Say cheese, Councillor

Black and white portrait of Wilhelm SiemensIf a picture’s worth a thousand words, what does the average councillor photo gallery tell us? Mainly that many Councils haven’t put enough thought into them.

Search some local council websites for councillor information and you come across a right rogues’ gallery. In the worst cases, photos show a range of different backgrounds, are taken from unflattering angles or haven’t been updated in years.

If this is ringing a bell, you’re missing a trick. Yes, it’s a big job, but it’s all about presenting your Council and its Members in a professional and consistent way.

How to go from ghastly to great:

– use a professional photographer? Ask them to cut you a deal – you may need to hold a number of photo sessions. You won’t get all Councillors together at the same time

– go in-house? Our excellent graphics team also acts as council photographers, using a digital SLR camera. They also take great photos for our website, residents’ magazine and other publications. If your council doesn’t do this, could it?

– ditch the school photo background – use depth of field to keep your subject in focus but blur the background. Makes for a more interesting picture

– choose one spot for photos to be taken – it needs to be uncluttered, clean, always available and preferably flooded with natural light. We take photos of our councillors in a common area of our offices. Once chosen, stick to it – consistency is key

– work with democratic services to choose suitable dates for photo shoots – I’ve often held them before and after Council and other major committee meetings. Ask the Chair to give a reminder announcement at the meeting

– make sure Councillors have fair warning when photos will be taken so that they can dress up, shave, have their hair cut etc. Don’t hold surprise shoots. They won’t thank you for it

– include a photocall as part of new councillor inductions – again, making sure they know it’s going to happen

– avoid up-against-the-wall syndrome by sitting subjects down. We sit our councillors side on to the photographer, turning their head to look into the camera. Once again, consistency is key

– always be at each shoot to tweak things if necessary – my bugbear is taking off security passes

– take some smiling and some serious shots. If you’re releasing shots to the press, and a serious story breaks, only having photos of your leader or portfolio holder beaming away is less than ideal

– upload new photos to your website asap and make the whole gallery available to all services on your shared drive – saves you constantly emailing and means everyone has access to the most up to date shots

– update regularly – councillors change over time and new councillors are elected. We update annually or as necessary if a by-election is held. This also means that councillors are used to photo shoots being part of Council routine

– give local media access to the photos. In the past I’ve burned discs and sent them to news teams, but social media has opened up new opportunities. Many councils now have Flickr Pro accounts and The City of York has uploaded their Councillor photos as part of their photostream.

If your Councillor gallery says a thousand words, make sure they’re saying what you want people to hear.

Creative Commons: Portrait of Wilhelm Siemens by Smithsonian Institute on Flickr



  1. Unfortunately, the licence used by York City Council on their Flickr images of councillors prevents “commercial” use which rules out Wikipedia, newspapers, professional blogs, and (according to some interpretations of that restriction) any site which carries advertising.

    I’ve written a blog post about why we need open-licensed pictures of politicians (and chief officers):

    1. Thanks for commenting Andy, and for the link to your post. I think that open licensing is an area that some people are still confused about – I know I’m not always 100% clear on what type of licence to use in different situations.

      I think that people will also be surprised that Wikipedia cannot use images if they have a non-commercial licence, so that’s am important point flagged up for me.

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