Best Practices for Selecting Inclusive and Diverse Photos

The visual representation of inclusion and diversity on college campuses is an essential part of telling the story of a university. In an interactive workshop, learn best practices for planning and selecting photos for your college or departmental website, electronic newsletters or printed materials. This workshop is open to anyone, particularly suited for people who are responsible for maintaining their department’s CMS, sending communications for their department. Presenters include:

Sharalle Arnold, interim director of the Laker Educational Opportunity Center

Michele Coffill, associate director of publications, University Communications

Zach McCurdy, web trainer and content specialist, University Marketing

Amanda Pitts, senior photographer, University Communications


Presentation of selecting diverse photos

Photos on websites, in materials

Group of smiling students walking on campus

The visual representation of inclusion and diversity on college campuses is an essential part of telling the story of a university. 

  • Story beyond statistics
  • Constituents searching websites: prospective students, parents and supporters, current students, faculty and staff, public
  • Websites, social media, both digital and printed marketing, other publications

UPAA Paper

Front page of UPAA Paper with silhouettes in different colors with the words on Best Practices for Inclusive and Diverse Photography in Higher Education
  • University Photographers Association of America member said there was a need for this kind of paper to help guide photographers and their institutions.
  • UPAA Board chose a committee of members to write this best practices paper.
  • Committee met and came up with 5 questions, which they then sent to DEI professionals at various institutions.
  • Committee looked at answers to those questions and formed the paper from that.
  • Checked in with DEI professionals throughout the process. Worked with several people from GVSU including Sharalle. 
Professor standing over a student pointing to textbook


“It should not be ‘ask select brown students to gather for a photo’ and then this photo is used to represent diversity everywhere. Pictures are too often engineered with representation of different races and genders in a setting that isn’t natural. Sadly, by focusing on ‘engineering’ the right image, we fail to capture students of color as themselves, in the places where they are rather than where we put them to take a picture.”

— Katherine Kennedy,
Director of The Howard Thurman Center
Common Ground, Boston University

Avoid Stereotypes and Misidentification

“I saw an image of a Black male student and he had on football clothing or something athletic. I paused to think why couldn’t he have been in a lecture hall? Why not allow him to be photographed outside the football uniform. Could he be in a suit? Deconstruct the notion that Black equals athlete, white equals scholarship/academics. That speaks greater volumes than an Indian woman in a science class, which is captured far more often, and suggests another unreliable message.”

— Sharalle Arnold, interim director Laker Educational Opportunity Center

Represent Diversity Beyond Skin Color

Two individuals standing in the front of a classroom

Photo by Susan McSpadden, Johnson County Community College


A person standing at a podium with a Pride flag in foreground

Photo by Clay Stalter, University Of Illinois-Springfield

All aspects of diversity cannot be shown in one image. Sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, mental health and some physical disabilities are not seen but can be illustrated using subtle visual cues. 

Signage or symbols on campus that show inclusion or access for all individuals can be utilized. Students wearing a cross, using a rosary, praying or meditating can visually reflect religious inclusion. Clothing with representative messaging such as the rainbow flag can convey diversity. Pins, patches and stickers on backpacks, water bottles and laptops can also denote support and recognition.

Action Steps

  • Continually update, refresh the photography on websites and in publications. Photography from only the last few years is best to use.

  • Work directly with whom you are making/maintaining the website or publications for to identify upcoming events and opportunities relevant to your area for capturing images of a variety of students.

  • If you need photography for your department website or publications, consider contacting the photographers at UComm. We charge $65/hr for event coverage and can quote you a price for photography projects. Check out the services we offer.

  • Check out the photos on Widen (the GVSU online photography database) for photos that you can use.

Check File Info

There are several ways to check the information in a photo file. This is important so that you are making sure you are using photography in proper context. 

If you use Finder on a Mac: Click on the photo file to highlight it, then go up to File > Get Info and click. 


Screenshot of picture info on Macintosh
Screenshot of Photo info on Macintosh

If you use Adobe Lightroom: Click on the photo file you want info for, make sure you’re in library mode, look on the right side under the keywording tab for keywords and metadata tab for caption info. 

Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom file info
Screenshot of Adobe Lightroom Photo Info

If you use Adobe Bridge: Click on the photo file, then look at the Metadata and Keywords tabs to find information.

Screenshot of Adobe Bridge photo info

Real Life Application in the CMS

  • Use the GVSU Widen Collective 
  • Use real GVSU images
  • Avoid Stock Photos
  • Avoid Googling Photos
  • If using a "free" photo, always give credit

Alt Text

Student proudly holding diploma above her head after graduating from Grand Valley

Example Alt Text would be - "Student proudly holding diploma above her head after graduating from Grand Valley". 

Questions that were asked during the Workshop

If we are using GVSU photos from Widen on our department webpages or for marketing materials (print or digital), do we need to be giving credit and if so, what’s the best way to do that?

It’s always best to give credit on photos in the caption area on CMS. Photos from Widen are tagged by owner, usually (photographer name) GVSU University Communications will be best.

Related to free images and searching for images on line... Where would you recommend getting images for our social media,

Creative Commons is one example of a site that promotes copyright free photos. There are several sites that promote "free" photos. While this claim may be accurate, proceed with caution as the images may not be entirely "free". 

Page last modified January 26, 2022