How to Make a Photo Essay for Your Nonprofit

How to make a photo essay

Photo essays seem like a daunting undertaking accomplished only by the massively creative unicorns living in our midst. They’re popular among the New York Times and Times of the world. However, you can easily learn how to make a photo essay, too. If done well, a photo essay can put a picture to your purpose and create a personal and emotional experience for your website visitors.

Previously, we talked about the benefits of a photo essay on your nonprofit’s website. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty process of how to make a photo essay and look at examples along the way. Let’s get started!

Find a Photographer

Before you do anything else, make sure you have a talented someone willing and able to take these awesome photographs. This someone can be a volunteer, staff member, or a professional photographer. Have someone in mind? Great!

Decide on a Message

What do you want to say with this photo essay? The message should be related to your nonprofit’s mission and vision. A good message has the capacity to invoke an emotional response to viewers.

Make a Game Plan

Pinpoint a subject or group of subjects to photograph. Action is great for photo essays, so it’s best if your subjects are doing something. Coordinate a time and place that works for the photographer as well as those being photographed. A photo essay does not need to be done in a day (although it definitely can be). Be sure to let your photographer know the more photos to choose from, the better.

Choose Your Photos

This is where the creative juices really start to flow. All of the photos should address the same message. As you’re choosing which photos to include, keep your core message in mind. Which photos best convey that message? Consider your audience as well, and choose photos that they’ll connect with emotionally. The photo essay tells a story, so be sure to arrange your photos in an order that makes sense for the story.

Charity: Water photo essay

In this photo essay, Charity: Water tells the story of a school in Nepal that needs access to clean water and receives it. Each photo drives home their message: Everyone should have clean water. Whatever your message is, make sure it hits home in every photo you choose.

Include a Variety of Shots

Varying ranges and angles will add some depth to the photo essay. Wide shots set the scene, giving the viewer an idea of the location and who is involved. Medium shots are usually action- oriented. They give the viewer a better idea of what’s going on. Close-up shots are often among the strongest. They are intimate, focusing on one subject in a tight portrait. Detail shots can be integral to setting the scene. Often, these shots are a close-up of someone’s hands performing an action.

Team Rubicon Photo Essay

Team Rubicon uses photo essays on their “Story of Team Rubicon” page. They start out with a wide shot, then medium, detail, and close-up. The variation keeps the photos visually interesting, while sticking to the same message in every photo.

Format Your Photos

For a slideshow setup, keep all your photos the same size. Additionally, if you decide to include a border, it should be the same on every photo. A border is not necessary, but it can be useful in certain instances. Write a caption for each photo with a simple explanation of what is going on in the photo.

New York Times Photo Essay

This New York Times photo essay on refugees uses a border on each of the portraits. The border ties together each of the portraits, taken at different times and in different countries. This method humanizes the crisis by photographing the refugees outside of the refugee camp, so they can be seen as dignified human beings.

Briefly Set the Scene

Your introduction should be short and informative. You definitely want to let your photos tell the story, so only include information that the average visitor would not be able to glean from the photo itself or the caption.

Conclude with a Call to Action

Include the call to action at the end of the photo essay. Appealing for support makes sense after you’ve given your visitors a chance to learn your mission through a photo essay.

So now you know how to make a photo essay for your nonprofit, and you’ve seen some stellar examples. Include your new photo essay on your website. Visitors will have a clear image of who they are helping and will be more likely to turn their emotional connection into support for your nonprofit.

Does your nonprofit use photo essays? Have any other tips on how to make a photo essay? Let us know in the comments below.