At Sulaymaniyah bazaar by Heber Vega
abril 28, 2011

Photographers – How to work with NGOs?

At Sulaymaniyah bazaar by Heber Vega
© Heber Vega | At Sulaymaniyah bazaar, Iraq. One of the last antique cleaners.

In my first day of blogging again I got two interesting emails, one about some images I had taken at local universities in Iraq and the other one about questions on how photographers can/should work with NGOs. I was planning to write something else for today, but it will have to wait, as I think these are important questions to share and discuss. It will be great if you can add your thoughts or experience on top of what I have answered below. That will help with this project.

Please take my answers with a grain of salt, because they’re only my opinion and I don’t have a PhD on this issue (not yet though ;-)).

I’m not going to reveal the name of the person who wrote that email to me, but I’m going to show you an extract it:

“In my final project, I have decided to go in a strange direction. I am going to be focusing on how professional photographers help and aid NGO’s. Because of my budget, I am sticking close to home, in Cape Town. I am researching how photographers go into NGO’s and take photos, thinking that they are helping but ending up not really grasping the feel or idea of the NGO and not really being able to deliver the right photos.
Things like the attitude of photographers or NGO’s have a huge affect on the photos. Also, being overconfident can ruin a relationship, from the sides of both parties. But, at the same time, researching the effects of right attitudes, ideas and heart can go a long way.
I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for my project.”

Here are the questions:

1. How can a photographer impact an NGO with their skills?

I’d say you could make an impact with NGOs, but go beyond your skills (assuming you know how to use your camera) with your own vision as a photographer. What I mean by this, is that there are many photographers that can get a good shot, a well done photograph of that x NGO project, but what can really set you apart from the rest is your inner vision. The why you do the things you do. Examples are your approach, your way of treating your subjects, etc.

Photographers that have worked on social projects are better suitable for NGOs, as they know how those things work. They have been there before. They understand the challenges for NGOs. So when you add to that a passion, for let’s say, humanitarian issues, then you have a plus for that NGO.
Why? because you both are on the same boat.

2. What do you think are the negative and positive experiences that NGO’s have had with photographers?

Usually miscommunication, not understanding of what to expect on the job, limited budget, and zero art direction from the NGO on the shoot are usually the negative side of things. The positive experiences relating to photographers, are that take more than photos, they try to understand the NGO’s need and at the end they come up with advice into how to use those images and other “consulting” practices. They become a consultant instead of just a photographer. They share their knowledge and art in the job.

3. What have been some Issues that you have had with NGO’s?

I think I pretty much answered that in the last question.

4. What are the expectations of an NGO with a photographer?

Really, unless it is a very important (large) NGO, with experience in these types of jobs, most of the NGOs don’t know exactly what to expect from a photographer. They don’t know the way photographers work and usually they don’t usually know what to do with the images taken for the job. Some of them come with a clear idea of some photographs they may want, but they don’t realize that a photographer can sometimes assist them with a better way of portraying the subjects or need.

5. What are the photographer’s expectations for NGO’s?

Well, to help to arrange the vast array of details that are part of a shoot. Have clear communication. Respect the value of the images by respecting the rights and copyrights of them. The clearer the vision of the NGO, the easier the job for the photographer.

6. What are the biggest mistakes a photographer can make?

Not investing time in understanding their client’s need. Not being respectful. Not having sensitivity for cultures and the differences that may arise on the job. Not being flexible or easygoing with things.

7. Do photographer’s attitudes affect their photos?

It depends. I’ve seen great photos from not nice photographers. I think the problem is more about getting hired again by the same people, about trust and building relationships. For sure you will miss other pending shoots if you have problems with your attitude. The nice, kind photographer get those shoots again and again, and every time with a better/deeper impact on their subjects.

8. What are the mistakes you have made?

Uff. Many of the things I have mentioned already.

9. What key points should a photographer take into consideration before agreeing to assist a NGO?

Starting with, “Who pays what?” and going until, “Who gets the future rights of the photographs?” and so on. It’s like a normal contract, – you need to think that unthinkable things may happen. Because of this, you have to revise a couple times. You learn with time and you can always update your contracts ;-).

Matt Welsh 20:17 abril 28, 2011 Responder
This post is spot on. Great answers to good questions!
heber vega 00:59 abril 30, 2011 Responder
Thanks Matt. Glad you found it useful.
Magda Rakita 01:02 mayo 4, 2011 Responder
Extremely well covered and thought trough piece Heber! Congratulations!
Magda Rakita 01:05 mayo 4, 2011 Responder
trough* =through apologies for typo!
    heber vega 21:38 mayo 5, 2011 Responder
    ;-). Thanks Magda!
Elly Abels 12:28 agosto 5, 2012 Responder
what a useful article. Thanks!
    Heber Vega 21:14 agosto 5, 2012 Responder
    Thanks Elly. I think the issue of how photographers should work with NGOs, deserve a very long discussion. I hope this is a starting point for some.
Dibin Jos 08:50 febrero 24, 2014 Responder
Hi my Name is Dibin Jos n Am a PHOTOGRAPHER So I want to be a part of NGO

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