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16 September 2020 - Answers & Tips, Inspiration, Photography Tips

On Becoming a Humanitarian Photographer

Why a humanitarian photography workshop could jumpstart your career

Visual imagery has the power to reach people, stir emotion, and inspire action. Photography has the potential to make a positive impact and can be used for raising awareness, supporting non-profits and getting people to engage with important topics. If you’re interested in using your photography for these purposes, humanitarian photography might be the ideal field for you to explore. In this blog, we’re highlighting a variety of elements of humanitarian photography; what is it, how to become a humanitarian photographer, and potential workshops and projects you can be involved in. Transform your travel and photography practise into a unique impactful one by exploring the potential of this photography field! 

What is humanitarian photography? 

Humanitarian photography, at its core, documents humanitarian causes. Practically, it means that pictures tell the story of humanitarian crises, and nonprofit organisations that are addressing these issues can use the visual media to raise public awareness and funds for their cause. This field is obviously wide-ranging, and the exact definition of humanitarian photography might differ depending on which photographer you’re talking to. “To me, the primary role of humanitarian photography is that of connection,” says Anna Lusty, a humanitarian photographer who has been documenting nonprofit work in South Africa for over a decade. “From one to another and through this medium one can inspire, educate, impact and give hope.” 

The benefits of being a humanitarian photographer 

Humanitarian photography offers the opportunity to turn your passion and creativity into a tool for positive change. As a photographer in this field, you’ll give a visual voice to socio-economic issues, such as poverty, lack of education and health facilities, and gender equality issues, in a way that can help address these issues. Your pictures will serve as a catalyst for opening minds, altering preconceived notions and engaging viewers in dialogue around critical issues.

There is a great sense of satisfaction that comes in the ability to make a positive impact with your art. “It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning,” says Anna. “I believe that it can really make a difference to individuals, organisations and their work. It is such a powerful tool to connect people to people.” In recent months, Anna has mostly been documenting COVID-19 relief projects by local non-profit organisations in Cape Town. This helped the NGOs spread awareness and gain potential donors.

Learn more about a recent Humanitarian Photography project undertaken by Anna Lusty.

How do you become a humanitarian photographer? 

As with most things, there is no set path to becoming a humanitarian photographer. But you can take your own path by determining your goals, taking inspiration from others, and thinking about the kind of impact you want to make. 

Obviously you need to, first of all, become a competent photographer. There are many ways to achieve this, including college degrees, extensive photography courses, and – dare we say it – YouTube videos. Whatever your learning method will be, it’s obviously key to be a technically and artistically strong photographer. And the element you’ll need to develop more than anything else is your ability to photograph people in a powerful and genuine way. 

But apart from your technical photography skills, if you’re interested in becoming a humanitarian photographer, you’ll also need to understand the issues you’re interested in highlighting, and the nonprofit sector you’ll be operating in. Make sure to educate yourself, so that you’ll be able to document issues in an effective, culturally sensitive, and thoughtful way. 

On top of this, getting practical experience is key. Travel, expose yourself to a plethora of cultures and visually varied surroundings, and learn from other photographers. Try different focus areas, build a portfolio, and make sure humanitarian photography is well suited to you. 

Joining a nonprofit photography workshop or internship 

If it’s practical experience you’re after, perhaps the most enriching way to get this is to join a program abroad, in a country with a need for development work. There’s some obvious benefits to this; 

  • You’ll sharpen your skills. Even if you’re an experienced photographer, there is always more to learn. Humanitarian photography courses or workshops allow you to sharpen your skills, learn new tricks and get introduced to focus areas you may not have previously explored. You’ll be guided by a professional photographer, with a wealth of nonprofit experience, and you’re likely to be surrounded by other participants, too. This is a great way to learn from your peers and meet like-minded people.
  • You’ll learn about nonprofit photography. If you’re keen to make a difference through your work, this is the perfect opportunity for you to learn more about nonprofit photography; how to tell stories through your images, and how to approach it in the most effective and culturally sensitive way. 
  • You can get an insight into what a career in humanitarian photography looks like. Actually going out as a nonprofit photographer will help you decide whether it’s a field that you’d really like to make your career out of. Plus, working with a professional can give you some practical information on a business level; how to get your portfolio out there, what to charge, and how to attract the right photography jobs. 
  • You’ll build a portfolio of interesting work. Not unimportantly, you can create a portfolio of images that will help you hugely in your future career. 
  • You’ll have a unique travel experience. Apart from discovering a different side to photography, a humanitarian program abroad can be the perfect opportunity to have a unique and positive travel experience. Spending time in a foreign setting, one that’s likely to be culturally and visually different from your home, can provide you with creative inspiration and help you shape your ideas as a photographer. 

Join a humanitarian photography workshop or internship in Cape Town, South Africa 

At Penda, we offer nonprofit photography workshops and internships that will allow keen photographers to explore the field of humanitarian photography. Whether you’re interested in pursuing a career in humanitarian photography, or whether you’re just keen to put your photography skills to good use while traveling, these programs can offer you an enriching and inspiring experience. 

Cape Town and its surroundings deal with a number of socio-economic challenges, including poverty, lack of education, lack of hygiene and housing, and gender-based issues. There are many nonprofit organisations that are working on a grassroots level to alleviate people’s suffering, and more often than not, these organisations have a lack of resources and funds. As a photography volunteer or intern, you’ll help document the work of some of these nonprofits, which can help increase their visibility and fundraising. 

If you join these humanitarian photography programs, you’ll be guided by Anna, who will help you navigate the field of nonprofit photography and guide you throughout your stay. 

Find out more: 

Non-Profit Photography Internship 

Impact Photography Program, Cape Town

Learn more about Penda Trust, our nonprofit organisation which uses photography as a tool to support positive change. 

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