How to improve your photography: telling Rotary’s story in pictures

Rotarians and Rotaractors plant mangrove trees at Bonefish Pond National Park in Nassau.

By Alyce Henson, Rotary International staff photographer

Over the last year, I have worked on a few assignments highlighting club projects in Nassau, Bahamas, and Seattle, Washington, USA. Each project demonstrates how Rotarians take action to solve problems in their own communities. These type of projects translate well into visual storytelling content.

My approach to photography remains consistent with the Rotary brand: I strive to make authentic images that represent the values and personality of Rotary. Because of this, I am able to create appealing images that tell a bigger story – one that reflects the projects and people who make the world a better place.

Using photography to tell a story can become complex and challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. By following a few guidelines, having a focused mindset, and applying a bit of confidence, you can take great pictures with less intimidation. Below are some photo tips based on recent images I took in Nassau and Seattle. Try these, and you might be surprised what you can capture.

If you see a great moment happening naturally don’t be afraid to ask people to continue doing the action that caught your eye in the first place. In this case, I saw these two Rotarians passing a seed pod to one another. I asked them to pass it back and forth a few times and to look at each other. It only took an extra minute or two to get a successful image. I was at a great vantage point that had plenty of empty space around the exchange between the two women, which met the needs of a brand image I was working on.

When people are wearing hats, especially baseball caps, it is important that you capture their face in the photo. This image would not have been successful if the man in the red shirt was looking down and his face was covered by the visor of the cap. When people wear caps, ask them to tip it up a little or take it off entirely if you can’t get their face in the shot. This image ended up being cropped to a vertical image for the final ad. That worked because there is enough room around the image to crop it to a different orientation. I can’t stress enough the importance of having empty space!

Capture volunteers having a good time. Often, people who are working and focused have a serious look on their face. A serious look can be mistaken for anger or not enjoying what they are doing. A few things I do to lighten the mood is talk to people while I am photographing. I might say things to get them to laugh, look at each other, or engage in a conversation. In this photo the two women saw a fellow club member approaching the scene. I asked that Rotarian to stay on the sideline to talk and joke around with the women as I was photographing them. That way the person remains off camera but enhances the mood of the people on camera.

Words and logos on clothing and hats can be challenging! Make sure people only wear Rotary branded clothing and not that of any other company or organization. Don’t have everyone at the project wear the exact same branded shirt either. Everyone doesn’t have to match. Mix it up with neutral color clothing, small pops of color and shirts with small patterns, along with some Rotary shirts and caps.

Often, Rotarians are working outside in bright sunlight, wearing sunglasses for protection. Ask your subjects to take off their sunglasses for a few minutes while you photograph them. If someone is very sensitive to light, have the main person in action take off their sunglasses. We want to be able to see the eyes of the main subjects when we look at images, not have them hidden behind sunglasses or under hats.

Words of encouragement:

Our photography focuses on the connections we make in our communities. Our images should tell a genuine visual story. Capturing compelling images is one of the most important and universal ways to tell our story.

Use the photography section of the People of Action Style Guide (available on the Brand Center) for help taking pictures for your People of Action campaign materials. Becoming familiar with and applying these guidelines will set your club up for greater success and create continuity for our brand, no matter what part of the world our campaign is seen. Whether you take the pictures yourself or hire a photographer, this guide will help you take photos that are ideal for creating an effective, memorable image or ad.

37 thoughts on “How to improve your photography: telling Rotary’s story in pictures

  1. Pingback: Our top stories of 2018 | Rotary Voices

  2. Pingback: How to improve your photography: telling Rotary’s story in pictures – Rotary Club of Ginninderra

  3. Pingback: How to improve your photography: telling Rotary’s story in pictures | Assistant Public Image Coordinator Günes Ertas

  4. Hi
    Good information for our Rotary future future Rotarians
    Inspired by this action thank you for your wonderful tips
    DLCC- RID 2982


  5. One of the most boring of photographs is the presenting of a cheque… no one wants to see this repeating on Facebook pages . Always choose another aspect eg. the speaker chatting to your president, just an informal portrait of the speaker and a few lines about what they do and why you as a club decided to back their charity. Keep Facebook reports interesting , informative, fun and informal.


  6. Very educative article. I’ve already shared it with our district’s PR team (District 9102) and will share with my club as well. I have passion for photography and love to take action photos; not group photos. I will be sharing some of my pictures through the email addresses you provided in the comments above.
    Keep up the great work you’re doing.


    • Hi Eli. Nice pics. And congrats on the sweet project. Good to see the involvement of your Club Members.
      Only next time try and not use the Burst Shot mode on your camera. Too many similar pics
      I wish you’d included a few pics of kids playing in the playground. Always great to see a project being used by its beneficiaries. Looking forward to many more projects in the future.


    • Excellent thoughts and ideas. Please advise the judges for RI’s Photo Contest to place more emphasis on Rotary projects and Rotarians.

      Ron Nethercutt, former photographer for Philippine Rotary magazine


    • Thanks! Anytime Chris! I love to share knowledge, experience, and tips on photography, especially as it relates to RI’s brand!


  7. Pingback: Rotary District 9675 – Rotary Club of Ginninderra

  8. I have seen Ms Alyce Henson in action since COL 2010.A great photographer who can bring dynamism in a still. Very useful tips.
    Most of us take photographs standing with a beneficiary or group photo in a project site.
    This article will be helpful to all Rotarians.


    • Thanks S.R. Yogananda! I’m glad you found this article to be helpful. Please feel free to share it with others! I will be at the COL in 2019. Hope to see you there.


  9. Good information on active photos of Rotarians at work. I wish Rotary International would utilize more Rotarians and their projects in the RI Annual Pholo Contest. We see wonderful photos, but
    little Rotary activity.


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