When you look through your Facebook news feed, a photo of a twilight campfire scene stops you midscroll: sunset glow, flickering flames and sticky-faced Scouts snacking on gooey s’mores.
Visual storytelling — telling a story through photos, sound and/or video — engages a person’s senses. A photo like the one described above could inspire a non-Scouting parent to think, “How do I sign my kid up?”
For Scouting leaders looking to grow a pack, troop or crew, this kind of marketing can help give your unit a bump in your recruiting efforts.
But how do you get started?
That’s where the BSA’s Visual Storytelling Workshops come into play. Offered annually since 2011 at the Philmont Training Center and select events across the nation, these specialized courses teach volunteers the skills needed to document and promote Scouting in their hometowns.
You don’t have to attend a workshop to tell a visual story of your Scouting experiences. (And you don’t need fancy equipment, either.) Employ these techniques from the Visual Storytelling Workshops to capture and create your own messages.
Developing your story
The first step is to understand what makes an effective story. “A good story has to be authentic (it has ‘real’ action), compelling (it should grab the viewer’s attention) and the right length (with widespread digital media, viewers’ attention spans are generally short),” says Randy Piland, senior lecturer at Elon University in North Carolina and one of the coaches at Philmont’s Visual Storytelling Workshop.
Once you’ve found a compelling story, capture a “decisive moment”; identify key elements; record sound, photos and video; edit the sound and images; and then share your story.
The best part? You don’t have to be a professional or have an expensive camera to create a visual story. “Amateurs can shoot pictures and video, edit them and immediately share their stories online,” says Jim Brown, Ph.D. The professor and executive dean emeritus at Indiana University School of Journalism says smartphones have matured to the point that they are serious reporting tools.
You can create Scouting stories through three specific methods: photographs, photo essays and video stories.
Capturing images and creating photo essays
A single photo can share a powerful message. For example, the expression on a Scout’s face as he scales a rock or lends a helping hand to a younger Scout can portray the adventure and values of Scouting.
There are three basic types of photos: candid, posed and camera-aware (when a subject realizes he is being photographed and may respond). Each type of photo can be helpful in various situations or stories.
“Learn to anticipate the right moment and capture it,” says Brown. “Put a little bit of AIR in every photo.” (AIR stands for action, interaction and reaction.) He lists other elements that make photos even more compelling, including composition, contrast, viewpoint, depth, focal point, repetition, scale and more. (Find additional photography tips at Brown’s website: storytellingonline.info.)
Combine a series of images to create a photo essay. To do this, first write a single declarative sentence (on paper or in your mind) that clearly states the idea you have for a photo essay. For example, “Scouts learn confidence through a COPE course experience.”
While you’re capturing an event, consider the variety of images you are shooting. Wide-angle photos of the landscape help set the location, while close-up shots can weave details into the story.
Then, cull your photos down to 20 — and then 10 — of the best shots, and then place the photos in a sequential slideshow to tell a story. This group of images transforms into a compelling photo essay that could potentially inspire at-home viewers about Scouting.
Recording sound and video
Combining sound, still images and video adds even more dynamic elements to storytelling — and it makes your story even more engaging.
Both specific sounds (like an interview with a Scout or a leader) and natural sounds (like a crackling campfire) enhance a story.
However, recording sound can be tricky. Although smartphones have a built-in recorder, an external mic or a handheld recorder is more effective for capturing clear sound.
“We are not looking for a Hollywood production,” says Brown. “The best visual story is one in which the people in the story tell what is happening and what they are feeling.”
After filming, head back to a computer and edit your videos using production software like Adobe Premiere Elements or iMovie. You can even use your smartphone and a video editing app. (Find a list of the best visual storytelling apps at scoutingmagazine.org/visualstorytelling.)
“A short story that works is better than a long story,” Piland says. “It’s great to have someone else look at your project, because they can tell you what to cut.”
So once you’ve created a Scouting story, what’s next?
“Be intentional about sharing your Scouting experience,” explains David Burke, a workshop coach. “Social media is key. The more we can encourage people to share and repost, the more powerful our marketing is.”
In addition to sharing your images or videos with local media channels — something that’s easy to do on a media outlet’s Facebook page or by using hashtags like #BeAScout on Instagram or Twitter — Roger Morgan, BSA photographer and Visual Storytelling Workshop director, suggests sharing with your close network of friends.
Mike Ramey, a committee member from Troop 448 in Dexter, Mich., says he felt ill-equipped in growing his local troop before attending the workshop at Philmont. “Now I know what I can do.” He volunteered to help his troop historians take photos at an upcoming Scout reunion and create a visual story to promote Scouting.
And what about you? Robbie Rogers, a Visual Storytelling Workshop coach, says, “It starts with each troop, each pack, each Scout telling their story and sharing it.”
WHERE TO SHARE
How does a Scout, leader, unit or council begin sharing Scouting stories? Start by liking the BSA Visual Storytelling Workshop Facebook page to find inspiring photos and stories from other Scouters. Then consider posting your own photos and stories on social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more. Include a link to BeAScout.org or your unit website in your posts, and remember to use the #BeAScout hashtag.
“Your social media experts are in your troops — as Scouts,” says storytelling workshop coach Robbie Rogers. “Get them engaged. We have to use their passion for this if we really want social media and Scouting to work together.”
“Telling a Scouting story is a most effective marketing tool and should be a very important part of any council’s marketing efforts,” says BSA storytelling consultant David Burke. So how do councils get started?
The Longhorn Council in Fort Worth, Texas, formed a council Visual Storytelling Committee.
“We started by searching through our Scouting volunteers for people involved in media, advertising, photography, writing, etc.,” explains Larry Crouch, director of the Longhorn Council’s development and marketing.
The committee evolved to include 30 volunteers who now visit Cub Scout day camps, Scout camps, fall activities and other Scouting events to take photos and record video. The council quickly developed about 8,000 story pieces — video clips, individual photos and blurbs — that were small enough to send in an email, but large enough to get people’s attention.
Next, units were encouraged to have a social media chairman coordinate local efforts in either producing their own stories (with “how-to” info available on the council blog) or using a piece from the council library. Then, parents were asked to identify people at church, school or in their neighborhood with potential Scouts and forward a Scouting email message to them.
Crouch explained, “We’re sending a strong call: ‘If you want your son to participate in what you’ve seen in the emails, then we’ll tell you how to be a part of it.’ ”
Sign up for a future Visual Storytelling Workshop at philmontscoutranch.org/PTC.
Read more excellent photography and videography tips by James Brown, dean of the BSA’s Visual Storytelling Workshop and professor at Indiana University School of Journalism.
Download these apps to accentuate your digital storytelling skills.