When we first started posting a few low-resolution digital photos back in 2000, we had no idea how this seemingly innocuous service would become a source of parent complaints and camp director headaches a decade later. We found ourselves lamenting to one another, “Why did we ever start posting photos?”
We heard comments like, “Clearly your photographer likes girls more than boys, since today there were seventy-two pictures of girls and only thirty-five pictures of boys.” We began feeling discouraged and drained by the effort we were putting into taking photos and uploading them.
But a few years ago, we had a revelation that completely changed our approach to our camp photography. Despite the inevitable criticism, we realized that providing top quality photos and news gives our parents a rewarding experience while their child is at camp. This meant that more effort – not less – was necessary to make our photos and news a success.
“We realized that providing top quality photos and news gives our parents a rewarding experience while their child is at camp.”
How did we come to this realization? Time after time at our camp presentations and during phone calls, parents gave us glowing testimonials about “seeing the wonderful pictures every day.” They shared with their friends, as well as with families who were interested in sending their children to camp for the first time, how it made them feel so reassured and happy to see the photos.
1. Spend more money.
Posting quality photos of every camper is now one of our top strategic priorities. Some directors may question placing this much emphasis on photos, but I contend that the photos you post from camp have a profound impact on your parents’ perceptions of your whole program. For most of them, it’s all they see, and it’s the only impression they have of your camp. If you aren’t already committing a significant amount of time and money to your photo department, I suggest you allocate some of your marketing dollars there.
Having a captive audience of camp parents view your photos, post them on their Facebook pages, and email them to their friends and family is one of the most effective ways for your current families to share your program with others. Thus, hiring a few more photographers and providing them with better equipment may be one of the wisest uses of your precious marketing dollars!
2. Take pictures of every camper.
Why do you need all these photographers? In analyzing our parents’ feedback, one thing became crystal clear: It’s not enough to post beautiful pictures featuring smiling faces and adventures in the woods. Even the breath-taking sunset picture with the canoe silhouetted on the lake is not what parents want. THEY WANT TO SEE THEIR OWN KID. Period. In a camp of any size, that presents a challenge. For us, that translated into increasing from one photographer back in 2000 to five in 2011. But hiring enough photographers, we learned, was not quite enough.
We had to start using a labeling and tracking system to make sure we were getting photos of every cabin group — and every camper in that group — every few days. I’m hesitant to admit just how many different tracking and logging systems we’ve tried, because we still haven’t perfected our system. For now, we have one “Lead Photographer” who supervises all the others, and gives daily, specific assignments to each of the other photographers. That same supervisor labels and tracks what photos are uploaded. Actually, “photographer” is a misnomer. Her job requires her to be at the computer most of the day, sorting through and uploading a huge number of photos. She takes very few photos herself. The role of photo sorter, labeler, and uploader is, for us, an office position, not an “out-in-camp” role.
3. Train your photographers as well as you train your counselors.
Your photographers need to know, very specifically, what photos you want. If you tell them to take “good” pictures, you will get what they think is good. We once had an artistic photographer who loved taking pictures at an angle. To him, the funky, sideways view looked “cool.” To parents (and to us, incidentally), it made us tilt our heads at the computer and not want to put the pictures in frames. You see the dilemma. Many photographers view their work as art. Be clear with your photographers about exactly the types of photos
We are currently working on a new Photo Manual that will be so detailed as to tell our photographers what lens and setting to use while taking morning waterskiing pictures. We will also spend time reviewing photos we used and loved from last summer as well as those that we did not post.
Just like we have someone coming to certify our rock climbing and ropes course staff, we also employ a photography teacher to review the settings and controls specific to the cameras we use (which, by the way, will be the same make and model for all photographers this year).
4. Ask for – and respond to – feedback from parents.
Even if you don’t plan to make any improvements this summer, at least ask your parents for feedback about the photos you post. Ask them to rate your photos, just like you ask them to rate your food and activities. Give them space to write comments and provide you with suggestions for improvement. Let them know that you are always working to improve your camp photography the same way you work to improve all aspects of your program. After all, this is your parents’ camp experience.
Article originally published in CampMinder Magazine, Vol. 2
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