Marketing Matters: Taking Great Camp Photos

by Steve Cony

Your products — summer fun, personal growth, and development — occur in an expansive place called camp. At the very minimum, camp activities take place over several acres. In some cases, such as travel programs, activities can even take place in distant parts of the world. And camp happens over an extended season – up to eight weeks. So when it comes time to photograph your program for a new brochure or other marketing tools, calling a professional photographer is not always cost effective.

While superior results are produced most easily by a professional photographer, your own photography or that of a staff member must often serve as the best — or only — shots available! You need to be familiar with a few simple guidelines to help make your next camp photos work well in your marketing program.

Plan Your Shots

Ask yourself some important questions.

Where will the photos be used?
When you keep in mind your audience and the message your photos need to deliver, you will improve the likelihood of success. The timely photos in a newsletter sent to campers and families do not have to function like the classic photos in a brochure sent to prospects.

Will you need color or black-and-white shots?
If you plan to print in black and white, you should shoot in black and white. The kind of prints you use does make a difference. You can convert color images to black and white, but the image will lose contrast and clarity. For color, you will get better results if you shoot slides rather than prints.

How long with the photos be seen?
If you need the photos for long-term use, make sure that they do not include time-sensitive subject matter, such as certain trendy fashion items or camp facilities that may not exist several seasons later.

Say Cheese

When taking your photos, keep in mind a few guidelines.

Don’t pose every shot
Go for the value of natural scenes and candid images rather than an endless series of set-up shots. A look of sincere concentration or unrestrained exuberance is difficult to pose. Those are the kinds of things that happen randomly — so keep the lens cap off.

Snap a variety of shots
Cute grinning faces that communicate comfort and friendship are fine once or twice. Beyond that, make your photos look natural. Get looks of concentration, focusing on the activity itself rather than the person.

Include campers and counselors
Encourage your staff members to get into the pictures and look totally involved. Their expressions of satisfaction with the campers’ accomplishments combine to make supportive stories that often do not even need captions.

Watch those close-ups
Get right in there . . . but not so close that arms and legs get cut off at the borders. Keep in mind the person who will work with the pictures to design your materials; leave enough room to crop the photos appropriately.

Project a positive image
T-shirts and sweat shirts carry many interesting messages these days and not all of them are appropriate to project a wholesome and positive image for your camp. Yes, today’s graphics programs are good at retouching but not always with uniformly excellent results. If someone is wearing one of those shirts and excluding that person would be difficult, have him move to one end of the group. This will allow you to crop the person from the photo later.

Keep your market in mind
Your arts and crafts specialist may be great, and campers may just love her! But if she has a nose ring, a tattoo, or presents another similarly questionable image, you must carefully evaluate the standards of your market. Be prepared to pass and move on to a different photo opportunity.

Watch those sunsets
Be sure to capture the photographic beauty of your surroundings, but then be doubly sure to concentrate on what really attracts campers to your camp: the activities, the staff, and the friendships.

Don’t overuse your flash
Don’t use flash to illuminate perfectly natural scenes. Realistically illuminating a nighttime scene is difficult — unless there is a campfire handy.

Keep it legal
Make sure that your enrollment contract includes parents’ permission to use their child’s likeness in future promotional materials. When the cutest kid in camp accomplishes the most miraculous feat, you don’t want to have to begin negotiating.

Look for the different shot
Every camp brochure has pictures of the climbing wall, a water skier, and the cloud of dust at home plate. Look for photo opportunities that will communicate your unique features. These features may seem small, but you need to make a statement of individuality and your photos can play a big part in differentiating your camp and your program from the competition.

Click the Shutter

Keep shooting all summer long! Film is cheap, and you’ll need oceans of photos to find the right ones. Shoot those great scenes at different f-stops, from different angles, and with lots of options. Photography for marketing purposes is not like fishing: there is no advantage in talking about the one that got away!

You’ve heard the admonition, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” In some instances, you may know that the subject of a wonderful photo was not your most ideal camper or that a counselor will not be asked back for a second season. That is not a reason to discard a good photo. After all, most people who read your brochure won’t know the identities of the campers pictured. You have the advantage of anonymity because the readers have yet to become your camp families.

Begin assessing your camp’s photo needs now, and you will be delighted with the results.

Steve Cony is a marketing consultant who assists children's camps with the development of strategic plans and the execution of marketing materials. Camp directors may contact him at 914-271-8482.

Originally published in the 1998 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.