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Storytelling — April 3, 2014 at 11:22 am

Dynamic Visuals Part 2: Working with Images


Now that you’ve gone through the brainstorming process, and you’ve nailed down some of the feelings and concepts around what your organization does into key words, you’re ready to start searching for images. This can be a time-consuming step, but finding the right image is key to the completed piece.

We’ll once again be using The Plenty Campaign as our example as we walk through each step, and will show the process we would take to create a simple image to share on social media.


Be patient and allow some time for this step — it can be time-consuming, and there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when finding images.


It’s important to be aware of the source of any images you use, and what the creator’s stipulations may be for useage. Pulling any image you find off of Google is, at best, poor etiquette, and at worst, could result in legal action. Read the fine print before proceeding!

Free (Public Domain or Creative Commons)


Use your brainstorm words

Help drive your searches by using — but not limiting yourself to — your key words that you uncovered in the brainstorming process. Remember, there are many ways to describe the same thing (here’s where is your friend!) and that searching image banks is also about figuring out how others would describe and tag an image.

Here are a few approaches to try:

  • Pair a subject word with a mood word: elderly + hopeful, elderly woman + proud
  • Pair a subject word with a context word: elderly + market, elderly + park bench
  • Pair subject word with an action word: elderly + smiling, elderly + shopping

While some of these words aren’t specifically what you may have brainstormed, they orbit around some of the key ideas and visuals, and are common enough to get some good results, but not so general as to come back with too many.

Create an Image Bank

Keeping a folder of useable images (ones with high enough resolution, that you can legally use) on your computer as you go along is key. Grab images even if you’re not totally sure they will work – once you get into laying type on the image, or cropping it to fit your medium, the image you have your heart set on might not actually work or be the wrong dimensions.

Analyzing Images

Practicing reading images in the social context they will be used, not just your own personal preference, will help you pinpoint subtle layers of meaning that can affect your message.


A few questions to ask yourself, keeping in mind the audience that will be seeing this:

  • Who is in the image? What is their body language?

  • Notice their age, race, gender, apparent economic status, geographic location – does this relate to your message or seem disjointed to it?

  • What associations might your audience have to the person depicted? How might the people the campaign is aimed at helping feel about being portrayed by the image?

Photography Styles

Taking into account the photography styles is important, too, as this helps create emotion and mood. Take the two examples above — on the surface, they are of the same subject — man and woman, around the same age, in both images they are smiling and facing directly towards the camera. However, the first looks quite staged, and has a very neutral colour palette, their clothes and hair are looking perfect. The second one has a warmer palette, and more natural expressions. The couple are not perfectly dressed and styled, and the setting feels more like we are in their home. Both images have their uses, however, the second might feel more appropriate for a community-based grassroots organization.


A few tips:

  1. Be wary of heavily-edited looking photos with faux-film filters (ahem, Instagram) or overly stylized colours. These filters, though pretty, are meant to look faux-vintage and nostalgic, which is likely not appropriate for what your organization is trying to accomplish.

  2. Consider using black and white photos — it is easier to have a consistent look, they are often timeless, and adding colourful type and other elements can help keep it looking fresh.

  3. Look for images with large areas of consistent colour that you can lay text over easily.

  4. Avoid the cliches! If you’ve seen it many times before, or is so general that it could be applied to any organization, it’s best to steer clear if you can.

  5. Pay attention to the size of the image — different places (Instagram, Facebook, etc) uses different dimensions – look for images around 500px wide or wider to start. See the supplement guide for more information at the end of the series.



image 3

An image’s meaning can be completely altered by changing the focus of the image. You can do this most effectively by cropping the image. Remember the dimensions of the medium you will be using (for this example, Facebook requires a minimum of 403px x 403px) and that you will need some space to place your text that doesn’t interfere with the main action of the photo. (Image via Flickr Creative Commons)


Here I’ve decided to focus in on the woman, but kept her off-centre. This creates a more interesting visual and allows space to add my text. The busy background is cut down to a minimum, the focus is clearer and the feeling more intimate.

Touching Up


Less is more when it comes to touching up – there’re a lot of filters, bells and whistles that are easy to get carried away with, which can leave your image looking overly-stylized. Some photos may not need any touching up. For this image, I increased the contrast slightly, sharpened the edges, and warmed up the tones a little using Photoshop. If you don’t have access to photo-editing software, there are some online tools such as PicMonkey that are free and quite easy to use, and you can do exactly what I just did within it. Just stay away from those airbrushing tools 🙂

Finding and editing photos will get easier the more you do it. A good way to start training your eye is to simply look at what other companies and organizations do. Notice the layouts and colours of the images, what works, and what doesn’t.

Next up will be adding your type to the image — we’ll provide some guidance on how to approach using fonts, resources to find them, and some inspiration links!


Next up, Part 3: Working with Type. And after that Part 4: Wrapping Up.

In case you missed it, here’s Part 1: Brainstorming & Planning.