Size matters when it comes to the dominant photo

October 1, 2013


n last month’s column on design basics, I mentioned the need for a dominant photo.

“Why?” you may ask. “My space is tight and I don’t get great photos. Most of our shots are pictures of kids in school, people at their jobs, check passings and the like. We’re a small newspaper in a small town and we don’t always get those award-winning photos you’re talking about.”

Fair enough.

But that doesn’t mean you have to underplay the photos you do get. Too often, that school shot is so small readers can’t really see the faces in it. And there’s nothing wrong with clustering two or three of those pictures so they create a dominant visual element. Why scatter three school pix around a page? Instead, push them together to create some impact.

And when you do get that strong photo, remember to use it with size.

I recently held a session during the National Newspaper Association’s 127th Annual Convention and Trade Show in Phoenix, AZ.


Photo size suggestions

Make it big: If it’s a house fire, you can certainly run it as large as the photo in the illustration with this column. If it’s a fire in the center of your business district, it may be worth the entire top half of your front page. What’s my idea of a “big” photo? For a vertical shot, go for three columns by 8 - 10 inches deep on a broadsheet page. For horizontals, at least four columns wide by 6 - 8 inches deep.

Make others smaller: Relative size is a factor. Your lead photo loses dominance and impact if the size of other photos on the page is nearly the same. Keep those other visuals smaller.

Cluster photos: As mentioned earlier, you can often take two or three photos from one event and place them together to get more impact.

Set it off: Especially in a lead news package or a feature display, consider placing extra space around the photo. This helps give it even greater impact.

Crop tightly: Be sure to look for the photo within the photo. Crop out extra sky or earth where possible. The tighter you crop, the more readers can focus on the real content of the photo.

Focus on optical center: When you can, place the lead photo over optical center of the page. Optical center is a bit above and to the left of dead center. It’s an area where the eye tends to first fall when readers first look at a page.

Yes, yours may be a small newspaper—but a large photo will help you deliver information, interest and impact to your readers.

Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at or at 803-327-3322.

If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With their help you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at © Ed Henninger 2013


ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting, offering comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: On the Web: Phone: 803-327-3322.

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