Most recent stories ›
AgroInsight RSS feed

Desperately seeking good photos December 6th, 2015 by

Across Africa, you can now buy a phone with a built-in camera for as little as $30. Millions of people in Africa and around the world can now take, show and share photographs for the first time. Digital photography has succeeded where conventional film failed (in part because you can avoid the expense of developing and printing). This makes it easy for all the people involved in agriculture to show others what they do and who they work with. It should be a golden age of illustrating agriculture in all its glory, but recent experiences show there’s still a long way to go.

Book cover tempDuring the recent Access Agriculture week in Kenya, I asked for photographs to accompany stories about farmer training videos. I was pleasantly surprised that all the authors could provide examples of their work. My delight quickly faded as I discarded many poor photos. They may have looked OK on a small phone screen but this is a poor indication of whether they’re suitable for publication.

The better photos were publishable, but content was weak. Many people had taken photos of groups of farmers in a field or people at a meeting. But a photo needs a compelling feature, such as a person pointing, an animated discussion, holding a piece of equipment or an unusual viewpoint. A view of peoples’ backs is almost always dull. I recently started carrying an inexpensive selfie stick to capture scenes from a fresh angle, holding the camera high above my head.

Of the photos I saw last week, two stood out: a farmer glaring at the camera, holding a DVD at the entrance to his house; and a woman in a field with a bunch of Striga plants, a troublesome weed. The farmer had resolved not to lend precious training videos after some friends had lost the DVDs they previously borrowed from him. The woman was earning money from contract weeding, a new job suggested by a training video. The photos were simple but effective. Each made a good story better.

Nafi talks to whole groupClever technology, such as a digital camera or laptop, makes it easier to be creative. But technology doesn’t make you a skilled photographer, or a good writer. You have to learn skills, practice your craft and get feedback from others on your efforts, just as we did during the writeshop. In hindsight, we spent so long on writing that we barely had time to consider photography.

Nobody seemed to mind much, which is a pity, because photographs do matter. We take for granted the high quality photographs that are carefully chosen by newspaper and magazine editors, advertisers, websites and so on. We did eventually find photos for each story, drawing on the photo libraries of the editors, but it’s a pity we weren’t able to use more of the authors’ own photos.

I printed all the stories at the end of the writeshop and experienced the thrill of seeing the authors read their stories for the first time with photos. It’s a wonderful moment when people realise that their everyday experiences mean something to other people. And the combination of words and images is incredibly powerful.

Finger in air ladyBecoming a better photographer is not something one can achieve overnight. But writeshops can do more to help people select photos to use in stories and show how cropping can increase visual impact. The best picture editors on newspapers are not necessarily the best photographers.

The people attending the writeshop already knew the farmers they work with. They speak the same language, share a common culture and see things that the fleeting visitor (me) is likely to miss or simply never witness. The accessibility to equipment and cost of photography is no longer an issue. A little thought and patience in taking photos of farmers would reveal much more of the hidden world of agriculture and better showcase achievements and progress around the world.

Related blog story

Can I make some extra money?

To read the stories written during the workshop, download A Passion for Video

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Design by Olean webdesign