How to Get Great Images Online For Charities And Not-For-Profits

A great website needs lots of images to show off your work to the world. Yet when you work with vulnerable user groups, issues such as confidentiality and identification are important issues.

While some clients should not be pictured online, a site without images of people can look dull and corporate. People make an organisation appear personal, friendly and approachable and they are the best way to show the world your fantastic work.

For many organisations and charities operating in the Third Sector, there are issues around publishing images online of vulnerable and young people. As your primary concern, they must be comfortable with your use of imagery and give permission for their use. This is not a ‘legal’ requirement, simply one of good practise. In the UK it is legal to publish any picture taken from public land online regardless of agreement from the person photographed.

Here are some tips on ways to get some good images on your site.

  • Be proud of your organisation’s work and recognise your website is an essential part of showcasing your work. Potential users, grant organisations, funding bodies and referral services will all view your site. It needs to look active, up to date and welcoming.
  • Images are essential to tell those stories. Every time you report some information or news, aim to have an image to accompany the post.
  • Many organisations have become extremely nervous about taking photos and putting them on the Internet. Just remember photos of people accessing services are not banned, exploitative or inherently wrong. In fact, they can be a force for good, breaking down taboos and removing the fear or mystique some people may feel around particular issues, disabilities or care giving.
  • Do not be overprotective. We live in a more open and inclusive world with image sharing a common activity in social media with all ages. You are asking people to illustrate your organisation, often a charity, not appear in a tabloid paper. Many of your service users will be supportive of your work and be happy to help. Some will feel pleased to be asked and involved and will enjoy seeing themselves online.
  • Using real people on your website will make it personal and powerful. Images posed by models in stock shots online can look dull, corporate and alienating. It will make your website a turn-off and instantly lose viewers.
  • Some of your users and potential service users may have literacy or language issues. Images are essential to show your work and can be helpful for people who may be nervous in approaching you.

Consent issues

  • Draw up a image agreement for all service users to sign. Consent forms should be as clear as possible for everyone, and should include photo symbols for people with learning disabilities. Make sure that people are well-informed about how (and where) the photograph will be used – if it’s for online use, you should say this clearly.
  • When working with young or vulnerable adults always ask a parent or guardian for permission to take photos. On occasions, it may be necessary to take photos and then show them to parents and carers afterwards. Be prepared to delete the images if asked – or more likely, send a copy to the carer too who will enjoy seeing the activities you do.
  • When taking images of adults who may be considered vulnerable, always talk to them in advance of taking photos, explain how the images will be used and ensure they are in agreement. If in any doubt, do not publish images which could identify them individually online.
  • Under English law, copyright in a photograph will always belong to the photographer in question unless that photographer has made other arrangements or takes it as part of their duties as an employee. If using a professional photographer, discuss who will own copyright after the images have been taken.
  • Consent is particularly important when people are clearly recognisable in the photograph. Large crowds at events are considered to be public areas, so you don’t need individual consent for photos of crowds (but you could check with anyone in the foreground).

Get the photo habit

  • Get into the habit of taking photos of your organisation’s daily work and special events.
  • Nominate a member of staff to be responsible each time you have an event to take photos. Invest in an office digital camera.
  • Give power to your staff to enable them to upload images which they may take during their course of work. Do not make it so bogged-down in policy that no-one dares take an image of anyone.

Tricks to hide identities

If you still want to protect users identities but illustrate your work, there are some tricks.

  • Take side or back angles of people in your work space. Take photos over the shoulder of a user as they take part or join in with the activities.
  • Show a staff member talking to someone with their face to the camera and the user with their back to the camera.
  • Take still images of objects which illustrate your work. For example, if you provide lunch, images of your kitchen, hands preparing a meal or handing over a plate could illustrate the work, give personality but keep confidentiality.
  • You could use Photoshop techniques to disguise the user such as changing hair colour or subtly changing their features.
  • Slightly blur faces to protect identity. This would work well at a social event or large group activity – it can look odd if just one person or a few in a shot.
  • It is good practice for your readers to give names to the people in your images. However on some occasions, it may be better to not identify users in a caption or just use their first name. Be careful of giving too much information which would identify a person’s routine or where they live.
  • If you’re unsure about a particular image, ask your colleagues for their response to it. If you don’t feel confident using the image, don’t publish it.


By Caroline Sutton