Chidi’s donors want photos of the project. She was initially worried as she didn’t have a camera, until someone reminded her that she had one on her phone! She wanted the project to seem professional and remembered the photos from her graduation. She got the girls to make sure they looked their best, and photographed them as a group against a wall. The girls looked serious. She thought that it was a great photo! They looked like smart scholars and like they were taking the club seriously. Ibrahim, her donor, wrote back. “The girls don’t look very happy and we only see schoolgirls – we don’t see what they are doing at the youth club. Could you take some photos where they look like they want to be at the club?”. Chidi hadn’t seen it like this. The next time the girls club was in session she took some photos of the girls cooking, and smiling with their finished food. She sent them to Ibrahim and he was delighted.
As with stories, we need to step into the shoes of our audience to think about the photos that will make your youth project come alive for them.
- Do a test shot! Check that you can see the people or places clearly. In general, it’s good to:
- Make sure that light isn’t coming from behind people, as their faces are unlikely to be clear, especially if they have dark skin.
- Make sure our strong African sun isn’t shining into their eyes, so they aren’t squinting!
- Get close in – try to make sure that the faces are big.
- Or make sure there is an interesting background if the person/ people are only small in the photo.
- There are lots of online guides to taking better pictures, so spend some time thinking about your pictures, and how best you can take them [for example: Portrait Photography Composition Tips | The Main Museum]
- See if you can get a volunteer to take photos and edit them – if it will convince people that your project is effective and captures their imagination, it is a good investment, and you might even want to pay for it.
Your photo tells a story about your youth club
When you take a photo you aren’t just documenting a moment, you are painting a picture about your youth work. You have to choose which girls or youth workers are in the photo, and what they are doing. But you are also including other details. If you take a photo of a family in front of a plain wall, they may look beautiful, but if you take a photo in a girl’s home you are telling us many things about her life – whether she is rich or poor, living well within her family’s means, or living somewhere unsafe. We judge her situation based on her home, her neighbourhood, and what the family owns. We decide whether this girl is worthy of our time, effort and money.
You are also letting other people know how your youth organisation sees people. If your project is about lifting people out of poverty and empowering them, you don’t want to share photos that would embarrass those people or make them feel ashamed. However, it is often necessary to show that they need help. To do this, you could:
- Show your girls studying or working in their homes.
- Outside their houses, looking happy with their families.
- Walking together to your project, showing the girls and the reality of their neighbourhood.
- Doing an activity in your youth project, such as cooking, studying, or playing.
How to take good photos of your youth club
Here we will look at four photos from our work in Africa. Each has good and bad elements.
- This photo shows the youth club’s neighbourhood. It is obviously a neighbourhood in need, with unpaved roads, litter and rubbish, and corrugated roofs at the bottom of the hill.
- This image doesn’t connect to your activity at all – none of your girls are in it, nor your youth club premises.
- Also, everything looks warm and exotic to a foreigner in the sun! Taking this picture in the rainy season, showing the water destroying the road, would be much more descriptive of the need.
How to use it:
- You could use this image with a caption, to explain, or better, alongside a picture of your youth club in action, to connect it to your project.
- This photo shows young women practising cookery. They look clean and professional – they are obviously taking the activity seriously, and so are you as youth workers.
- Only one of the girls is looking at the camera. The others look self-conscious and are obviously pretending to cook. They don’t look happy or natural, which isn’t the message you want to send about your youth club!
How to take a better photo:
- Explain to the youth club girls why you are taking photos and ask their permission.
- Tell a joke! Make the girls feel comfortable.
- Always take several photos of the same scene – hopefully one will turn out well!
- If the photos aren’t good, show the girls on your camera! They want to look good and will usually be happy to pose again, following your instructions, if you explain what you are looking for.
- This photo shows the neighbourhood over the school’s wall, but only slightly.
- You can see the schoolgirls, how they are friends, enjoying each other’s company.
- They have the opportunity to socialise in a lovely space, in contrast to their neighbourhood, and an escape from their many chores.
- The girls are almost invisible! What does this tell us about them? We cannot see their faces! It almost strips them of their individuality, as so many pictures of African women and girls do.
- It isn’t an artistic photo, and it wouldn’t be attractive to people on a website or in a brochure.
How to improve this:
- Get in closer – if the purpose of your photo is to show the girls together, make sure the whole photo consists of the girls. Show their faces and what they are doing.
- Make sure their faces are in focus, and the light is good – dark skin can be hard to photograph, and the girls deserve to look their best!
Learn from other African youth NGOs
Photos send different messages to different audiences. If you can, it’s worth showing a variety of pictures of your youth club to your stakeholders and getting some feedback. This way you can understand what message they are getting from your photos.
Look at what other NGOs doing similar types of youth projects are sharing, especially larger ones. They will have spent time and money to get the photos that appeal to their audiences, and it might be worth taking photos in a similar style.
You might also be interested in
- 7 Photo Tips For World-Changing Nonprofits | Global Giving (globalgiving.org)
- Nonprofit Photography: Ethics and Approaches | Storytelling (comnetwork.org)
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