April 26, 2018

How can nonprofits use photography well?

A picture is worth a thousand words—but finding the right images to communicate an organization’s story can be a challenge. This episode of the Smart Communications Podcast features Tracy Young, professional photographer. She gives practical advice for capturing compelling images and recommendations for finding the right photographer.


Sarah Durham: All right. We are here today talking about photography with one of my favorite people, Tracy Young. Hi, Tracy.

Tracy Young: Hi.

Sarah Durham: So Tracy was on staff at Big Duck for many years. But she before that, during that, and since then, has had a really successful career as a freelance photographer, and that’s what we are going to be picking Tracy’s brain about today. Tracy, for people who want the visuals to support the conversation, where can they find your photography work online?

Tracy Young:
At T-R-A-C-Y-Y-O-U-N-G Photography dot com. Not Tracy Young, because while she’s talented, she’s a DJ and that’s not me.

Sarah Durham: All right. So if you want to check out Tracy’s work. So what I want to talk about today is photography because a long time ago four color printing was super expensive and people didn’t use a lot of photography. But now, in a digital world, photography has become very ubiquitous and non-profits are increasingly trying to figure out when to shoot stuff themselves, when to hire a pro, when to use stock. But, big picture, before we dive in to some of that tactical stuff, what would you encourage a non-profit to think about as they are kind of trying to decide what kind of images they might want to use?

Tracy Young: I’d say brand first. So you want to think about what it is that you want to communicate to your viewing audience. And if anyone’s going to your website to look around, basically, they are going to get a message, they are going to get an idea visually of who you are, and your images are supposed to support that. If there is colors, if there is products, if there is people, or actions, or something, try and have that captured in your images, and definitely front page images if it’s possible.

Sarah Durham: So we … in the brand strategy work here, we usually start when we are working with an organization by defining their positioning, the single idea we want people to think of when they think of the organization, but also their personality. Does the organization want to come across as fun, playful, edgy, or do they want to be more academic, or more thinky, or something like that? So if, for instance, your organization’s brand or voice is more edgy and playful, what would those photographs … how would that play out in terms of photography?

Tracy Young: First, I would think definitely color. Some people want to do something black and white to give them a moody feel to it, but I’d definitely have color, probably bright colors. If they can be active in any way, if there’s some sort of action that can be involved in the photos, I’d say that as well. And probably if there can be more than one person in it, like if you’re going to photograph clients or whatever, that you have a group of people and there could some sort of interaction in that. Because there’s a lot of fun things that happened between people that are candid and great that can be captured and speak a lot.

Sarah Durham:
I think that photography is one of the great places where you can show rather than tell. So if you have an organization that values inclusion and wants to be welcoming and embraces diversity, you should show that. This is a great opportunity to show all the types of people that you work with and serve.

Tracy Young: Absolutely.

Sarah Durham:
I think you have to be careful, too, about not turning one person or one child into sort of the poster child in your photography. Right? How do you manage that?

Tracy Young: So I’d say in terms of not turning one face into the poster child, you definitely want to have more than one. Definitely diversify in terms of how many people you are showing or what the representation is in that respect. And even if there is going to be one person, maybe have them doing more than one thing so it’s not just this static person that’s always smiling at their desk or the one person with this one poster that says, “I am love”. I don’t even know what they’d be saying, but … But you just, you know, break it up a little bit.

Sarah Durham:
You know, these days a lot of people have great cameras that are high res, so they may be shooting their own images on a good camera or even on an iPhone or something like that but maybe not have any formal photography background. Are there any pro tips that you’d recommend people use when they’re shooting?

Tracy Young: Yes. So, in general, I can give you two tips. One is if you want to do some lighting, you can get what they call a ring light that goes around the lens. This is more professional speaking, but basically it gives a nice beautiful even glow to faces. So if you’re photographing people, even products, that can really help boost up the look of a less than professional photographer’s work. And otherwise, if you are outside or you are doing something in natural daylight, try not to have too many harsh shadows across peoples faces, unless that’s in keeping with whatever the imagery that you purposely want to go for. Try and make sure that you have even lighting over stuff so that it’s just not something that you need to fight against. Let the subject speak not all of the harsh lighting that’s around you.

Sarah Durham: So maybe your subject … it’s okay if they’re in a shady area as long as it’s consistent. Better that than they’re in the sun and they are squinting into the sun or something like that or a big shadow on their face?

Tracy Young: Absolutely, because the shadows can not be your friend.

Sarah Durham: And if you’re a non-profit communicator and you’re going to hire a professional photographer to come in and maybe shoot pictures of your staff or your clients or your board for something, what would you recommend people do in terms of the process? How do you find the right photographer?

Tracy Young:
Honestly, you start Googling with the internet. So start looking just for photographers in general and whatever it is that’s your main purpose that you want to send out. So if it’s product, look for photographers that have product photos on their website. If it’s people that you want to highlight, look for lifestyle and portrait photographers that specialize in that, so that you just know off the bat they’re comfortable with whatever the subject matter is that you’re working with. And then, outside from that, I would just look and make sure … There’s usually a feel of the photographers work and you can know just by looking. Follow your gut whether or not you feel like this particular website seems like I’m going to get the kind of images that I want to portray on our website. And there’s a lot of them out there, so just look around. And then, look for price range and make sure it’s something that’s working with your budget.

Sarah Durham: And geography, obviously, it’s going to be a little more challenging if you’re in a remote area to get a local photographer potentially, although, you never know.

Tracy Young:

Sarah Durham:
You never know. Yeah. And photography is a really highly specialized field. I don’t know if people realize this, but there are portrait photographers who specialize in casual group interior, there are people who do more formal stage portraits. Tracy’s shoots are what we call our head shots. You know, the photos on the Big Duck website of all of us as individual staff people, and she’s particularly adept at that. I think it’s really good to be clear what kind of photo you are aiming for and really make sure you’re seeing that in the portfolio of the people you are looking at.

Tracy Young:

Sarah Durham:
And any photographer these days pretty much does have their work online. Right? I mean, I would assume that it would be pretty easy to look at online portfolios. Is that fair to say?

Tracy Young:
That is fair to say. In 2018, it’s fair to say.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, so that’s another thing. Don’t feel you have to meet people face to face until you’ve seen the work and you feel good about it. And do some Googling. And lighting. Lighting is the big key. Any other take aways or recommendations?

Tracy Young: Go with your gut. I really just say go with your gut, because usually if you look through people’s work, you look at websites, it’s the same way that you’re looking through websites if you’re shopping for something, you walk around and you know, “Oh. I found the shoes that I want. I found the shirt I want.” Oddly enough, the same applies for photographers, so you get a feel for their work and if it speaks to you, follow that, and then, let that be your guide.

Sarah Durham:
Great. All right. Thanks for joining us, Tracy.

Tracy Young: Thank you.