Taking Photos That GEL

When I attended this year’s Evangelical Press Association‘s (EPA) annual convention, I had the opportunity to sit in on a breakout lead by  Kenny Irby called Show Me: Visuals and Design that Pull In the Post Literate Generation. The premises of the session was that audiences born after 1990 are much more visual in nature and will look and skim your visuals before they will read your lead sentence or opening paragraph.

This was the first time I had a chance to meet Kenny Irby and let me tell you, I was impressed. According to his bio:

“Kenny is a senior faculty member and director of community relations at the Poynter institute for Media Studies. He has served the Poynter Institute for 18 years and founded the Institute’s visual journalism initiatives, having been an award- winning photojournalist in the Baltimore area. Irby served as a judge on the 2007 Pulitzer Prize photo competition, and has been a speaker for international audiences on photojournalism, photo ethics and truth-telling  visual media.”

Needless to say, the guy knows his stuff.

When taking and evaluating photos, Kenny uses an acronym he calls “G.E.E.L.” (pronounced “gel”…as in hair gel).

Here are a few examples to demonstrate the G.E.E.L. ideas. These are all award winning photos from the World Press. Notice how many demonstrate more than one principle.


This was probably the most helpful tip that I picked up. What someone is doing with their hands is just as important as what they are doing with their eyes. Having someone hold something (or someone) is an easy way to improve your photos and make them more interesting.


People are drawn to and can relate to expressiveness (joy, pain, sadness, etc.)


Sometimes the setting is so stunning or shocking it does all the talking for you.


Without saying, lighting is fundamentally critical part of making a great photo.  As photographers we tell stories with light. A photographers we need to be “lighting aware” as we make the most of the opportunities that we are presented with.

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