You know that high quality, relevant, timely images are important to effectively communicating your story, but whenever you need them you can only seem to find that grainy, poorly lit group photo from the workshop last year that you’ve already used several times.
You need a plan. If you follow these four steps, you’ll be well positioned to have a cache of images to use throughout the year:
1. Define what you need
Just like the rest of your organisation’s branding (you DO have a brand, don’t you?), you should have a clear idea and guidelines about how you want to represent your work through the images you use. Is there a tone that you want to convey through your images – hope, activism, caretaking? Do you want to focus on a specific population – women, children, midwives? Do you need to only use abstract images of people to protect anonymity? It doesn’t mean every photo you take has to fit these exact criteria, but it helps to provide some cohesion to the images you ultimately use. Don’t forget to think about ethical image use and consent – Photoshare has some good resources you can use. Write down what you need and share it, along with some example images that you think capture the look and feel you’re going for.
2. Train your staff
The gold standard is to hire a professional photographer to regularly document your organisation’s work, using your guidelines as a brief, but that’s not in every organisation’s budget. Second place would be hiring someone to photograph a key event or one annual photo shoot to build a library of some really stellar images to add to your website or annual report. However, remember that you already have the resources on hand to create a potentially amazing image database of your day to day work. Anyone with a smartphone can document the work that you do and help to tell your story. Spend some time making sure that everyone knows what you’re looking for, circulating your photo guidelines or even conducting a training for key staff who are well placed to capture good images.
3. Get the photos
Get creative on how you start to build your photo library. Ask your staff to comb through the image libraries on their computers and phones and pull off good images that might have gotten lost. Hold a photo competition to generate a large number of images once a year. Encourage staff to submit photos on a monthly theme (e.g. partnerships, sustainability, etc.) to get their creative juices flowing. Get them to take pictures beyond the project launches, donor visits, or award dinners – what will really tell your story are the pictures that show the work they do every day and the small, incremental impact your work has on the lives of your beneficiaries. Give them a creative brief, giving them specific ideas such as “counting money in a stokvel” or “fathers taking their children to school” to get them thinking about taking pictures of things they see every day.
4. Organise and store your images
Equally important is what you do with your images once you’ve got them. Your solution should have two parts: where photographers can upload or send their images, and where you store and organise them. Your upload point can be as simple as a shared folder on a server, Dropbox, GooglePhotos, WeTransfer, a private Flickr account, or even a dedicated email address (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). You need to assign someone to be responsible for organising the images as they come in – have an intern help with the initial time consuming task of organising all the past images, and then build this in to someone’s job description going forward. (Though don’t get bogged down with dealing with tons of past images – you can always deal with those later). Pick a structure (month/year or project name/number) and keep it simple – if it’s too complex, it will quickly be abandoned. If you choose a storage solution that lets you tag and search images, it may be more work up front but will have huge payoff later when you’re trying to find the right image. Write up your storage guidelines and keep them with your image database for future reference. Whatever you choose, make sure the images are safe, and are regularly backed up.
I know, you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to do all this!” In the hustle to do your organisation’s amazing work, collecting and storing images may seem pretty low on the priority list. If you don’t spend the time or dedicate the resources to collecting and storing photos today, however, you’ll soon realise you don’t have the right images to tell your story to your audience, which can be key to attracting interest to your work and bring in additional funds for your organisation.
About the Author:
Jennifer Geib is a graphic designer and writer working with non-profits and changemakers worldwide to more effectively communicate their message. For more information on her work and services see www.jennifergeib.com.