The Challenge of Humanitarian Photography Part 3 – Building and Maintaining Brand


The third major challenge in humanitarian photography is building or maintaining an organizational brand. Honestly this is more of a concern for the organization than the photographer, but it needs to be a consideration for the photographer as they prepare for the assignment as well.

It all comes down to consistency. As a non profit your audience needs to recognize media and stories created by your organization. There are many things that can affect whether or not people recognize a piece as yours:

  • Color palatte (editing, color grading)
  • Visual perspective
  • Voice
  • The brand language included in the story

Some of these are obviously the responsibility of the photographer to understand and control like color grading and visual perspective. While the others, the voice the story is relayed in and the brand language may fall on someone else.

Increasingly it is becoming the job of the photographer to not only capture the photos but to also produce the written story that accompanies the images. In which case the photographer is responsible for understanding all four of these factors that relate to the organizations brand.

Photographers are constantly told to create a recognizable look or brand for their images, often this includes a signature color grade and perspective that the photographer is partial to.

While I cannot argue with the need to build a signature brand as a photographer I feel that personal brand, especially in relation to color palatte and grade has no place in photography produced for humanitarian organizations, unless of course the photographer can guarantee that he or she will always be there to make any image that the organization needs.

Non profits get a lot of offers from volunteer photographers that want a chance to see new places, do a little good and build a portfolio of images. When each one of these photographers is trying to build a unique brand the organizations brand suffers. It becomes checkerboard of constantly changing colors, ideas and perspectives that leave their audience confused and eventually uninterested. The changes in brand and feel allow the audience to focus on the aesthetics of the images and how they feel about the current iteration compared to the previous instead of focusing on the story and message being shared.

Because of the way non profit organizations function and their need for consistency I am a big proponent of using a straight color palate for all communications media. It allows the organization to maintain a consistent brand no matter who creates the media.  In order to do this every organization should have a media policy and brand guide that communicates with potential creators what is expected of them.

For photographers and filmmakers preparing for these assignments it is very important to understand the language that the organization uses to describe their work and how you can incorporate that into any writing or film that you are creating.

To be successful in creating media for organizations we have to be responsible for much more than capturing an image or filming an event. We need to understand the brand of the organization and be able to interpret it and bring it to life through the stories we are telling.

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