Good & Bad Photography

Some marketing photography is better than others. Using certain criteria, we can establish a hierarchy of photography, a ranking of better and worse photography. In most cases, the more specific in purpose an image is, the better that image is. The best photo is a staged picture of more than one student from your program performing an action they normally do.  
NOTE: A “better photograph” means an image that is less likely to misrepresent the student or the program. 
When possible:
  • Use actual students performing typical actions. 
  • Use photos of volunteer models, where possible.
  • Use photos of students in your program.
  • If possible, receive community members’ consent for photographs (see Community Member Consent Guidelines).

On this page:

Hierarchy of Photographs

The best images are photographs that are topic specific and that were created with student involvement and consent. The worst images are generic photographs taken without prior consent. 
  1. Staged photos using student volunteers (best) - Volunteer students modeling in a photo shoot, where the images have a planned purpose or use. For example, art students agree to be photographed while painting. Current students are preferable to graduated students.
  2. Program photo captured with permission - Images of an actual class, practice, activity, etc. where participants were informed beforehand that photographs would be taken for marketing materials. For example, a professor teaching a biology lab. 
  3. A group of students performing an activity - Images, staged or not staged, of student performing an activity, like reading in the library. Generally, these are generic images but the activity aligns with the topic. For example, students playing soccer outside their residence hall could be used for athletic training.
NOTE: Social media is a notable exception from the above hierarchy. It often necessitates non-staged photography.

This hierarchy is defined by four questions: how was the photo made, how many students are in the photo, who is in the photo, and what are they doing in the photo? The rest of this section will explore those questions. 

How (Staged vs. Candid)

How was the photo made? That is, was it staged or candid photography? 

Candid photography captures images in public settings without forewarning. For example, snapping a photo of students studying while passing through the library. 

Staged photography uses models whose actions are directed. For example, recruiting a student volunteer to be photographed reading in the library. Staged photography is preferable because you can be certain the student was informed of the image’s purpose. However, you can use candid photography if the student is made aware of the image and if the student provides permission for its usage in marketing materials. See our Community Consent Guidelines for more information. 

Though the photography is staged, that does not give you license to produce inauthentic photography. For example, do not hire models to pose as students or bring in student volunteers to make a program appear diverse.

How Many (Many vs. One)

How many students are in the photo? 

The best images have more than one student in the photo. These images are preferable because there is less pressure on any one student to represent the topic (e.g., biology) or their perceived race, gender, etc. 

  • When using a photograph of a single individual, describe how the image will be used. 
  • In all cases, make every attempt to secure their consent. 

Who (Specific vs. Generic)  Who is in the photo?  

  • A better photo has models unique to their topic. These images are better because they will be authentic representations of the topic. For example, the School of Education would use student teachers; Athletics would use student athletes. It is better to use a graduate student to represent a graduate program. 
  • You can use generic photography if it aligns with your message or fits your unique materials. However, do not use stock photography for “students,” as an example.  

What (Active vs. Passive)  What are they doing in the photo? 

  • Photography with a student performing an action is better for two reasons. One, you can reinforce your message if the action aligns with your materials. For example, a student using a computer aligns with an advertisement recruiting for computer science. Two, active images put less pressure on the student to represent the topic (e.g., biology) or their perceived race, ethnicity, etc. Instead, the action represents the topic, and the action is the rationale for the photo’s selection. 
  • You can use images of passive students. Typically, these photos will be of students smiling at the camera. But use these images sparingly and attempt to secure consent.

Stock Photography

Stock photography is images that can be licensed for use in your marketing materials. The use of stock images is discouraged for two reasons. First, it is easy to create hokey and stale communications when using stock images. Second, and most importantly, stock photos misrepresent the university when used indelicately.  

  • Don’t use stock photography of people. 
  • Do use stock photography of a specific item or setting that is otherwise unavailable. 

When Not To Use Stock Images 

Generally, do not use stock photography when the viewer would believe the image represents an actual object, person, etc.  

  • Avoid using stock images of people — they are misleading and not authentic.  Generally, stock images of people are chosen by the appearance of the models. Therefore, they are easily misused to manufacture diversity or to misrepresent students or student groups. 
  • Never use stock images to represent facilities or amenities that may be of interest to potential students.  For example, do not use stock photography of dorm rooms, classrooms or athletic courts. These are inauthentic and misleading.
When to Use Stock Images
You can use stock imagery in four circumstances. 
  • When there is not existing photography of the event or a similar UML event.  For example, if Athletics launched a women's hockey team.
  • When you have a need to represent a precise location or object.  For example, Campus Recreation could use a stock photo of Cape Cod to advertise an upcoming trip. As a rule of thumb, you can use stock photography of objects whenever the viewer would not believe they are seeing a singular object. For example, the viewer would not expect to locate the flowers used in the photograph of a bouquet. However, the viewer would expect to be able to find the exact lab equipment or dorm room used in an image. 
  • When the subject of the photo is external to the university.  For example, Lowell’s City of Lights festival.
  • When the subject of the photo is a famous person.  For example, a State Senator or a non-UML dignitary. This is the only time it is appropriate to use stock photography of a person. 

NOTE: Use stock photography legally and do not infringe copyright. This means purchasing images or using images under a Creative Commons or similar license. There are free stock image websites, and Google Images has a copyright filter. University Relations has an account with Adobe Stock.

Classroom Photography

Shooting photos during class time raises unique students’ rights concerns. For example, did the students volunteer or did faculty volunteer the students? Are you taking something of value from students (class time, learning, etc.)? Consider how you might approach a classroom setting in a transparent but unobtrusive manner. 

  • Be clear about your expectations.
  • Confirm final arrangements with faculty directly, not an administrator or department head. See our Community Consent Guidelines.
  • Don’t insert volunteer models into a teaching environment exclusively to achieve visual diversity.
Before the Photo Shoot
Faculty member emails the students  - Ask the faculty member to send an email to their students informing them of the in-class photography.  
Staff from University Relations will be attending our class on [date]. They will be taking photos of our usual classroom activities. These images may be used in advertisements, recruitment materials, social media or on the website [be as specific as possible].  You do not need to participate. It is your choice to participate, and students who choose not to join will not be penalized. If you do not wish to participate, please let me know.  
If you have questions for university relations, please email us at 
Thank you! 
If possible, share the Community Consent Guidelines with the faculty member to distribute in class prior to the photo shoot.
During the Photo Shoot 
Announce yourself - Briefly and before class begins, introduce yourself and other marketing staff to the class. Set expectations and restate that students do not need to participate. Allow students to identify themselves if they do not wish to participate. 

TEMPLATE | Announcement

Hello,  I am [Name] from the Office of University Relations. We are here today to take photographs of your class. The photographs may be used in advertisements, recruitment materials, social media or on the website. You do not have to participate if you do not want to.  

We are going to pass around a card with a QR code to link you to our Community Consent Guidelines. This further explains your rights. If you do not want to be photographed, you can contact us using the information on the website, or you can identify yourself either by raising your hand or telling a marketing staff member.  

Thank you!

Send Thank You
Ask the faculty member to send an email to their students thanking them for participating.  


Hello,  Thank you from University Relations for participating in our photo shoot. We know you have a lot to do, and we truly appreciate the time and energy that you contributed. When we use the photos, we’ll send a quick heads-up so that you can see how you have helped to advance the mission of UMass Lowell. 

In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions or concerns. You can email

Thanks again!  

Follow Up with Students
Honor any removal requests that are received.

Public Photography

A common space is an open area accessible to all people. Photography conducted in a common space requires extra care. Campus visitors, for example, could be accidentally photographed.
Pre-planning and public notices can help you avoid leader challenges.
  • Do you provide advance warning when photographing in public?
  • Do you make contact information available to bystanders?
Be Visible
You can avoid accidentally photographing someone by helping bystanders to avoid you. At a minimum, wear a name tag and be conspicuous in your behavior.
Additional ways to increase visibility include the following.
  • Wear highly visible clothing, like a brightly colored vest.
  • Make eye contact with your subject.
  • Introduce yourself to the subject before after taking the photo.
When possible, you should receive consent to use community members images. See the Community Consent Guidelines.
Reserved Spaces
Reserve rooms. Reserve public spaces using usual methods. For example, some spaces can be reserved by contracting the programs administrative assistant, other spaces can be reserved through hospitality and events services.
Post signs. Use a sign to provide notice that the common space on campus will be used for photography. Because students use the spaces in the course of a typical day, your activity may interrupt their activities and upset plans. Photography notices are a courtesy that technology is these possible interferences and prevents interruptions during the photo shoot. Your notice should list the time the space will be used.
Send emails. If you will be using in common room that is often reserved for a class or specific program, ask a faculty member to notify students on your behalf. Ideally, this should occur at least one week before the photo shoot. This notice should include the time the space will be used and urge students to remove any belongings. They might need to access during that time.
Staff from the University Relations will be using [building, room, on date], from [start–finish time].  You will not be able to use the room during that time, so please arrange to do your work elsewhere. 
If you need any files from your computer or if you will need any supplies from the room, please take them beforehand.  If you have questions for University Relations you can contact them at
Thank you,     
Common Spaces 
If you will be photographing in a public place, provide advanced warning to users of that space where possible. For example, if you are photographing in the dining areas of University Crossing, place warning signs on the tables in advance of your photo shoot.  Notices in public spaces should include the scheduled time of the photo shoot.

Event Photography

Because it is impossible to gain consent from every person attending large events, it is useful to provide an alternative method for avoiding or opting out of photography.
  • Do provide advance warning when photographing in public spaces
  • Do make contact information available to bystanders?
Event Materials
Event materials like programs should include text informing attendees at the event will be photographed. When possible, the language should indicate where event photography will be used.
Celebratory Events
For events featuring students and alumni, like commencement or homecoming, use the following language.


This event will be photographed. The photography will be publicly available and may be featured on social media or for commemorative purposes.  The photography may be reused for marketing purposes. If that happens, we will make reasonable efforts to contact you for permission to reuse the images.

If you wish to opt-out or have concerns, please contact University Relations at

Hosted Events or Programs 

For hosted events or programs, like DifferenceMaker or the symposiums, use the following language.  


[Event Name] will be photographed. A photo album will be publicly available online. Photography may be used to highlight [Event Name] on social media or on In the future, the photography may be used to promote [Event Name].  If you wish to opt-out now or in the future or have concerns, please contact University Relations at

Public Notices

Provide advanced warning to event attendees were possible. For example, please sign at stadium entrance is notifying fans at photography will occur at the hockey game.

Photography-Free Spaces

One method of allowing people to control their own likeness at large events is photography-free spaces. These are differentiated areas were individuals who prefer not to be photographed can reside. For example, a section of bleachers at an athletic team, or a group of tables at a banquet could be reserved.

Care should be taken so that the spaces are not coercive. If your safe space is isolated or the worst seats at the event, and you were actively discouraging people from using photography–free areas.

You can mark off photography-free spaces by using signs. Do not create a boundary that restricts access. Signs to clearly explain the purpose of the area, but should not deter anyone from using the space.

Photography Editing

How we use the photo in the marketing materials is as important as gaining consent. Care should be taken to authentically represent the person in the photograph. If the photo requires substantial editing, then use a different photo.

Photograph should not be edited to:

  • Adjust a persons, skin tone, lighter or darker
  • Add or remove clothing, (i.e.: extending a top to cover a mid drift or cleavage)
  • Flipping a photo or changing orientation
  • Remove jewelry or other physical attributes, (i.e: piercings, tattoos, nail polish)

Exception, for editing, would be to remove logos on apparel. "Airbrushing" with the consent of the subject it allowed.

We thank Pacific Oregon University for its Best Practices in EDI for Marketing, on which our guidelines are based.