In my current position at Oglethorpe University, a lot of my job is the creation, curation and promotion of original content. My team and I have experimented with many different ways of displaying our content, from Storify to Animoto and testing all kinds of Word Press plugins. In recent months have begun to lean toward using fewer words and more photos. We want to capture our community members’ attention, and we have learned that what they like best is photos. Photos of campus, photos of their favorite faculty members, photos of our traditions. They do not want to read an article we’ve had an intern write about it, they want to see it.
So, last week when a coworker popped her head into my office and said one of our biology professors was looking for an extra van driver to accompany him and his class on a 4-day trip to Sapelo Island, I jumped at the chance. It was a perfect opportunity to do accomplish several work-related goals:
- Capture photographs of our students working side by side with faculty in a gorgeous environment.
- Show our students getting hands-on experience in their field of study – examples of “experiential learning”, a current higher ed buzz word.
- Provide the opportunity for me to try my hand at creating a photo essay, something my team and I have been wanting to do for a while.
The trip also had a couple of self-serving purposes:
- Encouraging (read: forcing) myself to be more spontaneous. I’m admittedly a pretty strong type A, and enjoy planning and taking my time thinking ideas through before making a decision, a trait that spontaneity doesn’t lend well to. But everywhere I look is an article or an inspirational photo or a meme telling me to relax, go with the flow, and try to enjoy life. So fine, I’ll try it.
- To scratch my photography itch. In my dreams I’m a National Geographic photographer, with the skill-set to match. In reality I fancy myself an amateur photographer, and can take a decent photo. I have a long drive to work, and often feel frustrated at all the fantastic photo opportunities that I have to drive by. I can’t tell you how often I think to myself, “It won’t look that weird for me to stand on the side of this narrow 2-lane road in my heels so I can capture that amazing sunrise.”
See the final product: “Conservation biology class gets hands-on at Sapelo Island“
So I went on the trip and it was amazing. Four days on a secluded island where my main form of transportation was a bicycle, with a flexible schedule of either tagging along with the conservation biology class, or just doing what I wanted, which was difficult for me at first. I went to the beach at sunrise and to the lighthouse at sunset. I found an amazing view I wanted to capture, and waited until dusk to go back and get some photos, when the light was just right. I saw a pod of dolphins, a bald eagle, released a Black-Throated Blue Warbler, heard the hoot of a Great Horned Owl, collected more conch shells and sand dollars than I had room to take home, found Ghost Crabs on the beach with a flashlight and witnessed the biology professor incite the call of a Chachalaca (it was crazy cool).
Throughout all of this, I took over 800 photos of Oglethorpe students and their professor learning and exploring, as well as some self-serving photos of flowers and landscapes. I was not prepared to have so much editing to do once I returned to work, especially since I was two days behind on my regular job duties. But once the sorting and touching-up was done, my boss presented me with a tool to help accomplish our vision of a photo essay: SlideDeck2. It was intuitive and easy to use, though I wish there were more themes available with the free version (typical). Below are some of my favorite photos that didn’t make it into the photo essay.
Writing captions for each image was just as important as the photo itself, as the whole point was to tell a story. I can throw a photo album online any day, but to guide viewers on a tour of the island, showing not just where the students went, but what they learned and why it’s important, is what will really make an impact. The photo essay was embedded into a post on the university’s blog, which has an rss feed to it’s homepage. I also shared the published post through OU’s Facebook page, which showed an engagement rate that was higher than average. I received positive feedback from the students and professor on the trip, as well as coworkers from different departments. Overall, it was an experiment that ended with positive results, 10/10 would do it again.
TL;DR – I went to Sapelo Island for a few days and took a lot of cool photos.