Getting Started with Video to Support Conservation Efforts

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By Toni Parras, Communications Professional, toniparras [at]

Are you a marine resource manager? Are you a filmmaker? Who says you can’t be both?

Many conservation efforts today use imagery in some form, at some level, in support of their efforts. From high-end, high-definition video and photography down to the point-and-shoot variety, cameras can greatly aid in getting your message across.

But where to start if you’ve never taken to the shutter before? Not to worry: with today’s advanced camera technology, even the most shutter-shy can produce credible results with a basic, inexpensive point-and-shoot camera.

It’s really more about the technique than the gear — the message more than expertise. With a few simple tips to help you get started, you will be on your way to advancing your marine conservation efforts:

  • Most cameras these days have video capabilities built right in. And contrary to all the hype and advertisements out there, you don’t need high-definition everything. Back in the old days, grainy video was the norm, followed by “regular” digital, which before HD and Blu-ray was all the rage. For our needs, it all works fine.
  • If you don’t have a camera at all, check with your partners, research institutions, NGOs, or even donors for a hand-me-down. Organizations are often upgrading, so you may be able to acquire one that way.
  • As far as skills, there is always at least one person in a group with a natural proclivity toward photography/video — you know, the person who is always taking pictures. Get that person involved; the results will come naturally.
  • Whatever you’re shooting, remember what you’re shooting for — the purpose of the images. Is it for a report or presentation aimed at decisionmakers to garner legal support for enforcement? Is it for a poster or video for community stakeholders to raise awareness of local issues and get them on board with your efforts? Think about what you as the audience would need to know, and film from that point of view.
  • You want to shoot with adequate light, but not with the sun glaring: harsh sunlight will “blow out” your images. Typically you want to shoot subjects with the sun behind your back, so that the sun is falling on your subject. Keep in mind, though, that with people this can make them squint and can cast shadows under their eyes. There are rudimentary techniques to help soften harsh light, such as holding a white board under the person’s chin to reflect the light back up and reduce shadows.

I will cover more tips and techniques in subsequent blogs. In the meantime, please send comments or questions so I can direct my posts to what is most useful to you.

Toni Parras specializes in helping organizations improve their efforts through sound communication and evaluation; exploring innovative approaches to creating awareness, influencing behavior and evaluating efforts; and incorporating information design, photography, video and storytelling into marine management, conservation and education efforts. Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect upon any bodies with which she may be associated.