Portrait of a Cambodian Woman by humanitarian photographer Bryon Lippincott

Build Character

In an earlier series of articles I talked about the idea that our fascination with the people and situations we photograph is what makes the ideas we are sharing contageous. While it seems like our enthusiasm for our work should be enough to make capture peoples attention, there are things that we can do to help our audience engage on a deeper level.

We have a fascination with characters, unique people that stand out in a crowd. For some characters, what draws us in is their unique appearance, for others it is the things they say and how the say them, sometimes it is the things they have accomplished, heroic acts or solving a difficult problem.

Except for having a unique appearance, all of the rest of the list above require us to have a deeper understanding of who that person is. In order for us to be interested in or admire them we have to understand who they are and get to know them.

As humanitarian photographers and filmmakers it is our job to help the organizations that hire us build characters. To visually introduce the people they are serving in a way that builds rapport with the audience and helps them connect with the character.

A good start to this process is to communicate the commonalities of the human experience, work, family, meal time, school, homework and play all help us connect with a character and share how they experience these activities that we have in common.

Personally, I Iove the feel of a wide angle lens pushed in really close. It allows me to create images that feel like you are right there in the situation and while still showing the activity happening on the peripheral of the frame.

Regardless of the gear we use to accomplish the task, time spent building and developing the character of the subjects of our stories gives our audience ways to connect the realities of their life to those of the person we are portraying.

With little or no reading 5-10 character building photos can be consumed by a reader and the common humanity revealed in them can be understood in in a few seconds.

By visually building the character of our stories we allow our audience to identify with the character much faster than if we describe them with text alone.

Spend Time in the Details

Daily life for many of us is often a blur of work, shopping, cooking, school, and family activities. In that blur of moving through life at high speed, there are often to competing realities.

The first is that we often fail to notice the details of life that are beautiful, flowers in our yard, pictures our kids are drawing, how good our kids look dressed for school, our appreciation for the wonderful details of life is often absorbed by the speed at which we consume life.

The second reality is this, if there is something that pulls us out of our speed tunnel view of life it is often those same details. Small beautiful moments give us needs times of joy and reflection in the middle of our race to get life accomplished.

This paradigm of competing ideas is very much alive for those of us working as photographers. Often on assignments we have a limited amount of time to get the photos we need. In our rush it is easy to overlook the details that enrich our experience in life and go straight for the hero shots.

In order for our audience to connect with the stories we are telling and to feel the same fascination that we feel with that person, family or group we need to be able to see those and enjoy those details ourselves and able to photograph them in a way that captures the audiences attention as well.

Details help us visually build body and depth into what can otherwise become a flat and shallow visual portrayal of a person. They help the audience build a visual inventory of similarities between themselves and the person in our story. Even though the details we share may look different than what our audience is used to, the activities have a commonality that builds bridges from our subject to our audience.

Write – Use the photo and your 1000 words

A picture is no longer worth a thousand words. While that may have been true when pictures were a scarce, hard to come by commodity it is no longer the case.

Today meaningful, well composed writing that connects with the audience through storytelling and includes the brand message is a rare thing.

Today anyone can snap a photo of a smiling kid and post it on social media, the challenge is can you use the few seconds of your audiences attention it grants you to communicate your brand message?

Not only do the photos themselves need to be directly relatable to your brand, the accompanying text needs to provide some useful information to your audience.

There is an abundance of useless content directed at your audience everyday, so the question is not can you generate content? The question is can you create content that communicates the message of the brand you are working for while being useful to your audience. Only then can we make our fascination contagious, something unique, interesting and useful that they feel compelled to share with friends and family.

In most cases a simple photo or video clip alone will not accomplish the goal. Your ability to write creatively about the people in the photo will help your audience understand how the image that captured their attention is relevant, and why it is important and relevant enough to share with their tribe.

Photo with link to sharingdots.org