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How our Climate Visuals project is helping The Guardian rethink the images they use for their climate journalism

By Toby Smith on October 22, 2019

The Guardian is rethinking their use of climate imagery in line with our Climate Visuals insights, following a collaborative workshop we ran with over 20 Guardian representatives.

Woman holding her child in flood water

As part of our Climate Visuals project, we’re collaborating with The Guardian to help them better understand how to visually communicate the impact the climate emergency is having across the world.  

The Guardian newspaper, as part of its 2019 climate pledge, has just published an editorial titled Why we’re rethinking the images we use for our climate journalism’. 

The Guardian’s new internal, public and media facing photographic guidelines were produced after consultation with the Climate Visuals team utilising the project’s unique research, expertise and evidence base. 

Climate Visuals is a Climate Outreach programme based on international social research and a set of seven core principles to catalyse a new visual language for climate change. 

We presented our peer-reviewed narrative evidence, coupled with direct insights and recommendations for Guardian journalists, in a collaborative workshop following an invitation by Fiona Shields, Guardian Head of Photography. 

“The concern over how best to depict the climate emergency led us to seek advice from the research organisation Climate Visuals, who have found that “images that define climate change shape the way it is understood and acted upon”.   

Fiona Shields - Guardian, Head of Photography


Over 20 Guardian representatives attended our collaborative workshop, representing the full diversity of Guardian staff, from the sports desk to social media and commissioning editors. 

Toby Smith, Climate Visuals Programme Lead, and Joel Silver, Partnerships Manager, discussed the opportunity and trends within the current media landscape, presented new climate narratives, and lead a constructive criticism of the current approach, with a view to improving audience response.  

The consultation was followed up with specific recommendations around scenarios of extreme weather, social media integration and consideration of the wider systemic change required within the photography industry.  

“The Guardian are Europe’s most distributed, impactful, and leading news source for climate change coverage, and are an exemplary media partner for us to work with. Fiona Shields has distilled the entire process, with excellent photographic examples, in the recently published online article. This editorial, and the wider Guardian climate pledge, demonstrates how insights and changes to communication can catalyse environmental impact within an organisation, the media industry at large and their substantial audiences.” 

Toby Smith - Climate Visuals Programme Lead

Building on the example set by The Guardian, the Climate Visuals team, supported by the KR foundation, is strategically looking to engage with organisations from across the media and photographic spheres to continue pushing the vitally needed shift in climate change’s visual language. 

Climate Visuals hosts a growing library of photography and evidence that provide inspiration and guidance for campaigners, picture editors and visual communicators on selecting and commissioning climate change imagery. 

The Climate Visuals team and insights are also available for a number of services including bespoke photography and visual editing, direct consultancy or long-term partnerships. If you would like to get in touch, please contact Joel or Toby at the address below. 

Joel Silver – Partnerships Manager:

Toby Smith – Climate Visuals Programme Lead and Media Liaison:

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By Toby Smith

Toby was the Visuals and Media Programme Lead for Climate Outreach from 2019 to March 2023. He had the strategic goal of expanding our presence, influence and impact in the visual and media sectors.

Toby graduated with a Masters in Photography from London College of Communication in 2008 after spending 2 years working across Africa utilising his bachelors degree in Zoology and Environmental Science.

He joined us with over 12 years experience as an award-winning environmental photographer with a focus on building innovative and global stories through collaboration and publication in leading editorial outlets.


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