Briefing Notes: Guardian Head of Photography

Chloe Choppen
Chloe Choppen3rd December 2019

Contacts Head of Photography  Photography team for pitching Picture editor for Global Development team


Fiona has been Head of Photography at the Guardian and Observer for 2 years; before that she was a picture editor for more than 20 years. She has a team of 25 picture editors and they work closely together – they discuss images a lot. They have two staff photographers and many freelancers on contract. They receive a huge amount of images – 30,000 every day – from Reuters, AP, AFP, freelancers etc. They look quickly at thumbnails and select the images they like and then discuss as a team and with senior editors. Some images are chosen to match stories, others punch through in their own right. Fiona and her team also need to find an image every day to run on the centrefold. She is always looking for images that are light or humorous as the news is often bleak. She’s keen on dogs too.

What does she look for in an image? They key is emotion. Readers engage with pictures of other human beings. Pictures with dynamism or energy  work well. She is looking for authenticity. If the picture tells one side of the story make sure that you are aware that this is the case. Take risks and try something different, especially with picture galleries.

The Guardian is prioritising coverage of the climate crisis and trying to use images that reflect the human impact and bring the crisis home to global audiences. They are moving away from the iconic polar bear images as audience research shows that these images suggest it is a far away crisis rather than one that affects us all. When they write about a heatwave they will try not to use images of people having fun splashing about in the water.  If you have a new angle on the climate crisis then do let them know. Fiona has written an interesting blog on this.

Responsibility – think about how publishing the picture might affect the person or people in it. INGOS have more stringent consent rules than the Guardian. For them, verbal consent is adequate. With children under 16 they need parental consent.

Stigmatising and stereotyping – she is trying to avoid this. The Guardian has been running a series on Stoke and some community leaders complained that all the images were negative and the paper has responded by moving to a richer variety of images. Fiona gave another example – if they are running a story on Muslims in Bradford in the past they might have chosen a picture of a woman in a hijab walking past a mosque. Now they want to avoid this emphasis on otherness.

They are also keen to find different ways of reflecting Africa rather than always focusing on poverty or famine.

Graphic images can cause offence and other images may also cause offence to certain cultures.

Finding images for a long running news story like the refugee crisis or the Rohingya is challenging – she showed some examples of how photographers had tried something different – for example stylised black and white images.

Trust is key – the Guardian trusts the agencies they work with and readers trust the paper that the images it uses tell the truth.  They have a rule never to manipulate an image even if it is to photoshop out a lamppost that appears to be coming out of someone’s head.



Consider who you are pitching to and what images work for that media outlet. If you’re contacting the Guardian email Fiona or the team or a picture editor you know. The email should have a headline, a single sentence explaining the story and then more detail (a pyramid format). Attach a PDF (easy to open) with a selection of your best images. If you’re pitching for a picture gallery then include 15-20 images and make sure at least one of them is surprising or risky. They can always choose not to use this one, but the last thing they want is a very predictable set of images. Provide captions for the images. Consider the flow and rhythm of your selection and choose a good range – portraits, wide shots, landscape, close ups, something surprising etc. When you are selecting images, ask a colleague or friend to help you, so that you are not just relying on your own judgment.

Fiona will try to reply – if she doesn’t then you can send her a gentle reminder but she receives 250 emails a day.

They have a few editorial priorities and extra funding for these – biodiversity, global development, oceans and animal farming.

They are keen on picture galleries – on any given day they may have 4 or 5 of these running online and one in the paper and these change every day or two. Once they’ve been published they are there indefinitely but much harder for audiences to find when they move off the home page.

Fiona was asked about exclusivity and she said that if they are keen they will run the images anyway even if someone else has used them.  They have a big online audience – 10m unique visitors every day so if the same pictures run somewhere else a lot of their audience will not have seen them.

If you have a report coming out then get in touch around 3 weeks in advance. If they like the pictures they may ask a journalist to write a story to accompany them.


MG, 2.12.19

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