Published: 06/10/2005 Volume 115 No. 5976 Page 29

Claire Austin is former communications director of University Hospital Birmingham foundation trust and is now a freelance consultant.

Pictures are a fantastic way of communicating, but only if you know what to do with them. A good picture on a page draws the reader's eye, enticing them to find out more.

Poor pictures have no interest for the reader, so they rapidly move on.

How do you get a good picture?

Whether you are using in-house medical photographers, briefing a freelance photographer or wielding the camera yourself, there are some basic rules to follow.

First, think about what you want the picture to convey on its own. If someone has just given you£10,000 to buy some new equipment, you do not want a line-up of men in suits shaking hands and exchanging a cheque - even if it is a giant one.

Instead you want to construct a picture that shows what the money has been used for or will be used for and you want patients and uniformed members of staff to be using it.

If you are holding a photo shoot with your local papers, watch what their photographers do and take a lead from them. They will often explore more interesting angles than you might think of.

Second, do not try to put too many people in front of the camera.

A really good picture needs only two or three. If you really must take a picture of the whole team and all its hangers-on, take one for the file and then one for publication.

Third, do the picture justice. If it is a really good quality photo, use it large to make the most of it. Think about the newspapers and magazines you read regularly and how they use pictures. Some of the most dramatic front pages of national broadsheets have been entirely given over to a single picture. Imitate them - they are obviously getting it right.

Finally, resist the pressure to include pictures of the chair and the trust board in every issue of your staff magazine. If they do not regularly go round your organisation and make the effort to meet people, then it will not matter how many times you put their picture in the magazine; people still will not know who they are.

claireaustin1@hotmail. com