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How to stop overusing the same 3 images

09.01.19

Great photos are a key part of any charity’s communications strategy, but the best ones are often overused – how does that harm your engagement with supporters, and how can you prevent it? Here’s my top 5 tips for not overusing images in your charity’s online communications!

Great images haven’t been a ‘nice to have’ for a long time.

…instead they’re now a key component of a successful digital strategy…but they’re often the thing that gets put on the back burner for charities until a dire need arises (like, until you need them for that big fundraising campaign, or the dreaded Annual Review deadline starts to sneak up on you…yep, been there!)

Shot at Koakaka Coffee Cooperative for The Challenges Group

A quick story: I once noticed that one of my former charities (who I still loved and supported on social media) was using imagery that I had bought from a stock image site years after I had bought it. Years!! And I felt for them, because it’s easy, when you feel the crunch of a stacked schedule, to think ‘this works’, but how many of us would be guilty of skipping over that post in our Twitter or newsfeed if we had seen the picture several times? Would we look again to see if the message has changed, or just assume we ‘know’ what that tweet/insta post/facebook message is about? Raising my hand right now, because that would be my assumption straight away.

So if we want our supporters (and potential new donors!) to connect with our work, and most importantly, or messages, then we need to get them to slow that scroll. And one of the best ways to do that is with great, fresh, photography.

So here’s a few of my best tips on how to stop overusing images:

1) Build photography into your budget/production schedule

The week before a big event isn’t the time to think about photography. Nope! The key time is to build it into your yearly forecasting.

Not sure how to forecast where you’ll need the images? Go through your last Annual Review and circle the items that you either a) needed a better image for, b) for which you didn’t have any images at all, and c) where the image really made the article or statistic pop out at you. Take that list into your brainstorming and planning meetings to keep in mind when you’re coming up with great new ways to reach your audiences. For every BIG campaign, there are two great opportunities to bring in a photographer: while creating the collateral to launch the campaign, and a few weeks after the campaign is underway, so that you can share the outcome visually with your supporters. Work on encouraging non-comms teams to consider the photo-ops in their work so that it starts to become second nature to them too.

2) Create Photography Champions within your teams

Let’s be realistic: while professional photographers are the key to the hero shots you need for campaigns and big events, they’re unlikely to fit into the budget at every turn. What you need instead, is to pinpoint a key person in each team who you can turn into a Photography Champion for their team’s work.

The key to making a Photography Champion really helpful is to invest time and energy into their training – note I didn’t say ‘money’. Paying a professional to come in and train your team is ideal, but not strictly necessary. I’m a self-taught photographer: it can be done!

There’s plenty of youtube tutorials and photography websites that can help you and your team up their photography game for free, it just takes a little effort and time. It also helps to know where to start, and because this is such a big thing, several of my upcoming newsletters are going to feature key training tips to help you!

Three weavers at a Go Kigali-supported co-operative share a joke while they work

3) Work with local educational institutions

While I’d always advise hiring an established professional for the really important campaigns or events, here’s a way you can help a new photographer build their portfolio while boosting your photography stores: look for local colleges and universities with photography courses and outreach to the class conveners to see if any students would be interested in doing a free shoot in order to build their portfolios up.

You’ll hopefully get some good social media shots, and the student will get great practice and exposure from your crediting their work on your channels. (NB: take care not to exploit this resource – if you establish a great relationship with a young photographer, please pay them when you can!)

4) Visually plan your content

Sometimes the overuse of images doesn’t come from a huge dearth of photos, but from the way we plan our content. Ideally, depending on the size of your organization, you want to be working 2-3 months ahead with images and text drafted in advance (with placeholders for anything that is ‘on the day’ messaging, such as at events or fundraiser content, which need to be more spontaneous).

You may already be using tools like Buffer or Hootsuite to do this, but for a more visual overview, have a look at Planoly or UNUM. (Here’s a great article comparing four different grid-planning apps). They’re intended for planning instagram grids, but they make it easy to visually plan your content, and to better understand where you’re overusing the same two or three images. Give it a shot – you may be surprised at which images are the repeat offenders!

A mother at a community meeting in Rwanda tends to her playing baby
A mother at a community meeting in Bugogo, Rulindo, brings her curious baby back to her side.

5) Stock imagery…but make it good

I’m not a huge fan of stock imagery for organisations, but sometimes there’s little other option. So, check out these stock images sites for images that can fill a content space in a pinch and perhaps resonate a little more with your supporters than your standard stock image:

These sites are good in a pinch, but the better thing is to build ‘stock imagery’ into any photo shoots you schedule as you go through the year. As part of your photographer’s brief, give them a list of content that you regularly promote that you always need refreshed images for (e.g. your charity’s helpline, or fellowship applications, or a more abstract/overarching concept like ‘internet safety’ etc), so that they can keep an eye out for those extra ‘context’ or detail-focused shots that might help you fill the “stock imagery” coffers.

but the better thing is to build ‘stock imagery’ into any photo shoots you schedule as you go through the year. As part of your photographer’s brief, give them a list of content that you regularly promote that you always need refreshed images for (e.g. your charity’s helpline, or fellowship applications, or a more abstract/overarching concept like ‘internet safety’ etc), so that they can keep an eye out for those extra ‘context’ or detail-focused shots that might help you fill the “stock imagery” coffers.


These are my top 5 tips for making the most of your photography stores, and not overusing the same images! Did I miss anything out? I’m always curious to hear, so leave a message below, or join in the conversation over on my Instagram page – thanks for reading!

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