Back to Blog
Share on:
  • Branding
  • Branding

Taking Care of Your Visual Brand Part 3: Photos, Icons, and Other Stuff

By Nick Pascuzzi

Avatar for Nick Pascuzzi

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is a phrase that’s almost as cliché as most stock photography, but it’s true. Imagery is critical in conveying your nonprofit’s brand and can make a difference in compelling a potential supporter to take action. The wrong imagery can also annoy or confuse your visitors, ultimately affecting your brand’s value.

Selecting assets like photography and video or creating graphics and iconography should be an important element in planning your brand strategy. If you’ve spent effort and money to create an identity, don’t let your imagery fall to the wayside. The process can be overwhelming, but if you’re considering imagery in your next project, here are some things to consider:

Obtaining Imagery: Stock or Photographer?

This is the age-old question asked by countless nonprofits considering professional photography or video for an upcoming project. A hired professional can truly capture the essence of your organization’s brand, but can also come with a price tag. Stock subscriptions are usually suited for a smaller budget, but you have to spend time searching through pages and pages of garbage for the right photo. What should you do?

Hiring a professional

I recommend hiring a professional for one main reason: authenticity. If you’ve hired a good photographer or videographer, not only can they capture “the true you,” but they can also elevate the value of your brand through creative shots or editing techniques.

Will it be expensive? It might be, depending on your budget and the rate of local photographers, but you will be paying for quality and authenticity. In other words, I think it’s money well spent. To ensure you get the right photographer for the job, do your research beforehand and carefully review their portfolios. Look at their images…can you picture your brand?

Taking the Stock Route

If hiring a professional isn’t feasible or if you’re only looking for a small amount of imagery, you might want to consider stock photography or video. You’ll find that pricing varies – some have pay-as-you-go plans, some have subscription plans. You’ll also find that some sites feature premium imagery that has a premium price.

Be prepared to put in a good amount of time searching for the right images with the right amount of authenticity. Not all stock imagery is created equal, but with a little research you’ll find the right images and pricing option that fits best with your budget.

Can’t I just get photos for free or use photos from Google?

Do not pluck photos from Google Images. Repeat after me: I WILL NOT PLUCK PHOTOS FROM GOOGLE IMAGES. These are typically copyrighted and you can get into some legal trouble if you get caught using these. Google Images is a great place to start to find inspiration, but that’s where it should end. There are free stock photo sites available that might get you by in a pinch, but you’re a professional organization — my advice would be to go the professional route.

Selecting Images

When browsing the stock image sites (or even the portfolios of potential professionals), here are some ideas to keep in mind:

Search for authenticity. Do the people in the photo represent our demographic? Does the body language of the subjects look natural or staged? Does the emotion look forced? Is the environment of the photo similar to that of your organization?

Mood and emotion: Does the photo convey the right emotion? Are the subjects happy, sad, confused, excited? Again, does body language look natural?

Conceptualization: Does the photo simply make sense? Is it relevant to the concept you’re trying to convey?

Pay attention to composition: What’s the main focus or subject of the image? Where does your eye go first? What’s happening in the background?

Avoid Cliché photos

You’ve seen them before: the image of “SUCCESS” spelled out on a Scrabble board, smartly dressed business people standing around pointing at things, the young man or woman sitting behind a computer wearing a headset. Unless you’re a call center, an organization that points at things, or a nonprofit that manufactures Scrabble pieces, avoid using photos like these. They’re extremely common, a bit cliché, and go against any effort to be authentic and unique. Instead of using images of chess pieces to convey strategy, for example, use an actual photo of your organization’s strategy meeting or one of your strategic initiatives in action.

Be Consistent in Style

There are countless styles out there for you to consider: black and white, gritty and earthy, clean-cut and corporate. Whatever you choose, be sure that you maintain the same art direction throughout your projects.

Iconography and graphics

Photos are great for supporting content, but sometimes they can be too much or even not enough to get your point across. This is where icons and other simple graphics can step in to help convey an idea or explain a concept.

While the types, styles, and uses of the elements are extremely broad subjects to cover, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Keep graphics simple and to the point – They’re meant to help illustrate your point, not make it more confusing. A good way to test your graphics is to see if it is clear to someone outside of your organization.

Use icons sparingly – Icons are a great way to illustrate a few key points that you’re trying to convey. Too many featured points will bog down your messaging. If you feature everything, you feature nothing.

Keep style consistent – Whatever graphic style you choose, keep it consistent throughout your project.