Photography & Charities: How images play an important part in connecting with your audience

During a podcast interview, I spoke to my good friend, Julie Christie, who is not only an amazing photographer but also a teacher of photography. She gave some great pointers on how to take fantastic images using only your phone! (If you would prefer to listen to the interview, click here.)

Julie has been teaching photography in person at her photography workshops for over four years now and has evolved her business to take it online to help a wider audience.  All the content that she delivers via her workshops has now been put into online courses and a soon to be launched membership site for business photographers, which is really exciting!

To find out more about Julie and what she does please check out

So here’s what Julie has to say:

Images are hugely important and if you are involved in the charity sector, images couldn’t be more important.  We are all so busy these days – everyone is zooming around at a hundred miles an hour and it’s hard to consume content now. There’s just so much of it and it takes a lot of our time. Images take no time. You get an immediate impact from looking at an image and it only takes a split-second. That’s hugely powerful.

For charities, images allow you to connect with your audience and can help to humanise your organisation. If we share images, especially of the people we are helping and the people who are doing the helping, then we’re humanising that for people. We’re making it real and people can make that connection even though they’ve never actually met you.

When you see an image that you emotionally connect with, it makes such a difference and can stay with you all day.

Do images have to be of a professional standard?

Absolutely not!

Let’s look at ‘Humans of New York‘ – these images are often NOT wonderfully groundbreaking or award winning. Most of them look like a simple phone image.  Yet, the reason they are so powerful, the reason they get shared hundreds of thousands of times around the world and the reason they get millions of likes is because they have a story – and people love a story.

An image needs a story, and a story needs an image.

Humans of New York

The two of them go together and when they do it is dynamite. With social media as it is now, it’s so easy to get your images out there. You can really connect with people on a very, very deep level.

Perhaps you are not sharing enough images, and when you do share your images, you are not thinking enough about the images you’re going to share. People often make the mistake that they have to go and get stock images or professional images taken and because of that, it means they don’t share as many.

So, how do we overcome this?  

Firstly, take more pictures. There’s nothing that helps you more than practice. Simply, take photographs more regularly even if they are not going anywhere or being used. Just take lots and lots of photographs because the more you take the better you will become.  We need to get out of the mindset that all images have to be of a professional standard. Because of the rise in stock imagery, I believe that people are becoming immune to these professional polished looking images, especially when used on several different sites. You just blend into the noise if you’re using stock images.

Stock Images

The trap that many people fall into is that they save up some money, hire a professional for a photo shoot, use those images for three years and then hire another professional, use the next set images for another three years and then they don’t have any impact! We need to get out of that mindset and we need to empower ourselves to take our own photographs. And obviously, we can’t all afford to hire a photographer to take our own branded images either.

Use your smartphone – and take your time!

Here is a little secret for you – the smartphone that you have on you now, and we all have our phones 24/7,  well that phone has a really great camera!


So, if you are using your phone, my number one tip would be to take your time. Don’t rush in for a shot. I’m not talking about 15 minutes to plan one image, just take 30 – 60 seconds to have a look around, look where the light is coming from and look at whether you have enough light. Don’t be scared to ask people to move, and don’t be scared to take control of a situation and say “I’m going to take this photograph. If you can all be patient with me, I’m going to move you over here. We’re going to use this light here. This is the best light…”

Take your time. Take a step back, compose the shot well and make sure you’re being very steady.

Use the light to your advantage

All too often I see people just flip their phone, their hand is moving all over the place and they just want to take the shot and get it over with as quickly as possible.  You have to remember that people want to look good, so they don’t mind if you take your time. Take a look at the whole scene, and make sure that you use the light that is there.  How often do you see people turning their back to windows and taking a photograph, as in this example below?Bad Light

If you’re indoors and there’s light coming from a window then that is where your subjects should be facing. It is as simple as that – where is the sun, or where is the window, or where is the gap in the trees, and you turn your subjects towards that light so that they are going to be bathed in it.

Success comes with practice

good window light

Look at the light, where is it coming from? Turn your subjects towards that light, be very, very still when you’re taking the photograph and take lots and lots of them. Communicate with people, you need to speak to them and let them know what you want from them because people feel awkward when you don’t tell them what to do. When they feel awkward that’s when they start to talk, and when people talk and you’re taking photographs of them they don’t look good.  Also, just take a moment to look for distractions. Is there anything behind the scene that’s going to be messy and noisy?

What do we do with all these photos

So now we have mastered taking photos but we don’t take them off the phone. We don’t do anything with them. Probably because we have so many to look through, then we might need to re-size them and how do we get them online? It all just seems like such a hassle. Maybe you took some, but maybe someone else took some too, and how do you get them all together?

Have an image strategy

I think that a way to combat this is to have an image strategy. I think it’s important enough that it has its own policy. Train your staff in imagery, not just the taking the photographs but what you do with them afterwards. I think the easiest way to do that is to host a little workshop where you just talk about how to take a decent photograph with your phone and how to use image apps to enhance those images.  Then make it one person’s responsibility to do all the gathering, organising, uploading and branding – this becomes their role.

Give someone the role of collating and organising the images

Perhaps look for volunteers who are interested in photography. That could really help your organisation.  Look for a willing volunteer to take over the role of ‘Image Coordinator’.  Have a target of the number of images you want to share per week. As long as there’s a nice variety and you’re meeting that target then I think it could be a hugely powerful thing.

Play around with your images to make them more attractive

You might want to enhance your images and you don’t need an app to do that. This is all built into phones these days. You can lighten the shadows, you can darken your image down if you need to, you can add filters to make the image more attractive. These things are all at your fingertips.

I think that’s why perhaps spending half a day within your organisation and share the knowledge you all have. For example, “I have a really good app that I use” or “This is what I do to crop my images”.  You could also use online apps such as WordSwag or Canva that are quite popular.


With Canva you can upload images that you’ve got from stock sites if you like, but you can also upload your own images and then put text over it. You can brand it and it can look really quite professional.

Don’t forget to get consent

You should also have consent from anyone that you take photographs of, especially if you’re going to be sharing them. Online or in your literature you should have written consent. Just a simple consent form to say that they are happy for the images to be used would suffice.

So, if you take lots of images and share lots of images – real, in the moment images, who wins in the end? Is it the organisation who pay thousands of pounds a year to have professional photo shoots done or is it the organisation that empowers themselves to take the photos themselves and upload fresh images that are connecting with their audience every day and showing them their human side.

Julie Christie

Would you like more helpful tips like these for your charity?  Download Social Good HQ FREE E-book.