Brand Standards: Photo

Photography Guidelines

The photos you use stand as examples of USU and our culture. Planning your layouts and finding or making pictures that support your goal will improve your designs and help you be more efficient.

Make a Plan

A picture is worth a thousand words, but let’s not ramble.

Planning what you need a picture to say will help you compose it better. More importantly, it’ll help your photographer make the pictures you need.

Consult with your graphic designer about how the pictures will be used. If your photographer makes a great horizontal panorama, it won’t be much good on a vertical poster.

Shot List/Mood Board

Make a list of the pictures you need. Not sure what you need? That’s normal. Here are a few ideas to help you identify your needs. Do you need a:

  • happy picture?
  • serious picture?
  • landscape?
  • portrait?
  • portrait with the person looking at the viewer?
  • candid action shot?
  • picture of collaboration?
  • picture of teamwork?

Search Adobe Stock, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. to get your ideas flowing. Save examples as screenshots.

Look for pictures that combine well to illustrate a story. Maybe your subject could be shared in Utah State Today. Make pictures of the whole place, then pictures of the main thing, then closeups to illustrate the details.

Write the list and provide some of your examples. Caption the images with what you like about the picture to help guide your photographer’s vision.

NOTE: You should never publish photos you don’t have permission from the photographer to use, however, using them to compile a private shot list is fine. See USU’s Copyright Guidelines.


Education is a serious endeavor, and Aggies do serious work, but they enjoy doing it. There’s nothing worse than a photo of a person who looks bored, which is usually how serious comes across in a photo.

Ask your photographer to provide original (RAW) files as well as whatever editing they prefer.

As you make pictures, constantly remind your subjects to look pleasant, cheerful, engaged, interested, and excited. A little squint in the eyes and a slight lean forward changes a bored look into an interested look. Coaching people helps make sure your pictures reflect the appropriate mood.

The amount of light in a photograph also informs its mood. A light-colored background with a well-lit subject result in a brighter, lighter mood in the photo. A black background with a partially lit subject makes a dramatic and somber mood. Your visual communications should be on the brighter side with a light mood 99% of the time.


Most pictures we use at USU are coupled with design to convey information, support an idea, or promote an event. Your photo, layout, and copy should work together with a similar voice.

Make sure you convey that voice to your photographer. With a thousand words to work with, make sure your photographs are speaking eloquently.


Your pictures should have a natural style, and retouching ought to be invisible. Viewers should see the subject of your images without noticing any editing.

Avoid pre-made actions and Insta-filters. These can dim your message because the editing is so obvious.

There are certainly times when an editing style compliments your design, but this should be anticipated.

Creative lighting, framing, and posing can help your layout stand out, but it should match your design plan. Take care that the first description that comes to mind is not something bias, like “sexy.”

Ask your photographer to provide original (RAW) files as well as whatever editing they prefer.


Any camera with a changeable lens is capable of making publish-worthy pictures. Many smartphones include exceptional cameras, as well. Generally speaking, however, phone pictures should be used only for social media posts and vignettes online, and not for print publication.

Lighting makes all the difference in photos. Except for snapshots for social media, flashes and lights should not be used on the camera. Use off-camera lighting to mimic and/or enhance natural light.

Diffusers and reflectors are great, simple tools to enhance the light on your subjects. Use white reflectors as much as possible. Switch to a silver reflector in dim situations or for rim lighting -- rarely should a silver reflector be used on your subject’s face because it’s too harsh. Never use a gold reflector on your subject’s face.