How are your photos?

This week we’ve been glued to images of Hurricane Irene. The pictures–rubble and roads underwater in North Carolina, bridges swept away in Vermont, empty foundations in New York—tell the stories of devastation and loss better than any words.

Pictures help us empathize. When we see people next to a house lying on its side, a yard full of wreckage, we ask, “What if it was me?” Pictures motivate us to send money, people, goodwill.

We’ve all experienced the power of images, and not just after disasters. Photographs can affect us with hope, gratitude, anger, and fear. They create indelible memories, inspire our hearts and minds, change the world.

Is your nonprofit using photos as well as it can?

Most of us don’t give photography too much thought at work. When it comes time to redesign the website or publish another Annual Report, we dig through the files for the least blurry shots, pull a couple of our building, a fundraising event, a few clients in the waiting room.

National nonprofits with large marketing departments have stunning photos. But what if you’re not the World Wildlife Fund or the Susan G. Komen Foundation? You may not have professional photographers and designers on staff, but that doesn’t mean your organization can’t harness the power of pictures to convey what you do, and how, and for whom. This week we share some tips and reminders for using photography to tell your organization’s story. Got others? Let us know in the Comments section below.

1. Take a lot of pictures. Make sure at least a few people on staff have cameras. Inexpensive point-and-shoots are fine. Urge them to take pictures on a regular basis, not just when you have an upcoming publication.

2. Revisit the “About” section on your website. If it’s accurate, it’s a guide to what your pictures should convey.

3. Avoid generic shots that may as well be stock photos. How is your organization unique from the other 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S.?

4. You need different pictures for different purposes and audiences. Target your pictures for fundraising, client education, volunteer recruitment, marketing programs and events, etc.

5. Make your pictures have a message. What’s your call to action? Do you want people to drive less, eat better, invest in literacy, check out new artists?

6. Speaking of action, take action shots. They’re more descriptive, more interesting, and more engaging.

7. Faces are good, backs are usually not.

8. There are hundreds of books and websites on photography. Basic rules can go a long way—use natural light, avoid shadows, get close, no distracting backgrounds…

9. Photoshop is your friend. A little post-processing can make a world of difference. You don’t need sophisticated skills to be able to bump up the brightness or the contrast.

10. Attach your photos to stories, names, and places whenever possible. Context is compelling.

11. Get feedback on photos you’re thinking about using. But don’t ask people who already know and love your organization, because they won’t be objective.

12. If the photo habit doesn’t seem to work in your organization, consider hiring  a pro. Photography students and aspiring professionals may be more affordable, and they might welcome the chance to build their portfolios.

13. Keep your photos organized. Give them recognizable names, use a filing system, and copy the great ones you know you want to feature in a running folder.

14. Don’t save photos only for your website. Make them a part of your regular communications—training materials, event calendars, business cards, etc.

15. For a different perspective, consider sharing cameras with clients and community members. See Photovoices  for inspiration (and possible funding.)

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