How to take your pictures and videos from snooze to stunning
Are your police union’s social media photos and videos … any good? Are they compelling? Do they grab people’s attention and get reprinted by local media, “courtesy of the police union”? Do they effectively convey your union’s message to the public?
Or, do you write a great story about your police union members with a “meh” photo and wonder why the post gets little traction?
If your union’s photos and video look like they were copies of a copy from someone’s old iPhone 6 with a smudged lens, this article is for you.
Go for Stunning
In the first article of this series, “Building an Effective Police Union Social Media Program” (see the October 2023 issue of PORAC Law Enforcement News), I covered setting up your union’s social media accounts for success and the importance of a dedicated communications committee. In part two, “Eight Strategies to Master Police Union Social Media” (November 2023), I discussed that it’s your responsibility to take control of the narrative and how to do so. In this third article, I’ll explain what it takes to source and produce stunning police union photos and video.
“But my old Android’s camera is so easy. Why do I care about how good our police union’s pictures are?”
Open up Instagram and hit the search button at the bottom. Almost all of the images that Instagram curates by default to your search feed were taken with an interchangeable-lens camera, and the videos were taken with at least the use of a stabilizing gimbal. Those popular content creators understand that in order to stand out, they must produce stunning quality pictures and video.
This same upward quality race and competition by content producers also affects your union’s ability to connect on Facebook, X and any other platform your union uses. If you want your police union’s pictures and videos to compete for eyeball time on social media, you must produce top-quality pictures and video.
Great, so how do we get there?
Start With Trust
I recently asked people at a police union conference what their biggest hurdle was to getting photographs or videos of their officers in action. The first hurdle people described was that the chief didn’t want photos that would be used by the union to be taken on duty or on the department’s time. Some even said the chief didn’t want the union taking photos of officers, even if the photographer was a union person on union time. This is a bit strange, since the whole point of the union is to represent officers. Besides, any member of the public can take pictures of officers in public places, and if you’re on union time…
This struck me as a trust issue between the administration and the union. Of course, there’s probably also a paragraph in your policy manual saying that officers can’t release photos of department personnel in uniform without the chief’s permission, and maybe your administration has simply never given permission.
That may be the status quo, but it’s just the status quo. You can change that, and you should try, because there is an opportunity here that would benefit both the department and the union.
Odds are your department has many officers who are skilled photographers. However, your department’s official social media is full of boring infographics and wanted posters. Odds are your department has tens or hundreds of thousands of followers, but the posts get maybe a dozen reactions and two shares. Why? Because there are no newsworthy pictures or videos of your officers collecting evidence or working crash scenes, detectives walking suspects into the jail or training classes in action. Why? Because the public information office (PIO) people are not in the field where your union members are.
How do we bridge this gap? If your union faces this barrier, you can solve it by talking with the chief. Your offer could be that designated, skilled union photographers (people who should be on your union’s communications committee) are allowed to take photos that the union can use to show your department in a positive light. These could be roadside photos of officers changing tires, fishing a suspect’s gun out of a storm drain or rescuing a cat off a highway median; a pile of fentanyl on the hood of a patrol car; or portraits of citizens who want to tell their story about their positive interaction with officers.
A backup offer could be that your union photographers can take pictures, even if they are on regular patrol duty, with the provision that all photos are given to your PIO first. They’re on company time, so the company gets the photos, fair enough? PIO gets the best photos, and then union can use the ones that PIO doesn’t use. If you take several different but equally good photos of an event, the union will have plenty to choose from.
If your PIO has a training program for officers or an on-call team that officers can join, send your future union photographers and videographers through this training to get them proper media experience. If your union’s photographers begin producing great, professional photos, videos and stories for the department that the public appreciates, they won’t be concerned that the union is also doing this.
Yes, cellphones have cameras. But do you see journalists using cellphones to get photos for stories, or are they using professional cameras with larger lenses? Your union members will typically not be close enough to whatever they want to photograph for a cellphone to work, so they will need an actual camera.
A camera with a 70-200mm lens is an ideal choice for getting photos for PIO and union use. But who should provide this camera? Should the union buy camera gear, or should union officers use their own gear to take photos on duty? Here are some options:
- The union buys camera gear, and communications committee photographers and videographers borrow and use it.
- The photographers and video people provide and use their own gear.
- The union’s board chooses to reimburse people for personal gear if it gets damaged or lost.
The pros of the union providing gear is that it’s a low barrier of entry to hand a camera to someone who is interested in photography and let them go take photos. The problem with this is that very few skilled photographers don’t already have their own camera that they enjoy using. Handing them something either much cheaper or that they simply can’t get used to probably won’t make them enthusiastic about using it. However, a young officer who likes producing social media content for the union and has never owned a serious camera may take you up on this offer. Just make sure it’s a mainstream camera that many people would like to use, and not a niche product that no one will ever use again.
The benefit of members using their own camera gear is that people who have their own gear are probably very skilled with it and would be enthusiastic about using it for union work. This is what I have always done. My camera is a Sony A7RII with a 70-200mm lens, and I’m more than happy to lug it around because it can take phenomenal photos of officers out doing great work. If the union bought and offered to lend me an entry-grade camera so I wouldn’t have to use my personal one, I’d still prefer to use mine.
The final decision point is whether the board — rather than purchasing more expensive cameras and lenses that few, if any, future union members will use — wants to reimburse union photographers if their personal gear is damaged. My agency has had several photographers who have been very active for many years producing countless photos for the department and union, and I’m not aware of any gear getting lost or damaged.
Look for Opportunities
Once your union has agreed with the chief about how your members can take photographs of officers in action, look for easy wins where your union photographers work, especially newer union photographers. This could be a Coffee With a Cop meetup, any event that the chief will be at, calls for service about an animal stuck in a tree or street photos of officers at work.
My favorite posts to create are personal stories. These posts are simply a good portrait photo of an officer at work and then a first-person narrative in their words about something that is important to them. It could be their upbringing, why they wanted to be an officer or their most memorable arrest.
The quicker your union’s communications committee can get your officers experience in producing great photographs and stories about your officers and the department, the more your union’s message will reach the public.
About the Author
Mike Endres works as a patrol sergeant in a large city. In 2017, Endres had no experience administering an organization’s page, but enjoyed writing and photography and wanted to tell the story of law enforcement. Wanting to help build the union’s social media presence, he offered to help the admin. Endres learned the ropes writing posts and taking photographs for the union. After a few years of bird-dogging stories and writing content, he earned the role of communications committee chair. Today, Endres enjoys writing for his own blog, Power and Purpose.