Improve Photography for Social Impact: 10 Ways
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Capture the human element
  2. Use contrast for emphasizing the subject
  3. Focus on the eyes in portraits
  4. Tell a story through your photos
  5. Pay attention to composition
  6. Use the rule of thirds
  7. Experiment with perspective
  8. Use lighting to your advantage
  9. Play with depth of field
  10. Edit your photos for maximum impact

If you've ever wondered how to improve photography for social impact, you're in the right place. Photography is more than just snapping a pretty picture; it's a powerful tool that can instigate change, inspire action, and tell compelling stories that resonate with people. This blog will guide you through 10 ways to enhance your photography skills and create images that can make a real difference in the world. So, grab your camera and let's dive right into it.

Capture the Human Element

People connect with people. That's a simple fact. So, when it comes to creating impactful photography, capturing the human element can be a game-changer. It's about more than just taking a portrait—it's about encapsulating the emotion, the struggle, the joy, the resilience in your subject's face and body language. Here's how you can do this:

  • Look for Emotion: Emotion is a universal language. A picture of a person laughing, crying, or even deep in thought can evoke powerful feelings in those who view your photos. So, try to capture these raw, genuine moments.
  • Include Context: The surroundings can add so much depth to your photo. A picture of a child studying, for instance, is made all the more powerful if you include their humble, makeshift study area in the background. It tells a story about their determination and resilience.
  • Be Patient: Great photos often come from unexpected moments. Wait for these moments. You might catch a person's eyes light up as they talk about their passion or see a subtle, heartwarming interaction between two people.

Remember, when you're trying to improve photography for social impact, it's not about making the subject look good—it's about making the viewer feel something. And there’s no better way to do that than by capturing the human element in your photos.

Use Contrast for Emphasizing the Subject

In your journey to improve photography for social impact, mastering the art of using contrast can be your secret weapon. Contrast, in photography, refers to the difference between the light and dark areas in a photo. It can be used to draw attention to your subject, create drama, and add depth to your images. Here's how you can effectively use contrast in your photography:

  • Light and Shadow: Play with light and shadow to highlight your subject. A subject standing in a beam of light with shadows around them can instantly become the main focus of the image. It's a simple yet powerful way to emphasize what matters in your photo.
  • Color Contrast: Color contrast can also be a great way to emphasize your subject. A brightly colored subject against a muted background, or vice versa, can make your subject really pop.
  • Contrast in Textures: A smooth subject against a rough background, or a rough subject against a smooth background, can create an interesting visual contrast. It's all about creating a difference that catches the eye.

Using contrast is a nuanced skill that can really set your photos apart and draw your viewer's attention to what you want to show them. It's a valuable tool in your arsenal when you're figuring out how to improve photography for social impact.

Focus on the Eyes in Portraits

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. In photography, this couldn't be more true. Focusing on the eyes in portrait photography can convey the subject's emotions and experiences, which can be incredibly powerful in social impact photography.

But how can you make sure the eyes in your photos really stand out? Here are a few tips:

  • Use Autofocus: Most cameras have an autofocus feature that you can use to ensure the eyes of your subject are sharp and clear. This can make a big difference in making the eyes the focal point of your image.
  • Position the Eyes: The position of the eyes in the frame can also have a significant impact. Try placing the subject's eyes in the upper third of the frame. This can create a captivating image that draws the viewer in.
  • Play with Lighting: Lighting can play a crucial role in highlighting the eyes. A catchlight, a light source that causes a specular highlight in a subject's eye, can add life and depth to the eyes.

By focusing on the eyes, you can capture the raw emotion and humanity of your subjects, which is vital when you're learning how to improve photography for social impact. The eyes can tell a story that words often can't, and that story can move people and inspire change.

Tell a Story Through Your Photos

Each picture you take is worth a thousand words, right? But what if you could make it worth even more? When it comes to improving photography for social impact, your goal should be to weave a narrative with your images—one that sparks thought, incites empathy, and encourages action.

Here's how you can start turning your photos into compelling stories:

  • Sequence Your Shots: Just like a good book, your story should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Think about how you can sequence your images to show progress, change, or evolution.
  • Use Symbols and Metaphors: Symbols can be a powerful storytelling device. A lone tree in a deforested area, for example, can symbolize resilience or the impact of environmental destruction.
  • Include Context: When you're telling a story, context matters. Include elements in your photos that give the viewer a sense of place or time. This could be anything from a landmark to a weather condition.

Remember, your purpose is to evoke emotion and provoke thought. When you're thinking about how to improve photography for social impact, always ask yourself: "What story am I trying to tell? And how can I best tell it through this image?"

Pay Attention to Composition

Next up on our journey to improve photography for social impact is composition. It's the arrangement of elements within your photo. You might think, "Isn't snapping a photo enough?" Well, not quite. Composition can make or break your photo. So, let's get down to some tips:

  • Balance your Elements: Imagine your photo as a seesaw. Would it tip over? Use elements like trees, buildings, or people to balance your photo and make it visually pleasing. It's all about symmetry, folks!
  • Keep an Eye on Lines: Lines can guide the viewer's eye around your photo. They can be anything from a horizon line to a road. Use them to lead the viewer to your subject or tell a story.
  • Fill the Frame: Don't be shy! Get close to your subject and fill your frame. This technique can help to eliminate distracting backgrounds and put the spotlight on your subject. But remember, it's not about getting a close-up of every wrinkle. It's about capturing the essence.

So, when you're out there, camera in hand, think beyond just "point and click". Consider the layout, balance and depth. That's how you improve photography for social impact.

Use the Rule of Thirds

So, you've got your composition down, but something's still missing. How about trying the rule of thirds? Now, don't let the 'rule' part scare you. It's more like a handy guide to help you improve photography for social impact.

Imagine your frame divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. The rule of thirds suggests that you place your main subject at the intersection of these lines, or along them. This creates more tension, energy and interest than simply centering the subject would.

  • Place Points of Interest on the Intersections: If your photo has a single point of interest, aim to place it close to one of the intersections. This can result in a more balanced and less static shot.
  • Align Your Subject with the Guide Lines: If your subject is not a single point but a line (like a horizon), align it with one of the horizontal or vertical lines.

By employing the rule of thirds, you're not just taking a photo — you're creating a story. So, ready to transform your shots and go from 'just another photographer' to a social impact storyteller?

Experiment with Perspective

How often have you found yourself taking a photo straight on? It's a common habit, but one that can lead to similar and repetitive shots. So, how can you improve photography for social impact? The answer lies in experimenting with perspective.

Changing your perspective means changing the way you see the world, and there's no better tool for this than your camera. A new perspective can transform an ordinary scene into something extraordinary. Here's how:

  • Get Low or High: Most photos are taken at eye level. By simply crouching down or climbing up, you can create a unique point of view that catches the viewer's attention.
  • Try a Bird's or Worm's Eye View: A bird's eye view (from above) can show the layout of a scene, while a worm's eye view (from below) can make an object look more imposing.

Remember, the goal of social impact photography is to make people stop and think. By experimenting with perspective, you can present a fresh view of the world that stirs emotions and inspires action. So, why not give it a try? The world is full of extraordinary scenes waiting for you to capture them — all it takes is a shift in perspective.

Use Lighting to Your Advantage

Good lighting can make or break a photograph. It's a critical element in creating an impactful photo. But how can you use lighting to improve photography for social impact?

The key is understanding how different types of light can impact your subject and the mood of your photo. Here are a few tips:

  • Golden Hour: This is the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset when the light is softer and warmer. Photos taken during the golden hour often have a beautiful, dreamy quality.
  • Overcast Light: Overcast days may seem drab, but they provide excellent conditions for photography. The clouds act as a natural diffuser, spreading the light evenly and reducing harsh shadows.
  • Artificial Light: Don't be afraid to play with artificial light sources like lamps or even the flashlight on your phone. They can help you create interesting shadows and highlights.

Learning to use lighting effectively can drastically improve your photography. So next time, before you press the shutter, take a moment to consider the light. How can it enhance your subject or convey your message more powerfully? Remember, every ray of light is an opportunity to make your photo shine brighter.

Play with Depth of Field

Depth of field is one of those photography terms that sounds a bit technical. But don't let that scare you. Playing with depth of field is actually a simple and powerful way to improve your photography for social impact.

So what does 'depth of field' mean? It's all about what part of your photo is in sharp focus. A shallow depth of field means only a small part of the image is in focus, usually the subject. The rest of the image, the background and sometimes the foreground, is blurry. This helps to draw the viewer's attention directly to the subject.

On the other hand, a deep depth of field means that most or all of the image is in focus. This can be great for capturing landscapes or group shots where you want the viewer to take in the whole scene.

Here's how you can use depth of field to make your photos more impactful:

  • Isolate Your Subject: Using a shallow depth of field can help your subject stand out from the background, making it the clear focus of the photo.
  • Create A Sense of Space: A deep depth of field can give your photo a sense of scale and distance. This can be very effective when you're trying to convey the size of a crowd at a protest or the vastness of a landscape affected by climate change.
  • Add Mystery: Sometimes, you might want to leave something to the imagination. A shallow depth of field can make the background blurry and indistinct, creating a sense of mystery or ambiguity.

Playing with depth of field can add a new dimension to your photos. It's another tool in your photography toolbox to help you tell your story and make a bigger impact.

Edit Your Photos for Maximum Impact

Now that you've taken those brilliant shots, it's time to take them to the next level. How? By diving into the world of photo editing. Yes, the art of enhancing your photos after you've captured them can significantly improve your photography for social impact.

But wait, does that mean you're cheating? Absolutely not. Editing is a part of the creative process. It's about bringing out the best in your photos, not creating something that wasn't there to begin with.

So, where should you start? Here are some editing tips that can make a big difference:

  • Adjust Exposure: Sometimes, your photos might turn out too dark or too bright. Adjusting the exposure can fix that, bringing out the details that were lost.
  • Play with Colors: Boosting the saturation can make your colors pop, while decreasing it can create a moody, subdued effect. You can also adjust individual colors to make certain elements stand out.
  • Sharpen Your Images: If your photos are a bit blurry, sharpening them can bring out the details. But be careful not to overdo it, or your photos might look unnatural.

Remember, the goal of editing is to enhance your photos, not to turn them into something they're not. Keep it subtle and tasteful, and your photos will have even more impact.

So, go ahead and start exploring the world of photo editing. And see how it can help you improve your photography for social impact. Who knows? You might discover a whole new side to your creative expression.

If you're passionate about using photography for social impact and want to learn more about leveraging social media to amplify your message, check out the workshop 'Navigating Social Media As A Photographer' by Bryony Coles. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights on how to effectively use social media platforms to showcase your impactful photography and engage with a wider audience.