Communicating your story through photos

Cameras. Photo: Anne Marthe Widvey

Cameras. Photo: Anne Marthe Widvey on Flickr

Photographer Tomas Halasz contacted me last week and asked whether I know resources that could be useful when training NGOs in the use of photography for non-profit communication and fundraising. Here is what has come to my mind.

Finding the story

The reason that photos become more and more important is that visual content drives engagement on social media platforms more than any other type of content, which has been show by study after study.

However, I hope that non-profits don’t take that to mean that they should take more photos of the next HR workshops. (Nobody ever wants to see photos from conferences and workshops!)

Instead it’s all about telling a compelling story. I think Claire Axelrad recently put it nicely, when she said that NGOs should talk more about their vision and less about their mission. I think that is particularly true for photos.

A couple of years ago JD Lasica at Socialbrite has written a good tutorial for visual storytelling . While it focuses a lot on video, I think a lot of the basic ideas hold true for photography as well.

I also find CMI’s list of 21 types of content that resonates with people very helpful and I use it frequently when talking to NGOs or international organizations about how they can make their content more appealing.

The basics

As for the basics about photography for your organization I find UNDP’s page on photography useful  and I like the parts about photography in the UNICEF brand toolkit. These two documents can also be helpful templates for organizations that don’t have guidelines themselves yet.

The tool

If I had to recommend one photography related tool that a non-profit organization should have, then it would be Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I used to use Photoshop almost every day but now hardly use it at all. The reason is that I normally don’t want to change the content of a photo (such as remove people or add a background) but merely want improve the photo a little (i.e. crop it, change levels, contrast etc.) and for that Lightroom is as capable as Photoshop but at a fraction of the price. Lightroom is also a very good photo database which is extremely useful for any organization that needs to be able to find photos again.  I’ll probably write a separate blog post on Lightroom one of these days.


Where do I start? There are so many examples of great non-profit photography!

A project that has stood out for me recently is a photo series supported by UNHCR in which refugees are posing for portraits with their most valuable possessions. I think this is a very powerful example of visual storytelling.

Another good place to be inspired is Oscio’s blog which shows well done non-profit advertising and campaigning.

If you are mainly interested in how to use photos better on Facebook, take a look at this post by Jeff Bullas.

Last but not least I’d like to share an unusual project in which the Calgary Zoo decided to release its annual report on Instagram.

Do you have additional resources or comments? I’d like to hear from you!


  1. brendan September 17, 2013
    • Timoluege September 18, 2013
  2. Claire Axelrad November 6, 2013