Documenting Human Rights Violations in Challenging Environments

Photographs can engage and stimulate people in a way that words cannot. Pictures allow us to visualize what it would be like to witness an event. In essence, they bring us closer to the story. They can serve to humanize issues. When we see images of people suffering, experiencing joy or being annoyed, we often place ourselves in their shoes. This allows us to emphasize with the subject.

When collecting photographic evidence about an event, imagine that you are gathering pieces of a story. Look back at the questions you answered in the “planning ahead” section. What story do you want to tell? What do you want to draw attention to with these photographs? What is your angle on the story?

The type of photographs will depend on the topic you have chosen. Will you tell your story through photographs of an event, a location, crowds of people, individual portraits highlighting emotional expressions, or pictures of actions or movement?

Each story can be told multiple ways with different types of photographs – decide which works best for your topic and angle, and remember your goals.


Photojournalists use photos to tell stories about the news. Their goal is to capture images that communicate a narrative and evoke feelings about a story. Watch this video about the power of photojournalism.

Can you use the techniques discussed in the video to tell your story?

Photo Essays

You can tell a story through photographs about a specific event, such as a demonstration or a trial. You can also tell a story about a broader topic. Look at the photo essay “The Unfinished Revolution.” The essay shows how women around the world have fought for women’s rights by demonstrating, writing, providing legal assistance, using the social media for activism, and telling their stories, among others. By the end of the essay you have an idea of the different issues that women have had to fight for and an image of those who have fought for them.


By the time you have organized your photos, they should tell the story from start to finish. Use short captions to help you achieve your goal.