Reflecting & Projecting: Vlogging & its Enduring Power for Humanitarian Storytellers

Vlogging has emerged as a highly influential form of content creation. As digital sharing platforms have come and gone, innovative formats have come in and out of vogue. But vlogging has endured and appears to be a permanent fixture in the shifting world of media formats. Having played a key role in the democratisation of media, opening the lines of communication between a diverse range of content creators and different audiences, vlogging has the power to create online communities and effect change.

Characterised by a first-person perspective and direct address, vlogging simulates a personal connection between creator and viewer. Typically, without much overt editing, vlogging provides a sense of authenticity and adopts a conversational tone, allowing viewers to witness the vlogger's genuine reactions and experiences. In a world in which high-quality editing tools, visual effects and AI  are easily accessible, it speaks to our hunger for authenticity that such a stripped-back and honest format has retained its significance. As human beings, we are naturally drawn to stories and personal narratives, and vlogging provides an intimate platform for sharing those stories in a compelling and accessible manner. The enduring power of the vlog lies in its ability to captivate and engage audiences on a deeply personal level. Vlogs offer a genuine glimpse into the lives of storytellers; fostering a sense of connection and relatability.

Saiyna and Naveed on assignment for Arete on behalf of British Asian Trust.


When one thinks of vlogging, YouTube stars may spring to mind, but the impact of vlogging extends far beyond entertainment, and has touched just about every industry. Vlogs have proven to be a powerful tool for humanitarian storytellers, whether they’re videographers by trade, photographers, journalists, or other creators – enabling them to document crucial issues and professional philosophies while also holding intense personal significance. Vlogging encourages content creators to reflect on their experiences as they delve into their emotions and analyse their actions. This process of self-reflection is not only personally enriching but can also assist in developing a deeper understanding of the complex challenges they may encounter in the field.

Vlogging can also hold a therapeutic quality. It can be an antidote to some of the emotional rigours of working in the humanitarian context. The sounding board offered by a camera lens turned on ourselves provides a space for free thought, self-expression, and emotional release. One-on-one interaction with the camera invites vloggers to fill the silence with spontaneous thought, encouraging ideas and feelings to be unearthed and developed. This can help storytellers make sense of their work and find solace in shared experience, even if the vlog never finds its way to a public platform.

Creators often report moments of epiphany or self-discovery when working in the field. We’re all familiar with the feeling of having a break-through and rushing for a pen and paper to write it down, and vlogging can provide a rawer, more true-to-life record of such moments – helping storytellers to learn about themselves just as much as they learn about the world around them.

Arete videographer Simpa Samson and photographer Damilola Onafuwa, on assignment on behalf of the World Food Programme.


One of the strengths of vlogs is their ability to provide viewers with a direct and unfiltered window into the vlogger's world. Videos offer an intuitive and immersive experience when compared to written blogs, enabling viewers to see and hear directly from someone else's perspective – projecting that perspective out into the wider world.

For humanitarian content creators, whatever the target audience, or nature of the assignment, vlogs are a powerful means of bridging gaps of understanding.

With much of the population of more economically developed countries living extremely sedentary lifestyles, many people experience the world through video content. Huge distances between people, not only geographical but also in terms of wealth, culture, and ideology, mean that bridging such gulfs with new ideas and documented experiences is important work. Vlogging stands out as a means for this, as its uniquely intimate quality has the power to nurture empathy and understanding. The intimate connection between viewer and creator prompts the audience to reflect on their own experiences in a way that can lead to meaningful action in support of positive change. A situation can be experienced vicariously by the viewer, cutting through the distance, and making the subject matter more immediate. This connection stimulates a deep level of resonance and a sense of community. Vlogs can also be used to keep remote team members informed, helping them to understand the process or situation on the ground in a more profound way that encourages them to buy into a team ethos and values.

Karel on assignment for Arete on behalf of UNICEF.

A Collective Craft

Sharing experiences and insights through vlogs creates a sense of camaraderie within the industry. Vlogging can be a platform for both aspiring and seasoned professionals to learn from one another, fostering a guild of values-driven creators that collectively elevate the quality of content.

Humanitarian storytellers hold privileged positions. While working in the field can be incredibly challenging, many people would do anything to use their creativity and skill to have a tangible impact on the world, especially in the face of increasing natural disasters, emergencies, and inequalities. Vlogging is a great way to share with others and inspire them to develop their own talents and put them to good use.

Platforms are saturated with ill-intentioned content that prioritises personal gain over the well-being of others. Talented, ethical humanitarian creators have an opportunity to represent the values of the profession – proving that storytelling can be done differently. By staying authentic, humanitarian vloggers can provide an alternative narrative, one that is compassionate, impactful, and focused on making a positive difference in the world. In a jam-packed media landscape, where content creators vie for 30 seconds of attention, it is the heartfelt and passionate approach that resonates with audiences. When content comes from the heart, it is more likely to inspire, educate, and move.

So, why not give it a go? You may not even realise the extent of what you have to say until you start filming. Simply setting up a tripod, having a chat, and jotting down some notes can unlock a wealth of thoughts and ideas. By giving voice to your experiences and perspectives, you may uncover something that resonates deeply with others.

Please feel free to email us your vlogs for us to showcase on the Arete Gazette! title: Vlog Submission

Our award-winning journalists, photographers and content providers are eager to help you make a difference.

Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.

Photo of the Week-31st May 2023

Saida Yusuf Ismail, a farmer, poses for a photograph as she holds a papaya in her farm in Banaaney, Jowhar. FAO is working closely with the European Union to help contribute to the development of inclusive and competitive value chains in the Southern and Central regions of Somalia by supporting farmers. Both the government and private sectors are able to achieve enhanced agricultural production, access to markets and enable a conducive business environment. Arete/FAO

Photo of the Week-25th May 2023

Women get vaccinated against Cholera at the Banadir Hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. Cholera is an infection caused by water and food that has been contaminated by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium. As Cholera is still a global threat, the WHO has implemented a task force to help eliminate Cholera in more than 20 countries by 2020. Arete/Gavi

Photo of the Week- 17th May 2023

Community members are taught how to maintain beehives as part of a community engagement programme at the Jaguar Camp, Bolivia. World Bee Day is celebrated on the 20th of May. Bees are under threat due to human activities. However, FAO is providing technical assistance to many different countries on issues that include queen breeding, sustainable honey production, and export marketing. These services will help protect pollinators such as bees for the future. Arete/Shell

Photo of the Week - 10 May 2023

Residents of a bomb shelter stand in line near a food distribution point in Kharkiv, Ukraine.  NGOs are supporting over 6 million people around Ukraine that have been displaced because of the war. Many displaced people are seeking shelter in basements and subways. These NGOs have also been helping with basic needs that have either been donated or bought with the money people have donated. With continued support, these NGOs can keep on supporting the many displaced people in Ukraine.

The implications of AI for authentic, ethical photography

To create the image above, we asked an AI art generator to produce an authentic, ethical image.

The expert storytelling agency for NGOs, UN bodies and charities, Arete is built on the power of storytelling to make a positive impact on the world. Photography forms a large part of what we do, and images have a unique power to engage and move people to action. Photography is critical to raising awareness and empathy for those affected by conflict, disaster and crisis, and it is the ability of visual storytellers to capture the human experience that often drives support for those in need.

But artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping the way we think about photography and visual storytelling at large, offering photographers some benefits, but also raising a range of ethical and practical concerns.

In this blog, we explore the implications of AI for photography in a humanitarian context, the place of the photographer in what could be a new world for visual storytellers, and the vital need for trusted professionals working in the field.

Arete consultants Fred Ooko and Brian Ongoro on assignment on behalf of UNICEF in Kenya, 2021.
Photo: Brian Ongoro / Arete

The Benefits

The emergence of AI has brought a wealth of benefits to photographers, including the automation of tasks such as image analysis, captioning, editing, and making content more widely accessible. Producing high quality content quickly is essential when working in crisis situations, and the acceleration of these processes has the potential to instigate prompt action and garner support in time to save lives.

AI-based image analysis tools can swiftly identify key features of an image, such as facial expressions, body language, and tone, providing insights into the emotional state of subjects. This allows photographers to process and categorise large quantities of images rapidly, quickly putting them to use where they will be most effective.

AI image processing technology can enhance the quality of images captured in challenging environments, such as low light or extreme weather conditions. It can adjust contrast, brightness, and saturation to create visually impactful photographs more quickly and efficiently.

Construction workers on a WFP assisted construction project of a 7km water canal in Afghanistan, 2021.
Photo: WFP / Arete

Automated captioning tools could revolutionise the workflow of field photographers as they provide supplementary information to charities, NGOs, and post-production teams. Alongside captions, AI can assist in categorising and organising vast collections of photographs to facilitate search processes. Facial recognition technology can even be utilised to locate images of specific individuals.

Lastly, AI is proving to be instrumental in making visual content more accessible to a broader audience. AI-powered tools can translate captions and descriptions into multiple languages, making it easier to engage international audiences. Auto-generated audio descriptions and other accessibility features can also be included through AI, bringing content to visually impaired people and other groups.

The Questions

Along with the positive implications of AI come a host of ethical questions. For example, AI-powered facial recognition technology could potentially put subjects at risk of harm when in the wrong hands and in particularly sensitive political climates. As with many emerging technologies, security risks are difficult to assess, and it is still very early to make a thorough judgement on the dangers this could present.

Two young boys in Yemen, 2020. Photo: Abdulwhed Al-Suma'e / War Child / Arete
Delegates lead Victor Aguayo, the Director of Nutrition and Child Development from the UNICEF New York headquarters, through the UNICEF-supported outpatient Nutrition programme centre, at an IDP camp in Somalia, 2022.
Photo: Ismail Taxta / UNICEF / Arete

Probably the most widely held concern in this debate is the potential to manipulate images, creating misleading or false representations of a crisis. Generative AI produces authentic-looking, unique, visually striking images at the touch of a button by using algorithms to create new images based on patterns and rules learned from existing ones. This is a particularly confronting topic for Arete and the charities and NGOs we work with. Arete’s philosophy and day-to-day operations are built on letting people tell their own stories – amplifying and giving a platform to real human emotion – igniting identification with an authentic common humanity.

Generative AI raises the question of authenticity. Is it right to garner support for people, in the midst of very real crises and suffering, through artificial images manufactured to create the desired effect? Our mission is to create content that inspires as much action as possible, but it’s vitally important that action is driven by real-world factors. Emotion is an important motivator, but the potential for machine learning to manipulate human behaviour is troubling and could damage trust in charities and NGOs in the longer-term.

It is also important to remember that while AI technology can automate tasks and enhance image quality, it cannot replace the human connection that is necessary for effective storytelling because it undermines authenticity. Humanitarian photography is about capturing the human experience, and AI technology cannot replace the empathy and sensitivity that comes from human interaction.

One significant concern held by photographers is the potential for AI to homogenise imagery, much in the same way that social media algorithms have contributed to the narrowing of political views. This presents the possibility of a future in which the art of photography is diminished, and could also lead to less effective storytelling in the humanitarian context. The emotive drive behind an appeal is often the uniqueness of a situation – a uniqueness which stretches from the subject themselves, to their surroundings, to the particular style conveyed by the photographer and in post-production. The best storytellers will absorb everything they can from their surroundings and channel them into capturing the essence of a situation. Being true to the story is everything.

*Polina and her sons at a former women's shelter which takes in displaced women and children. She fled Kharkiv, Ukraine for Odesa 11 and is being supported by DEC charity Christian Aid UK and local partner Alliance for Public Health.
Photo: Maciek Musialek / DEC / Arete

At Arete, our greatest strength is our people. We’re driven by a network of experienced and talented individuals from all over the world, and the importance of having trusted photographers in the field cannot be overstated. Photographers must be committed to ethical storytelling, prioritising the well-being and dignity of those they photograph. They must also work to build relationships and establish trust within communities. This means taking the time to listen, understand, and collaborate in a way that respects people and their cultures. At Arete, we use local consultants whenever possible. This has allowed us to gain trust, produce the highest quality, true-to-life content, and work in the least disruptive, most respectful ways possible.

The implications of AI in the field of photography are huge. But in the humanitarian context, we do not believe that AI will diminish the importance of the photographer. When used to good effect, AI has the power to liberate photographers – providing more space for their talents to shine through, in turn, allowing their work to help charities and NGOs operate more effectively.

Reducing editing and processing time and producing high quality images quickly can empower photographers to focus on the creative and ethical questions presented by a particular situation, but having trusted experts at the heart of communications remains vital.

Our award-winning journalists, photographers and content providers are eager to help you make a difference.

Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.

Photo of the Week - 3 May 2023

Siblings Felamon Kedaneh (left, age 6), Raqaa Kedaneh (middle, age 10), and Tadeleh Kedaneh (right, age 8) sit eating rice on the floor of a temporary shelter in Um Rakuba refugee camp in eastern Sudan. According to the UNHCR, more than 334 000 people have been displaced since the conflict in Sudan began 2 weeks ago. The WHO has also stated that many people will die due to medical stockpiles running critically low and a lack of essential services. The UN Emergency relief coordinator and senior humanitarians are currently based in Port Sudan to help rebuild the UN aid effort to help the many Sudanese in need. Arete/WFP

Photo of the Week - 26 April 2023

Community Health worker, Millicent Agola, gives Maureen Otieno Owino medicine because she tested positive for malaria in Siaya, Kenya. The World Health Organisation and their partners are using World Malaria Day, 25th of April 2023, to recognise all of the countries that are working hard at reaching the zero malaria target and improving the health of their citizens. Arete/Malaria No More UK.

A child washes himself with dirty flood water near his house that was destroyed during the landfall caused by Cyclone Ida in Beira City, Mozambique.

Photo of the Week - 19 April 2023

A child washes himself with dirty flood water near his house that was destroyed during the landfall caused by Cyclone Ida in Beira City, Mozambique. International Mother Earth Day, celebrated on the 22nd April, is aimed at promoting healthier ecosystems which will help combat climate change, end poverty, and help prevent mass extinction. Arete/UNICEF

Eliza Telesoni’s baby receives an oral immunisation in Dowa District, Malawi.

Photo of the Week - 12 April 2023

Eliza Telesoni’s baby receives an oral immunisation in Dowa District, Malawi. NGOs working in the country have increased vaccination programmes to help protect babies and children against infectious diseases like malaria and pneumonia. This has also helped to decrease the mortality rate of children under the age of 5. Arete/Jhpiego