There were some incredible images of the Hawker Hunter which crashed into the A27 at Shoreham at the weekend. There is an ethical consideration in using them of course. The pictures show moments of death and are harrowing to most people, let alone those whose loved ones were involved. But having made the decision to use them, the pictures needed to be displayed well. The simple rule is 'if you have a stunning image, let the reader see it.' Page layout is about hierarchy ... what you want the reader to see first, second, third etc. One of the best examples of effective hierarchy was the wraparound of Princess Diana's coffin in The Sun in 1997.
The paper normally wipes out its front with big Tempo Bold Condensed caps but on the biggest story of the decade it changed to a smaller, lighter headline font which it relegated to the bottom of the page? Why? Because the photograph is stunning and the headline - good though it is - comes second. It shouldn't interfere or compete.
Eighteen years on and some newspapers don't appear to grasp that basic layout principle ... or perhaps they simply don't agree. The Sunday Express, for example, had a powerful picture from Shoreham. But it chose to push it down page, under two dominant blurbs, and then overlaid a huge (and not particularly inspired) headline that obliterated half of the photograph. The result: clutter.
The Sunday Mirror, on the other hand, dispensed with its blurbs and wrote a first person headline which didn't interfere with the main area of the photograph at all. It might have been tempted to sky the picture - and put the headline at the foot of the page. Nevertheless, it is a very powerful front.
It isn't the first time the Express has cluttered up a stunning image. Here is its front page from 9/11 ... with a crop that is too tight and an index running over the exploding twin towers.
Compare it to The Sun, which again reduced the headline size and gave the picture space to breathe. Two similar pages, the same image and the same space ... yet the simple layout rules put them worlds apart.