The Use of Photography in Advancing Human Rights

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Wednesday, June 24, 2015 to Friday, June 26, 2015
Conversation type: 

Summary available

For brief overview of the topic, read our blog post, 10 Best Practices for NGOs to Consider When Working with Photographers and Photography.

Photography is a powerful tool that can create awareness and effect change. The visual narrative created through photographs can move individuals to a place and understanding of people, geographies, and events that would otherwise be impossible. Used as a tool to document, educate, move, and inform, photographs have the ability to be a powerful resource in the efforts of human rights practitioners when used effectively and ethically.

New Tactics in Human Rights through its online conversation, The Use of Photography in Advancing Human Rights discusses how human rights organizations can utilize photography to tell a story, examine the best practices for the ethical use of photography, and outline how to work with photographers in the field for optimal outcomes.

Tactical examples shared

Photography as a Visual Narrative

It is important to maintain the integrity of the photographs, the metadata and the hardware used for taking the photographs as these will be subject to scrutiny. For the purpose of using photos as evidence, it is essential that RAW files are produced to withstand investigation. For images intended for publication, adjustments such as ‘toning’ are common.

Hiring an experienced photographer is important as knowing what to shoot to create a visual narrative is a skill developed by experience. Placing stories is equally important as developing stories for organizations seeking to bring important stories to the public arena. To capture the best images, the photographer ought to be given informed freedom.  Organizations are encouraged to be flexible in respect of this to produce better results for all. Compelling photographs have resulted in legislative action (Vlad Sokhin’s photo essay, “Crying Meri: Violence Against Women in Papua New Guinea). It is also important for organizations to work together and share outstanding photographs to build community support to leverage and push for legislative action, and also as a platform/advocacy tool to galvanize action.

Editing and sequencing are important as it affects the efficacy of the photographs. Framing the issue intended to be highlighted is also important. At times, re-framing the issues is necessary to make it more public friendly.

Ethical Considerations

Participants to the conversation discussed that human rights photography need not be impartial, however it has to be honest. Photographers should not alter the conditions under which they operate but navigate them with respect. If at all, any influence a photographer might have on their surroundings must be exerted after first building some sort of relationship and understanding with their subjects. There should be empathy for the subject.

The best human rights images are made by photographers who are passionately engaged and committed to present the truth as best they can. Generally, in the context of human rights, the audience tend to favor the same side as the photographer and exhibiting organization.

Best Practices Working with Photographers and Photography

An organization's approach to their field work  is reflected in the way in which they hire and work with media makers. Organizations should trust and give the photographer informed freedom to present the truth in its best possible form. Organizations should give photographers the liberty to ask questions, pursue curiosity, and respond positively to stories that defy conventional wisdom. This sometimes uncovers human issues that would otherwise normally go unnoticed.

At times, the experience of the photographer as a storyteller is not always recognized. The best use of photography in advocacy campaigns comes when a multi-disciplined team is working together - research, campaign, communications , media and the photographer.  A photographer who understands the issues and the goals of the non-governmental organization stands in a better position to present photos to advance the cause of the organization. Photography is currently being utilized more in  research as photos are being used as visual evidence to support text based reports. (

Negotiating security parameters are tricky for photographers as most freelance photographers cannot afford the type of serious, reliable insurance that covers them for injury to life and limb in hostile environments. However there have been instances that  important images are taken in areas that are out of the security parameters imposed. It is also important for organizations to remunerate photographers accordingly



Photo © 2014 Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi

Conversation Leaders

Pamela Blotner's picture
Pamela Blotner
Independent Artist/Curator
David.FotoEvidence's picture
David Stuart
Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi's picture
Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi
Smita Sharma's picture
Smita Sharma
TylerJessThompson's picture
Tyler Jess Thompson
United for a Free Syria
Claire Dillon's picture
Claire Dillon
ART WORKS Projects
Pete Muller's picture
Peter Muller
photographer & researcher
moscarpelli's picture
Mo Scarpelli
Rake Films
Leora Kahn's picture
Leora Kahn
PROOF:Media for Social Justice
Discussion topic Replies Last postsort ascending
Hot topic Photography as Visual Narrative 27
by Diana Zeyneb Al...
Fri, 06/26/2015 - 10:06pm
Normal topic Ethical Considerations 8
by Pamela Blotner
Thu, 06/25/2015 - 6:07pm
Normal topic Best Practices for Working with Photographers & Photography 10
by Tausif Shaikh
Sun, 09/22/2019 - 2:04am