Some tips for the development of visual images to promote harm reduction

If you have been following the blog, you may have noticed the development of the Gallery, a page dedicated to images promoting harm reduction.  The gallery has proven to be immensely popular and has been a newish way for me to promote harm reduction practice.

My experience has been that visual messages also tend to have a greater impact in the realms of Facebook and Twitter.  These posts tend to have a greater likelihood to go ‘viral’ and be shared across social networks.  Beyond social networks, I have been contacted by a range of people across Australia, U.S, Canada and the U.K who have said that they are using many of the images in their offline practice, printing them and giving them to clients or posting them as posters around their working environments.

These images can  be incredibly simple to construct.  In this blog post I will share some of the tools that I have been using to develop them.

Getting images

Intrinsic to many visual message is of course some kind of background image.  I took up photography a little while back and many of the images that have been using in the messages I have created have been my own.  While it helps to have good quality base images (I use a basic DSLR camera to capture most of mine), the reality is that you could use just about any image that you capture via a mobile device if you wish.

I also often utilise stock photo’s, images that have been made available by photographers via a range of different websites.  Perhaps the most useful website for stock photography that I have found has been StockXchange  StockXchange has a large range of photographs and other images and many of them are free to use.

In the near future Stonetree will be introducing a stock photo section to the Gallery page, where a range of harm reduction specific images will be made freely available.  The idea is that advocates of harm reduction will be able to freely access this resource to find base images that they can use in the production of their own visual images.

Some tips for using photographs

  1. Remember to check permissions to use photographs.  Some photographers will wish to be contacted before you use their images.
  2. Alcohol and other drugs issues unfortunately remain contentious and stigmatised in our society, so remember to get tacit approval from people when using images where they can be identified.
  3. Remember the photographs that you utilise do not have to be drug specific.  In many instances I have utilised photographs of other subject material and utilised the wording that I add later to link the visual image to the key point.  You can see some examples below.

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Editing photographs

I am not a Photoshop devotee, however post production of your base image can add to the impact of your visual message.  When producing a visual image I ordinarily use a range of iOS (that is iPad and iPhone) to edit my visual image.  There are some disadvantages to this approach, mainly in regard to potential degradation of the image quality, making it less suitable for high quality print purposes.  However since I mainly produce these images for dissemination digitally, this is less of an issue.

The advantage of using apps is that they are quick and easy to use, meaning I don’t need to learn how to use complex software, or spend hours learning how to manipulate my images and add effects.

Some suggested image editing applications

There are any number of image editing applications available via the iOS app store.  I have listed a few that I routinely use for post-production, below:




Each of these applications enable easy manipulation of your images and provide a range of filters for quick transformation of your photograph.  A definite favourite currently is Camera+ which provides not only a nice range of filters but a range of other tools for easy correction of your photos.

Words and Styling

Introducing words and graphic design can help to complete your message. Again there are a number of iOS apps that can provide you with tools to easily convert your photograph or other image into an impactful message.    In many instances I will use more than one app in the production of a visual image, utilising the strengths and features of different apps to mix different design elements and effects.  I have listed below, some of the apps that I more commonly use to design my visual images.


A simple and convenient way to add text to your image, Over provides you with a range of fonts and allows for layers of text.  This app also enables you to alter the brightness of your image in order to make your text to really pop.

Disposal bin

This image was constructed using a photo I took in Melbourne. The text was added using the iPad app, Over.


I’m by no means a graphic designer.  Phoster comes to my rescue by providing a range of ready made poster templates which I can edit and add my own images.  Additionally a number of the templates lend themselves nicely to text only images which are a useful feature when delivering simple key statements.  You can check out some examples of images that utilise Phoster templates below.

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WordFoto can be a little fiddly (yes that is a technical term), however if you can get the effect right, it can be incredibly effective.  WordFoto enables you to specify a range of words that can then be converted into a representation of your image.  See some examples below.

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Comic Book and Halftone

These two apps are quite similar, enabling you to convert your photographs into comic book style images.  Perhaps the most prolific user of this style in harm reduction circles is Nigel Brunsdon, founder and chief content developer of the fantastic Injecting Advice website.  Nigel has frequently utilised photographs he has taken of individuals at various conferences and used these types of apps to attribute important quotes to these individuals.  It’s a novel and impactful way of disseminating information coming out of conferences.  You can check out some of my attempts at using these apps below.

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High level technical proficiency is no longer a requirement for the production of sophisticated messages that can be disseminated to large audiences.  We have had for some time the means of broadcasting (social networks) and with the development of the range of mobile devices and accompanying applications we also have simplified means of production that enable us to produce quality visual images promoting harm reduction.  Such visual messages can often get traction with our intended audience where largely text based messages may not.  All of this poses the question: What are you waiting for? Creating impactful visual messages that promote harm reduction may be only a few finger swipes away.

2 Responses to “Some tips for the development of visual images to promote harm reduction”
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  1. […] of 140 characters in Twitter, pictures (and links) can have an even larger impact.  In a previous article I have provided a number of tips for producing materials promoting harm reduction in social […]

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