Caught Behind: Don’t send the wrong message in your pictures

Political photos have always been ripe for ridicule, and with today’s global leadership there has been a wealth of good material to play with. But rather than ridicule, I’ll just point out a little weakness in a prominent photo from New Zealand’s incumbent National Party. It was on their page announcing the family incomes package in Budget 2017, but since it came to media attention, it’s been replaced with a tighter shot. Good on them for caring. This small version is all that appears to be available on the web now.

NZ Prime Minister Bill English: LBW, clean bowled or just an own goal?

I don’t know who shot this but there’s a lot to like about it. Everyone’s beautifully backlit by sunshine, so they pop against a backdrop of what looks like a typical Kiwi public domain. Not a fan of the prominent branding on the kids, but it’s what kids wear. Personally, I might also be tempted to slightly tweak the green colour cast everybody has picked up from the sunlit grass and find a frame with Bill’s feet in. But look at the subject: Bill is posed in a heroic swing, with a great positive expression, all on line with his message about delivering for NZ families. I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked this shot himself; it’s flattering.

But oh dear, look at the kids again. Plonked in the background like a picket fence and looking as bored and disengaged as a kid can. They’re not players in a fun game, they’re not even actors. They’re just props that were deployed but nobody actually cared about. Cue government critics who can cite this as the perfect metaphor for all that’s wrong with the job Bill is doing. I don’t want to mix my sports metaphors but it’s the photographic equivalent of an own goal.

I won’t declare my political position here, but the kids are running counter to the party message. Maybe the party skimped on the shoot, because I just can’t believe a well-resourced professional would even present this as a choice to a client. Maybe they had a pro who took better pictures in the set but was strong-armed into releasing a reject because it was the best frame the PM could manage with limited time.  

I’m no cricket expert either so I won’t opine on Bill’s possible leg-before-wicket violation or the stumps suggesting he’s actually been bowled.

But I am a photography expert and in my opinion, important things in this picture are at odds with its message and undermine it. The kids, the brands, the stumps… It’s below the standard of what I expect from a wealthy political party. Professional photographers don’t just create pictures, they know how to tell stories. But you have to let them.


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