Create & use images

A Satirical cartoon e-card by Sokwanele about the Zimbabwean elections 2008.

Images make your advocacy messages more immediate and compelling, whether you are using journalism, blog posts, websites, guerilla marketing, posters, brochures or email.This section will show you how to find, create, edit and share images, with an emphasis on photographs, comics, maps and simple animations.The power of images is explored further throughout Message in-a-box, in the sections covering Print (Read more), Internet (Read more), and video (Read more).

What do you need?

It's essential to have ideas, creativity, imagination and a strategy. In addition, it can be useful to have: people to help, internet access, a camera (mobile phone or stand-alone), and sources of images online or in books, comics, or cartoons (already existing or commissioned by you).

Where can you get images?

As well as showing you how to create images yourself, this section tells you how to find useful copyright-free images on the internet.

What about copyright?

Many images that already exist are copyrighted, and if you want to use them you'll need to contact the owner of the copyright and get their permission, and possibly pay them. See Consider copyright in the Strategy section for more on copyright and Open Content licensing. Copyright as it applies to images is also discussed in this section (click here for more information).

Where can you use images?

Once you have your images ready you can use them in many contexts:

  •  Publications - in magazines, newsletters, brochures, posters, reports
  •  Online - in email campaigns, websites, blogs, e-print brochures, e-books
  •  Video - as still images in a video production. A video can be made entirely from still images, which is particularly helpful when you are using archive material.
  •  Photo activism - encouraging the grassroots collection and sharing of images.
  •  Guerilla marketing - powerful images are particularly succinct, and therefore lend themselves to unconventional tactics.

How can you use images?

Use images of people to give your campaigns a personal touch. Images could help introduce members or supporters of your organisation to people who see your publication.

Use images to complement testimonials: photos of the work that you do and the people who have been affected by it can enhance written messages of success and support.

You could also make an entire campaign focussed on one image or on a series of strong images. A good photo, a witty cartoon or an informative visual can have the power to engage your audience and energise your campaign. Whether you want to shock people, wake them up, amuse them or inform them, a picture really can be worth a thousand words.

Screenshot of photo-mural I want 2 go home
An image from the campaigning website I want to go home, highlighting the plight of the Kgeikani Kweni. 


Illustrations, cartoons & photographs

Illustrations and cartoons have been used for centuries to communicate ideas, to explain issues quickly and clearly, for political satire and to increase the visual impact of a message. Many such images can be reproduced clearly online and in print: a line drawing can be photocopied or printed using one colour of ink. Remember, the simplest cartoons are often the best.

How to find illustrations & cartoons

  •  Ask someone to draw them or to let you use one that they've already drawn.
  •  Search Google Images. Use 'cartoon' or 'illustration' as your search terms
  •  Try dedicated sites such as Cartoonstock as well as image-sharing sites such as Flickr that also host illustrations, cartoons and other forms of graphic art.
  •  Collect illustrations from magazines and newspapers, or by photographing posters.
  •  Make your own images.
  •  Ask your supporters to suggest good resources 

Tips for taking photographs

When taking photos for your advocacy work, it is important to go back to your message, goals and objectives and then think about the sort of images you could use to get these across. There are various approaches to taking pictures: you can capture a scene as events unfold, or you can plan an image by making formal decisions about things like lighting, framing, subjects and background. Below are some basic guidelines for taking photographs, to be applied where relevant; they are 'rules to be broken' as you experiment with what works best for you.

Eye-to-eye – When photographing people, consider taking the photos from the eye level of your subjects. This can make the photo feel as engaging and personal as the real-life experience.

Compose with care – Decide what you are really interested in and centre your efforts on getting the best possible photo of this subject, whether it is a person, scenery or an object. When taking portraits of people a plain background is usually better. Make sure no poles or other objects appear to grow out of the head of your subject. At times you will want want to include the background to show context. Make clear decisions about what you are including in each photo and what you leave out.

Photo by Andrea Willmore

Move in close – Look into your viewfinder and fill the picture area with the subject you are photographing. A shot from close up can feel personal and intimate and reveal interesting details. Having your subject almost fill the frame can also help your viewer understand and appreciate your photo.

The rule of thirds – The 'rule of thirds' is worth remembering. Imagine lines are drawn which divide your subject into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You then centre important elements of your composition where these lines intersect. The middle of the picture is not the best place for your main subject (whether the subject is a landscape,person or object), because this is distracting to the eye. Place the subject to the left or right of the centre.

Make the most of light - Next to the subject, good light is the most important element for photography. If it's overcast, try keeping the sky out of your pictures as much as possible. Also try to avoid taking photos at midday when the sun is directly above you; morning and late afternoon light tend to give better results. Experiment by moving around (both you and the subject) to find the angle that gives the best light – if you have a digital camera, you can take test photos to check this.

Plan your picture - If you are shooting a portrait, plan to arrive at a time of day when you know the light is likely to be good. Find the best place and lighting setup for your photo before you meet your 'subject', if possible. Shooting in a light room means there will be light reflected off the walls which may enhance your image.

Control the flash - Experiment with taking photographs with the flash turned off, especially when you are indoors and using a good digital camera. Over-using the flash can create glare on your subjects and flatten the colours. Watch out for the unattractive red-eye when photographing people with the flash and if you have a camera setting to prevent this, use it. On very low light days you can try using your flash outdoors when your subject is close enough.

Practical help with creating images

Images in a digital format are easy to distribute widely. Digital images can come from:

  •  A mobile phone camera or stand-alone digital camera
  •  A shared online source
  •  An analogue image (for example, a printed photo or transparency), that has been scanned or digitally photographed

Once you have got an image from one of the above sources into your computer, you will need the following:

  •  Photo editing software such as GIMP to process the images (Read more).
  •  Desktop publishing tools such as Scribus or Inkscape (Read more) or web-design software such as KompoZer or WordPress to incorporate the images into your media project (Read more)
  •  People with basic computer skills to help  Internet access in order to download, share and upload images
  •  A printer, or access to suitable printers for a fee 

GIMP is a powerful tool for composing and creating images. Using GIMP, you can:

  •  Create graphics and logos
  •  Resize and crop photos, retouch photos
  •  Combine images
  •  Remove unwanted image features
  •  Convert images into different digital formats
  •  Create animated images
  •  Prepare images for use on websites

Using mobile phone cameras

In order to assess the quality of a mobile phone camera you need to know how many mega-pixels the camera function offers. The more mega-pixels a photo taken with mobile phone camera contains, the better the resolution. A two mega-pixel camera will allow you to take a photo which will make a fair-to-good quality (150 pixels/inch) print at 8” by 10”. A three or four mega-pixel camera on your phone will significantly improve the image quality.

Most cameras on mobile phones will allow you to take pictures of good enough quality to use in screen format on a blog or a website if you are intending to use small images. Before you use the camera for anything significant, it's a good idea to do some test shots and transfer them to the format you are planning to use.

For more information about getting mobile phone photos off your camera and using them, see the Mobiles section or see our Mobiles in-a-box toolkit.

Printing images

If your images are to be printed, you need to pay attention to image resolution (the number of printed dots per inch, or DPI) and size. If your images are in colour, you should find out whether you will be separating the colours into RGB (red-green-blue) or CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black); these are two different ways of separating the colours in an image in order to reproduce them accurately. It's important to get this right, as it will effect the quality and look of the images.

Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black are the four colours of ink used to print a colour image on paper. Each one absorbs part of the light reflected from the page, using what is called a subtractive process. If you are printing an image with a professional printer, they may ask for the images in CMYK format. Red-Green-Blue is used to reproduce colour on computer monitors or TVs. RGB adds red, green and blue light to a black background and so is called an additive process.

Don’t assume your image will look the same in print as on a screen. There is always some difference between the way an image looks on a computer screen and how it looks when it is printed, especially in the rendition of colour.

Make sure you lay out your work at the right size if you’re planning to get the publication done by a printer. This helps to ensure that the text and images will look as you intended them to. For books, be sure to take the spine-size into account. A hard-bound book has rigid covers, and the place where the stitching that holds the pages together meets the cover is called the spine.

Whether you decide to use images or not also depends on what images are available, and on whether they suit the format you plan to publish in. Consider the size, colour, type of paper and the equipment your your publication will be printed on. Ask yourself whether adding images will cause delays or increase the costs.