The Digital Naturalist is an inspired forum for video, film, and multimedia with a cause. It brings together an elite panel of experts to analyze what makes digital storytelling successful, establish helpful guidelines for advocacy groups, and shine a light on the most effective and inspiring work being produced today. Through analysis, forums, interviews, and personal accounts, we hope to help nonprofit organizations and the creatives working with them better communicate the most pressing, complex issues of our time.

Try This!

If your video is comprised of interviews, try to get your b-roll after you’ve recorded all or most of the interviews. The reason is that inevitably the people interviewed will say certain things that may inspire the kind of b-roll you’ll want to shoot. Read more bladeronner.com.


3 Rules for Getting Your Video Seen

By Jack Jostes & Chris Woodley of Ramblin Jackson

If you’re reading this blog, you probably work for or with an organization that’s dedicated to a cause-- and whether that cause relates to poverty, the environment, or women’s health, the messages you send to the public are important.

So you’ve established a community. And you’ve established a brand. And maybe you’ve just produced a really stunning video. Mission accomplished, right? Not so fast. If no one sees your video, it doesn’t matter how great it is, or how much time and effort it took to create it. More than likely, it’s not going to become viral on it’s own (more on this in a previous post), so it’s up to you to get it out there. 

Unfortunately, too many organizations view the video as the END goal, and fail to budget in the time, brainpower, and money necessary to make sure the video gets to the people they're trying to reach. Doing so requires a lot of work, but these three rules will get you off to a good start. (Quick disclaimer: Video marketing can be a complex science. We could offer 100 tips below, but the fact is there's no single formula that fits every scenario. The goal of this post is to shift organizational thinking in the right direction... but it's only meant as a first step.)

1) Have a plan.
While your video is still in production, begin looking for ways to get the completed version out onto the interwebs. Draft a plan that includes the sites where you want to place the video, your advertising budget, the staff responsible for monitoring hits and comments to the video, etc. There are dozens of sites that can help spread your message-- YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, Twitter, etc.-- and best of all, many of them are FREE! Determining which social network or website is worth investing time in will be different for each organization; if you’re not sure which one is right for your, we recommend asking a Social Media consultant.

2) Use keywords where it matters.
Once you’ve selected the websites where you want to upload your video, make sure that you include keywords in your file names, tags, titles, and descriptions. Pay SPECIAL attention to file names: While the person who produced your video might have named the file "CompanyXvideo2.mov,” it's unlikely that your audience will search for such keywords. Working with a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist  for this portion of the project would be a great idea, and there’s also plenty of excellent information about video SEO at reelseo.com and CopyBlogger.com.

3) Embed the video onto your website’s home page using YouTube.
  • Don’t bury your video on some hard-to-find interior page of your site-- make sure it's visible from the home page!
  • When grabbing the embed code from YouTube,  deselect “show suggested videos when the video finishes.” Otherwise it can be distracting to the viewer.

  • If your video was produced in high-definition, upload it in high-definition. Don’t sacrifice the quality, not even on sites like Facebook, YouTube, etc. The sound will also sound better as a result!

Again, while these three rules are a good and simple start, marketing your work can be a time-consuming and uncertain process, and generally takes a lot of trial-and-error before you get it right. They call us “social media experts” for a reason! The good news is, we’re here to help. Follow Ramblin Jackson on Twitter (@ramblinjackson), or post a question about video marketing on our Facebook Wall.

Ramblin Jackson is a social media company in Boulder, Colorado. To see more of their work, visit ramblinjackson.com

3 Stumbles


Meet Tucker Walsh

TDN's newest contributor, Tucker Walsh

"When you're young, you should be listeners.
When you get older, then you can talk."

I heard this quote recently in a multimedia piece, and as much as I was drawn to this character, I couldn't disagree with him more. Yes-- we all need to work on being better listeners. But if we can't stop to hear what the young have to say, we're missing out.

No one represents that idea better to me than Tucker Walsh. Those of you who follow The Digital Naturalist on Facebook or have read comments on recent posts might have already taken note of the name. I discovered him almost by accident, Googling him out of curiosity soon after he began following TDN's page. To say that his work captured my attention is an understatement. After watching just a few vignettes, it was clear that Tucker has a strong sense of style and storytelling. His videos are subtle, quirky, raw, and intimate; a quiet celebration of humanity. Not bad for a 20-year-old.

Recently, Tucker has taken on a much bigger role as TDN's newest contributor, offering story ideas, championing the blog in his photojournalism circles, stirring up fresh discussions over social media, and pointing me daily to the latest and greatest examples of storytelling online. The real challenge has been keeping up with all the brilliant work he's bringing into the fold-- but it's a challenge I'm happy to take on.

Below is his story. Take a few minutes to get to know him, then join me in extending a warm welcome to this vibrant and talented new addition to our team!

© Tucker Walsh

I started taking photos when I was 13 years old, on a community service trip to the Massai Mara. I quickly realized that images were the greatest way to humanize the mysterious tribal warriors in Kenya to my untraveled loved ones back home. This realization set me on a life-long journey to travel the world, using my camera as a tool to shed light on both my world and others'.

Just recently, I discovered a new medium that has redirected my passion: DSLR filmmaking. Some people are surprised that I'm moving away from still photography, but for me, it's a natural progression. I've always appreciated the quality and depth of storytelling that films provide, and thanks to new technologies, my still vision can translate fully into cinematic, moving images. But what I really appreciate about film, even more than the aesthetics of cinema itself, is the ability for subjects to tell their own story in their own voice.

I grew up in Mystic, Connecticut, but I'm currently studying photojournalism at the Corcoran College of Art + Design and completing a video internship at The Washington Post in Washington, D.C. I also studied documentary photography last semester at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, in Portland, Maine. This summer, I'm fortunate to be interning with the multimedia department at NPR. My goal is to merge photography, video, storytelling, and social media into this exciting new medium of visual storytelling for an online audience.

Why you became a photojournalist:
1. I get to do something I'm obsessed with while also positively contributing to the world.
2. There's an incredible amount of room for creativity, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and exploration.
3. There's a big, giant world out there, and my job is to find awesome stories to tell. There's nothing else I would ever want to do!

The most important thing you've learned as an intern at the WP:
The Washington Post internship has been an absolutely invaluable experience! I'm there three to four days a week, and each day I'm sent out to shoot, edit, and produce a video story, always on deadline. I had produced only two videos before my internship started, so just shooting/editing regularly has been priceless. Something I've really learned about is the art of storytelling. One of my WP mentors, Evelio Contreras, gave me the example of a person walking across the street: There's a story that can be told visually and in an interesting way; it's just a matter of finding the risks, payoffs, challenges, and motivations behind that person's actions. These are ideas that, sadly, were often overlooked in my photography classes, but have since transformed the way I think about video.

What excites you most about your upcoming internship with NPR?
I hope to continue learning the art of storytelling. And I'm thrilled to be doing so from the masters! Who tells stories better than NPR? I also appreciate how NPR always seems to cover news and stories a little differently than everyone else. Their perspectives are fresh, unique, different-- and I hope to pick up the skills to achieve the same in my own work.

All-time favorite documentary:
I'm not sure it qualifies as a documentary, but the film Baraka, without a doubt, is the most inspiring and transformational work of art I've ever encountered. In a nutshell, it taught me to see the world differently. It completely transformed the way I see beauty, and in doing so, helped define my vision as a photographer.

Latest multimedia obsession:
I've been following the Hussin brother's journey across America on their bicycles. Their website embodies the future of visual storytelling. First off, they used social media and Kickstarter to gain support and raise money. Using these tools, you can breathe new life into personal projects, and the Hussins are a great model of that. One brother is a writer/filmmaker and the other is a photographer/filmmaker, so their website (which is being updated throughout their journey) includes video, photos, and writing-- a true "multimedia" project. Most importantly, the stories they are telling are unique, heartfelt, and brilliantly produced. They dispel the myth that online video must be under four minutes long. I also admire their passion to document these stories; by living with their subjects, they're delivering something authentic and unique… something very few people ever have the opportunity to experience themselves.

A bad habit you'd really like to see producers/filmmakers/photographers break:
One pet-peeve I have in my own videos is unnecessary and unintentional camera shake due to laziness. As someone with a still photography background, one of the biggest challenge moving to video has been using a tripod. It's as if I'm shackled, and I find myself missing moments I would have been able to capture in a still image. But I just bought a monopod, so hopefully that will be a working compromise for the time being.

Your favorite thing about storytelling:
Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools on Earth. It's been the most basic form of entertainment and education for thousands and thousands of years. Everything from journalism to religion to Hollywood has, at its core, a story. It's as universal as music or laughing. Everyone can relate, regardless of the content. And like life itself, a story is less about where you end up, rather the journey that takes you there. Personally, my goal is to tells stories that create greater humanity amongst us all.

Biggest fears as a budding journalist:
I think Ira Glass could best sum this up right now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI23U7U2aUY

Greatest hopes for the nonprofit-communications industry over the next decade:
I have no doubt that nonprofits will continue to understand the importance of web-based video storytelling. I'm truly excited to see where organizations go with it, and I hope to start tapping into that market ASAP!

Your dream assignment?
To do a multimedia story on a group of Tibetan refugees who make the trek from mainland Tibet to northern India or Nepal. They face brutal conditions, police brutality, rape, torture, and, oftentimes, death. Yet all of it takes place in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, who's culture and people are being slowly diluted as Han Chinese migrants continue to stream in. It would be an incredibly difficult and dangerous journey to document, but one worth telling.

I'm currently producing a multimedia story that I shot in Lusaka, Zambia, for the nonprofit Chikumbuso. The story juxtaposes two widows, one who is part of the nonprofit and another who is not but wishes to be. I hope to have the video completed this summer.

Check out more of Tucker's work here:

As If You Can See
The Teddy Bear and The Rock
Washington Post Videos
Still-Photo Galleries


3 Stumbles

© Jonathan Harris

1. Worth Watching, via MediaStorm
2. Trailer: Inside the New York Times
3. Storytelling to the Emotions (Which ones grabbed you? Which ones didn't? Why?) 


Happy 6 Months, TDN!


It's hard to believe six months have passed since The Digital Naturalist was born. It started, like many things, with a modest brainstorm. Morgan and I were traveling back to Boulder on a cold, clear night, brains on fire after a meeting with the International League of Conservation Writers. But our conversation kept circling back to other things-- namely, video and multimedia.

"I want to do something more with this," I told her, and threw out an idea that had been ripening in my mind for weeks: a blog dedicated to making better advocacy videos. She dug it, and that was all the reinforcement I needed. We spent the rest of the drive throwing around potential website names, but it wasn't until I got home that "The Digital Naturalist" popped into my head. I checked to see if the domain name was available-- it was. I bought it immediately. And at 11pm that night, the very first blog post went live.

Since then-- thanks to contributions from passionate and dedicated editors, writers, filmmakers, photographers, musicians, producers, bloggers, designers, students, professors, readers, and non-profit staff-- the website has continued to expand steadily in content and in reach. And while I've enjoyed immensely my position at the helm, it's the collaboration and teamwork that's been most rewarding. I could have never made it this far alone.

To celebrate this benchmark, here are six of my favorite posts from the last six months:

1. Climate Wisconsin: A case study on kick-ass environmental multimedia
2. Growing is Forever: A gorgeous and poetic tribute to Redwoods National Park
3. Sometimes, Simple Is Better: Scott Kirkwood's opinion piece on LOVE146
4. It Takes a Village: Morgan Heim's essay on teamwork
5. A Designer's Eye: An extremely technical topic visualized beautifully
6. 8 Rules of Multimedia: TDN's most popular post to date

But what's a celebration of the past without a glimpse of what's to come? Here's some new and exciting content that's set to launch as early as this summer:

Committee Reviews. Are you open to constructive criticism? Feeling brave and thick-skinned? Eager to improve your storytelling skills? Send your advocacy video to thedigitalnaturalist@gmail.com. TDN contributors will choose the ones we think readers can learn the most from, then offer public reviews and suggestions on how to improve them. Occasionally, we'll invite the industry's leading filmmakers and producers to act as guest reviewers.

NGO Profiles. We'll shine a spotlight on nonprofits that fund innovative communications projects, create positions for and hire video professionals, etc.-- in other words, the dot-orgs that "get it"-- and share their vision, processes, challenges, budgets, measured results, and whatever else you need to know to bring your own NGO up to speed.

Student Projects. A partnership with the University of Colorado's multimedia students. Details to come.

A Production by Yours Truly. Thanks to an NPCA-sponsored sabbatical this coming fall, I'll be heading to a national park, meeting up with a filmmaker or two, and producing videos for National Parks magazine. I've spent far too much time criticizing other people's work, and far too little time producing any of my own. I look forward to sharing my experiences-- the good, the bad, and the funny-- along the way.

Thanks again for all your support, and for genuinely believing in this cause for the causes. Now it's your turn: What do YOU hope to see on TDN over the next six months??