Want Change? These 3 Essential Questions are More Important Than Your Camera Skills
As conservation visual storytellers, we know that there is power in really amazing visuals. And we often believe that it is what we do behind the camera that really matters. Unfortunately, this is a completely false belief.
It is true that we need to have robust skill sets as visual storytellers, and that we need to create these really compelling images in order to advance a conservation issue toward a goal.
But that is not where the heavy lifting happens. It actually happens somewhere else.
So while your skill as a photographer is critical, of course, there's another skill set that we have to have, and that is what I'm diving into in this episode.
I'm going to tell you about what I call the three A's. When you have the three A's combined with your skills as a visual storyteller, that is when magic happens.
Get Jaymi's Workbook “The 3 Steps to Maximum Impact”
- Action: Your big conservation goal and what you need people to actually do to reach it
- Audience: Identifying who it truly is that you need to take action
- Artifact: What you need to create in order to reach your true target audience and get them to take action
- How to put the 3 As together to make the best possible impact with your photography
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Episode 021: Want change? Your Camera Skills Aren't As Important As These Three Essential Questions
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
As conservation visual storytellers, we know that there is power in really amazing visuals in photographs and films. We understand that visuals are what get people to stop in their tracks. We have the ability to change minds and behaviors with visuals.
We often believe that it is what we do behind the camera that matters, that it's our skill as photographers in producing amazing images, those really compelling, engaging images that does the work, that that's where the heavy lifting happens. Unfortunately, this is a completely false belief.
Yes, it is true that we do need to have a skill set as visual storytellers and that we do need to create these really compelling images in order to advance a conservation issue toward a goal. But that is not where the heavy lifting happens. It actually happens somewhere else. So while your skill as a photographer is critical, of course, there's another skill set that we have to have, and that is what I'm diving into in this episode.
I'm going to tell you about what I call the three A's. When you have the three A's combined with your skills as a visual storyteller, that is when magic happens. Let's dive in.
Welcome to Impact: The Conservation Photography Podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch. And if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild, then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business to marketing and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
In this episode, I am diving into something that I think is going to completely change the way that you approach your storytelling. And because there's some steps in this, some things that I really want you to think about and consider and put into practice, I've made you something special. I have created a workbook. It's called The Three Steps to Maximum Impact. Inside this workbook, it's going to help you put into practice all of the things that I talk about in this episode. So to download this free workbook, just head over to JaymiH.com/21, That's JAYMIH.com/21, the number 21 for this episode, and you will be able to download the three steps to maximum impact workbook. That's gonna help you a lot in implementing everything that we talk about in this episode. So let's get started.
Something that all conservation photographers absolutely must dedicate more time into is figuring out the answers to three questions at the very start of a photo project or a story. The three questions are: Number 1: What is the exact effect that I want to have on this world through this photography project? What is my effect? What is my goal to have happen as a result of producing this story?
Question number 2: Who is the exact audience that I need to get in front of in order to make that happen?
Question number 3: Where do I need my images to appear, and in what form, in order to reach that audience and engage with them in a way that's constructive and we'll get them to act?
I call the answers to these three questions the Three A's. They are Action, Audience, and Artifact.
Action is what has to happen in order to reach this overarching goal. Audience is who has to act for the action to happen. And artifact is what do I need to create, what you actually need to produce, and where do I need to put it in order to reach these people? So let's dig into action audience and artifact a little more deeply.
First Action: So what has to happen to reach an overarching goal? Conservation photographers, we are so skilled at seeing the big picture, right? You know, when you look at something you can put together all of those components in order to see the big picture. We think in terms of saving entire species, entire habitats and altering the mindset of whole cultures for the benefit of the planet. But to make any of these broad goals actually happen, we have to zero in with laser-like focus on the actual actions that have to take place in order for that goal to be reached.
It's one thing to know on a larger scale the effect that you want to have this very altruistic goal, and it's another thing to zero in on what actually has to happen in order for that larger goal to be reached. It's not enough to say I want to end plastic pollution. You have to then drill down into the culture shift that needs to happen and then drill down, even more into the laws that could push that culture shift into happening. And then, you have to drill down into how to make those laws a reality or to make those behavior changes a reality.
You really have to funnel all the way down until you have a step-one thing that has to happen. So in a way it's kind of embracing the concept of think global and act local. Think big, but then drill all the way down, down, down, down, down until you have an incredibly clear, specific action that will lead to the desired big goal. And then you know what you're really working toward. This could be hard work. I completely understand. But it is very doable work. And when you do the work to really zero in on an action that you want taken now, you really get focused in on what your story is about how you're going to create it.
But you're not done yet because once you know what action you need taken, well, now you have to figure out who you need to reach. That's the second A, Audience who has to act for the action to happen? And this is where a lot of conservation photographers get tripped up. Because we think that we know our audience or we think that we just have to reach "the public" or "the people", but that's not the case. So, as specific as you have to get in your action, you have to get the same level of specific in your audience because who you need to act might not be who you think it is at first glance.
The most effective conservation photographers know that preaching to the choir doesn't accomplish your goal. And often all that does is turn up the volume on this already loud screaming match. To have a true impact with your images, you have to go beyond those who are already listening. You have to go straight to the people who are either responsible for the issue in the first place or they have control over the issue, and you need to connect with them. Your actual target audience probably doesn't follow you on social media. They probably don't read the magazines that you're usually getting your publishing. They probably don't know that you exist. You can't expect them to find you. You have to understand who they are and go to them.
You may have studied everything that there is to know about an issue that you're documenting, but have you studied the people that you most need to reach? If you do this and you approach them on their turf and on their terms and speak their language, you will make extraordinary headway in connection, collaboration and hopefully a commitment to change.
Inside of the workbook that I mentioned earlier, I actually have an exercise for how you can figure out who your ideal audience is, who you need to take action and really understanding who they are. It takes understanding who they are to figure out the next A, which is Artifact. Artifact is what do I need to create and where do I need to put it in order to reach my audience?
Once you know who needs to take action and what action they need to take, you have to figure out how to get in front of them. Not just get in front of them but to do so in a way that compels them to act. So, for instance, are they more affected by what makes them afraid, or by what gives them hope? Are they more engaged by what they can contemplate alone or what they can share with others? How does your audience like to consume information? Where do they hang out? Where are they getting their information online or in person? Ask a ton of questions and figure out what makes your audience tick.
Then take all of the information that you've uncovered and figure out the kinds of images that your audience responds to and the format that they most want to see those images in. For instance, if your audience tends to be people who hang out a lot on instagram or social media then it could be that you need to create a series of posts on an influencers instagram profile.
Or if your audience is someone who really likes to be engaged in person, then maybe it could be an interactive installation in a grocery store parking lot or an exhibit at City Hall or the library. It could be a teacher's visual resource packet handed out in schools that is the most effective way to get your visuals in front of a target audience. Or it might be a book placed by you into the hands of a congressman or congresswoman, because that person is actually your target audience, right?
If you do your homework then your images will be able to do their work. Yes, it does take skill behind the camera. It does take your ability to create really beautiful, compelling, interesting images that stop people in their tracks; skillfully made images. But that is one small component of the larger skill that it takes as a conservation photographer to really allow your images to do the work that you need them to.
In combination with your skill set behind the camera as a conservation visual storyteller, you also need to know what is it that you want to accomplish. You need to have some skills in figuring out specific goals and specific actions that need to happen in order to accomplish conservation goals. You also need a skill set and understanding the audience that you need to reach for that goal, and this can really surprise you.
If you need a certain law changed, and you know that a certain lawmaker holds sway in how that law gets put into place, your audience might actually be that lawmaker’s constituency. You need to figure out who those folks are. You need to figure out everything about them. What makes them tick? What are they afraid of? What do they believe in? What do they value? Where are they hanging out? How do they like to consume information? You can use that information to then figure out how to get your images in front of them in a way that is effective in a way that is compelling.
You can figure out your action, figure out your audience and then figure out your artifact or the actual thing that you produce to get in front of that audience in order to inspire them to act or to change, or to think, or to ponder. Your skill set as a visual storyteller behind the camera, in combination with your skill set as basically an effective marketer - that is how you can become a highly influential and effective conservation visual storyteller.
Now again, I've made a workbook for you that is going to really help you out. So this workbook will guide you through the questions to ask and the things to research so that you can come up with an outstanding, creative, engaging platform and make the greatest possible impact with your conservation photography. So head over to jaymih.com/21 and snag that free download.
Stash it in a handy place. Spend some time with these worksheets at the start of every project that you do, and you'll discover how these questions will help provide you with clarity in your work and more engagement from the people who you need on your side when you get your work out there into the world. I cannot wait to see how much more influential and how much more effective you become when you start to put this into practice. I am so rooting for you because when you become as effective and influential as you can possibly be as a storyteller, the entire planet benefits, and that is amazing. So I hope that you grab your download, grab your workbook, start to put this into practice, and meanwhile, I will talk to you next week.
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