Well-crafted photos educate, engage and motivate viewers. Photography is an important element of visual identity and plays a crucial role in bringing our brand DNA to life. Follow these guidelines to align with a distinctive and compelling approach to visual storytelling.


We portray unique projects, learning opportunities and experiences that SFU students, faculty and researchers are involved in, with an emphasis on the impact they have on the world and each other. Our photos are a window into life at SFU and portray the diversity, richness of experience, vigour and energy of SFU.

Read more about applying an equity, diversity and inclusion lens to photography.


Our brand imagery relies on a style that is evocative of photojournalism: our primary photos feel candid and authentic with people as the prominent subjects and they are engaging in real life activities that reflect the narrative of our communication. Our photos tell stories, capture emotions and deliver a visually-engaging snapshot of life at SFU. It is the opposite of obvious posing and subjects smiling into the camera.

Images should have dynamic compositions taken from interesting angles and feel somewhat simple, without too much visual noise. Quiet space in our compositions and wider framing allows headlines and titles to be easily placed over them.


Our photographic style can be applied to portraits and is the preferred approach for communications and marketing such as faculty profile pages, news stories and social media.

Editorial portrait used for print ad
Subject engaged in conversation
Subject engaged in research

Formal portraits

Formal portraits for identification purposes should utilize a light-to-medium gray background with eyes to camera. All formal portraits should use the visual style demonstrated in the example below. Landscape orientation allows photos to be easily cropped to square, and used in wide applications such as horizontal banners. 

Formal portrait for identification purposes

Black-and-white images

Our primary images—such as those used for report covers, section dividers, website landing pages, print ads and social media—are black-and-white with a photojournalistic style. This style differentiates SFU among higher education brands and is most effective when complimented with other elements of our brand, such as our bold typography and colour palette. Together, they build immediate brand recognition and strategically align individual executions with SFU's institutional brand look and feel.

In simple terms, photojournalistic style are photos that tell stories by capturing a candid moment in a real-life scenario.
Whenever possible, use photo editing software to create proper black-and-white images with good tonal range.
Black-and-white helps visually unify disparate photos.
Example of good tonal range.
Example of poor tonal range.

Colour images

We use colour photography in news stories, announcements, publications and some institutional communications when colour is crucial to understanding and appreciating the content. For example, use colour in print publications that showcase campus buildings and surrounding geography to prospective students

Our colour photos should be simple and clean, without too much visual noise or contrasting colours. Because these images are often used with our strong SFU reds, it is important that the colours within them don’t clash.

Images to support content, such as news stories
Campus photos

Combining black and white with colour

We use both black-and-white and colour images in our communications. Here are some tips on how to combine them to optimize the overall impact of your communication:

  • Large-scale, black-and-white images can have great visual impact, especially in layouts that include headlines and titles. Think of black-and-white images as your “statement” images to establish the message and tone of the content being delivered, and think of smaller-sized, colour images as playing the supporting role to enrich and add dimension to the content.
  • Selective applications of black-and-white images can unify and create visual pacing for a long-form document, website or communication that includes multiple photos.


Photography should bleed off one or more edges of a composition. When multiple photos are incorporated into a spread, consider positioning them so they create a dynamic composition by balancing scale, placement and negative space.

Transit shelter ad


There are many sources of photography to engage and compel viewers to read your narrative. Bring a critical perspective and questioning mindset to image selections. Read more about applying an equity, diversity and inclusion lens to photography.


Our image library includes hundreds of professional photos of SFU. The library includes our locations, our events, departments and units, areas of research, our community, and campus life.


Your photo subject

Often, the most candid and authentic images related to the story you are telling already exists. Our students, faculty and researchers are actively taking their own photographs. Ask your subjects for photos and select ones that best reflect our photographic style. In these situations, remember to ask for high resolution images for optimal display, and then obtain the photo owner’s consent prior to publishing the photo.

A student from Faculty of Science submitted this photo that was used in an institutional ad campaign. Photo credit: Nicole Smith

Stock Libraries

Photography from outside sources should not be a primary resource, but can still be used to effectively support the narrative of your story. Be mindful of copyright usage and licensing for this material.

Access free stock images from websites such as Pexels, Unsplash, Pixabay and Picography. For more variety, license from paid stock image sites like Shutterstock, iStock or Getty Images.

Contract Photographers

If you are hiring a contract photographer, ensure you contact Communications and Marketing for recommendations. C&M maintains a roster of contract photographers who are experienced with various SFU assignments. For best results, make sure you share these photography guidelines with the photographer prior to assigning a job.

Here are some considerations for working with a contract photographer:

  • Are they experienced with the type of photography you’re looking for? For example, event photographers may not have much experience with formal headshots. Visit their websites for their portfolios or ask for samples of their work. Ask C&M for recommendations for contract photographers that are experienced with various SFU assignments.
  • What is their rate? Photographers may charge hourly or daily, depending on their preferences and/or type of assignment.
  • Photographers may have different conditions on the ownership of rights, usage and credit. Some include unlimited usage and full rights in their service fee; others may charge additionally for usage (limited or unlimited) but maintain ownership of rights. Some may require no credit while some may want to be credited every time the photo is used. You should ask these questions prior to assigning the job and ensure the agreement is recorded or documented for future reference.

Photography assignments vary but generally start with a creative brief. A good brief helps the photographer quote the work, collaborate with you on the assignment and should include the following information:

  • Title of photoshoot
  • Your contact information
  • Brief description of photoshoot
  • Date and time (Specific shoot date, or required by a specific date)
  • Location (Full address for driving directions, plus helpful campus directions or context)
  • Shot list (The more specific the better, and can be completed in collaboration with the photographer)
  • Audience (Who will view these photos?)
  • Desired tone
  • Avoid (What we do not want)

Do It Yourself

Consider capturing your own photographs to address timing, budget and other constraints. Whether you have access to a point-and-shoot, DSLR or modern smartphone, here are some helpful resources:


Use SFU’s framework to help determine whether or not it is acceptable to capture and publish an image or pre-existing work without permission. Check out SFU’s Multimedia Consent Guide for more information, practices and processes. 

Download SFU's Consent Form


Photos taken by staff, faculty or students instructed to take photos, or any third-party photographer commissioned to take photos on behalf of SFU, do not require credit when used by an SFU unit or department. Photos used in print or electronic materials used outside any SFU unit or department, such as news media, should be credited to “SFU” or “Simon Fraser University.”

Photos taken by any faculty, staff, student or third-party photographer not originally intended for SFU must have approval of the creator. In these cases, a licensing cost may be required, as well as credit. Both licensing cost and credit can be waived by the creator.