Social media thrives on visuals. Compelling photos are an important element of effective campaign messaging. Photos evoke a range of feelings in the viewer. They also communicate the level of organization, the candidate’s ability to connect with voters, competence, confidence, relatability, and a range of other ideas that feed broader campaign narratives that ultimately help tell the story of why your candidate is the best suited to win the election and govern.
What makes good campaign photos? The first thing we look for is variety. Social media is a hungry beast that must be consistently fed. You don’t want to use the same three publicity shots over and over for a variety of post types. Similarly, you want to have pictures with supporters, but if you repost the same picture over and over, your audience will start to think it’s because those are your ONLY supporters.
It’s also important not to confuse variety with branding. You may have that one publicity shot that, along with your logo, appears regularly in your banners, your disclaimers, or your email header. As long as that image is compelling, that’s fine. Here we are talking about what goes under the banner on a day in, day out basis.
Posed vs. Spontaneous
One important note, many campaigns focus on taking posed photos, particularly at events. These almost always end up looking the same and rarely bring much value. They are shot mid-range with smiling supporters. While there is a place for these pictures, they should have a specific purpose – posing with a prominent and popular supporter, highlighting support in a minority community, etc. Taking and posting endless posed pictures with random people is dull and rarely has any tactical value.
The exception is publicity shots where posed pics are the norm and expected. You need some good posed pub shots for certain types of marketing materials.
I would almost always prefer to see a candidate engaging in a conversation, making genuine facial and hand expressions, seeing authentic reactions, and engaging in activities (handing out a yard sign, helping someone fill out a list builder form, pointing at something relevant to the narrative – literally anything other than a shoulder to shoulder line of people smiling while a photographer tells them to say “cheese.”
Similarly, “staged” photos often come off as inauthentic and hokey. People see through them and they can hurt far more than they help. Occasionally they work, but a great deal of discretion and care should be taken when staging photos for a specific narrative you wish to highlight.
It is also a good idea to have more room on either side of the candidate to make the overall visual design feel more natural.
Campaigns need good publicity shots. Every campaign should schedule both a sitting with a professional photographer and employ one to follow the candidate for at least a day or two actively on the trail to capture spontaneous interactions, reactions, and context…candidate in church, speaking with the local chamber of commerce, standing in front of a local, iconic landmark, etc. If the campaign has an education focus, visit a library or school. If the campaign is highlighting a gun message, get photos of the candidate shooting, and so on.
These should be high quality assets that can be planned into the campaign messaging strategy to support themes and narratives, as well as showing the candidate in the best light.
For social media purposes, it is essential to have a staffer with a good eye and a high-quality camera. Photos don’t need to be grainy or poorly framed to seem authentic. Shooting a variety of shots (close-up, mid, and contextual; posed and spontaneous), for each campaign event will give your social media director a lot to work with. In other words, more is more and variety is more.
When shooting a campaign organized event such as a meet-and-greet, watch party, or rally, it should be clear that is what the event is. Campaign signage, staffers and volunteers in branded merch, a SWAG table, etc. should be seen in at least some of the shots. The venue should also be clear from the photos. Local businesses love to be featured in social posts and highlighting them generates goodwill as well as signaling to your audience that you “plugged in” to the local scene and places they may frequent themselves. All of which helps make the candidate seem more relatable to the social media viewer.
Public gatherings are different from campaign events because they are sponsored by a third party, so they have a different feel than a campaign event. This could be anything from attending a rally or fundraiser for another candidate or politician, a candidate mixer sponsored by a local GOP group, or even a riverside trash pickup sponsored by a local conservation group. The types of events are endless, but there are some best practices for all of them.
If the event has a sponsoring group,then feature their logo, staffers or volunteers, and the candidate engaging in their activity if possible (talking to the politician at an event, mixing it up with other candidates, or picking up trash from the three examples below).
Quality images of your candidate behind a podium or working a room with a mic during a townhall are always difficult to get. I have found the best shots are close-ups (esp. shot slightly upwards towards the candidate) and shot behind the candidate to feature the audience as the candidate gestures during their remarks. Mid-range and contextual (long-range) shots from within or behind the audience, or from the side, rarely make for compelling images.
Block Walking/ Voter Engagement
This is another type of campaign photo that very few campaigns do well. Again, spontaneous shots beat posed. It is fine, even useful, to get your block walkers and candidate together for a group shot, but rather than standing in a line, stagger your subjects in a way that seems authentic, or have them get in a tight circle and take a selfie from above or below. Feature campaign logos and colors prominently. Big smiles!
If you have your candidate walking between houses, make sure there are other people engaging with them as they walk, or walking behind them, etc…anything to avoid the impression that the candidate is out there alone or with only one staffer. Campaigns are about building groups and excitement; you don’t want your images to undermine that.
The best of this type of photos feature spontaneous engagement between real people and the candidate. Close ups of the candidate talking (or listening) to someone at their door, an event table, etc.
Another area most campaigns neglect is “behind the scenes” photos that provide context into the candidate’s life or the day-today of the campaign. Picking up coffee at 5 am before starting a full schedule, making calls from the home office, staring out the window or reviewing notes on a long drive between events – social media is about relating and engaging as much as messaging. Make your candidate real to the folks that are watching.