Making the Most of Photo Opportunities

Written and published in partnership with Social Change Consulting

When working with non-profits, often the most challenging part of creative projects — such as visuals for social media posts or design of a new marketing brochure — is the lack of strong photography that’s representative of the organization. Fortunately, there are many affordable stock photography options; however, stock doesn’t always capture what you want to portray, doesn’t truly represent the organization. Original photography is often the way to go. It’s doable whether it be shot be a professional photographer or, if budget’s an issue, by staff or volunteers. With a decent camera or even an iPhone, as well as a few strategic choices, it’s possible to capture good photos for your organization’s use. To make the most of photo opportunities, here are a few things to consider:

Consider the use
Where will the photos appear: printed marketing materials, social media, website, banner, etc.? What are you promoting? What do you want prospective donors, volunteers, or constituents to see? If you’re creating a volunteer recruitment piece, the viewer definitely wants to see a fulfilled volunteer in action. If highlighting the non-profit’s services, let’s see that service being delivered, whether it be a tutoring session or a gardening day.

Have a plan
Create a shot list ahead of time. It doesn’t have to be long and detailed to provide a basic road map of what you want to capture. Communicate the plan to the photographer, whether paid or pro bono. Consider the key people to photograph: volunteers, VIPs, leadership, etc. Identify locations for photos and determine whether you’ll need any props.

Highlight your brand
Photos are an amazing — and easy — opportunity to show off your organization’s brand. Staff and volunteers can don hats, t-shirts, or other apparel with your logo. At events, brand the space: tablecloths in the brand’s colors, easel signs with the non-profit’s slogan, name badges with your logo. When photographing speakers, attach a branded sign to the podium. Of course, best to strike a balance between too much branding and none; you don’t want it to look forced.

Frame the shot
So often we see great photos and think “didn’t they see that garbage bin, ugly wall, sign, etc?” It’s not just the person or object in your frame – it’s everything else in the background that can make or break a great photo. So don’t be afraid to move a photo location, or move yourself, to avoid something distracting in the background. Capture the excited volunteers in front of a background of balloons rather than the metal stage bars. Capture the staff team in front of a big, branded banner rather than a pile of boxes.

Avoid distracting clutter
Like a distracting background, items within the subject of the photo can make or break it. Try to avoid miscellaneous items in photos such as purses, name tags, glasses of wine. I’ve combed through many event photos hoping to find a suitable one for a newsletter, to only be disappointed by the number of glasses and plates of food. It can be helpful for the photographer to have an assistant who helps look out for the clutter and corral it.

Work with the sun
If outdoors on a sunny day, as a general rule you want to shoot with the sun behind you. With the sun at your back, the subject in your photo will be illuminated from the front making it evenly and well lit. If photographing people, shooting with the sun behind you may not be a good idea as they’ll be looking into the sun and likely squinting. If that’s the case, try to find a bit of shade to move into or stage the photos from the start in slightly shadier areas.

Make a connection
If you’re featuring people in your photos, let’s see their faces. Give the viewer an opportunity to emotionally connect and relate. If you’re trying to recruit more volunteers, you want the viewer to think “That could be me. I can do that!” While you may think it’s staged or cheesy, I’d like to see a group of folks walking in a fundraising event with their heads high and a few smiling at the camera. Let me see the emotion, which will show they’re enjoying the experience, and I could enjoy it too.

Get in close
If you’re shooting candid moments at an event, zoom in on the person(s) and try to capture their emotion. Fill the frame with your subject to keep the emphasis on them. These photos may become your hero image: that first visual someone encounters on your website, that photo that is the centerpiece of your marketing materials.

Get permission
It is important to have volunteers, board members, event attendees, etc. sign releases authorizing permission for their photos to be used. This is especially important for youth volunteers or constituents. While it can be work on the front end, having photo releases on file will expand your photo library.

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