Images – what makes a good picture?

Choose images that:

  • are sharp and in focus
  • are well lit
  • have interesting angles
  • have a splash of strong colour
  • have something to draw you in
  • show people with lively and engaged expressions

What should I avoid?

Put in the reject pile images that:

  • have no particular point of interest to catch the eye
  • are just dull line-ups of people include distracting backgrounds
  • show people with unfortunate expressions 
  • include inappropriate clothing

Taking a cut

Consider cropping (removing some of the image) to make a picture stronger. Do you need all that background? Would the result be more striking if you zoomed in on your subject?

Do you have a horizontal image for a vertical space? – don’t despair, cropping might be the solution.

Attention to detail

Often a detail of a building (e.g. a doorway or staircase) can be more effective than an image of the whole.

Variety is the spice

Try to select a variety of images for a publication: a mixture of shapes (portrait and landscape); of subjects (buildings – exteriors and interiors; people – singles and groups); of colours; of whole views and details.

Fit for purpose

Make sure your images are the right file size and format. For example, images need to be at a higher resolution for print (typically 300 dpi) but lower for web (typically 72 dpi).

Do I have permission?

It’s extremely important that you seek permission to use an image, in print or on the web, from the copyright owner (usually the photographer) of that image. They might ask you to pay a reproduction fee, which is likely to depend on the size of use and print run. If you are unable to track the relevant person down, you must be able to prove that you have exercised due diligence in trying to find them.

You also need to be careful about using photographs featuring people. If they are recognisable, you should be confident that they have given their consent to be photographed, preferably in writing, and that they are aware of where the photographs are likely to be used and stored.

Don’t forget the caption…

Along with the title and headings, captions are the most commonly read words in an article. A good picture caption not only identifies the subject of a picture (where this isn’t obvious), but also establishes the image’s relevance to an article. It should be as brief and informative as possible. Remember to include relevant alt text when using pictures on your website.

… and the credit

Most photographers and image suppliers ask for an acknowledgment (usually their name, with or without the © symbol), which should be printed as close to the image as possible.

Resources to help you

An online image library (Oxford University Images) is available, providing easy access to more than 15,000 images of the collegiate University. Images are available to departments and colleges at a heavily discounted rate compared with commercial providers.