This is the first in a series of thought leadership pieces, focusing on empowering you as a photographer. This piece is for you if you have ever wanted to take more beautiful and powerful photos.
Photography allows us to save moments that will never come again. It inspires us to capture people we love and places that transform us. Photos teleport us back in time and make us laugh. They bring tears to our eyes and have the power to heal.
As there is a clear correlation between powerful photography and fundraising success, YouCaring wants to empower you to take the best possible photos for your campaign.
To get first-rate photography tips, I approached the staff at National Geographic. I spoke with Monica Corcoran and Matt Adams from National Geographic’s Your Shot, a free online community with more than 750,000 members in 195 countries and 6,600,000 photos featured to date.
Monica Corcoran, eight-year veteran Director of Your Shot, and Matt Adams, Associate Photo Editor, review 5,000-7,000 images a day to find the best 12 to feature in the “Daily Dozen.”
I ask Monica how she would describe the Your Shot community:
“Our community is incredibly supportive. We don’t moderate our comments of photos. We rely on the community and trust them. They come from all over the world. All ages. All demographics coming together around a shared interest in photography and becoming storytellers. It’s a nice place to be.”
How does Matt describe his work? “I get to ‘travel’ around the world in the first few hours of my day. New York, Chicago, London, Sudan. Our community is global and we see photos from all over the world. Photography is our way of holding on to the past and time-traveling. It’s our way of capturing the now.”
“Some of it is just magic. Knowing how you see the world that’s unique to you, while looking at light and thinking about composition. Just being out in the world to really witness life happening,” Monica explains.
We turn to crowdfunding and capturing emotion with photography, and delve into the most important aspects of taking a great photo that will draw attention and inspire people to take action (make a donation, share a campaign, or read someone’s story).
Tips on how to take photos that inspire action: “If there is something in the image that allows someone to relate to the person or place in the photo, that’s half the battle. Whether it’s a Scooby-Doo Band-Aid on the girl’s arm or the nurse who is wearing a purple Incredible Hulk t-shirt. Maybe these details will make us smile and think of some experience we’ve had.” (Monica)
“Have something in the image that somebody can grasp and hold onto in a way that feels connected to them. The details, as with any narrative story, flesh out the rest of the story. Focus on details – the first thing that will make someone pay attention: facial expressions, an object in the room. The pieces of the story that help tell it are key.” (Monica)
How important are words, in addition to photos, when telling a story?
“Don’t write a book about it, but in a short paragraph, explain what we’re looking at. Not using words is a missed opportunity for people. Descriptions give so many points of contact. The more information you can put in there, the better the viewer will understand what they’re looking at.” (Matt)
“So many times you love the visual image, but there is no connection with the caption. Remember the basics: who, when, what, why, and where?
“I want to know what they went through to get the photo; the man who walks 12 miles to get to the local town. It doesn’t take much. Any time we tell the story of what someone had to go through to get the image, it adds another story to it.“ (Monica)
It’s clear we all love a good story, even if it’s a difficult one. We agree that photographs themselves are the most powerful storytellers, and that the right photo in the right context has the power to spark a movement. Monica and Matt believe that real emotion captured in a photograph connects people, especially when considering other elements, like composition and light.
What are some suggestions for people who want to understand composition and light better?
“Move your body a little bit and it gives you a different image. How can you move around a little bit to find some new angles?” (Matt)
“How does light play around you? Natural light? Fluorescent light? In your day-to-day world, how does light interact and expand a scene? It’s about understanding the light around you.” (Monica)
“Middle of the day is actually a great time to take photos, especially with an iPhone. There is great contrast and glare. Rules of photography, like, “Don’t go out in the middle of the day” are sometimes meant to be broken. It’s not so much about knowing when the perfect light is, it’s about allowing yourself to start to see it. Go back to the same exact location at different times of the day. A street corner, a coffee shop. Go on different days or even in different seasons. Winter light and summer light are different. On your way to work, you walk past a certain coffee shop. Start paying attention to how it looks at 6am, noon, 3pm, and 10pm. See the shadows. See the people.” (Monica)
How important is equipment? Do you need a DSLR to take great photos?
“Whether you have an Android or an iPhone, you can really use that as your camera. Go out with your phone and practice. Don’t worry about getting an expensive camera and tripod. Take a small camera that fits in your back pocket and experiment. Shoot photos of anyone – friends, family. Try shooting up close, far away. And with the phone, you have a large amount of space. Here you can shoot thousands of images in a day and delete them. Compare and see how you’re doing.” (Matt)
Matt says the best camera is the one you’ve got with you, and Monica shares that her iPhone has forced her to be more creative on a daily basis.
As we wrap up our conversation, I am inspired that cameras don’t seem to matter so much as our need to be mindful of light, our surroundings, and most of all, of capturing authentic moments of things and people we love. All of us might not be able to get fancy DSLRs, but most of us have smartphones, which allow us to shoot many pictures and practice.
We close with Monica describing why the image (above) is her current favorite.
“This was taken in Rio, just weeks ago. It’s Ipanema. Millions of photos have been taken of this place. But I don’t think I have ever seen one quite like this, whether it’s the time of day or the amazing light hitting the beach; that in and of itself is gorgeous. Then you have this bubble – perfectly placed to literally encapsulate the entire scene – and I think it was this totally whimsical new way to look at something. The bubble focuses you in on the mountain in the back and the people in the water – something that I see so many times, but surprising me and making me stop in my tracks and look at the world anew. This is the beauty of photography. Because Giovani was here, he saw this. And probably dozens of other people right around him didn’t see this.”
“It’s almost like this really special relationship that photographers have. It’s a gift, in a snap of a finger to stop the world, to share it, and to show it in a completely new light. It’s just amazing.
“All the bad news that was supposed to be RIO 2016: the concerns over security, whether Rio was going to be ready, Zika, and the string of negativity around something that had not even happened. And yet, here we see that sometimes things are just beautiful. It can be rainbows and bubbles.”
There are hundreds of thousands of images on YouCaring, featuring many beautiful, powerful people and stories. Hopefully, with these insights from two National Geographic photography experts, you will feel inspired to capture and choose photos for your next fundraiser.
If you would like to learn more about photography, check out Your Shot.
In Monica’s words:
“We’ve opened that door that’s usually closed. Some of the world’s greatest photographers can comment on your photos, and the community itself shares and is extremely supportive. One of our former editors called our group, ‘the democratization of photography.’ Accessible to all. We don’t make a distinction in terms of your skill level. We are not asking, “Are you a pro, semi-pro, amateur, hobbyist?” We’re not even asking what kind of equipment you use. Everyone is on the same playing field. It’s really the quality of the image that matters. It’s not about your degree in photojournalism or how much you spent on a trip to the Galapagos.”
“What is it about?” I ask.
“How did you see the world in that moment? And did you share it?” she says.
Follow Your Shot on Instagram @natgeoyourshot and Twitter @natgeophotos