Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maximizing Your Photo Budget, Part 2: Avoiding the Cover Photo Curse

You have found the perfect cover picture. It has interesting composition, beautiful lighting, and blends nicely with your approved design. The publication is on its way to the printer, and then it happens.

The student quits school, and your dean wants the photo replaced.

You've just been struck by the cover photo curse. It happens to the best of publications (see also Sports Illustrated), and can wreak havoc on the nerves of editors and designers alike. There are often reasonable arguments for keeping the cursed photos, as most external audiences would never know the stories of the photo subjects in our stock images. Depending on the stage of production, changing the photo can be costly as well. However if it's not too late to replace such photos, we'll usually be expected to do so.

So how can higher ed communicators avoid the photo jinx?
  • For featured students, get high-level approvals before getting their portrait. I love to get recommendations for "poster students" from faculty and administrators, as many of the professors who are hesitant about responding to other marketing/media inquiries will go out of their way to promote their favorite students. But before I move forward, I always run the names past our dean, student life director, registrar and honor court adviser. The e-mail typically goes like this: "If there is any reason—and I don't need to know why—this student shouldn't be prominently featured in our marketing, let me know."

  • For favorite candid shots, share them early with your dean. If you're using a photojournalistic style of photography, by definition you're not staging the shots in advance. Instead, share your favorite new shots with the leadership before you get too attached.

  • Plan your shots with high-achieving students, if you can. Certain groups of students, such as competitive teams, honors classes or admissions/alumni ambassadors, go through a screening process to become a part of the group. While this approach is far from foolproof, your chances of photographing someone who might get into trouble are decreased.

  • Aim for more seasoned students. Students in their first semester or first year of classes (depending on the duration of the degree program) may still be learning the ropes of graduate school and may choose another path. I once featured a first-year law student who was at the top of his class on a full-tuition scholarship, but left to pursue a career in film production.
In the end, there is sometimes nothing you can do to avoid the photo curse. Superstitions aside, life happens to all of us, and the graduate school years are often a time of transition. But with a little planning, we can mitigate our risks.

1 comment:

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