Taking better photos of your community group

Charlotte Stuffins is the Communcations and Policy Officer at CDF.

Photography can be a great way of capturing your community group’s work, ethos and impact. It speaks equally to everyone, regardless of their literacy, language or cultural heritage.

But sometimes it can be daunting to just start taking photos, so it can be helpful to remind yourself of the key things to think about before picking up a camera. This will also ensure you get the best possible photos when an opportunity arises. Here at CDF, we’ve recently had a number of enquiries about the permissions required for using photos online, which is covered later in this post.

I recently attended a really great photography training course run by PhotoVoice, a charity who provide photographic training for marginalised communities. The course was hosted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and covered the basics of photography in a fun and engaging way. So read on for the top ten things I learnt on the day:

1. What’s the point? Think about what you’re trying to capture and why you are taking the photo. Is it to show an unmet need or to celebrate the impact of your work?

2. Dialogue between photographer and subject. Tell the person who you are photographing (the subject) what you are trying to capture. Try putting yourself in the subject’s position and consider how you would want to be portrayed. (This is particularly important when photographing vulnerable beneficiaries or service users).

3. Titles and captions. Ensure you give your photo a title and write a caption to explain what the photo intends to capture, even the simplest of shots can be open to interpretation.

4. Staging versus documentary. There’s nothing wrong with staging a photo for marketing purposes, but documentary style will capture day-to-day activities more naturally.

5. Composition and framing. Try to think about what’s in the frame (or not). Sometimes distracting things can be found in the background, but removing too much background can take the subject out of context. If it’s not quite right at the time though, don’t forget you can easily crop the photo on your computer afterwards.

6. Natural framing. This can help to focus the eye to your subject and could be achieved by taking a photo through something e.g. through an arch or a window. Or you could bring an object in diagonally from the corner of the frame, which draws the eye to the centre of the photo.

7. Foreground or background focus. The eye is naturally drawn to the front of a picture, but if you blur the focus of the front image, the eye will go to the background.

8. Point of view. By using a worms’ eye view can make your subject look vulnerable and by using a birds’ eye view can make them look powerful.

9. Rule of thirds. As you are setting up your photo, try to mentally divide the frame into thirds. Then, keep your subject off centre i.e. try to place your subject to the right or left so they are not right in the middle of the picture.

10. Lighting. The source of light should be behind the photographer. If you want to create a silhouette (for example, to hide someone’s identity) then you should backlight the subject. Try to avoid using the flash where possible, as it can mean you lose detail.

The legal bit

If in doubt, use your ethical judgement. We all know that it’s polite to ask permission before taking someone’s photo (you can do it after though, say if it’s an action shot capturing something spontaneous). Perhaps explain to the person you are photographing about your work or you could offer to send them a copy of the photo (but make sure you do so!). This exchange is likely to be more rewarding for both parties.

If you’re out at an event, ask adults for their verbal consent for their photo to be taken, but make sure you also tell them where photos will go (i.e. on your website, social media or poster campaigns).

And remember, you always need parental consent to take photographs of anyone under 18.


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