Tips for taking better pictures: Telling a story

In NGO photography, your goal is most likely going to be to share about your programmes and the communities in which you work. To do this, you should approach taking photographs as if you are telling a story. Take several different photographs of the same situation so they can be combined to tell a story about a particular situation.


  1. The establishing shot. A wide picture of the scene, which explains where the story is taking place.

  2. The action shot. Shows what an organisation is doing to help, and the action should be obvious. Show a sense of urgency if appropriate, although remember to respect your subject’s integrity. Don’t reinforce stereotypes.

  3. The relationship shot. Show people interacting with each other and capture the emotion between them.

  4. Emotions. Emotions in a photograph will prompt emotion and empathy in the viewer. Match the mood of the photograph with the mood of the story, whether happy, hopeful, or tense.

  5. Portraits. Show the key people in your story with a portrait. Portraits are essential for success stories and case studies. Keep it simple, and either choose to focus in close on the subject or place the subject in their environment.

  6. Details. Details of people’s lives can make powerful and interesting photographs, just be careful to ensure the camera is not too close that the object goes out of focus.

  7. Captions. Remember to take detailed notes about your subject, so that you can write detailed and truthful captions later that tell the viewer the below information:
    • WHO is in the photo
    • WHERE the photo was taken
    • WHAT is happening in the photo
    • WHEN it was taken
    • WHY the picture is important
    • A quote from the person

* Adapted from the Save the Children Photography Field Guide

Jenn Warren specialises in photography, communications, Communications for Development (C4D) and graphic design for humanitarian and development clients. Jenn has worked for a wide range of government, donor, UN and NGO clients. Her photography and writing has been published internationally.