Using photography to communicate impact : Part I

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Building capacity for good photography in your non-profit organisation - A three part miniseries

First impressions still count, and one bad photograph may ruin your reputation! That’s why it is important to carefully consider what visual content an NGO uses to tell their unique story to the world.

We live in an era where visual communication plays a bigger role that we want to admit. While the written word will not disappear easily, people don’t want to read long eloquent social media posts or website content. The simple truth is that your followers and supporters want to see real-life narratives of the people within your organisation, told through at least as possible words and accompanied with consistently good quality and well-planned photographs.

The subject/s (the child or adult from your organisation who you are photographing) is the most important consideration in taking photographs for your organisation because that person/s are representing your image. The secret is finding the balance between respect for the subject and being truthful towards your cause (more about this respect later in this series).

A consistent visual story needs some degree of basic photography skills and planning, even if the subject is someone considered vulnerable who may not be identified. Also consider how you are using your photos, especially posting on social media. Many South African NGOs that are serving vulnerable children simply blot out the child’s face with a heart or a star, with no creativity in angle to make sure that the child is not recognizable on the photo.

Another important consideration is who is taking this photograph. Many NGOs believe only a professional will be able to tell their story effectively. Yes, hiring a professional photographer is an alternative, but it is costly. Why not consider training someone within or close to your organisation on basic photography and how to effectively use a camera (which is not very difficult to learn)?

The biggest advantage of allocating the photography job to someone close to your NGO is that person understands your organisation’s values, ethos and code of conduct, as well as the people you serve.

On top of this the photographer needs to understand the basic guidelines and laws on photographing vulnerable people and what is allowed within your organisation. For example, according to law some children may be not photographed. How is your NGO handling this? (more about this later in this series)

To have a constant stream of good quality photos and because people and their circumstances change, it is important to take as much as possible photographs and create a space on your organisation’s server to save your best photos. Also plan specific photo shoots for specific outcomes because your best photo is as good as the best one you took yesterday!

The biggest consideration in photography for NGOs is where these photographs are going to be used – on your website, social media or marketing material like advertisements, press releases or brochures – because each medium has specific requirements regarding photo size and quality. Therefore, make sure that your photographer understands that cell phone photographs may not be suitable for a billboard.

After everything is considered, it is true that good quality photographic equipment is a big financial issue and constraint to an NGO, but I believe good quality photography cannot be considered a “luxury” and a non-core item on the NGO budget.

Maybe, it became time that NGOs have to include quality equipment and/or photography and photographic post-production and design services when contacting donors? This practical giving of a knowledgeable donor may fill the gap of a better visual narrative and will place your organisation on the marketing map!

  • This is the first post in a 3 part mini-series. Read on for:

Part II - How to take great photographs in your NPO

Part III - Ethical considerations when taking photos of your work.

*Annalie Anticevich is a passionate photographer and storyteller with over 30 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a photographer and social media assistant at a non-profit institution for people with disabilities in South Africa. She can be emailed at

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