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“Everything we do, we film or photograph” – how Greenpeace uses photography

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The crew of the Greenpeace ship MY Arctic Sunrise construct a ‘heart’ with the flags of the 193 country members of the United Nations on an ice floe north of the Arctic Circle. © Daniel Beltra / Greenpeace

In a recent interview the magazine for pro photographers Photo District News spoke to John Novis, head of photography at Greenpeace International about the way his organisation uses photography to further their mission. (The article is here, sadly behind a paywall.)

For the past three years, Greenpeace has won World Press Photo competition prizes for news and nature stories they’ve commissioned – showing their commitment to quality photography, and also showing how the lines between journalism work for publications and for non-profits and NGOs are blurring.

Novis was very clear about the results Greenpeace get for their investment in quality photography (emphasis mine). ” We have always put a big budget in visuals. Everything we do, we film or photograph. We hire good freelancers, go to remote places and do good stories. . . It used to be basic direct action [coverage] on the hard news side. Now there’s much more documentation and stories in response to environmental news events.”

He’s also very keen on adding a multimedia element to the work the photographers are doing as the expectations change: “Everything is more Web based, so we’ve been doing a lot of work that combines photography, video and audio.”

One element of this is the Greenpeace Photos iPad app – a regularly-updated portfolio application that showcases the best of Greenpeace photography.

Like all NGOs and non-profits Greenpeace is trying to have the most impact for the least amount of money. If they’re investing so heavily in quality photography, it’s obviously because it works.

That old online forum cliché that ‘this thread  is useless without pics” has never been more true across the internet, especially for social media channels. Look for strong stories in the work you’re doing, and then tell them visually. Are there events, programs and projects that your organisation is engaged in that aren’t getting the photography they need?

 

Why the websites I’ve built have failed

I’ve built a lot of websites over the last 8 years of running a web design firm and working for other firms before that. The first professional website project I worked on was in 1995 – so let’s call it 75 sites since then, but it might be nearer a hundred. Most have been small and medium sites for small creative business and non-profits.

And when I look back at them and check out the ones that are still up, it’s clear that most of them have failed. They look fine (or better), the client’s have been satisfied (or happy), and there’s been no catastrophic disasters leading to law suits or even anything but a tiny amount of downtime.

But even though a lot more than half the work I do on the website side of things now is repeat business with long-standing clients it’s clear to me (if not always to the satisfied clients) that nearly all of the sites I’ve built could have done a lot more, and delivered more to justify the money and effort that went into them.

Not a technology challenge

Years ago, I was an early employee at the Dublin-based internet consultants iQ Content. Morgan McKeagney the boss would tell clients that building a successful website is not a technology problem as much as it’s a people and process problem. He was right then, and he’s even more right now. Setup a Squarespace account, or go for a one-click WordPress install with an off the shelf template and you’ve just launched a site that’s more robust, easy to use and attractive than 90% of websites out there.

It’s what’s happened before and what happens after that launch that will define whether or not your site actually ends up working for you. Solid technology won’t count for much when there’s not been an update for five months, or prospective clients can’t find what they’re looking for because management decided they would only put up sales fluff not detailed specifications.
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Dogs in the office – public relations dogs

Welcome to the Office

A lovely open office with a great view in the hills above Santa Fe – not a bad place to bring your three dogs to work. Especially when your commute is a walk across the yard from your house, as is the case with Clare Hertel, principal at public relations firm Clare Hertel Communications.

When I show up, Clare’s black lab Hatch is so excited to see me he jumps in the back of my car, and even when we walk up the stairs to the office he’s very interested in me and all my gear.

Eventually though, he resumes his normal position in the office – sprawled on the floor with old golden Huck. Young buck Mellie takes the first watch sitting outside the door. Read more…

Make it Personal – Six Ways Non-Profits Can Connect with their Audience

One of the many strengths of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is that people get to meet the artists they’re helping with their donations and purchases of authentic folk art (such as Mireille Delismé from Haiti, shown above) . You can’t get much more personal than that, but there are ways to communicate this immediacy online and in print, too. Photo: David Moore.

Why one person’s story is better than all the pie charts in the world

I’ve worked with a range of non-profits on projects, and it would seem they have the perfect material for the content-rich, engaging type of web presence that really works.

But all too often, they can’t see the wood for the trees. How they explain what they do and its impact often sounds more like a briefing to market analysts than anything that will grab an audience and make them want to get involved.

Too often, it’s ‘We fund this many projects in this many countries, and every year we raise this much money to do it. Our average grant is this much, and this percentage of our donations goes directly to projects on the ground.’

This might be how to outline a rational case for why I should donate (along with PowerPoint slides containing some pie charts), and I certainly want your organization to be run on a rational basis, but reason alone isn’t going to make me want to help.

So how should non-profits articulate their purpose and results powerfully? You need emotion – harder to control, not quite so businesslike, but so much more effective. We support those causes we connect with emotionally.

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North to Chama and Beyond

Just before school started this week, we headed up to Chama in northern New Mexico, to ride the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which winds its way through some amazing scenery on its way to Antonito, Colorado.

It was a family trip, but I brought the camera and got some images that communicate something of the day.

Communicating Compassion with a new site for Veterinary Cancer Care

I’m very happy to announce the launch of the website I worked on for Veterinary Cancer Care (VCC) – a veterinary oncology practice based in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

The site is a great example of the sort of holistic approach I like to take to a client project – I worked on the web development, photography and multimedia work to bring it all together as a consistent whole.

Dr Jeannette Kelly of VCC is a devoted and caring vet, and  her practice has helped thousands of pets with cancer. Her website was out of date and didn’t really communicate the key message of the practice – that treating pets with cancer is completely different from treating humans with cancer.

The feel of the practice is warm and caring, and although it’s obviously a difficult time for clients, they were positive and grateful for the compassion and skill Dr Kellly and her staff showed to the pets under their care.

Since most visitors to the site would be coming after receiving bad news from their primary care vet, it was important to dispel their misconceptions and make them more comfortable considering VCC.

It seemed to me that explaining the treatment options and the qualifications of the staff, while necessary, wouldn’t be enough to counter the potential client’s idea that veterinary oncology was going to mean suffering for their pet in a cold and unwelcoming environment. We were dealing with powerful emotions here, so an appeal only to reason – however much it made sense – wouldn’t be enough. An approach that also worked to calm fears and make an emotional connection was also important.

Having spent time at the practice, I knew that the atmosphere there was warm and positive, and the animals loved and cared for. Dr Kelly herself encapsulated this feeling that was so different from what you might expect when you think about cancer treatment – she’s bright, energetic and funny. When talking to owners, she’s often to be found on the floor at pet level, bonding with the animals.

I decided to use documentary photography to capture the authentic experience of the practice, and then record an interview with Dr Kelly about how approach and how she got started with veterinary oncology. You’d want a vet who was emotionally committed to this difficult side of medicine, and Dr Kelly’s story shows she has this in spades.

The audio from the interview would be packaged with some of the still images and background noise of life at the practice, and we would use that on the About page.

Meanwhile, the Amy, Megan and Jan from VCC started gathering useful information and resources so the site would make a compelling emotional case but then back it up with practical information for new clients who need to learn a lot in a hurry.

VCC already had a good graphic identity and color palette that they used for print materials, so that was foundation of the web design. We also wanted the design to be calming, warm and welcoming – the feelings you get walking into the practice. So the use of serif fonts and subtle shading and textures creates a site that is clean and simple to use without being austere.

Looking to photograph authentic moments of what happens in the practice takes a lot longer than just staging some shots with clients, vets (and animals) all smiling at the camera. You have to be there, in the right place to make strong images out of what really happens. A little exchange between staff member and owner, or a pet suddenly licking Dr Kelly’s face are situations that you can’t set up, and if you miss the shot, it’s not coming again. But I feel that people can tell what’s real and what’s fake, and real images have so much more force.

There are more photos from the project here.

The combination of a clear approach, good design, photography, multimedia and useful resources presents an authentic and positive view of Veterinary Cancer Care. And personally, it was one of the more rewarding projects I’ve worked on recently, as I got to see the great work that goes on there, and help them communicate what they do.

And the folks at VCC are also happy. Dr Kelly says,

‘We are delighted with our new site because it captures the essence of our practice and the hope we get from our patients every day.

‘David immersed himself in Veterinary Cancer Care for several days in order to capture the sights, sounds and perceptions of the clinic, and the website mirrors the feeling of our space and our philosophy perfectly.

The website design and photographs emulate the light, bright, welcoming feeling our patients and their people get when they come to see us, and our focus on hope and care is clearly the foundation for the design.’

You can find them at http://www.vetcancercare.com

Redesigned site for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

I’ve been working with the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for five years now – designing, building and maintaining their website, writing blog posts and photographing artists and their great work.

Their site for the last three markets had worked well, but it was built on an older content management system and needed some freshening of the design and more functionality before this year’s Market in mid-July.

Stronger images, easier to update

I worked with the Market on a new design, aiming for a cleaner look and a wider main column for displaying larger photographs. The Market has a deep library of excellent images that show the real people around the world that are helped by the Market (I’ve taken some of these images – that’s one of mine used on the bottom-left of the homepage –  but there’s a talented pool of other photographers who also contribute images). Being able to display photographs in a wide main column gives them more impact, and also gives more flexibility in wrapping text around images, especially for blog posts.

Another aim was that the site be easier to update. While I’ve written nearly all the blog posts in some years, this time round most were written by Clare Hertel Communications – the PR firm that’s also worked with the Market for many years precio de viagra en farmacia. Making the blog section of the site full-featured but also easy to use was very important.

Going custom

Once the new design was approved, I planned the move to WordPress from the older CMS – a job that was more involved than for a more straightforward  site.

The Market sites includes a blog, a news section and a section containing hundreds of artists’ profiles categorized by the countries they’re from, and the years they’ve attended the Market. WordPress by default only supports two types of content – regular site pages and blog posts, so I devised an architecture based around using custom post types and custom taxonomies to cater for all the different types of content and classifications required.

This means that adding an artist lets you specify a country and years attended when you’re adding the content, and then displays the content in the right place on the site. I also implemented WordPress’ ‘featured image’ functionality to automatically generate thumbnails and associate them with blog posts, news releases and artists. So adding a new blog post for example, automatically places its title and thumbnail on the site’s homepage without any direct editing of the homepage.

Then we moved all the existing content to the new site, and then tested the new version prior to launch.

The WordPress framework for the site now makes it easier for the Market to updated the content themselves, and also allows us to use some of the wide range of plug-ins available to add extra functionality. This is seen in the front page slider which displays revolving selection of banners. It’s also search-engine friendly and easy to add updates and patches as the WordPress core is constantly updated.

The blog area now supports captions for images, embedding maps into posts, and auto-generated slideshows.

Good-looking and built to last

The result is a site that has a contemporary look, a solid custom-designed infrastructure and a framework that supports the range of content uses the Market needs.

The work was completed in time for the busy build-up to the Market, and the site made it much easier than in previous years to add this year’s new artists, blog posts, news releases and other content. It also held up well to the large amount of traffic it receives around the Market weekend – peaking this year at over 4000 visits and 15,000 page views a day.

As the Folk Art Market moves into its tenth year in 2013, their site is a key asset in good shape, and it’s ready to support new endeavours and requirements in the future. I’m proud to have been involved with such a great Santa Fe non-profit organization for the last few years, and look forward to continuing my work with them.

 

In the MIX – photographing a great evening event

The nice people at MIX Santa Fe – the networking and micro-finance group I like to think of as the hip offshoot of the local Chamber of Commerce – asked me to shoot their most recent event, and I was very happy to help out.

It was a party and awards presentation held at the Santa Fe Art Institute, in one the lovely courtyards of Riccardo Legoretta’s landmark building. Often evening events are held in dark hotel meeting rooms where you’re fighting with low light and loud carpets, but this was a joy.

With a bar staffed by the Cowgirl, serving drinks featuring Santa Fe Spirits’ fine local liquors, the party brought out an eclectic creative crowd. Santa Fe seems small, and you’re often running into the same people again and again, but this group refreshingly seemed to transcend a lot of the normal cliques.

Music was from DJ ‘jaro, and eats from  La Cocina Doña Clara. Folks were friendly and the space gave me some chances to get some shots you wouldn’t normally associate with event shooting.

Thanks to MIX for the opportunity, and if you’ve got an event you need professional coverage of, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Dogs in the Office – design dogs

My dogs in the office personal project has started nicely. I’ve done three shoots now (more photos to follow), and it’s great to have some reason to shoot for myself that’s not just walking around seeing what I get. I’m a documentary photographer, so it’s the stories and moments that I respond to best, and with the dogs in the office, there are plenty of those.

Here are images from the session I shot with Radius Books and Trey Jordan Architecture. They share a lovely space in the same building as my office, and I’ve known Trey and David Chickey from Radius for a long while (full disclosure: I built Trey’s website).

Trey and David bring Jasper and Lola, while Jenni brings Terry, and Thomas brings Eames (what else would an architect name their dog). There’s art on the walls, lots of great space and a very hip kitchen stocked with dog treats (and some nice things for the humans, too).

For the gearheads among you, these were all shot with the Fuji X-Pro1, using 18mm f/2, and 35mm f/1.4 lenses.

Eames being shy.
Taking part in an impromptu meeting
Jasper appreciates the art.
Terry helps out
Time for a bit of affection

Big in Rotterdam – one of my images ends up working in a Dutch kitchen

I recently got an enquiry from a company in the Netherlands, looking to license one of my images to use in their new office kitchen.

As I mostly do commissions (for small businesses, non-profits and families) and some assignment work (for publications), stock enquiries like this are rare, and most of my images aren’t suitable for stock use.

But I have a few images posted, and they’d come across one of mine that they liked. Since they’re based in Rotterdam (one of the largest container ports in the world) and focus on trade with Asia, they were looking for an image of containers on an Evergreen shipping lines vessel.

A quick Google image search later, they’d found one of my images in my small stock library hosted as a quiet part of one of my sites.

They found it because I’d captioned and tagged the images accurately (and because there aren’t that many good Evergreen container ship images around apparently), and they got in touch and asked about fees to license the image.

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