Photographs provide great ways to tell stories, and the Boy Scouts of America has a terrific story to tell.
Do you pull out a digital camera or smartphone now and then during Scouting activities? Take the next step to improve your photography and use your images for effective visual storytelling. Well-crafted photo programs can enrich unit celebrations and courts of honor. Picture collections can also become the backbone of the historic record of your Scouting unit.
As thanks to land-management officials, photos can catalog the good work accomplished during conservation service projects. They are also powerful tools for recruiting young people and their parents to the BSA, and for keeping chartering organizations informed and enthused about the groups they are supporting.
Taking pictures that put viewers right in the middle of the action involves more than just pressing a button. Here are some pointers that seasoned photographers use to catch the right images for telling a story.
- Capture a story’s timeline by showing the steps of a project or the progress of an activity. During a hike, for example, get pictures of Scouts loading their packs, heading down a trail, stopping for lunch and making their way to their destination. Photos of trail signs can indicate locations and mileages.
- Watch for moments of warmth, humor and friendship. Scouting is often a matter of the heart, and pictures of Scouts helping one another, laughing together and sharing good times show Scouting at its best.
- Include details. Tight shots of knot-tying, whittling and other Scoutcraft activities can be very effective.
- Portray Scouts rising to meet challenges. Their body language can reflect plenty of meaning as they strive toward goals, from cheering on their Pinewood Derby race cars to summiting a windy peak.
- Show moments of success by closing in on faces full of joy, satisfaction and relief. Watch for disappointment, too, when it gives an honest sense of what Scouts are feeling. Cub Scouts who don’t win a Pinewood Derby are also part of the story.
- Give your story a sense of completion with a photo that ties up everything — reaching a canoe trip destination, for example, or receiving a merit badge or rank advancement award. At the end of a service project, an image of Scouts shaking hands with a city park ranger can be full of warmth.
- Don’t put your camera away when the weather turns bad. Protect it from the elements, but catch photos in rain, snow and other less-than-ideal conditions to show your Scouts in new ways.
- “The rule of thirds” imagines a grid in the shape of a hash mark dividing your camera screen into nine squares — three across and three high. Arranging key features of a scene so they are at the intersections of the horizontal and vertical grid lines creates an appealing balance.
- The soft, golden light of early morning and late afternoon can be ideal for outdoor photographs. Harsh noontime sun can wash out colors and create unwanted shadows on faces. If taking photos at that time, you might need to use a flash.
- Play with different angles. Shoot low, shoot from above, go for close-ups and try wide landscape perspectives.
- If your camera or phone has one, experiment with the portrait setting. It’s designed to make subjects pop out in sharp focus against a blurred background.
Tell the story
Shooting pictures gathers the raw material for visual storytelling. After you have downloaded pictures from your phone or camera to a computer and backed them up for safe storage, the fun of telling a story begins.
Photo-editing programs will let you crop photos, adjust the lighting and correct red-eye glare caused by a flash to make a picture truer to the scene it depicts.
Organize your favorite shots to tell your story. The simplest order is chronological — first this happened, then this and so on. Play around with the order of pictures to get the best mix of angles, close-ups and landscape images.
Some photo management apps let you add music or spoken words to a presentation. For a narration, consider recording thoughts from Scouts during an activity or as they reflect upon the experience later. If you can film motion, try mixing short video segments with the photographs.
Encourage Scouts to be photographers, too. Don’t let picture-taking interfere with their involvement with Scouting experiences, but if some are shooting photos anyway, guide them toward snapping better ones and demonstrate how they can tell stories when they get home.
Earning the Photography merit badge can give Scouts a great introduction to a lifetime of enjoying cameras. If a picture is worth a thousand words, they have many exciting volumes of visual storytelling ahead of them.
Social media storytelling
The power of the internet allows inviting platforms for sharing Scouting adventures. Even so, use social media only when you are certain your images are appropriate, protect Scouts’ privacy and follow Youth Protection guidelines. Scouts have Cyber Chip requirements to help them make good choices. As a leader, you should follow the same guidelines whenever you are thinking about posting.
Robert Birkbyis author of three editions of The Boy Scout Handbook, two editions of the BSA’s Fieldbookand the latest edition of the Conservation Handbook. Find him at robertbirkby.com