#SciFund Challenge Self-Guided Class

Connecting people to your science with Instagram

Part 3: Taking great photos and video

Now, we come to the little matter of creating photos and videos to post on Instagram. The best way to get better at doing this sort of thing is to, well, actually do it. Yes, there are lots of visual tools and techniques to know - many of which we'll cover here - but the key thing is to just keep taking photos and shooting video. Practice makes perfect, as they say.

What makes for a great Instagram visual? It's not necessarily about taking the most beautiful, technically-proficient, National Geographic-worthy shot. What it is about is sharing imagery that creates a connection between you and your audience - imagery that encourages engagement between you and your audience. Why is that engagement important? Because you are trying to achieve some goal with your audience and you are more likely to get there with your audience if you can begin a two-way conversation (as opposed to a one-way information blast from you to them).

The kind of visuals that can foster this kind of engagement are those that connect in some way to your audience's interests and concerns. Here's a task that will help you figure out what those happen to be. Hunt down an Instagram account of someone in your target audience (for bonus points, find more than one account). Alternatively, you can check out an Instagram account or two that seems to be popular with your people. As you look through the posts, do you notice any trends? Are there certain subjects, themes, or image styles that tend to come up? What kind of posts tend to get a lot of comments? Any insights you can draw here can help you to shape your own visuals for maximum impact.

Note to the wise (which you clearly are): it can often take a little time to understand the rhythms of others' Instagram presences. So, if an initial read of a set of Instagram accounts doesn't reveal any obvious patterns, that doesn't mean that you are doing this wrong. Rather, it may be that real insights will come only after a period of checking in with those accounts every now and again.

Next step. You now have some idea about the kinds of Instagram content that get your people excited. Ideally though, you will create Instagram content that both interests and excites YOU and caters to the interests of your target audiences. Things that make you say "wow," things that puzzle you, things that surprise you, scenes or words that inspire you, things that you can't help but "nerd out" over, things that are so beautiful they take your breath away, things that are visually strange or interesting, things that make you laugh or smile, things you have personal insight on - these things are the best Instagram fodder. And don't forget to include the human element, or in other words, YOU. Users often follow social media accounts for science information and news because they want the perspective and personal insights of the author(s) of those accounts.

In the post shown above, Aaron Pomerantz does a great job of showing a playful picture and then inviting his audience to comment with potential captions. So not only is the picture attention grabbing, but the caption invites engagement. This interaction leads to further engagement down the road, which is precisely what we all want!

The best Instagram content is often experiential – it takes people on unexpected journeys. Imagine an undergraduate art student being transported to a research site in Belize where a biologist is studying tree frogs or a mysterious new bird species. Through video, pictures and Instagram Live video chats that the biologist uploads from the field, this student could be exposed to artistic inspiration he or she might never otherwise experience in such a personal way, through someone he or she has come to know through Instagram. Further, Instagram helps make science and science experiences accessible to groups that may not be able or inclined to field work or perhaps have even thought your research was research!

Consider using Instagram to show other people what science looks like for you. Through visuals and captions, invite other people to come on your science adventures with you. What do your core values, your interests, your passions and your everyday experiences related to science look like visually? What does science look like for you? What does a scientist look like for you? Think about these questions and let your creativity shine on Instagram.

With all of that behind us, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. In the following slides, we’ve provided a basic guide to capturing better photos and videos on Instagram, editing your photos and videos, and sharing them widely (use the full screen icon at the bottom of the Slides window to make the slides full-screen) .

Plan your visuals such that the main point you are trying to make or the key concept or idea you are trying to communicate is reflected in the visual. How is the imagery framed? What is included in the image and what has been cropped or left out? What are the dominant colors? What emotions are reflected in any faces included in the visual? What’s in the background? What’s the action, or what is happening in the visual? All of these elements should complement what you are trying to communicate with this visual on Instagram.

Remember to keep your subject matter in mind at all times. Initially this may feel very challenging, but as you develop your photographic eye this will become easier and quicker. But with that said, even the best photographers in the world take their time to capture the perfect image.

You can read more about the psychology of visuals related to science communication here.