Text and Photography by Judah S. Harris
With the arrival of summer comes the speedy decline of the large-size advertisements for camp programs in our immediate area and those a longer bus ride away. For summer, the ads have done their job and now is the time to focus on the program itself, and a great summer we hope it will be. Summer programs are not just about camp. There are also school programs, and specialty learning programs, and destination travel programs for all ages.
But if marketing is no longer headline news, it’s still being thought about during the summer. This is the time to observe and preserve the moments that can be shared when the recruitment efforts begin once again for 2019 – and they will, before summer is out.
Most of those who run summer educational programs are aware that they need photography for marketing (video too, but the topic for now is the photos, as each medium is distinct). We’re going to be seeing a lot of photographs even during the summer months, shared in weekly updates on the websites or in newsletters.
But are these programs really using photography effectively to promote themselves? Some definitely are and others, it seems, are not. It has to do with misunderstanding how the recipients of the messaging respond to institutional promotional photography.
Here are three suggestions that can help the professionals who direct summer programs counter some of the mistakes that many of us have seen. These ideas can help any program (camp, school, touring program, museum or travel destination) gain not just more attention, but greater respect in the eyes of many.
#1 Happy Faces – a Lot of Them, and Not Enough of…
People like to see themselves in pictures (usually), and so will their family and friends. This was true before the Selfie epidemic hit us. But don’t rely solely on the smiling-for-the-camera shots or photos of large groups to raise your program’s profile. Keep these types of pictures separate from more serious photography that documents the programs you offer.
Lots of faces prove that you have a crowd and implies that everyone is having a great time. But if that’s all we see in your marketing photography, we lose the details of what these people are actually involved with and what they are experiencing. Educational programs offer an experience, and good photography is able to share that experience with the viewer by having them partake in the activity they are looking at in a photo. We need to really see what people are doing and there needs to be variety of activity – because most educational programs do offer variety, and a good photographer can identify that, thereby lending credibility to the substantive program in place.
Show us the faces of your participants and the group you’ve got going. Keep in mind, though, that photography that gets close and involved is more gripping and more emotional. Viewers pay much more attention when they grasp a story they can relate to and want to know more about. They are less interested in someone else’s children smiling before the camera. They want to know what will get their child to do the same.
#2 Where are We? Your Pictures Need to Tell Us
Show your space, your campus, your physical environment. If you have a program that houses itself in a unique historic building, a comfy or hi-tech classroom space, or a natural, rustic setting that belongs on a postcard or two, show it to us (we might want to visit!).
But don’t only show your space as a backdrop in photos where there are always people present. That’s certainly important for photos about people, in order to convey context and setting. Interesting space, however, needs to be seen on its own. The reason is because we photograph space differently based on whether there are people in the photo. We compose differently, we use light differently, we have time to clean up certain areas or prop if necessary (e.g., moving colorful canoes lakeside to a strategic place in the scene, or rearranging furniture pieces). When physical space can be observed on its own in a photograph, the viewer is able to imagine themselves in the picture. They are free to move around without distraction, and important and enticing details of the space emerge that the viewer can partake of to imagine their own experience, or the experience of those who might come back on stage and use the space in an hour or two.
Do combine people and space photographs in your promotions, just not always in the same picture.
#3 Present the Photos as You Want Them to be Seen
Edit the photographs you have with care and think about how to present them. Don’t give us everything. Edit your visual message by taking the best and most informative photographs and share those proudly with your audience. You can use individual shots (or a few) and attach a short written story or explanation, or you can assemble 30-60 images that tell a fuller story of your programs (or even one of them – a camp color war, a hike, visiting day, the learning or arts program), sequence them, and offer them as a photo essay, a visual presentation that can be viewed fullscreen and that will grab not seconds of attention, but full minutes of viewer immersion. That’s gold in this day and age.
People pay for good content with their time, and even those with no existing connection to your program will enjoy if you share a visual story that they find informative and entertaining. For them, it’s about art, culture, the human experience, and discovering a new place – they come for that, and in the process will learn about your educational program, your name and your brand. Edit and categorize your website galleries carefully and use nicely designed banners and graphics on the landing pages to promote your photo essay(s). If it’s special (it needs to be), tout the photo essay to your email list and on social media. You can also post images selectively on Facebook as newly-created albums to provide a photo essay experience, or use a slideshow hosting program (I’ve used Slideshare for many of mine.)
Judah S. Harris is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker and writer. He has produced visual content for numerous educational programs in the U.S. and Israel, and is also a noted photo educator. Judah’s narrative photography has been featured on the covers of more than 40 works of literary fiction, in advertising all over the world, and on the pages of publications ranging from The New York Times to Jewish Action. See his work at www.judahsharris.com/folio