Judah S. HarrisJudah S. Harris

Summer educational programs go heavy on marketing during the fall, winter and spring months. Advertisements in newspapers and magazines, direct mail and open house events serve recruitment efforts and provide name recognition for a variety of experiences, including overnight summer camps and day camps, school-based and specialty learning programs—such as sports, arts, music and science—as well as destination travel programs for all ages.

With the arrival of summer comes the decline of broad marketing. During these summer programs, the next couple months are the right time—actually the only time—to observe and actively preserve the moments that can be shared when the recruitment efforts begin again in 2020.

Photography—and video, to an extent—is vital for portraying for others what they can expect from your experience. Most summer educational programs being run for youth or adults are aware that they need photography for marketing and general PR, but are these programs using photography effectively to promote themselves? Some yes and others, it seems, aren’t, and a lot of this has to do with a misunderstanding regarding how we, the recipients of the messaging, respond to institutional promotional photography.

Proper use of photography can help any educational and activity-based program gain more attention, propel greater visibility and reach more audiences by presenting better visual documentation. Here are three suggestions that can help those who direct summer programs, as well as the communications professionals hired to promote them. 

Happy faces alone don't tell a story

People typically like to see themselves in pictures, and so will their family and friends. This was true before the Selfie epidemic. But don’t rely solely on the smiling-for-the-camera shots or photos of large groups to raise your program’s profile. Keep these types of pictures separate from more serious photography that actually documents the programs you offer.

Lots of faces proves you have a crowd and implies everyone is having a great time. Yet, if that’s what we see most frequently in your marketing photography, we lose the details regarding what these people are actually experiencing. Educational programs of all seasons offer an experience, and good photography is able to share that experience with the viewer by having them partake in the activity they’re looking at in a photo. We need to see what people are doing and there needs to be variety of activity, because most educational programs do offer variety and a good photographer can identify that, thereby lending credibility to the program in place.

Do show us the faces of your participants and the group you’ve got going. Keep in mind, however, that photography that gets close and involved is more gripping and emotional. Viewers pay more attention when they grasp a story they can relate to and want to know more about. They’re less interested, for instance, in someone else’s children smiling for the camera. They want to know which experiences you provide that will get their child to do the same.

Where are we, exactly?

Show your space, your campus, your physical environment. If you have a program that houses itself in a unique historic building, or a comfy or hi-tech classroom space, or a natural, rustic setting that belongs on a postcard—or you’re located anywhere enticing and different from everyday for most people—show it to us. We might want to visit!

Don’t show only your space as a backdrop in photos where people are present. That’s certainly important for photos about people, but a space needs to be seen on its own. The reason is because we (photographers) photograph spaces differently based on whether there are people or no people in the photo. We compose differently, use light differently, have time to clean up certain areas or prop if necessary. When physical spaces can be observed on their own, the viewer is able to imagine themselves in the picture. They’re free to move around without distraction, and important and enticing details emerge that the viewer can partake in to imagine their own experience. It’s always smart to establish the setting.

Present the photos as you want them to be seen

Have lots of photos to choose from? Edit what you have with care and think about how to present them. Don’t give viewers everything. Edit your visual message by taking the best and most informative photographs and share those with your audience. You can use individual shots—or a few photos—and attach a short story or explanation, or you can assemble 30-60 images that tell a fuller story of your programs or even just one of them. Sequence this collection of singular images and offer them as a photo essay, a visual presentation that can be viewed online to grab not seconds of attention, but full minutes of viewer immersion. That’s gold in this day and age.

People reward good content with their time. Even those with no existing connection to your program will enjoy it if you share a visual story they find informative and entertaining. For them, it’s about art (the art of photographic reportage), culture, the human experience and discovering a new place.

On your website, edit and categorize your photo galleries carefully and feature nicely-designed banners and graphics on the landing pages to promote your photo essays or video. You can also post images selectively on Facebook as newly-created albums to provide a photo essay experience, or use a slideshow hosting program. I’ve used Slideshare and Adobe Spark for many of mine (see an example, the Education Photo Essay).

If your visual presentation is special—it needs to be—tout a photo essay to your email list, on social media, and as a press release to appropriate outlets. If you find a newsworthy angle and entice with photography, you might get media coverage during the summer months. You can use that mention going forward and feature it strategically in your marketing efforts in the months ahead.

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Judah S. Harris is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker and writer. He has produced visual content for numerous educational programs and is also a noted photo educator. 718/380-7945 or bitly.com/jsh-photo-video.