Mastering Nonprofit Photography: Pro Tips

Struggling with nonprofit photography? Learn when to use phone snaps and when to hire a pro for high-quality images. Discover creative ways to tell your story without photos of people.
Illustration of a vintage camera on a pink background.

You know, those moments when your event ends with “oh yeah, gotta take some pictures…”

Here’s the thing: phone pics are awesome for on-the-go snaps, capturing candid volunteer moments or quick videos. But they won’t work for everything.

Photographers can do much more than fancy headshots (although those are important too!). They capture images that go beyond “what’s happening.” They save you time handling the lighting, composition and editing. And most of all, they help your nonprofit look polished and professional.

Hiring a pro isn’t as expensive as you might think, Adrienne. Most photographers can capture hours of content for $300-$1,000. Plus, they’ll be able to be more objective and present with your community.

But wait! Does this mean ditching your phone altogether? Absolutely not! Think of it like this:

  • 📱 Phone photos for: Behind-the-scenes peeks, volunteer shout-outs, and impromptu update videos.
  • 📸 Pro photos for: Your website, fundraising campaigns, and annual reports.
 
Although our phone cameras have come a long way, the quality is meant to stay in a smaller, digital format. So when we try to make the photo work for larger hero images on our website or in print, designers have to use filters or extra elements to make the picture look good, which can distract from the moment you captured.
 

The takeaway: You’ll need both.

Your community can be a great resource for finding local pro photographers who can show up to your event for a few hours and capture higher-quality photos in addition to candid moments that help you tell a compelling story through visuals.

I’ll always advocate for using actual photos of real people whenever possible, but this begs the next question:

 

What if your nonprofit legally can’t take pictures of people?

Here are some creative ways to visually tell the story when photos of people are off-limits:

Symbolism:

Use objects that represent what your beneficiary is going through.

  • For example: a paintbrush for an artist overcoming homelessness, a graduation cap for a student receiving scholarships, etc.

Set the Scene:

Show key places in the story, the tools used to make a difference, or even the empty spaces that are important to someone’s transformation (as long as it doesn’t reveal their identity).

Stock Photos:

Opt for images that depict hands at work, feet taking a new path, or a visual representation of the subject’s current life. If it’s a free photo site, always cite your source and clearly state that the photo is a representation.

Illustrations:

Not just for storybooks, illustrations are one of the most powerful ways to tell a story without revealing identities. You can even adapt the drawing style to match your brand message or campaign tone.

One more bonus tip:

If someone has opted out of sharing their photo, but you still would like to take photos at larger events, consider giving them a bright-colored lanyard or name tag to wear so that you and your team can easily identify them in a group photo or video.

If you feel stuck using your phone to capture photos of your nonprofit’s work, take a moment today to consider if a photographer could help you tell a more impactful story. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Have you gotten individual consent from your community to take and share their photos?
  • What upcoming events or programs would be helpful to share on your website or feature in your year-end campaign?
  • How much can you realistically pay a photographer?

Related Resources

For more insights on improving your nonprofit’s visuals and credibility, explore these articles:

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