Accessorise your story


Most graphics (photographs, maps, graphs, etc) that appear in a newspaper require a caption.  A caption explains a graphic’s purpose. It also synopsises its relevance and attributes the work to either the illustrator or photographer, or the source who has provided the information being graphically represented. 

Bylines and Taglines

A byline appears at the top of a story and identifies the journalist who wrote the article. Not all articles carry bylines. A tagline runs at the bottom of an article and carries only the journalist’s name or the abbreviation of the news service that provided the article (eg AAP = Australian Associated Press).


Headlines, essentially, are titles above stories. They can vary in size (point size), darkness (light face or bold face), the number of lines (decks) and the number of columns they stretch across. A good headline should attract the readers’ attention and encourage them to read on. This is why headlines that use a play on words or a pun are popular, as are active headlines and headlines involving alliteration. However, the emphasis on accuracy must not be lost. Sensational headlines are often untrue and should be avoided at all costs.


One picture is worth a thousand words…if, indeed, it is the right picture. Big, bold, strong photographs always make an impact. Similarly, people love to see photos of other happy, smiling people.  Some general photographic guidelines include:

● Stand up close and eliminate all the irrelevant background.

● If you must take a photo of someone displaying an award or medal, have him or her hold it near their face – not their navel.

● Avoid group shots. When a group photo is sized and published, the faces become unrecognisable and have minimal meaning for the average reader.

● Look for a different angle. Don’t take posed photographs of cheque presentations or static equipment. A photo of two or three people engaged in activity related to the cheque, equipment, building etc is more newsworthy.

● Keep the photo compact.

Getting the picture

When considering the photograph that will accompany your story, you need to decide what visual metaphor will communicate the news.  Elements that make the story newsworthy should be considered as you mentally construct your photograph. Think through all the details, including:

● Background: Your location should help tell your story. Be mindful of camera angles, the direction of the sun and lighting. Also, be sure the backdrop, or setting, complements the photograph.

● People: Are all the right people represented? Some candidates for photographs could include EXPs – people who are expert sources of information, or people who have personally experienced or been affected by your news topic.

● Props: Are there any visual elements or gimmicks that could add interest to your photograph?

Elements to consider

There are four key elements to consider when composing a photograph for publication in a newspaper. These are:

● Content (details, emotion, drama, symmetry, shadows)

● Composition

● Framing

● Exposure

Content: While it is true that some photographs can stand alone, others benefit from a few words of explanation. A photograph should showcase details relevant to a story. For example, a photograph of winners could capture jubilation, or the rewards of their victory. A photograph illustrating a tragedy should reflect the emotion of the situation. Most good photographs include people. We are interested in people.

Dramatic photographs can also be captured, especially of nature at her best and worst. These pictures can include large surf, dramatic clouds and wind-blown trees.

Keep an eye out for symmetry and patterns when composing your picture. These can be used to great effect. For example, light coming through venetian blinds gives a good effect. Picket fences, shadows from railings, etc can also be dramatic. Shadows can add interest to a photograph if well placed.

Diagonal lines in a photograph can appear dynamic; horizontal can draw attention to the subject while an S curve can appear graceful.

Composition: Composition is important for visual impact. All photographs have a certain amount of space to work with and photographs need to be composed to maximise the space available. Photographers need to choose the correct lens and the best camera position in relation to the subject

Framing: Framing is using things in the picture to bring the viewer's attention to the focus of the subject. This could involve using background items like trees; fences; people framed in archways; windows etc. These make for a more interesting result and add to the setting.

Things to watch out for

● Don’t shoot into the sun. Wherever possible, keep the sun behind you.

● Avoid mergers. This is where objects in a photograph blend with one another. For example, photographing someone standing directly in front of a flagpole. It could look like the flagpole is growing out of his/her head.

● Try not to cut people in half or trim their heads or feet. If you are shooting a portion of someone’s body, make sure it is balanced and obviously intentional.

Rule of thirds: Every rectangular shape can be divided into a grid of nine by drawing four lines – two horizontal, two vertical – like a tic tac toe grid. You can add dramatic interest to your photograph by placing your subject at any one of the four spots where the lines intersect.

Depth of field:  When a lens is focused on a subject, objects in the foreground and background are not at the same distance away and can appear blurred.  The term depth of field refers to the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in focus in a photograph. Increasing the depth of field can improve the overall sharpness of an image, sometimes giving it a three-dimensional feel.


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