know how to use it.

5. Go big. The newspapers like photos that are as big as you can get them. So that means, a really high resolution, like 300dpi, and big (often they are 4-5MGs each). That way, they can do what they like with them–use them big, like on the cover of the entertainment section, or crop them down or shrink them to accompany a review.

6. Know your cutlines. Cutlines are the information about who is in the photo–the names of the actors, the characters they play, and it’s good to include the name of the photographer, although a lot of papers can’t print that.

7. Timing is everything. Lots of people like to use their publicity shot for posters, etc., so often they are done long before rehearsals even start. Even earlier if you are planning a season brochure. If you don’t have them done that early, I recommend you get them done as early as possible–no less than 2-3 weeks before you open so that you have images to go along with previews.

Publicity pictures are an incredibly important part of marketing your show, so do put lots of thought and care into them.

Look for information on Production Photo shoots and B-roll in future posts.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 5

  1. Love the blog and I couldn’t agree with you more! I always schedule photo shoots near the beginning of the rehearsal process so I have plenty of time for editing and getting the PR buzz going. I just posted some of my latest photos for a production of Oklahoma I’m directing here in the Cleveland area. If you’re interested, they’re at: http://tinyurl.com/mlbg7f

    Also, I’m also an advertising and marketing professional in my career and spend a lot of time trying to apply my knowledge to theater groups. You might be interested in my blog as well “Call-Back” at http://geoff-callback.blogspot.com/. I also talk a lot about marketing theater. Anyway, thanks and keep up the good work!

  2. […] Get a great image. If you have a bit of marketing money to spend, hiring a professional photographer is a good investment. Deb Pickman and I endorse Pink Monkey Studios. But whoever you are using, here are some tips to keep in mind when shooting. Your shot does not have to be a scene from the play. In fact, I think it’s better if it’s NOT a scene from the play. Go back to your unique selling point. Can you create an image that communicates that? Your image should be arresting. The ultimate goal would be to stop people in their tracks as they are walking down the street, if they see your poster on a pole. Here is a blog post that I wrote on the topic: http://artofthebiz.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/the-importance-of-a-good-publicity-photo/ […]

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