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Last updated 31st October 2021

Advice on taking good pictures


Well-chosen pictures help tell your story, particularly online eg websites/social media. Ronnie Semley, Diocesan Communications Manager, offers some advice ...

  • Shots including people are generally more engaging than objects or landscapes but make sure you choose something eye-catching and relevant to your story
  • Where possible avoid straight lines of people or ‘handshake’ shots
  • Think creatively about the backdrop and what the image can add to the message you’re trying to convey

Getting the best possible shot ...

  • Get in closer: If you feel like your images aren’t looking good enough take a step or two closer to your subject. Fill the frame and see how much better your photo will look without so much wasted space. The closer you are to the subject, the better you can see their facial expressions too!
  • Use daylight, but use it well: As an amateur you are unlikely to have access to the kind of kit that will allow the best shot every time. If you have available daylight and it’s feasible to use it then do so. But before you raise your camera or smartphone, see where the light is coming from, and use it to your advantage. Whether it is natural light coming from the sun, or an artificial source like a lamp; how can you use it to make your photos better? How is the light interacting with the scene and the subject? Is it highlighting an area or casting interesting shadows? Are there shadows across your subject and do you need to move? And never shoot with the sun directly behind you.
  • Permission: Make sure you have the permission of the subject if they are children via their school/youth group permissions process (or direct with parents if not in a school situation). If photographing large groups of adults it’s less problematic but always a good idea to make them aware of the pictures being taken as a courtesy and if possible to do so, so they can step to one side if they want to. The approach to taking pictures and permissions may change with new data protection regulations next year.
  • Activity and smiles: Get your picture looking ‘active’ not passive if appropriate … people waving or smiling broadly for example. Get your subjects to smile as a general rule (as long as it’s not a serious subject they are being pictured for of course). Tell them a joke. Or get them to say ‘cheese’ if nothing else!
  • Take your time: Not always possible but if you have the luxury of composing the shot, so no one is hidden at the back or standing away from the main group, it’s worth it.

More about composing pictures:

  • Pictures are better when the subjects are relaxed of course, but also when they are well balanced in the shot. In group shots put big people at the back; smaller people at the front.
  • If there is a Bishop or Bishops and/or other VIP(s) present they should be front and centre and arrange the rest of the group around them.
  • For group shots steps, if available, are useful for making sure everyone can be seen. (See Whalley Abbey ordinands’ pictures every year for examples.) People will naturally just ‘tack themselves on’ to the end of a group. This can make the group very long and thin. Make the group as tight and square as possible, if necessary by creating another row of people. Wide and long groups are difficult to crop and edit for publication.
  • Ask of of your group if they can see you – if they can’t see you then you can’t see them. If someone is reluctant to be on a picture and hides away at the back suggest they step to one side rather than appear half hidden if necessary. For smaller group pictures get in close and take from a variety of angles if you can. Above, below and from the side.
  • Activity and smiles: Get your picture looking ‘active’ not passive if appropriate … people waving or smiling broadly for example. Get your subjects to smile as a general rule (as long as it’s not a serious subject they are being pictured for of course). Tell them a joke. Or get them to say ‘cheese’ if nothing else!
  • Framing: This is a technique to use when you want to draw attention to something in your photograph. By framing a scene or a subject, eg around a window, an archway, a staircase or a tower, you lead the viewer’s eye to the primary focal point, particularly if you use other elements nearby. And keep it simple. Don’t try to pack too many elements into your image; it will just end up looking messy. If you just include one or two points of interest, your audience won’t be confused at where or what they should be looking at.
  • Watch the background: What’s in your frame? It’s not just the person or object in your frame, it’s everything else in the background that can make or break a great photograph. Don’t be afraid to ask the person to move (or move yourself) to avoid something ugly in the background. If you have a camera or smartphone that allows you to do so – an iPhone 7 or 8 for example – then you can blur the background if it looks too cluttered. Even if not a blurred background can often make the subject of the picture stand out more effectively.
  • Avoid shake: Use a tripod or other steadying device if possible to do so. There are a huge variety available – including a monopod (a single leg tripod) which is surprisingly effective at reducing shake.
  • Avoid using online ‘stock pictures’: Often they are very fake-looking. Use ‘real people’ where possible.
  • Have fun: Inject a bit of humour where you can and where you think your subjects will play along. Keep it appropriate to the event or subject of course.
  • Heads (backs of): PLEASE don’t submit pictures of backs of heads! There is no choice … they have to go straight in the recycle bin!
  • Just try it!: Have a go – it’s easier than you might think!

Pictures in local parish communications channels

  • If you want to use a picture as well as words from the Diocesan website or Parish Update, please ALWAYS check first by emailing
  • The good news is that, with the exception immediately below, pictures for news and feature stories that appear with articles on our website(s) will also usually be able to be used in local parish communications (printed or online). That's because any taken or provided 'for the Diocese' by the freelancers we employ - or by Diocesan Communications Manager Ronnie Semley himself, such as the Whalley Abbey ruins picture here - so will include permission for parish communications by default. Just let us know if you can that you plan to do so. 
  • Pictures involving children and young people: These pictures are always taken and provided with special permissions and on many occasions may not be useable in other publications without jumping through other hoops to make arrangements. You can still check however and so, as with general pics above, if you want to use a picture in a parish publication originating on the Diocesan website or Board of Education websites and it features children or young people, check first by emailing 
  • When you email communicate@ state the picture you are interested in; the context in which you are using it (where it is to appear) and when you need it by. If we can supply it, we will try to provide you with the hi-res original if possible and will email back with a reason if it is not possible. 
  • Any hi-res pictures provided in this way are for the sole purpose of using in the parish publications you state; nothing else. We hope you understand they must not be circulated locally on email and/or kept for private use. 

Copyright - doing it right

  • Please also do not use pictures taken randomly from elsewhere on the web to illustrate your story - particularly any story directly related to the Diocese - as their use could be misconstrued and you may not have copyright of the image anyway. 
  • A brilliant copyright free photosite for pictures we can recommend is 


This page was written by ... 

Ronnie Semley, Diocesan Communications Manager; 

Email: or phone: 01254 50 34 16



Ronnie Semley, June 2017, updated July 2019


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