Using the right images to tell visual stories about reproductive health and rights

January 13, 2014

Here at Resource Media, we’ve worked hard to tease out universal best practices for visual storytelling. Last December, the universality of some of those tips was put to the test during a presentation to international experts on reproductive health and rights. (Thanks to Pathfinder International and Marie Stopes International for sponsoring the event, and inviting Resource Media to participate!)

These are the folks who deliver services on the ground in some of the world’s poorest nations, and they had some great questions about visual storytelling. We’re happy to share those key questions, and our answers, to help you tell your stories through the universal language of images.

Q: We’re all looking for the “holy grail” picture that will tell our entire story in a single image. But we just can’t seem to find it. We don’t want to be inauthentic and pose a picture, and we don’t have the resources to spend endless hours waiting for just the right shot. Any tips for solving this problem?

A: While a picture can truly be worth a thousand words, you won’t always be lucky enough to find just one photo that encompasses the right thousand words! So you’ve got a couple of options:

  1. Think about adding a little text to the image to add context or clarity. Text over photo images are among the most-shared content on social media.
  2. If you have a series of images that together tell a complete story, consider creating a very short slide show. There are a number of easy-to-use programs now that make it extremely easy to whip up, and share, a slide show.
  3. Don’t give up. Make the best use of the photos you have now, of course, but also make sure your folks in the field continue to take pictures – and shoot video – of their work and the people they encounter. The next set of images they send you could provide a perspective even you didn’t expect – and tell a brand new story.

Q: With so many people in other nations now wearing cast-off clothing from Western nations, how can we ensure that our audiences recognize that they’re seeing pictures from, say, Southeast Asia or Sub-Saharan Africa?

A: The so-called “rule of thirds” – which suggests placing the subject of your photo to the side of the frame, rather than in the center like a mug shot – doesn’t just make for prettier pictures. It also forces you to include some of the subject’s surroundings in the picture. Including more background provides much-needed context for the story you want your images to tell. After all, you wouldn’t tell a story without providing a setting!

Q: When we take photos of teenage mothers, or people with HIV, there’s often an automatic assumption that these people did something wrong, and that’s why they ended up in this situation. Can photos help us dispel the stigma of these conditions?

A: Absolutely! The trick is to ensure that your subjects look just like everyone else – that they look like people your audience would be happy to bump into in the normal course of their day. Once you’ve established visually that your subjects are “just like you and me,” your audience will be predisposed to think kindly of them. Then, when you surprise them in your text with the news that that young woman has HIV, or had a baby while she was still a teen, your audience will experience surprise – and surprise is one of the best ways to make an impact on your audience, and get them to remember your messages.

Images truly are a universal language!

Cat Lazaroff

Image: Shutterstock/Lucian Coman