Telling Stories With Photos

Back in the dark ages (well, at least until later in the 20thcentury), if you wanted to take a photo you bought film, loaded it into your camera, snapped a picture or two, took the film in (or mailed it in) for developing, and then (eventually) got the photos back. It used to take days, then hours and finally just one hour.

But one thing remained consistent: You got your photo, and that was when you found out if you had captured a good picture or not.

Today it’s much easier. We can snap a photo — or 100 photos — and almost immediately see the results. Yet one thing hasn’t changed: Too many nonprofits are still trying to tell their stories with average (at best) photos.

While everyone can’t afford to hire a professional photographer and may not choose to use stock photos, we all need to look critically at our images and make sure they are telling the stories we want told.

Way back at the end of 2011, I suggested two resolutions nonprofits should make for 2012. One was to make story time a priority, which included taking more photos to illustrate the good work you are doing. How are you coming on that? In case you’re off to a slow start, here are some tips to help you get the photos that tell the stories — and help raise funds.

Keep a camera handy
I realize most phones have a camera built in, but keeping a camera with a charged battery in your backpack, briefcase, purse or car can help ensure that you are always ready to snap a photo when the opportunity arises (even if you are talking on your phone at the time). Relying simply on your mobile phone may limit you, especially if the resolution is below 10 megapixels. A digital camera with 14 megapixels costs less than $100 and can be a great investment — as long as you use it.

Think about how the photo will be used
Whether you want to take a photo for your printed newsletter or a website, think about how it will be viewed. If the medium is small, keep the composition simple — one or two people, for example, as opposed to a large group. Can you crop out unnecessary background elements that take away from the focus of the photo? Will the dominant colors clash with your logo or masthead?

Improve your photo-taking skills
Especially if your nonprofit is relying on you for photography (even if that isn’t a skill you claimed to have when hired), strive to improve. If you search online for something as basic as “picture taking improve,” you’ll bring up dozens of helpful websites.

Respect others
If you are taking a photo of a person, get a written release. “Sure, no problem” could prove to be a problem if the person decides the end result (photo) made him or her look fat, old, tired or whatever. And while he or she may not initially object, will having his or her face plastered all over the Internet become an issue? Ask permission, explain how you plan to use the photo and always thank the subjects.

Label carefully
Date each photo file, and make sure the person, place or thing in the photo is accurately named. If there are any restrictions on using the photo, you may want to include that in the file name. For example, you could name the file “7-12 woman in park — see file for use restrictions.” I know that’s a really long file name, but if copies of your photo files get transferred to designers or other people to use for a project, they may not know there are restrictions. Putting a “red flag” in the file name can help prevent misuse (and embarrassment).

Digitize your older, historic photos
If your nonprofit has been around for a while, you may have a drawer or box full of old photos. While many will never be needed, you may want to sort through and select the iconic ones that could be used if you were asked to put together a piece for a 25th anniversary, for example. Scanning them into digital files not only makes them easier to locate (assuming you label carefully), but also helps preserve the image.

Photos are important to nonprofits as they help us tell our stories. As Walt Disney once said, “Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” How’s your grasp of that language?

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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