Quality Photography Isn’t Just for Big Budget Campaigns

A Guest Post By Emma MacKenzie, American University Graduate Student & PR Expanded Blog Contest Winner

High-quality images are key to most marketing and communications campaigns, but it can be expensive to hire photographers. How can a small organization with limited resources produce quality images? This was a question I had to answer at a very small nonprofit in rural Uganda where the annual operating budget for my department was about $10,000.00.

For me, the only answer to this question was to be the organization’s official photographer. My pictures were used in our social media, on our website, and in promotional materials sent to donors. I had to bring my A-game and produce pictures as close to professional quality as I could. I did this using three key elements: good equipment, education, and editing software. These elements came together in four quick tips that I used as a photographer.

This image has been taken and edited to focus your eye on the child’s face. Edited with Snapseed. Image Credit: Emma MacKenzie, Nikon DSLR


The right camera can make a world of difference, especially for someone who has limited experience with photography. A good quality DSLR camera can be very expensive, but if your organization needs to have a constant flow of pictures, consider it an investment. If you take proper care of a DSLR camera it will last for years.

Currently, the most popular companies are Canon and Nikon, where a DSLR camera will cost between $400-$3,000. If your organization only needs a camera once a year, try renting equipment from a local camera shop.

Nikon D90 DSLR camera with a macro lens attached and an 18-105mm lens on the left. iPhone 7s in front. Image Credit: Emma MacKenzie, iPhone 8+

Your phone is another piece of photography equipment to choose wisely. Phone cameras are always improving with each new release and if you know how to use different functions on your camera app you can take truly beautiful pictures and videos with something you already own. This is especially helpful with the rise of Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Instagram Stories, and SnapChat.

Editing Tools

Editing is what takes a single picture from ho-hum to stunning. Adobe Photoshop is the big name when it comes to photo editing software, but it can be expensive for a small company.

Photoshop was designed with professional photographers in mind and can be daunting to a beginner. I took an introductory course on how to use Photoshop and it only scratched the surface of what the program can do. If your organization is able to cover the cost of photoshop I would highly recommend taking some classes on how to use this software.

In 2007 Adobe launched new software called Lightroom which offers editing and cloud storage at a much lower rate. They also have an app so you can switch from editing on your computer to your smartphone with ease and for only $9.99/month – which includes one terabyte of cloud storage.

Snapseed is Google’s answer to Lightroom and for the low, low price of free! It allows you to make edits or add filters to your pictures all from your smartphone. This is very helpful if you are taking the pictures on your phone and uploading them directly to social media. It is currently only available as a mobile app.

Quick Tips

Practice is what will ultimately make you a better photographer. By practicing in your spare time you will begin to learn how to work with light, picture composition, and angles. It is how I picked up my top four tips for a better picture.

Rule of Thirds: imagine you are dividing your image with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines all equally spaced apart. Line up the focal point of your picture along one of those lines. This makes the image asymmetrical and, as a result, more appealing to the eye. Below you can see that the palm tree aligns with the left vertical line and the right third of the picture is left empty.

Image Credit: Emma MacKenzie, iPhone 6s

Brightness + Contrast + Sharpen: when I need to do a quick edit to a picture I only touch these three tools in my editing software. A light touch on all three goes a long way to making a picture more vibrant.

Step away from the light: try not to take pictures in direct sunlight, the result can be very harsh or overexposed. Try to find some shade where you get a soft light.

The woman who is in focus of this image is under a porch roof so she is lit by natural, indirect sunlight. Everyone behind her is inside with low lighting that creates a natural vignette effect. Image Credit: Emma MacKenzie, Nikon DSLR

Don’t Zoom on your phone: while cameras on phones are improving, the zoom functions have their limits. The more you zoom, the more it lowers the quality of the image. If you need to zoom, try to get a telephoto clip-on lens attachments from a company like Olloclip

Achieving quality images is attainable for smaller organizations, it just takes a little research, finding the right products, and practicing. I managed to go from a leisure photographer to an in-house photographer for an NGO in the course of one year. By following the strategies listed above you can also develop your own photography skills to help your organization succeed!

I started with one DSLR camera with one lens and an Olloclip for my iPhone 6s. I have since added to my camera bag by upgrading my phone to an iPhone 8+ and purchasing a macro lens for my DSLR, a tripod, a studio lightbox, and a ring light. These are new tools and skills I can now take with me to my next role.

Emma MacKenzie is a graduate student at American University in Washington, DC.

Featured Image Credit: By Christian Wiediger on Unsplash