Using photography to communicate impact: Part II

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

How to take great photographs in your non-profit organisation.

A three part miniseries - Read Part I here.

Photography is about light and how light falls on your camera’s sensor. Photography is not about indiscriminately clicking a camera’s shutter. Because it is capturing a moment in time that will never return.

Learning the art of photographing people is not difficult. It starts with planning for what you want, make sure that your equipment can do what you require and then wait for the right moment to click the photo. And practise until you have your required outcome.

By living in an instant world, the waiting and practising are the most difficult in taking a photograph! And the secret of bold photos with a beautiful narrative is combining the elements of capturing the right moment and the use of light.

Before touching on the technical aspects of a good photograph, the one thing every photographer can continually work on is simple composition (the way your photo is made up), even when taking a photo with a cell phone! Depending on what visual story you want to tell, going close to the object of the photo is always the first option. After that you could take another one of the scene. Always aim for simplicity by eliminating “dead space” that has nothing to do with the mood or emotion of the picture. With that in mind be on the lookout for small details that will enhance or distract from the photo, especially bright colours or objects that have nothing to do with the story you want to tell.

"Remember: You determine what you want in your photograph frame from long before the moment you click the shutter. That’s why moving around or crouching low or standing on a chair or ladder for a different angle could enhance what you are capturing!"

With composition being the “arty” part of photography, it always makes and breaks a photo. The best way to plan a photo or think about the photograph you are taking, is to consider the rule of thirds. You roughly (or with the help of your camera) divide your photo in 9 blocks and decide in what “block” the photo’s focal point of interest will be (the place where you want people’s eyes to be drawn to). In doing this you will never again have your subject in the centre of the photo frame, which unless planned, is bad photography at its best.

At all times avoid taking photos showing the back of people’s bodies or their heads, unless you artistically planned to do so (and retain the object’s dignity!).

Try to avoid the usual posed photos with forced smiles by being patient enough to wait for unguarded moments during a photo shoot. Photos taken during unguarded moments many times produce the best ones in your collection because these are the soulful story-telling photos that bring dignity to the one photographed.

How to set your non-automatic camera

The same photo can be taken with many different settings. Many photographers take photos on Auto, which I believe is an insult to the artist living in the one holding the camera.

Light can be captured on most cameras in three ways

  • Speed

  • F-stop (also called aperture)

  • ISO (which is the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor)

Before digital photography photographers used to buy film according to an ISO number, which provided film with a greater ability to capture images in low light. The ISO in digital photography widen the exposure options in taking photos, especially in low light conditions.

Combined with the ISO settings you also have the option of taking your photo on high or low speed, which means the photo is blurred (low speed) or it is captured in the action (high speed).

The third exposure consideration is your F-stop, which is the amount of light you allow through your lens opening to capture a photograph. With this where we encounter depth of field - a serious consideration and what I personally look at first before taking a photo. Depth of field is the distance between the closest and farthest object on a photo that appears acceptably sharp. When the lens is open at its widest and lets in the maximum amount of light (f/3.5 – depending on the lens) the depth of field with be at its most narrow. This means that only a small part of the photograph will be in focus.

Before getting confused about all these technical considerations always start taking your photo by determining what light is available. At reasonable lighting conditions set your camera on f/8 or f/11, combined with a speed of 1/100 and ISO 100 or 200 and see how the photo comes out. At his point it gets exciting because you decide if you want everything in focus (f/11 and higher), or if you want a slight blur in the hands and feet of your object (speed of 1/80 or 1/60) or want an “old-school” feel of grain (set on the highest ISO).

Always take more than one photograph on different settings to see if the light, depth of field and other factors like the feel of the photo is what you want before clicking off on your event or planned photo shoot!

When you mastered this there are also considerations such as the colour of light, (the icons on your camera showing the sun, flashlight, and other light colours) which may influence your photograph. Leave this on auto as you venture out and experiment with this as you become more confident with the basics.

In summary, we have covered all the basic technical skills that you need to take a good photographs. These skills are:

  • Knowledge of basic composition.

  • Knowledge of basic camera settings.

  • The right timing.

  • Courage to keep trying and practicing until you get the photo you want.

  • Assertiveness to spot a good photo when you see it!

Refining your skills and your ability to take good photographs in your organisation is the final puzzle piece to communicating the great work that you do and drawing support to your work. Remember to practice, practice and practice some more. If you are unsure, get feedback from people around you on the photos that they like best. It will help you to understand what speaks to people and how they can best connect to the meaning of the work that you do. From this point on, you will be able to use photos in a way that works best for you.

  • Click here for the third instalment in this miniseries: