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I love taking photographs. Especially when travelling I see amazing images everywhere I look. I think it’s because often, when you travel, you see things for the first time, and that’s when it hits you: the beauty or simplicity of something that you would take for granted at home. 

A lot of my Akvo colleagues have a similar love for photography. I think seeing beauty in the world is partially why many of us do the work we do at Akvo. I’m even more grateful for my colleagues’ enthusiasm for taking photographs, as I often find myself trawling through their Flickr feeds to find the latest and greatest images to use on the website or in printed materials.
Above: Photo by Joy Ghosh – Ramneithang with a respondent. 4 October 2013.
Below: Photo by Giel Hendriks – Andrew explaining Akvo Flow. 9 May 2016.
At Akvo we always try to be open, transparent and honest. And that goes into every detail. Yes, we build mobile phone and internet tools, but it’s people that are at the heart of everything we do. So we often use photos with people simply because our tools are meaningless without people. The photos my colleagues take send a strong message: they know the people in the photos, their names and their faces. They’re real people, not nameless actors in a staged setting. 

We take great care in keeping photos truthful. We might crop images, possibly brighten them up a little bit (none of us are professional photographers, so that’s okay) but that’s where the image editing stops. We don’t remove or add things to a photo. We don’t alter the reality. What you see, however it looks, is the real thing. And that’s what we want to show.

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It still strikes me as amazing that nowadays with smart phones, digital cameras and the internet, it is super easy to take good photos and share them with other people. The Akvo Flickr stream is bursting with photos taken during training sessions from Fiji to Ouagadougou to Guatemala. A lot of them give a good overview of training days or an impression of a partner event. They’re nice photos, but often not amazingly well suited to explain what we do or how a product works. So I’ve gathered a few of my favourite images in this blog and made a list of the things I look for in images, so that next time you’re out in the field you can try a couple, and see what works for you.

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Top: Photo by Joseph Thomas – Mary from CARDS testing Akvo RSR. 3 December 2014.
Middle: Photo by Bart Verweij – SNV Laos water system mapping. 17 October 2014.
Bottom: Photo by Abhay Kulkarni – Akvo Caddisfly fluoride testing. 30 April 2016.

Things I look for in photos

People that use our tools are doing incredible work. They’re actively changing the world they live in. The work they do is powerful, and that’s how it should be portrayed. We do this literally in the Akvo partner hero photos, but it should also shine through in other pictures. It’s not about the difficult situations they work in, it’s about people doing something to make those situations better. 

The main opportunity we get to take photos in the field is during training sessions. Many of the photos taken by the team depict just that: a training session, but it would be really interesting to have photos of people interacting with our products. People working on their laptops, and entering data into their mobile devices. Situations that show real-in-the-field use of our products, for instance an interview, would be great too. Because photos taken in an environment that is relevant to the work our partners do explain our tools, and the impact they can help making, much better than a person standing in front of a wall or hedge.

Don’t be afraid to get up close. Try to frame one person instead of a group of people, and photograph how this person interacts with the device (s)he is working on. Photos like that offer a lot of context and information to people who are new to our products. And if you’re up for an experiment, you could even get in a bit closer than that, and take a close up of someone’s hand when handling a device.

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Top: Photo by Lars Heemskerk – CWSA Akvo FLOW monitoring. 10 February 2016.
Middle: Photo by Abhay Kulkarni – Akvo Caddisfly fluoride testing. 30 April 2016.
Bottom: Photo by Jana Gombitova – Ghana SMARTerWASH. February 2016.
Below: Photo by Bart Verweij – SNV Laos water system mapping. 17 October 2014.
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You could also try to play with angles, for instance, taking a photo over someone shoulder. A perspective like that will give the viewer the impression (s)he is right there with you, literally looking over someones shoulder, to see what is going on. It puts the viewer in your shoes. 

There are also a few practical things that are good to keep in mind when taking photographs.
  • Look for people with happy and relaxed facial expressions, if people have a strange expression on their face, they probably wouldn’t want us to use their photo.
  • Similarly, try not to cut off people’s heads or feet.
  • Clear focus on the subject, so not too many people in the shot. Ideally one or two, three at the most.
  • Also, be aware of your surroundings. For instance, when photographing people at their desks, have a look at all the things that are laying around; water bottles, cables, etc. and make sure they don’t block the person or thing you’re trying to photograph.
  • Bright, vibrant, and crisp looking photos are best for our materials.
  • There needs to be good contrast between the subject and the background.
  • Good lighting is also important. When outside try taking photos with the sun behind you. When indoors try to adjust the light settings on your camera or phone.
  • ‘White space’ around the subject, so there is room to crop and fit the image where needed. Or, take landscape as well as portrait photos, that way pictures can be used in different ways for different media. For our website I’m especially keen to get my hands on photos that can be cropped down to panorama size (wide and shallow).
Obviously the above list isn’t complete. There are so many things to experiment with when it comes to photography, but hopefully it’ll give you a few ideas. Play around with them and have some fun, and don’t worry if it doesn’t work straight away, something else will.


Linda Leunissen is Akvo’s graphic designer, based in London. You can follow her on Twitter and view her photos on Instagram (@lindadutches).