A picture is worth a thousand words, and it can also be worth a couple hundred dollars. In today's world, however, you cannot afford not to have good images on your website and in your print materials.
Here are some pros and cons of both in-house photography and stock images and some suggestions as to how to get the best out of both.
Costs less but requires staff time. A staff member will be familiar with the organization’s programs and people, but he or she may not have good photography skills. This not only requires having a good camera and knowing how to use it, even a cell phone camera, but how to assess the light and how to compose a photo. A bad photograph is worse than having no photograph at all.
Stock and Professional Photography
Cost. This is the biggest obstacle. Having a professional photographer come in every time you’re putting out your newsletter is not financially realistic. Stock photography is cheaper, but it often looks like stock photography. This is especially true with people who undoubtedly don’t look like YOUR people. Also remember that if you can buy the image easily, so can many others. There is nothing more frustrating than to put a stock image on the cover of your annual report only to find that your competitor is using the same image! Stock photography gets around.
What You Can Do
Think About What You Need
Take a look at your outreach channels, print and digital. What kind of images do you need? Big beautiful images that tell a story about your work? Images that illustrate your programs? Small photos of staff, volunteers, program participants? Photos of events? Some photographs can be used more than once, for example individual staff photos or interior shots of your office.
Consider what the image is going to be used for. If it is for print, the image should be of a high enough resolution to print well. This might require a chat with your printer or designer, but generally the photo size should be 300 dpi at the size you would like to use it. Taking an image from a website or the Internet usually won’t be of sufficient resolution to be used in a print publication and is considered stealing. A photograph that has been shot for print can be optimized for the web, which requires a lower resolution, usually between 72 and 120 DPI.
If you are going to have an event, think about what photos will be good to have afterwards. Assign a staff person to take photos or hire a professional to be at the event. If a program is going to launch a new initiative, think about what images might go along with this launch. For print and e-newsletters, don’t wait until two days before these publications go into production. Make an outline of the content and then start gathering the images while the text is being worked on.
Build a Library
Set up a library of images that the staff and a graphic designer (if you use one) can have access to, but be discerning. Don’t just lob any old photograph in the folder. Choose the best and organize them!
Hire a Professional for a Special Purpose
As mentioned above there are times, like special events, when hiring a professional is worth every penny. A local professional may be willing to work with you at a special rate if they believe in your mission or is guaranteed a certain amount of future work. DON’T assume, however, he or she would be willing to work for free in exchange for the exposure. This is rare and yes, the photographer does do this to earn a living. If they are being compensated and know you value their work, they will be more willing to go the extra mile for you. Be sure to explain what you are looking for and describe your publication. If you work with a graphic designer, consider putting he or she together with the photographer to plan out the photo shoot. Also, be sure you understand the terms of the photographer’s fees.
Find the Staff/Volunteer Talent and Train Them
If there is someone on your staff or a volunteer who is especially skilled at photography, use them! Be conscious of their time and be specific about what you are looking for. It is also cost effective to pay a local professional to conduct a 2 or 3 hour training workshop for staff, which will greatly improve the quality of photos.
Use Stock Photography Creatively
When you purchase a stock image it is usually for a ONE TIME use and you aren’t allowed to share the image with other people or use it over and over again unless you purchase an extended license. Check the license agreement carefully. Be careful how you share your files. Try to find images that you think look like real people, not models. Use small photographs of things that represent your organization, like dogs and cats for a humane society or food for a foodbank, as spot images.