Visual Storytelling for Summer Camp Directors, from Outer Woods Media

Telling stories visually in the most effective ways possible

David Cumming has worked at some of the very best camps in the world. He comes to us most recently by way of Sanborn Western Camps and Camp Augusta. He's started a new company called Outer Woods Media, and believes in a authentic way approach to media campaigns. His process here is fantastic for all aspects of storytelling at camp, and we hope you enjoy!

Step One: What’s your story?

Or make a movie
Or make a movie

- What is the story to tell your audience this summer? - For a promotional video, what is the story that will represent your camp for years? - How do you show this story visually?

Perhaps you don’t really know your story. That’s completely okay. Now is the time! Ask yourself the following questions to help you narrow down your authentic story/offering for campers and parents:

What do you feel your campaign/story is currently about? How do YOU want to be known to your clients/customers? How do your clients/customers want to be known to YOU? Why are you offering this to the world? How do you want your offering to be known in the world? What do you imagine your story is about?

(Steps taken from Outer Woods Media and their Discovery Process)

Learn more about the steps that go into a meaningful storytelling campaign by downloading Outer Woods Media's Storytelling Campaign Guide.

Step Two: Conscious Commitment

How are you consciously and unconsciously committed to this story? Until you are aware of what you’re willing to commit to your story and it’s telling, you may not be able to successfully accomplish your objectives for this summer project. This holds true for any project you’re about to embark on and delegate to your staff. Once you know what you’re willing to give (time, training, resources, budget, supplies, staff allocation) you’ll be able to set tangible goals based on a conscious commitment.

Step Three: Team building

During your normal on-boarding process of hiring staff, you’ll be able to figure out who may be an asset to your team. These folks are my lifeguards. These are my wilderness trip leaders. And these are my storytellers.

They may have studied journalism or creative writing in college. Or take photographs and keep an Instagram. Remember that camp can be as much of a educational and leadership development center as you want it to be. What can camp and this counselor benefit mutually from with this opportunity to take on a storytelling project? Do you have an effective delegator? Do some keep a blog of their travels?

Ask yourself this question, and who in your upcoming staff may be a prospect for this project.

BONUS - Don’t pool all your resources into one photographer for a majority of the long-term storytelling projects. Yes, your photographer may have a bunch of tools on their belt. And, even after hiring a talented photographer, you may still be limiting yourself. Martin Scorsese, or any film director for that matter, has a team of folks with various skillsets. He has producers, a screenwriter, a few editors, among hundreds of other roles on the team. Without one of them, the picture wouldn’t be complete and the project may not get done.

Think like a film producer. Think of what resources you have. Think about the full story – the experiences of many staff that will paint a FULL picture of the story of your camp. That staff member may have experience editing film, but not shooting. Put them in the post-production room at the end of the summer, or keep them in mind while figuring out what shots work best in the editing phase. Think ahead!

Step Four – Find your team leader

This person doesn’t need to have all the technical skills. I delegated a super crew of eight staff one summer to tackle seven diverse short films, a full list of camp photographs (including all activities, events, cabin life, etc.). Your team leader may be a writer and an animator, but not a photographer. However, they DO need be excellent at delegating, setting priorities and organizing the team for dispatch of projects each week.

making bracelets at summer camp
making bracelets at summer camp

Step Five - Know what worksWhat historically works in the marketing industry. Follow a few industry staples like our Camphacker, Travis Allison, for more on what the trends in the industry are working and not working. Other folks like Seth Godin, the godfather of marketing, offer authentic ways of branding your product, or your camp.

- What hasn’t been done before? What grabs you and shakes you to the core when you see a trailer, promotional, visually stunning photograph? Are these strategies being utilized in the camp industry? Time to pave a new path! - What types of photo and film trends work currently in the camp industry? Check out some camp social media pages and take notes on what types of media get the most likes, shares and reactions.

BONUS TIP: Authenticity Is there a certain aesthetic to your camp that would be able to show photographically and authentically? What experiences are authentic and original to your camp? What makes you stand out? Every camp has an archery activity. It’s HOW your staff engage with your campers in that activity. What is the history behind your camp, and HOW do your campers connection to their time in this space?

Understand what, how and why you offer what you do in the world and get some free on-the-ground tools to better understand your camp and your clients. Download Outer Woods Media's Authentic Marketing Guide.

Step Six - Do your research

Watch films every day. Yes, I’m giving you permission to watch films. While you may not be able to clock those in as work hours, consider when watching any form of media like research. So take notes.

What shots are interesting (Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson … they all have a unique shooting style … notice these and see how you can incorporate various shooting styles/framing techniques into your promotional). Watch other camp promotional videos? When are the moments you feel emotionally invested in the story?

Step Seven - Set Your Media Compass for Success

Much like planning a wilderness trip, you need to get out the map with your team. You, as the director, are the foremost navigator. Once you have the trip planned out, you can hand over the compass to your team leader. And it’s up to them to walk the path into the media wilderness.

ASK YOURSELF: - What are you committed to producing as a team/camp organization? - What’s realistic with time, resources and energy outside of normal camp life?

You know you want to represent your camp’s story, but how? - Ten short films about a day in the life - 4-6 minute promotional video? - A few 15-30 second social media videos? - What about the normal coverage for, say, an end of the summer slideshow?

MAP IT OUT! Sticky notes and markers unite. Make it fun with your staff. Dress up as film producers and make a map of what you’d like to accomplish over the summer.

All of these are great to have, and you CAN have it all. You simply need to be UNREASONABLY organized in the pre-production phase. Skype in your photographer and/or team leader for this phase in the pre-season to have a brain dump of what’s possible and what’s realistic this summer.

Step Eight – Inventory

What kind of equipment do you have? Does it meet the needs of what you are setting out to cover?

Consider Renting: - options for summer rentals (please, please buy insurance)

Consider Investing: ­ Canon DSLR – They filmed “The Avengers” final battle scenes on a Canon DSLR. What?!? - A point-and-shoot camera for every “village leader” or support staff that is always around campers.

Go Camp Pro also has an article about some tools to check out as well.

Step NINE - The Day-To-DayNow, once you have your media map and inventory, figure out what works to cover these objectives within your camp schedule. - When are the major campfires and skits to capture going to happen? - Do you have a hype skit during a meal you hear about ahead of time? - Do you have a person shooting photographs and video for both of these?

Answer these questions to make sure you’re hitting the big, explosive moments and small, more intimate moments of your camp season.

BONUS: Shoot Two Birds with One Camera

Please, don’t shoot the birds. What I mean is more so about multi-tasking at its finest. Do you have a list of your camp web site and social media photo/video needs for the summer? These would be the “normal” objectives for any camp photographer. If not, flesh that list out before you set your photographers out on a mission throughout camp. There is a way to incorporate actual documenting of camp life over the summer (the normal coverage) with intersecting the shot lists for the promotional film initiatives.

Explore 10 approaches for meaningful content and brand engagement through Outer Woods Media's free Social Media Strategy Guide.

house meetup
house meetup

BONUS BONUS! - Shot List See the attached example of what a shot list may look like. Utilizing professional (and free) programs online such as Celtyx to create a script, storyboard and shot list is not a bad idea for any organized storyteller (remember, that’s you!). The more you organize and delegate before staff training and throughout the summer, the more coverage you’ll have and be able to get the shots you need to complete your objectives.

Step Ten: Visual Storytelling Staff Training Create an actual training to run through what the summer storytelling scope: - Media Map and your objectives for the summer (bring out the markers and sticky notes again, as it may need a little revising with feedback) - Shot lists and weekly Photo/Video Hit List - Review inventory and how to use each camera specifically (also, how to upload in an organized fashion and how you will catalogue your footage throughout the summer – this will vary per project) - Training by your photographer and/or team leader on how to shoot camp-specific photographs and video - Have your staff go out and shoot (20 minutes of shooting photos and film) and come back for 20 minutes to go over what works, what doesn’t, and how to capture the right moments the way you envision them as a team leader. A spirit of consistent feedback is incredibly helpful EVERY DAY for your shooters. You can also think of your media team like a newspaper production team. The team leader is the editor – not necessarily out shooting all the time, but rather in the editing room giving critical feedback that will help the staff member develop their creative vision. It’s a win-win.

NO TIME IN TRAINING? Your team leader could schedule time with his/her photography team outside of normal training hours (evenings, during a staff meal, etc.). Offer that he/she could meet at the end of weekly meetings and hold a sub-committee or breakout group. This is so that they're still giving consistent feedback throughout the summer and staying on course with their objectives.

BONUS: Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more!! Taking the approach from a documentary class you may take in film school: shoot five hours, and use only five minutes of that footage.

Sounds crazy, right? But with digital technology, you have the luxury of blazing through film (because it’s not film)

Consider Clint Eastwood versus Stanley Kubrick in the editing room. Sometimes Kubrick shot 100 times for scenes in “The Shining.” Or, start with Clint’s mindset ­ one or two takes and then edit it (as you only have four months to shoot in the summer). Consider your team – do you have an all-star shooter on your staff? Maybe. Consider your team throughout the summer and what they’re producing.

BONUS – Flash! Be ready for anything. An impromptu flash mob, a paint war (cover the camera!!) Some things you’ll not know about and they are the essence of what makes camp. Always carry a camera with you. And make sure your photographers are within a stone’s throw to say, “Hey, climb up that tree safely and get an aerial shot of that paint war!!”

STEP ELEVEN- Feedback This one is fairly straightforward. Offer feedback to your team throughout the summer. Have your team leader poke them in person, schedule time with your team, or have end-of-week round-ups for what was accomplished and how to improve the process. - Offer critical feedback (consider your camp as a learning center for professional development and your staff will certainly buy in to this benefit) - Framing, lighting, action, intimacy? What are common shooting errors you’re noticing, and how can you fix them right then and there with your staff? - Give them weekly tips on how to capture photos and videos in different styles than they’re producing. - Play with photography concepts, always: depth of field, Rule of Three/Three Planes - Shaky shots, light blurs, zooming – see what photography no-no’s your team is producing, and don’t be afraid to give them feedback!

STEP TWELVE - Post production & Distribution This phase can be the most time-consuming part of your storytelling project. However, if you’ve organized yourself and your team accordingly, this doesn’t need to take all off-season to produce your projects.

- Allocate resources accordingly. Meaning, have you budgeted money to pay a staff member to spend that extra time after the season is over to catalogue, edit, narrate, find legal music, any and all those things take time and resources. - Oh wait! Do you have the right person for the job? - Are they a hot-shot on Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro for film? Do you have a Photoshop guru that can make any photograph shine? Do you even have these programs? iMovie works for shorter films and perhaps social media. Ask yourself: how professional do you want these products to look? Invest in resources. It will make a HUGE difference!

And after a successful summer of media coverage, now is the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. How do you plan on distributing your media strategically throughout the off-season? Do you have an editorial calendar for release dates throughout the off-season to keep the buzz going until next year? What are your short and long-term media goals?

Map these out as strategically, and you’ll be setting yourself up for a highly-engaged online community.