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U4 photo policy

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U4 photo policy

Considerations for choosing and using images in a conscious and progressive manner.

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Check-list for photos

Before making a decision on the use of an image or message, consider the following:

  1. Does the use of the planned image and/or message fit with the core values of respect for the dignity of others?
  2. If used would those people directly affected by this image and/or message feel that it is a fair and true representation?
  3. Have all the subjects of the image and/or message agreed to this application of their image/story?
  4. Would the use of this image and/or message cause offence or hurt?
  5. Might the use of this image and/or message contribute to cultural or racial stereotyping of people, places and situations?
  6. Is a reader likely to misinterpret the message of a photo based on its placement? (This is a question of layout: e.g. consider what the closest headline says and how it links to the photo.)
  7. What is our intention or purpose of using this photo? Does it promote a good cause while ensuring that we do no harm to individuals or by distorting general perceptions?
  8. Are we using the photo in a context that fairly represents the real situation, subject identity, or physical location of the image?
  9. Are we using this photograph with the same respect that we would show to neighbours and strangers in our own country?
  10. What steps have we taken to properly credit the photographer?

See also:

Our responsibility

Development photography is about ethics, morality, identity and representation. We will treat images as critically as we treat text. We will reflect deeply around the purpose of using an image, the ethics, and how the photo is treated.

We will consider pertinent ethical issues such as consent, privacy, ownership and risk management in photography.

We will respect laws and the rights of people in photographs. We will think about consequences regarding both the intended and unintended audiences we reach.


We adopt the same principles that Dóchas have in their guiding principles for images and messages and illustrative guide – both for images and captions.

  • Avoid images and messages that victimise or dehumanise people.
  • Communicate the role of institutions and global systems rather than focusing solely on the individuals affected.
  • Use abstract images and symbolism – rather than photos of people – to represent situations that need improvement.

Truthfully represent any image or depicted situation both in its immediate and in its wider context, to improve understanding of the realities and complexities of development

  • Avoid oversimplification and distortion of understanding, be as specific as possible.
  • Try to include exact information about places, the background to a situation, and the organisations and institutions involved (especially local or national institutions).
  • Try to portray a range of people in images. E.g. show women and men in a variety of roles.
  • Focus on the wider issues – the causes and effects of a situation.
  • Avoid cropping images in ways that place people out of context.
  • Use accurate captioning for images as far as possible: Situation, location, time, names – if appropriate.

Avoid images and messages that potentially stereotype, sensationalise, or discriminate against people, situations or places

  • Use images that show the active roles that people have in their own lives.
  • Represent the reality of local people working locally to achieve sustainable and inclusive development.
  • Be ware that positive images – the everything is awesome/smiling children genre – can easily become a new stereotype if not properly balanced. This does a disservice to the context of many situations. It is possible to convey problems accurately while still adhering to photography codes of conduct. Aim to portray reality with sensitivity and respect for human dignity.

Use images, messages, and case studies with the full understanding, participation and permission of people (or guardians of the people) photographed

  • Step into the shoes of the people photographed and ask: “Would I want this image of or message about me and/or my family to be used in a research article/blog/online course about corruption or for corporate communication for an anti-corruption resource centre in another country?”
  • There are many considerations to take when photographing people for use in communications outputs. The U4 team currently more often use photos taken by others. This means that we can often not know if the principles were followed when the photos were taken. We will therefore avoid using images where we don’t know if the photographer followed the code of conduct.
  • Using photos of children is particularly sensitive. In Norway, it is illegal to publish photos of people without their consent. For children under 15 years of age, the parents/guardians must give consent. We will apply the same strict rules for photos from other countries.
  • Exceptions where photos may be used without explicit consent is when people are depicted from a distance, crowds gathered, etc. where the main theme is the activity or situation – not the individuals.

Ensure those whose situation is being represented have the opportunity to communicate their stories themselves

  • The person who is telling the story and regarded as the “expert” in a situation (the “voice”) has a great impact in terms of how the story is understood.
  • Include a diversity of voices, to represent the breadth and complexity of a situation and avoid stereotyping.

Establish and record whether the people in photographs wish to be named or identified and always act accordingly

  • Particularly for corruption-related outputs, it is important to respect people’s rights not to be identified in photos next to content that may make readers wrongfully believe that the person is corrupt. We will respect this at all times.
  • Consent is an on-going dialogue and not a one-off event. Especially for non-recent photos: consider whether the picture of an identifiable person may have been taken in a context that has since expired.

Conform to the highest standards in relation to human rights and the protection of vulnerable people

  • Protect the privacy of people in photographs when they are portrayed in vulnerable situations.
  • The international standards of human rights and the core values of CMI-U4 should be a guide. As well as the:
  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  2. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  3. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  4. UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
  • Steps we can take:
  1. Use models (and consent from them) instead of eg actual perpetrators or victims of corruption.
  2. Use abstract images to represent issues.
  3. When necessary and apppropriate, alter photo content to protect people.
  4. Use images of all demographic groups.
  5. Be careful when framing a photograph – avoid top-down angle, too close up, or removing important contextual objects or people
  6. Focus more on reasons and context of situations, than individuals who are perpetrators/victims of corruption.
  7.    Show women in the powerful positions they often occupy.

Crediting and disclaimers

We will always credit photographers, regardless of the format of our materials. This includes photos we use as parts of a collage, headers, and background templates – there are no exceptions. On websites, the photo credit will show in the footer, or similar in a way that any reader can reasonably locate it.

In cases where we use images of people for general illustration, we will include a disclaimer: “The photographs in this material are used for illustrative purposes only. Any people appearing in the photographs are not directly involved in cases described in the text.”

Sourcing images in an ethical way

We will strive to ensure that we obtain images from trustworthy sources so we can trust that consent is given, and that the descriptions of images are accurate. This may imply that we reduce reliance on free sources such as creative commons images on, and seek out partnerships with professional photographers or organisations based in Asia, Latin-America, and Africa. Avoiding exploitation is a low bar to set for achievement. We should seek to collaborate with creative people who want to be involved in depicting the reality where they live.

On more occasions than I could possibly recall, I’ve used images of people I don’t know doing things I don’t understand to illustrate a document with a very specific list of policy recommendations. I’m not sure how that Sierra Leonean community police officer, those protesting Bolivian women, or those people ambling around Lagos would feel about being the ‘face’ of those messages; I’d feel quite perturbed if an organisation with views divergent from mine used me to illustrate their ideas. Claire Bracegirdle – Communications Officer at ODI

The importance of photographs

Imagery serves as a critical visual tool to:

  1. Make people instantly aware of topic and relevance
  2. Ease memory and recognition of a resource
  3. Build trust in overall output quality
  4. Foster empathy and belief in the mission of U4
  5. Consolidate U4’s visual identity

We will continue our efforts to use good photography, imagery and related messaging for U4 outputs by investing staff-time and resources to ensure high-quality results.

Resources and inspiration

This photo policy borrows heavily from the work and thoughts of others:


If you have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch with Kirsty


    All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

    This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)