Two and Two: Interview with Environmental Photographer Dave Walsh

Two and Two: Interview with Environmental Photographer Dave Walsh


Two and Two: Interview with Environmental Photographer Dave Walsh

Time for something a little bit different. I’ve been wanting to interview photographers for the site for a while now, and eventually this desire concentrated around getting them to talk about photographs. Not gear, or techniques, but the finished work — both theirs and the work of other photographers that they liked. And we do it on video so you can see the photographer and the images we’re talking about.

The idea is simple: each photographer suggests two of their own images and two by other photographers, and then we have a chat about them.

So recently, I sat down (virtually) with Irish documentary and environmental photographer Dave Walsh — an old friend — to launch this endeavour.

His recent show at the Copper House Gallery in Dublin — The Cold Edge — showcased his polar photography, but his work more broadly looks at humanity’s relationship with wilderness and wildlife, and our use of energy and resources.

In addition to two of his own photos, he chose one by Belgian photographer Stephan Vanfleteren, and US photographer Joel Sternfeld.

As I’m just starting out with this format, I’d love to hear your comments about it, or any suggestions for improvement.

Iceberg from Humboldt Glacier, Kane Basin, Nares Straight, Greenland.

By David Moore on January 7, 2013.

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Exported from Medium on October 17, 2020.

Dogs in the office — living history dogs (lots of them)

“When I die, I want to come back as a dog and get to stay here,” Leroy from El Rancho de Las Golondrinas is clear that the dogs in this ‘office’ have a great life.

And so they should, with tons of room to run around in at the living history museum just south of Santa Fe, and a dog-friendly working environment that sees up to nine employees’ dogs on the property some days.

And what a range of dogs they are. There’s Sarge, the sweet lolloping doberman that sometimes gets out and is found heading down the road outside.

And Jax, who was in costume the day I visited because it was Halloween.

They share the main office building with The Mayor (who’s also known as Big Dog, Big Red or just Sir). He was found on the property one day, adopted by one of the employees, and years later, he’s still in charge. He follows school parties around, just to make sure it’s all going well, and while he’s slowed down a bit now, he’s clearly the boss of the place.

Patch is Leroy’s dog, and since Leroy looks after the water resources on the 200-acre site, Patch spends most of the day on Leroy’s four-wheeler, coming into the office for breaks and meetings.

In the historic Pino House next door, Henry and Hannah hang out with their owner, although Hannah can be a little shy, and preferred to keep an eye on me from the security of her person’s desk.

Another couple of four-legged staff weren’t around during my visit, but I met enough happy dogs and their happy owners to confirm Leroy’s assessment — Las Golondrinas is a perfect spot to bring your dog to work.

Thanks to John Berkenfield, Madeline Mrozek and everyone at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas for letting me come and chase after their dogs.

Jax isn’t sure about this one.

Patch rides the four wheeler.

Patch waits for Leroy.

Henry relaxes in the corner

Hannah’s not sure about the photographer

The Mayor installed outside

Audio Slideshow: Curbside Cuisine from Le Pod

Audio Slideshow: Curbside Cuisine from Le Pod


Audio Slideshow: Curbside Cuisine from Le Pod

You might recall the photo project I did earlier in the year about Jean-Luc Salles, the French chef who runs Le Pod — a restored 1960s Airstream trailer that serves French street food to go.

I interviewed him recently, and put together this audio slideshow about him and his work.

I think it communicates the unique appeal of Le Pod well (and it makes me hungry). I’d love to talk to you if you think a similar approach would work well for your organization.

Bon Appetit!

By David Moore on November 13, 2012.

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Exported from Medium on October 17, 2020.

How to take better photos for your blog and social media channels

It’s great to see real organizations posting regularly on Facebook and Twitter, writing blogs and being open and authentic in their communications.

Part of this is strategic — we’re moving away from the old days of a senior figure in the company or non-profit checking every communication that goes out of the place themselves and hiring PR people or ad agencies to polish a message until it shone (even if it didn’t represent the truth of the organization). Now, your audience wants to know what’s it really like behind the scenes, and for its employees to show some of their own personality and that of the organization.

Not all images are the same

But after the strategic comes the practical — you’ve got the plan and now you have to implement it well. So let’s assume that your organisation is writing blog posts, tweeting up a storm and using Pinterest like nobody’s business. You’re taking lots of photos at events or of products, but the problem is that none of the images look very much like the ones you see on the charity: water or ONE sites.

Poor photography makes you look amateurish, and turns the most lavish party into a dull-looking event or an attractive product into an e-Bay advertisement. NYC event organiser Jeremy Norman speaking in a Photoshelter blog post on event photography made it clear: “We’re very big on creating moments in the events — different opportunities for exciting photographs. Because if you’re going to spend one, two, three hundred thousand on an event you definitely want to have memories that are well shot and well photographed.”

You might not spending that much on your events, but the chances are you still need some better photography to create more impact and reflect your organization more positively. And if your blog posts have a more news feel to them, or you case studies tell particular stories, then you also need good photojournalism-style photographs to accompany that content. Finally, if you’re a fundraising organization, photography can play a key role in engaging potential donors.

I can make a very good case for employing a professional (and I’d love it if you’d call me, especially if you want documentary-type work or multimedia), but if that’s not an option here are some key tips to help you get better social media and blogging photos on your own.

1) You don’t need a good camera

Digital SLRs and other expensive bits of gear are really good at delivering great images, so long as the person using them knows what they’re doing. So rushing out and buying a new camera probably won’t help you if you’re going to leave it on auto-everything mode and just use the kit lens it came with. Good pans won’t make you a good cook.

Even with a point and shoot, or a cellphone camera, you can get better images if you concentrate on the points below (except the last one where I explain that you really do need a good camera for some kinds of shots).

Swanee Hunt, founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and former United States Ambassador to Austria addresses a Democratic Party fundraiser in Santa Fe.

2) What’s your photo about?

This is the first question to ask as you’re picking up a camera to take an image. You probably know what it’s going to be a photo ‘of’, but that’s not what it’s ‘about’. What are you trying to show or tell with this image? You could take five different photos of a chair and say different things with all five.

Once you know what your’e trying to communicate with the image, it will help you decide what to put in and leave out. Do you want a candid moment, where the subject’s not aware of the camera, or are you going for a posed shot with everyone smiling, for example? What emotion are you trying to capture or communicate? It might not be a very complex idea, but if you’re just snapping away and hoping you get something good, it’s not very likely that you will.

3) Only show what’s important

Most amateur photographers leave too much in the frame when they’re taking a photograph. When you look at the world, your eye focuses on the subject you’re considering at that moment, and you don’t really notice the things around it. But when we look at a photograph, we tend to see everything that’s there, diminishing the visual importance of what’s supposed to be the main topic. So as your’e composing your image, make yourself look all around the frame and check that there’s a reason you’re including all the elements.

Sometimes things are improved by zooming in or getting closer to the main subject, removing some of the clutter. Other times if you move sideways, you’ll exclude a distraction like a sign or a trash can.

4) Head in a clean spot

Many of your photographs will probably include people. Try and make sure their heads aren’t in front of a distracting background. This could be the line of a wall running behind them, or a tree branch appearing to come out of the back of their heads. Watch for part of the background being darker than the people and part of it being lighter. A flat even background will make sure the viewer’s eye stays on the people — and your eye is naturally draw to the light areas of a frame.

5) Put people’s heads near the top of the frame

Unless there’s a good reason not to, try and put the top of people’s head’s near the top of the frame. This is the case whether it’s a tight shot only showing one person’s head and shoulders, or a group shot showing a bunch of people full-length. A lot of cameras’ main focus point is in the middle of the frame, so the tendency is to put that focus point on a face and leave it here, resulting in lots of blank space or clutter in the top of the frame. Cameras that have face recognition can help with this, but you still have to compose in a way that fills the frame.

For extra credit, move the main subject to one side or the other — often, putting things right in the middle sounds like the obvious choice, but in fact placing them to the side creates a more appealing image.

Heads near the top of the frame, out of the full sun, nothing too distracting behind them . . . guests at a MIX Santa Fe event I photographed over the summer

6) Get out of full sun

Especially here in bright New Mexico, shooting outdoors people outdoors in the daytime can be a real challenge. There’s such a contrast between the brightest areas of an image and the dark shadows, that most cameras struggle to capture the full range — either something will be blown out (full white, with no detail), or too dark. And nobody looks good squinting in bright light, or with ‘raccoon eye’ from strong shadows on their faces. So, if you can, photograph people in shade, where they’re looking towards the light. This will mean there’s an even light on them, which is much more flattering, and that they’ll likely have catchlights — little bright spots in their eyes, which bring the images to life.

7) Mix up the range of shots

If you’re shooting an event, make sure to get a range of different types of images. So that could include individual portraits, couples, larger groups, a wide shot of the whole event (sometimes standing on a table or looking for a higher vantage point will help here), and some detail shots (if there’s some nice food on offer, get some images of the spread). Also mix up the landscape (horizontal) shots with the portraits (verticals). Depending on what you’ll be using the images for, being able to give the person laying out the blog post or designing the newsletter a good choice of images can really help.

A details shot from the MIX Santa Fe event.

8) Try not to use the flash

Most cameras built-in flashes make people look washed out and ghostly. The light hits the subject full in the face, and often the background disappears to black — it’s not a good representation of the actual scene. If it’s not too dark, switch the flash off and depending on your camera’s settings also try increasing its ISO (how sensitive the camera is to light). If your images are coming out blurry (because the camera has to use a slow shutter speed to let in enough light for a decent exposure), then you’ll have to turn the flash on, and live with what you get (see the last point on what a good camera can give you).

8) Do some processing afterwards

This is one of the main reasons professionals’ images look much better than amateurs — the pros work on the images after the fact. A bit of time spent cropping some images, or adjusting the contrast or exposure on others can really make a difference. Most pros shoot RAW images, which give greater leeway for adjustments, but even if you’re shooting JPGs, a bit of time improving the images you know you’ll be using can really help. On the Mac, the free iPhoto program can do a good job, but if you’re going to taking a lot of images a program like Apple’s Aperture or Adobe’s Lightroom will give you more powerful adjustment and organizing tools to help you manage your images.

9) You don’t need a good camera, except when you do

For a lot of daytime images, pretty much any camera will give you an acceptable image, there are a few situations where a good camera can get a shot that you just can’t with a phone camera or a point-and-shoot. If you really want a blurred background and the subject in focus, you’ll need a camera with a larger-sized sensor (at least Micro 4/3rds but APS-C or full-frame are better), and a lens with an aperture of around f/2.8 or below (depending on its focal length).

Similarly, these type of features will help you get images in low-light without a flash. For the image at the top of the page — an architects’ event I shot for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects — I used a Canon 5D MkII and a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens (and wall to put the camera on). Such a shot would have been almost impossible with more consumer-focussed cameras.

If you’re taking shots of fast-moving subjects (sports, or kids for example), you’ll need a camera that focuses quickly and has no shutter lag — so when you press the button, the shutter opens almost instantly.

Time for the professionals

There are times when you need both a good camera and a good photographer behind it. Sometimes what seems like an ordinary location — like a hotel conference room, for example — can have shocking light and be very difficult to shoot in. Or you have just a couple of minutes to get a good image or an important person giving a speech. Or you’re looking for a particular powerful image to use prominently in campaigns. Or you don’t have the time to shoot and edit hundreds of photos from an event because you’re busy hosting the event . . . you get the idea.

Even in more benign circumstances, a professional will almost always deliver a better set of images than the ones you’ll be able to get. Here’s the full set of images I took at that MIX event I’ve mentioned as an example — they present a good picture of a hip summer event instead of looking like a set of party snaps made with a cellphone.

So sometimes you really should call a professional, but other times if you can take these points to heart, you’ll end up with good images for your site or social media needs. If you have any specific questions, feel free to comment below and I’ll try and answer them for you.

- — As well being a professional photographer available for work in New Mexico and elsewhere, I also teach workshops on taking better photos for social media and your site. Get in touch if you’d like more information or you have a project you think would be up my street.

Finding your core as a creative professional — where subject, tone and medium meet

Tony Bourdain can teach us a lot about finding your core. And making the perfect beurre blanc. Photo: Sifu Renka

I once saw an interview with polymath academic George Steiner. He’s written on a range of topics and he was asked what field he thought he really belonged in. ‘Fields are for cows,’ he replied.

I too am suspicious of the idea that you have to specialise so thoroughly that you only do one thing. But how do we balance doing interesting work in a number of areas, without spreading ourselves too thin or presenting a confusing message to potential clients? Nobody wants to be seen as a jack of all trades, master of none.

The key is to find that core of your personality that remains consistent, however differently it gets expressed. Especially if we work in creative endeavours, this seems to me to be the real goal of our working life.

Exhibit A — Anthony Bourdain

Let’s start with an example of how this can be done well. Anthony Bourdain is a chef, writer (Kitchen Confidential is so good), TV presenter, publisher, and (it turns out) comic-book creator. Across a wide range of activities and a number of years, he ties it all together by offering a consistent unapologetic version of himself.

“I write, I travel, I eat and I’m hungry for more,’ says the introduction to his No Reservations TV show, and his outspoken, energized, cynical and committed tone in the show is recognizable instantly in his writing.

And when you hear he’s going into comic books, you know what to expect, even if you’re surprised that he’s doing graphic novel work.

Bourdain’s attitude is backed up by his ability, of course. He’s knowledgeable and skilled across the areas he works in, but it all chimes with his personality.

On a corporate scale, moving into new areas is known as brand extension — Calvin Klein make clothes, but also perfumes, home interiors products, sunglasses . . . they’ll tell you they’ve distilled the essence of the brand, and then carried that into whatever new endeavours they’re embarking on.

So how do we do that ourselves?

Where Subject, Tone and Medium meet

And on a personal level, you similarly need to establish what the essence of your personality and offering is — your brand. I used to think this was a process of decision-making — you could sit down with a pen and paper and choose some plausible version of yourself to present to the world.

Now I see it’s less about decision and more about discovery — whatever you decide won’t work unless your heart’s in it — your created version might contain elements of yourself in it, but unless it’s authentically you, it won’t guide you in your work. Even if it fits a gap in the market and calls for you to use your skills, if it doesn’t really chime with you, it will be a thin jacket that won’t keep you warm over time.

The other risk is that you’ll morph yourself to be whatever you think people want you to be. Photographers often fall into this trap — one day they’ll decide that boudoir shoots and one group of pre-sets is for them, the next it’ll be family photography with a different pile of Photoshop actions. It’s clear the photographer doesn’t know themselves well enough to work what they really want to shoot — no wonder potential clients are confused.

One useful way to think about this is this diagram.

Right there — where Tone, Subject and Medium meet — that’s your core. There are lots of things you could cover as your subject area — for Bourdain it’s rooted in food. And there are lots of media you could use to explore this — music, street art, photography, blogging, PhD theses. And there are lots of tones you could employ as you’re producing the work. Bourdain’s is outspoken and darkly funny, Clavin Klein’s upscale, preppy but approachable.

Once you know where you’re rooted, you can move around a bit. Some moves would take you out of the intersection of these circles — for Bourdain, a comic book still works, but a ballet might stretch the tone (and subject matter too far). Or if he kept the tone and media the same, but was suddenly doing a show on quilting, then the subject matter’s gone too far.

Storytelling as my MO

So how does this consistency work for me? I help organizations with their internet presences, do commercial and family photography and write stuff for magazines, blogs and newspapers. I used to keep these elements separate — not telling the web clients I could write, for example, or not telling either I photographed things.

But I realised that what all these elements shared a commitment to storytelling — communicating sometimes complex things in a way that is both entertaining and informative. Documenting reality with attention and skill — across different media, but with subject matter and tone that tie it together.

So with the family photography work, I don’t pose the kids or seek to prettify things. I chase them around (ideally in their own environment) while they do the stuff they’d normally do. How else should I tell their stories accurately?

And the same is true with the website strategy work for organizations. I don’t do cheesy slogans or vapid marketing sites — I help organizations tell authentic stories about what they do and how they do it. In all the work I do, I try to be wry, smart, thoughtful, enthusiastic and warm. Not because I think that’s what sells, but because that’s who I am.

And the subject matter has something in common, too — working for non-profits, creative professionals and families there’s a basis in creativity, children and compassion. Creating written content for the Folk Art Market that helps artisans improve the lives of their families through their art, a commission to photograph a pair of brothers, or a website for an architect might not seem to have much in common, but for me they make sense.

I’m deeply impressed by photographers who seek out difficult subjects and shoot them bravely — like Joe Arnon’s moving series on a drug addiction in Denver, but that’s not me.

Having a sense of what fits you in tone and subject matter makes it a lot easier to know what work you should say yes to, and what you shouldn’t.

If you want to keep paying the rent, you might have to take some jobs that are outside your core subject matter, tone or medium areas, but your best work will be done at their intersection. So go look for your centre.

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

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.

So here are the biggest reasons the sites I’ve worked on have failed:

1) No clear audience or objectives

‘I want my site to appeal to everyone,’ says the client. If I’d had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that, I could buy a case for the iPhone 5 I can’t afford. Not knowing who your site is for is going to make it very hard to choose the content and features that will engage that audience.

And if you don’t knowing what the organisation’s detailed objectives are, it will be hard to plot a route to get you there. Most business want their site ultimately to generate more sales, for example, but exactly how will it do that? And non-profits want to raise awareness and increase engagement and donations and other similarly nice ideas, but unless you can stand over every piece of content on the site and explain why it’s there, who it’s for and what you want to get out of it, then you don’t have a good enough plan.

2) No buy-in or engagement from management

If the company at large doesn’t care about communicating online (through the website and other channels), then even if there’s a budget and it’s someone’s job to get a site up, the long-term prognosis is not good. Especially as the current demands for transparency and sharing mean that organisations with a defensive and closed culture need to change — if everything that goes out has to be approved by senior management, a website will struggle.

The lack of commitment sounds like a problem that would only beset larger organisations, but I’ve seen it even in a one-person business. The owner told me he knew he needed a website, and was OK paying for one, but he had no intention of keeping it updated or carrying out any of the other suggestions I came up with to help him. Any guesses as to how well the site’s done for him?

3) Groupthink — the site is all planned out before the client’s talked to people who know about websites

This is why I don’t respond to RFPs for site work (I did it once, against my better judgement, got the job and then had a miserable time for nearly a year). The problem of RFPs is that it makes organisations think they know what should be on the website and what it should look like before they’ve spoken to any experts. They’ve drawn up the specification (they’re the architects, so to speak) and it’s the job of the web developers just to build it (to act as the contractor).

Clients might think they know what they want — especially since they’ve looked at the prettiest sites they can find from similar organisations — but unless they’re asking themselves hard questions and have a lot of web development experience in-house, the chances are they’ll miss some crucial things or are just heading in the wrong direction entirely. And when I arrive and tell them they should really start the strategy and planning again, they’re both already wedded to the ideas they came up with themselves, and don’t see why they need to spend money on a process they think they’ve successfully completed themselves.

Everybody seems to build their site based on what other people’s look like. Benchmarking is OK, but the problems with comparing your imagined site with other people’s finished sites are manifold:

  • you don’t know their budget, constraints or resources (chances are if it’s a brilliant site, you can’t afford it)
  • you don’t know exactly what they were trying to do with the site (their objectives are likely different from yours)
  • you don’t know if they think it’s succeeded (you might like it, but they might hate it)

People tell me they want videos and still photography of the same quality as charity:water’s, but they don’t want to hear that charity:water have a whole in-house multimedia production team plus a pool of talented contractors they’ll send all over the world, and they don’t.

It’s much better to get someone in when you’re first thinking about a new site, so you can be realistic about your expectations, and precise in your objectives — it will save lots of time and result in a better end result.

4) Poor quality content

This is the biggest long-term reason for the long-term failure of most of the sites I’ve worked on. Most clients have no problem paying for graphic design and technical work on their site. They recognise the infrastructure and look and feel as crucial elements in their project, and see why professionals should be involved in this work. But very many clients completely fail to see the importance of paying professionals to work on the site’s actual content — even though the content is the reason people are coming to the site in the first place.

Part of this is a misunderstanding of their own abilities. Clients know their own work for sure, but that doesn’t make them qualified to write about it, or take photographs for the website. Writing internal documentation is completely different from producing work that connects with an audience, drives them towards particular actions and eloquently communicates key ideas about a project or plan. Similarly, having a good camera doesn’t make you qualified to take high-quality photographs or video that can move and persuade people, any more than having an excellent set of pans makes you a Michelin-starred chef.

These content creations skills may seem ‘softer’ than the more technical skills needed on a web project, but they are more difficult for people to master, and honestly more important to the overall success of the website. I wholeheartedly believe you should spend as much on the content for your site as on the infrastructure and design. And almost every time I say that, the clients nod and then ignore me even though it means they’ll have a solid and attractive site containing bad content that doesn’t do what it needs to do.

5) No regular content updating

Of course, good content when the site launches is only the start. The ongoing success of the site depends on high quality regular content and you want your site to work for you across several years not just for the first two weeks after launch. Your site will do nothing for you if you don’t keep it regularly updated: Google will abandon you, visitors will come once and never return, and you’ll lock yourself out of your car in the rain (OK, one of those isn’t true).

Potential donors, clients or partners want to know about you and what you’re doing. They want an insight into what you think, how you approach things, what you’re working on. They want to see that other people like them have decided to work with you, and they want to see that you know what you’re talking about. All of these things are accomplished online with a regular supply of good content. All they see from a stale site is that you once put up a half-decent website, but now don’t care enough about what you do to keep it current.

Yes, it’s a huge pain to do, and nobody has the time even if they have the skills. I’m a professional photographer and former journalist for a national newspaper and even for me keeping my sites up to date is about the hardest thing I have to do each week. It’s so easy not to let it slide — ‘real’ work comes up, and you think it won’t make much difference if you miss a scheduled blog post (always assuming you have a schedule), but each time you don’t update your site is another opportunity missed to reach someone or deepen a relationship.

Increasingly, organisations are expected to produce what’s essentially a long-term mixed-media documentary project about themselves, in addition to whatever it is they’re actually supposed to be doing. No wonder they should call in professional help. As well as a budget and plan to get the site built and launched, you need a budget and plan for running it. Sounds obvious, but it’s very hard to make clients do this.

6) No social media plan

If the documentary project we should all be embarking on is based around the website, it needs satellite offices in other social media areas. Your audience (or the people you’d like to have as your audience) spend way more time on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or wherever than they will on your site, so you need to meet them there. Not so you can constantly sell at them with promotions or deals, but so you can share a little about yourselves, and more about the broader community you’re in — passing on useful resources, helping people out.

And when you’re creating content for the site, you should have an eye on what life it will lead across the social media platforms — is it something that people will pass around to their friends, and if they do, how will you help that, measure it and build on that publicity?

These days a website without a social media plan and the resources to implement it is a little like building a great new store in the middle of a wilderness. It might be amazing, but everyone’s doing stuff somewhere else.

Build it and it will be built

Many of these reasons for failure sound obvious, and they are. But it’s also obvious that we should all exercise more, eat better food and call our parents more often. Just building a site of some sort just means you’ve built a site — it won’t make it successful.

André Gide pointed out that ‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.’ I’m outlining the failings in the sites I’ve worked on myself partly to help other people, but just as much as a reminder to myself to try and make people listen.

If you’ve got suggestions for any other failings you repeatedly see, please let me know in the comments.

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.

Complete with bright works of folk art from one of Clare’s clients, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, the office has a great feel. Clare is at one end, Clare’s assistant Joy at the other, and the dogs in the between. Old mellow cat Daisy tucks herself into the back of Clare’s chair and successfully ignores all the dog shenanigans.

I’m beginning to notice the different types of interactions between the dogs in the different offices I’ve been in. In Trey’s office, the dogs got each other excited and all chased around like crazy. In Kimberly’s, Archie was the main dog who moved around from chosen spot to chosen spot while his friend cowered under the desk the whole time I was there.

Clare’s dogs — who have the option of staying in the main house with Clare’s husband, but prefer to come work — were pretty mellow but communal. They lay down beside each other, or looked up when one of them moved around, but they didn’t scamper and bark too much once they got over their initial excitement.

Thanks to Clare and Joy for letting me crash their working morning.

Do you know a dog-friendly workplace in the Santa Fe area that would like a visit from a photographer? Let me know in the comments or via email — david@moore-consulting.net

I’ll take the first watch

Did I miss anything?

Yin and Yang

Hard at work

Old dog smile

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.

In their great book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath explain that people think the decision-making process goes: Analyze, Think, Change. In other words, if I present a well-reasoned case, people will analyze the situation logically, and decide to change their behaviour accordingly.

In fact, the process is often more like: See, Feel, Change. I show people a compelling example of what’s going on, it makes them feel an emotional response which dictates to them how their behaviour should change.

Make it Personal

So as a non-profit you need to craft your messages in a way that will make people feel. And that’s not with pie-charts, it’s with stories. An emotional connection is made most strongly with a story — something that makes the cause personal, and invites people to imagine themselves in a particular situation.

Here’s an example. In the Japan earthquake and tsunami last year, nearly 19,000 people were killed or are unaccounted for. That’s a large and tragic number, but reading that number probably didn’t make you feel very much, because it’s hard to make an emotional connection with a large number.

But when we’re invited to connect to one person, we find it much easier to empathise. Here’s a photograph of one of the survivors.

AP Photo/Asahi Shimbun, Toshiyuki Tsunenar

I bet that got a much stronger reaction from you than the amorphously large number. You can imagine being in that woman’s position, you notice the horrendous scale of the destruction, and you might pick up on some of the moving details — like her bare feet. By any rational analysis, the thought of 19,000 people dead should drive you to action, but since we’re not that rational, I’d warrant this photograph moved you much more strongly.

Talk like a journalist not a non-profit employee

For a non-profit, some proportion of the site’s audience are looking for a just-the-facts approach — for example, employees at foundations considering a funding application have specific requirements. But depending on what sort of nonprofit you are, the engagement of individual donors and volunteers is much more important, and best done with stories, testimonials and case-studies. But this means using a vocabulary and approach that most often the staff at the non-profit themselves don’t use.

What they need aren’t the skills and approach of the average non-profit employee, but those of a journalist, documentary photographer or film-maker.

There’s a reason journalists tackling a big story will look for individuals to represent the overall situation — it works. So, for example, if the story is on Ireland’s worsening economic decline (and related emigration), you don’t just research the data, you go and find a real street in a real town and ask the business owners what their experience has been; then you go the airport and talk to young people as they’re heading off to look for work in London and Sydney.

Don’t worry that you’re not explaining everything about the issue. So long as you’re true to the individual stories you’re telling, you’ll make much more of an impact that giving the 30,000 feet overview.

Six Ways to Connect Better

1) Think of how a journalist would tell the story of what you do

I increasingly see my role with many clients as being an in-house journalist — using professional communications skills to produce material that informs and engages an audience. And this is the approach that you should take when you’re creating your own content. Journalists know that people don’t have to read their work or look at their photos or video — it has to be worth their while.

2) Be specific: look for one or two projects or successes

You’ll need supporting facts and material, but it’s more important to find a hook to hang this on — an area of your work that exemplifies what you’re all about. Choosing this can be hard, especially if there are a number of people in the organisation keen to put forward their areas as the most important. But you can’t and shouldn’t try and give a completely comprehensive overview — the same way newspapers don’t give every story equal weight. Some stories just have more impact — your job is to find them.

3) Be Personal

Within those projects, find real people affected by your work and choose just one or two. If there have been hundreds of people involved, it will tempting to want to show the scale of the operation, but you should resist that urge, at least at first. Once you’ve got people responding with emotion to a particular facet of the story, you can then broaden the scope and show that what’s happening to this one person you now care about, is also happening to many others. But you have to make that emotional connection first, and that starts small.

4) Use your subjects’ own words

Where possible, you should let the people whose stories you’re telling speak for themselves — don’t just hold them up as examples. This is done with details — take strong photographs or record good video, and include direct quotes in any written work.

5) Choose the best media for the story (and use them well)

It’s great that it’s now affordable to create stories in any number of different media types — including video, audio, stills photography, a well-written blog post, or an interview via Skype. Videos and images get more responses and shares on social media, increasing your impact, You don’t have to spend a lot, but unless you have professional-grade skills yourself, you need to spend something. Your audience will notice (and be distracted) by poor-quality media, writing or images.

6) Give the audience different ways to get involved

Not everyone will reach for their credit card after they’ve experienced the story you’re telling, but they might well want to keep in touch with the organization that has just made them feel something. So multiple options for keeping connected (with different levels of commitment for different comfort levels) is a great idea — from making it easy to share the story themselves, to email newsletter signups through to instant donations and memberships.

Putting it All Together — charity: water example

While I was writing this post, a note from charity: water appeared on my Facebook wall. It was a video for their current September campaign, and it is a good example of many of the points I raise here (even if I could do without the creative director’s pieces to camera).

It tells the story of one Rwandan family’s day — including the three hours the kids spend fetching dirty water from the river.

It’s not perfect, but the video gives you a connection to real people that you can help. Being asked ‘Would you like to help bring clean water to a Rwandan village?’ doesn’t involve our feelings in the same way as ‘Look at this particular family and what they have to do every day. Would you like to help them?’.

Make it personal, and you’ll make a difference. And don’t rely on the pie chart.