Image of a group of people taking pictures with cellphones.

Pictures of You

Photography in Digital Storytelling

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Posted: Jun 8, 2015

Increasingly, photography is becoming an integral part of all things digital. Posts with photos on social media continue to perform better on channels like Facebook and Twitter than any other type of post. Emerging channels like Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine are exclusively catering to photo and video fans. Websites are starting to act more like portfolios. Messages alone no longer cut it when it comes to storytelling—to get eyes and attention, you must think about how you’re telling visually the story, in addition to the overall narrative. That can be hard for people who may not consider themselves “creative” people.

So, how can you improve the quality of your digital storytelling with photography in a way that’s authentic and professional, even if you’re not a professional photographer? Well, it’ll take practice and a little education, but, fortunately, there are a lot of tools and tips out there to help you do just that.

Step 1: Be a better photographer

Most of us have a pretty darn good camera on our person all day, every day—our phones. Especially newer models, phones these days are fairly high quality and produce amazing images that are easily editable. There are some tricks and tips you can use to elevate your mobile photography, like changing your perspective, getting close to your subject, taking the time to be thoughtful about composition of your shot, and finding the right lighting. I’m not necessarily a photography pro, so I’ll let the pros do the talking with these various resources:

Many of these tips are rooted in classic photography principles and are true regardless of whether you’re using a DSLR or a mobile device. Often, you just need to capture as much as you can, and then use great editing to make sure you’ve got the right shot. Just like writing a report or a blog piece—a lot of the important work done to make an image stand out is done in editing.

Step 2: Use photo editing and filtering tools

You’ll always want to make sure you’ve captured everything you can. Think you’re done photographing an event or a space? Plan on shooting another 10 photos. You can never have too much content to pick from. A large sampling of images can give you a way to tell your story through a wide variety of perspectives and angles.

Editing is extremely important and can help take a mediocre image and turn it into something impressive. It certainly won’t completely transform a bad image, so you should always focus on the fundamentals of taking better photos. That said, nowadays, photo-editing tools are better—and more affordable—than ever.

Here are just a few of the great photo tools that are worth checking out and making a part of your repertoire include:

  • Adobe Lightroom: This is the tool for photographers. It doesn’t have the full power of Photoshop, but it can help manage exposure, discoloration, and beyond. It can also help you quickly harness and edit large batches of photos more easily, so you can determine which is the right photo to tell your story. You can download a free 30-day trial before you buy at their website.
  • VSCO App: Available for mobile devices (you can also purchase VSCO filters for Lightroom), VSCO is like a beefed up Instagram when it comes to photo refinement and editing. You can add stylish filters, make tweaks to the light balance and exposure, adjust contrast or sharpen an image. Subtle tweaks to photos can go a long way from making your photo just look like any old iPhone photo to something more stylish and polished.
  • Pic Stitch: Ever wonder how you can create a tiled collage photo effect? Pic Stitch is the tool for you!
  • Over: An inexpensive app that lets you add art, text, and various photo elements over photos to give a quick designed look and polish.

Alternatively: I will never be a photographer; what are my options?

If step one and two are a no go, what can you do to pump up the imagery a little? There are plenty of options related to photo services and stock content that communicators can use to bolster their storytelling efforts.

Stock photos can be great to give your digital assets much needed polish and professionalism, but watch out for making people feel disconnected from the work you’re doing day-to-day. The images you select should enhance your story in an authentic way, not feel tone deaf.

Here are some handy resources and tools for existing photography resources across the web:

  • Unsplash: Every 10 days Unsplash releases 10 high resolution photos that are free to use.
  • Canva: A free photo editing resource, with stock photos, to customize and tailor content for everything from your digital site to your blog to Facebook cover photos.
  • Creative Commons: Many photographers provide open access and rights to use their images under Creative Commons. Get familiar with the search functionality and license restrictions, and a whole world of images open up.
  • Gratisography: Another collection of free, high quality images available for use.
  • Creative Market: Like Etsy for creative assets, Creative Market allows small independent artists sell photos, fonts, and graphics very inexpensively.

When considering stock photography—or really any kind of photography—make sure you’re using and applying styles consistently. Photography can tell a powerful brand story over time, but if the styles vary too widely it can sometimes do more harm than good. It’s always a good idea to put together some brand guidelines for your department or team that guides the treatment and application of photography. Not sure what brand guidelines are? You canview a few examples from the world’s top brands. Still have questions? I’m always available to help.

This article was previously posted on ELGL, where you can find Kim Ervin's monthly column, Digital Storytelling.

Image Credit: Raffaele Esposito | CC BY 2.0.

Twitter: @kimervin
Kim Ervin is Pyramid’s Senior Social Media Strategist. She develops social media strategies and campaigns which aim to deepen connections between organizations and their communities. When not sharing the ins and outs of social media management, Kim is likely reading and researching ways to change the world on multiple screens. You can connect with her on Twitter @KimErvin.