Considerations for Visual Products

At a glance

Visual products are powerful communication tools. It is important to carefully consider how people are portrayed in visual products, such as photos, videos, graphics, and animations.

Photo of four women talking in front of a store.

Guiding questions

Featuring people in visual products‎

When creating and using visual products that feature people, think about how the products reflect: diversity, individual dignity and respect, cultural respect, power dynamics, emotion, solutions and opportunities, reality, and intended vs. original purpose.

Diverse representation

  • Do the people in the product authentically represent the diverse sub-populations within the population of focus?
  • Are people or cultures represented in a monolithic or stereotypical way?
  • Are the visuals for global programs adapted to represent local populations and cultures where program implementation occurs?
  • Are the visuals respectful to people with disabilities and reflective of the variety of diverse abilities?
  • Do the visuals portray or promote gender diversity?

Individual dignity and respect

  • Were the visual products, especially photos and videos, ethically sourced?
  • Are the people in the visual product portrayed with dignity and as human beings with unique experiences?
  • Have the people in pictures and videos consented to the use of the product?

Cultural respect

  • Does the visual product evoke cultural appropriation, which involves borrowing a cultural symbol and using it incorrectly or in a way that does not respect or honor the culture?
  • Are there any hurtful or insensitive historical connotations inherent to the visual product?

Inherent power and capacity

  • Are harmful power dynamics depicted? Is equity between different people/groups portrayed?
  • How can you show that the local community has the power and capacity to address public health issues within their community?
  • Does the product include representation of local organizations, materials, doctors, teachers, community health workers, volunteers, leaders, researchers, scientists, or problem solvers?


  • Which emotions are triggered by the visual product?
  • What emotions are you trying to trigger and why?

Problem or solution

  • Does the visual product show only the problem or does it also show how people are working toward the solution or opportunity?

Connection to reality

  • How accurately do the visual products depict the reality of the situation?
  • What is the context/story and is it clearly communicated?
  • Who are the people in the graphic and how do they relate to the situation?
  • Are people in the product engaging in common day-to-day activities (like buying groceries) or are they only shown in a historical/traditional sense (like traditional dress that is worn only on rare occasions)?

Original purpose and intended use

  • If a visual product is being reused, is the intended use of the product consistent with the original purpose or message of the product?

Graphic and text

  • How do the text and visual product complement each other?
  • Does the visual product show anything that is not representative of what is discussed in the text?
  • Even if the visual product passes all of the above questions, does the text pass through all the above questions?

Planning phase

Planning Ethical Photography and Videography‎

Before taking any photos or videos, consider the ethical, cultural, and power dynamics. Plan how you will ensure that participants are as informed and comfortable as possible with the intended use of their pictures and video clips.


  • Consider whether taking photographs/videos is even acceptable within a given community/country and whether any kind of imagery is culturally unacceptable (e.g., not taking photos of art or religious objects).
  • Consider the legal context and whether the participant's safety could be put in danger (e.g., LGBTQI+ persons in countries where some gender and sexual identities and behaviors are criminalized).
  • Determine whether the photo/videographer is familiar with the local context/culture and whether it is possible to hire local photo/videographers.
  • Ensure you have a method for obtaining informed consent.

Cultural context

  • Consider the cultural expectations of privacy and photos/videos.
    • If you are not part of the culture or do not have deep knowledge of the culture you want to feature, educate yourself and work with knowledgeable partners (like community members, people familiar with the culture, or anthropologists) to accurately depict the culture and subcultures.
  • Ensure that any imagery used in reports and publications will be acceptable to the government, ministry of health, or partner agency/organization in question.

Power dynamics

  • Consider the power dynamics of who is behind the camera in relation to who is in front of the camera and how you can mitigate any power imbalances.
    • Power dynamics might include: socioeconomic status, citizenship, profession, agency, gender, religion, political affiliation, health status, or education.
  • Work with the participant to identify how they want to be represented and how to respect the participant's dignity.
    • Avoid unintentional coercion and ensure there is always an opportunity to opt-out of participation.
  • If a participant from the population of focus wishes to opt-out at any point during the process (beginning, middle, end, or after publication), respect their wishes to disengage and permanently delete any images/footage already captured.

Production phase

Producing Ethical Photos and Videos‎

While taking photos or videos, request and respect participants' wishes and obtain informed consent. Determine how you want to influence viewers' perception of the participant.

Interacting with participants

  • If it is not possible to hire a local photo/videographer, decide if an interpreter is required.
  • Determine whether the participants are familiar with the agency you represent and its global public health work. If not, share context with the participants.
  • Practice cultural humility, be mindful of potential power dynamics, and be flexible according to the participant's preferences.

Informed consent

What is informed consent?‎

Informed consent is when a person understands where, how, and why their photos/videos will be used and grants permission to the photo/videographer permission to take their photo or video. Informed participants also understand that they can stipulate conditions and decline consent without consequence.

The consent process should occur in a low-pressure environment, in which the participants have the ability, opportunity, and power to make an informed decision.

  • Request consent before taking a photo/video. Collect proof of consent using the methods approved by your organization. Parental consent must be provided for participants who are under 18 years old.
  • Translate consent forms. For languages without a translated form, verbally translate the consent form for the participant. Also read aloud/translate forms for anyone with low levels of literacy.
  • Since it is impossible to control the spread of an image or video once it is published online, explain that other people/organizations can take published images from your agency's sites and use it for their own purposes.


After discussing with the participant how they prefer to be represented, only capture photos/videos that honor their preference. Ensure the subject knows and agrees to how the final product will be used.

Taking photos or videos

  • Angles. Different angles can portray participants in unique ways. Choose carefully between:
    • High angles (camera points down from above participant): Participants can appear weak, inferior, and helpless.
    • Neutral angles (camera is eye-level with participant): Participants can appear equal to the viewer. Eye-level shots tend to show the least amount of inferiority or superiority.
    • Low angles (camera points up from below participant): Participants can appear powerful, dignified, or strong.
  • Activity. Work with participants of all abilities to identify their preferred level of activity in the image/video.
    • In general, images/videos of people in action or motion can convey agency and vitality.
    • Even if the participant is lying in a hospital bed, human interaction with a doctor or visitor can help convey dignity, humanity, and compassion.
  • Anonymity. Ask if the participant wants their face to be shown. If someone requests that their face not be shown, it is possible to capture quality photos/videos that still protect their identity. Try to:
    • Photograph/video someone from behind.
    • Fill the frame with the person's hands.
    • Take pictures/videos of personal effects or other physical items instead of the person. Do not include items with personally identifiable information (e.g., license plates, passports, IDs).

Selection phase

Selecting Ethical Photos and Videos‎

When selecting photos and videos for publication, choose the products that respect dignity and accurately represent the broader context. Ideally, share the final products with participants prior to publication.
  • Dignity: Even with informed consent, carefully select final products that depict the subject in the most dignified way.
  • Representation: Only select and publish final products that accurately depict the scene/individual(s).
    • Avoid capturing and publishing photos/videos that reinforce stereotypes/typecasting.
    • When choosing a photo from repositories, ensure that the caption aligns with the nature of the product.
  • Sharing: Share the final product, with participants prior to publication. Also request feedback and accept objections prior to publication.
    • If a participant takes issue with the final product, work with them to identify the preferred course of action (e.g., different photo/video, additional/less editing, pull from publication altogether).

Publication phase

Publishing Ethical Photos and Videos‎

When publishing photos and videos, include captioning, alternative text, subtitles, and metadata. Continue to use published photos responsibly to respect to the participants and original purpose of the visual product.
  • Captioning: Each photo and video should include a caption that accurately describes who and what is featured.
    • Videos should include closed captioning of what is being said in the video so they are accessible to people with hearing disabilities.
    • When possible and needed, include a sign language interpreter in the video as well as in-person interactions.
    • Translate the photo and video captions. For videos, ensure the translation conveys the speaker's intended meaning.
  • Alternative Text/Audio Descriptions: Provide alternative text for each photo/graphic and audio descriptions for videos so they are accessible for people with visual disabilities.
  • Metadata: Once the final product is published online, there is very little a photo/videographer can do to control who sees it or how it is used. The best measure of due diligence is to embed the photo/video with complete metadata, which includes a caption, credit, point of contact, and organizational affiliation.
  • Responsible use: Even when informed consent is obtained, global public health agencies must still be considerate of how photos/videos are used. Even if a person signed a general photo/video release form, they are not necessarily agreeing to be the face of a campaign or resource that could unintentionally provoke stigma within their communities. For example, a photo of a woman in her home should not be used for a campaign about domestic abuse or HIV/AIDS unless she explicitly agreed to her photograph being used for this purpose.
    • When choosing a product from repositories, credit/attribute the product to the original artist within your final product.