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Things to consider when taking photographs of community service work

People: The most compelling storytelling will focus on people. Even if you are in a beautiful environment most of the time you want to focus on the people involved in or benefiting from your community service. 

  • Posed Photos: This is good when you want to capture the whole work group, for presenting an award, a graduation or things like this. If it’s a posed photo try to get everyone to look at the camera; if people are looking in different directions this can be distracting to the viewer
  • Candid photos: When the subjects in your photo are doing something other than being photographed. This is the best way to show community service in action.

Subject: Determine what your subject is and be thoughtful about what else is in the frame. What do you want your viewers to see? If you are engaged in a large event you can find a particular part that you want to capture in your photo. Think of how the image can tell the story of your community service work. 

Lighting: It’s standard practice for light to be coming from behind the photographer so subjects are have adequate light. If the light source is behind the subject of your photo they will be silhouetted and the viewer will not be able to see the subject or their activity. Oftentimes taking photos outside will give you the best light quality, especially at times when the light isn’t too harsh. If you are inside see if you can take a photo next to a window. 

Take more than one photo: You’ll improve your chances of getting a wonderful photo that captures the essence of your program or event.


  • While framing a shot break, draw two imaginary vertical and horizontal lines across the photo to create a grid. You want to place the most important subject(s) at one of the four intersections of those lines.  This is called the rule of 3rds that many photographers use as a good guideline to follow instead of just placing your subject dead center by default.

  • Is the horizon straight? Typically for a photograph to be used in any formal context it needs to be straight. Oftentimes with group selfies the whole image will be at an angle and can not be used in most communication platforms.

  • The position of people in the shot: Do they have a lamp post or a tree growing out of the top of their head? Have you chopped heads, feet, arms, or legs off?

  • Look at the edges of the photo; are you cutting something off, or is something just barely fitting into the photo?

  • Think about the background behind the subject. Does it add to the photo or is it too complicated? 

  • If you want to improve your photo because any of the areas mentioned above are not working try to change your position or angle relative to the subject. Move closer or farther away. When composing, consider the direction your subject is moving in or facing and give it extra space over there. If you frame it so there’s nowhere left for your subject to move except out of the frame, it can create an unnatural feeling for the viewer.


Fill your frame: Get close enough to the focus or subject of your photos to fill your frame. If you are too far away you will lose some of the more compelling details of your photograph. If you can get in closer you can really show your audience what is happening (There are always exceptions to the rule). 

Ethics: Photos of people who are vulnerable are to be taken with particular care, compassion and protection of privacy. We have an obligation and an opportunity to change and improve the portrayal of people in difficult circumstances, and your photos can play a huge role in that. One guideline to use when taking photos of your community service is to ask yourself, “Would I be happy to be portrayed this way?”