About the Author

Who is Robyn
Robyn Braley is committed to helping Rotarians grow their clubs to become better equipped to help people who need help. He has led two club teams that were awarded RI PR Awards and served as the District 5360 PR Chair. He has been a Rotarian since 1999.

Rotary Speaker
Robyn draws from his experience as a Rotarian and as a Communications Professional to share ways to more effectively tell the Rotary story to your community. He starts by asking the questions, "Is your club ready to grow, and why does it matter?" The ultimate focus is on attracting new members.

He is available to speak at District Conferences and Rotary leadership training institutes. Content also applies to other not-for-profit organizations.

Free Content for #Rotary and NFP Use
Please use any posts for Rotary District or club Newsletters. Include the profile at the bottom of each article, Robyn's headshot and a link to this blogsite. Let him know and he'll promote it to his social media followers.

Contact him at robyn@unimarkcreative.com

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Photos That Tell Stories Are the Currency of Social Media and Online Marketing

Written by Robyn T. Braley

You’ve heard it a gazillion times, ‘A picture is worth 1,000 words.’ Well, it’s true!

Photos are a million-dollar aid for telling fascinating stories about life-altering projects that your service club has made possible. Photos are the currency of mainstream, online and social media communication.

Before going further, I must issue a disclaimer. I am not a professional photographer. I wouldn’t begin to try to explain the technical side of photography.

For my branding company's photography projects, we hire great shooters, provide creative direction and an outline of what we are looking for. Then, we get out of their way.

Amateurs Can Take Good Photos Too

As an encouragement for rank amateurs, I have taken photos with a $500 point-and-click camera that newspapers and automotive magazines around the world published. They accompanied a story I had placed about a client’s innovative automotive product, a catalytic converter.

The photo series was engaging. We placed a demonstration vehicle on a hill overlooking a dramatic cityscape. By pure dumb luck, there was a misty haze that made an air pollution statement. The catalytic converter had been invented to dramatically reduce emissions from diesel engines.

A creative idea trumped technical expertise.

I’ve seen great photos taken with a cell-phone and so have you. If you have an exceptional camera and have years of photography experience, so much the better. If you are a really bad photographer, you'll get better as you shoot more photos. This post is meant to encourage you to take the time to take story photos regardless of your level of expertise.

Photos speak directly to the heart and mind.

Story Photos

The team that returns from Guatemala where they built and installed wood stoves in the one room homes of the poorest of the poor can’t begin to tell the whole story without pictures. Only photos can capture the life-altering change that takes place in the lives of affected familites

Action shots of the mom and a Calgary Rotarian cooking the first meal on a newly installed stove is priceless. The mom no longer has to breathe in smoke while bending over an open cooking fire located in the middle of their kitchen/living area.

Neither does the tiny baby tied to her back. A simple stove eliminates life-threatening bronchial conditions for the mother and her child.  

Photos speak directly to the heart and mind. A good photo connects emotionally with viewers when they are exposed to images that tell a story. Great photos speak to the soul. They open a window into your brand.



A poor photo also speaks volumes. It may suggest that your club is casual in its approach to community service. Poorly composed, poorly lit, poorly staged photos that don’t tell stories make a statement that may be harmful to your club’s brand.

There are exceptions to the rule. The photo below was also shot in Guatemala by a Calgary Rotary team that had just installed the wood stove to the left.

Technically, it is a poor image. Look closely and you will see sunspots, dust granules and lighting issues. 

But the story behind the photo makes it irreplaceable. Terry Felton, the President (2017) of the Calgary West Rotary Club, is demonstrating his cell phone to the children. It is the first phone they have ever seen. 

The photographer caught a magical moment when the subjects were positioned perfectly. Most important, the looks on the children’s faces are - dare I repeat it - priceless.  

This picture has been used on our club website, in promotional powerpoints and even as a background image during a television interview about the work of Rotary.  

Click to See Project Photos Used with Media Stories

I love this slide. When I speak to Rotary Clubs or Leadership Training Assemblies about club branding, I always include it as an example of photos that tell stories. It features Rotarians doing polio vaccination around the world. 

The centre photo is of the Calgary West Club's Past President Gail Williams in action in Ethiopia. On the human side, if you look closely, you can see Gail's mouth is partially open. My family tells me I used to do this when trying to encourage reluctant grandsons to eat something they didn't want to eat. 

Creativity Please

As a marketer, it pains me to see a series of photos showing a new member induction, the President and a featured speaker, Rotarians filling hampers at the Foodbank or those engaged in a clean water project in a developing nation standing shoulder to shoulder while grinning at the camera.

When you put them in print, a PowerPoint show, a video,  or on your website, they all look the same. They have little story value except for the people who know the people in the photos. With a little thought and creativity regarding setup, each photo can tell a different story.

Creative Checklist 

  1. Stand back and look for different options, angles, and positions.
  2. Look for details. Is there a story within the story or a story in the background
  3. Never limit shooting to a single shot. Take 10-15 shots of each set-up
  4. Always think “story.”
  5. If a sequence, plan ‘beginning, middle and end" before starting to shoot.
  6. For action shots, ask subjects to repeat the task if necessary.

Photo Uses

  • PowerPoints
  • Websites
  • Videos
  • TV, Newspapers, Magazines 
  • Print material
  • Marketing material
  • Funding proposals

Photo Tips

Active service clubs often have a variety of projects happening at the same time that are independent of each other. A single club photographer couldn't possibly cover all of the events.

When members begin to think marketing, they develop an awareness of the story potential of their project and remember to take photos. 

Start with a written list of photo tips like those below.

Regularly remind members to take pictures whenever they are doing service projects.

Encourage them to try different creative options.

Don't let up.

You need only be concerned by what you see in the setup screen of your phone or camera. What may look uninteresting to the naked eye may be improved by simply moving the camera up, down or from a different angle. 

The photo of District 5360 Rotarians building homes in Mexico for the poorest of the poor shows the organized confusion that is part of any busy construction site. If you look closely you see different genders, ages and the engagement intensity of the volunteers.  

The beauty of digital cameras is that the cost of film is eliminated. It costs nothing to try another shot from a different perspective even if it turns out to be the wrong one. Simply press delete. 

Photo Archive

I was recently asked to do newspaper and TV interviews about the 50th anniversary of my club. I sent an emergency call out to members who had recently served in various international and local projects. Within hours I received more great photos than I could use. Voila! Instant photo archive. 

If you are serious about growing your club brand, you will need a steady diet of photos. Particularly for social media.

I recommend creating an archive that will be managed by a member of your club’s communications team. Creating an archive will make a variety of photos readily available for a variety of uses in growing your brand.

The engaging photo at right is of a girl's school in Malawi. How can you resist funding a program that brings such joy? Note the grass at the front provides room to add text.

Just having an archive will remind members to think “marketing.” Continually adding new images from a variety of sources will ensure that up-to-date pictures are available and easily accessible. 

To give access by various club users, store the archive in the cloud. Ensure that you receive permission to use them from the person who shot them and the people in the photos.  

To provide as many options as possible, ask for photos from each member of a team just returned from a project. For example, team members just returning from investigating micro-credit project in Asia will each have photos taken from different angles, subjects and creative approaches. When put together, they tell different parts of the same story.

Poor Quality Can't be Fixed

It is impossible to overcome a really bad photo with amazing design, a well-written description or photoshopping. Whatever you do, it will not make the photo better. 

Photoshopping is meant to make good photos better. They will be cleaner, sharper and be color corrected and more brilliant. It is not meant to “rescue” images that are out of focus, shot from the wrong angle, surrounded by clutter or poorly lit.

It takes much less time to take a good photo to begin with than to fix it later. 

Tech  Talk

Shoot photos at 300 - 600 DPI. When large file size is reduced, the quality remains crisp and clean. However, small file size cannot be enlarged without being distorted.

When you have large file sizes, you have end-use options. For example, print projects require larger file sizes than online use. I am aware of Districts that have purchased billboards as part of an awareness campaign. A 75 DPI file size won't cut it for those uses. 

Set-Up Tips

  1. Think focal point. What is the most important element in the photo 
  2. Make sure the principal point of interest is well positioned
  3. Explore different set-ups, heights and angles
  4. A compelling background like a building, sewing machine, workbench, crop, well or scapes like land, mountain, city, the sea will support the message
  5. Deliberately placing the background out of focus is a good way of preventing it from being distracting
  6. Use on a ladder or a stool to add energy to a static shot
  7. For headshots, place the subject 2-3 feet away from a wall or backdrop. Reduces shadows  
  8. Look behind, under, and around your subject to identify distractions and clutter 


  1. Use natural lighting if possible 
  2. Eliminate squinting or negative shadows. A slight turn may do it
  3. Move your subject to where it (they) will be lit in the best possible way
  4. Turn off the flash if it is not needed. If needed, beware of the tendency to produce harsh shadows and give flat surfaces a washed-out look

What do you think? Do you have photo ideas? What is your biggest photo problem? I want to hear from you. Please comment below. 

Robyn Braley is a brand specialist, professional speaker and writer. He is also a Rotarian who is passionate about Building the Rotary Brand. He often speaks at Rotary clubs, conferences and has delivered keynotes at leadership development assemblies. He has led two teams that received the Rotary International PR Award. He has also served as the PR Chair for District 5360. He currently serves on the District Membership Committee. 

Contact Robyn

Email: robyn@robyntbraley.com   Connect on LinkedIn Follow on Twitter: @rtbraley_rotary 

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