From ubiquitous to unique: Quick-start ideas to sourcing better photography
Everyone knows the common maxim “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So why is it that some nonprofits fall into the bad habit of investing their energies into those thousand words, and treat photo selection as an afterthought?
Many nonprofits don’t invest in original photography of their work. Others take great, unique photos, but lack any system for curating and organizing them so they are easy to find and use efficiently. Some nonprofits have an organized bank full of great shots, but lack guidelines or best practices for how to select and what to prioritize. We’ve recently discussed nonprofit photography challenges in depth on our podcast, but it’s sometimes hard to know where to start when tackling the problem. Whatever the situation at your nonprofit, here are a few simple ideas for upping your game.
Conduct a 30-day challenge of absolutely no stock photography—and then see if you can keep that restriction in place forever! Stock photos aren’t an authentic representation of who you are and what you’re about—and your audience can sniff that out. Even if the photos you’re selecting feel like they’re not the usual cheesy stock photos, they’re more likely to feel impersonal, and therefore less likely to move people, feel real, and inspire action.
Double down on reflecting your audience.
Do the images you’re using accurately represent the communities you’re working with? Are you consciously representing a diversity of race, gender expression, age, or other identities of your clients, staff, donors, board and others? If you have data on your audience, review it. Try to better represent the people in your community, and the people you are trying to reach.
Lean into your strategy.
Have you gone through a branding process? If you have organizational strategic tools, like personality words, use them! Take a minute to step back from the day-to-day, and elevate photographs that reflect who you are as an organization. Use that curated photo bank when selecting images for specific programmatic goals and individual communications projects.
Invest in yourself—you’re worth it!
Do you have a photo budget? You should! Start building your library of compelling images by factoring shoots regularly into your budget. Look at your programs and events calendar. Create a list of programs or events to prioritize, and pick one per quarter to shoot. In most cases, your dollar is best spent on a professional photographer shooting candid shots of your work. If you are planning a special project or campaign, you may consider padding your usual budget a bit to allow for creative flexibility—your concept might include an idea that would be best shot in a studio setting or with special lighting. If a photo budget is just out of reach for your organization, however, start by tasking students or volunteers who have high quality phones or cameras to document your events and work—an authentic, but amateur photo is a step up from stock photography.
Try some fresh talent.
Maybe you have photos, and are constantly refreshing your pool with new shots, but the results are just not exciting you—or your audiences. Try changing the type of photographer you’re using from an events photographer to an editorial photographer—look in their portfolios for less “say cheese” style photos, and more candid, slice-of-life style shots. Or, contact a local arts school and see if you can hire some of their budding photography students.
Visualize better photography for yourself—and for others.
Make a Pinterest or mood board of the type of photographs you wish you had at your fingertips. Circulate it with staff to get feedback and alignment, and adapt it into a shot list (or just share it as-is) with a photographer next time you have a shoot. Investing a little time to do the up-front work of codifying what you need will help ensure you get the shots you want as quickly and efficiently as possible, saving time and money with the photographer. While you’re doing that work our handy list of 10 tips for getting great shots will be helpful to ready through—and would be a handy link to share as an accompaniment when you send your shot list to your photographer.
Bring order to the madness.
Consider bringing on a photography intern for just one semester, and task them with organizing existing photos, taking new photos, and creating a cloud-based library. Arm them with a camera and turn them loose! If you don’t have enough events to shoot, or photos to organize to keep an exclusively photo-based intern busy, creating and organizing a library of photos is also an appropriate challenge for a communications or marketing intern. If you are keeping things lean, Google Drive and Airtable are free options to house your cloud-based library. If you have more robust photo organization needs, and the budget to match, you may want to investigate a service that has fees attached, but that has more functionality like searching and tagging—Bynder is a service that does this well.
Turning away from treating photos as an afterthought can take significant shifts in planning, budgeting, and mindset—but it’s worth the effort. Tackling this common pitfall will help you really celebrate your community and what makes you unique in more powerful, valuable ways.