Greenland’s Visual Storytelling
When you look at Visit Greenland’s photos, you are immersed in the best of what the country has to offer – from stunning landscapes to exciting tourist excursions to rich local traditions.
The images capture what words cannot describe, and give you a window into life in Greenland.
In the past, Greenland was represented abroad by outsiders.
“All of the storytelling went through a filter of the south visiting the north,” says Mads Pihl, who manages photography and market development for Visit Greenland.
Five years ago, the country was rebranded, with an ongoing push to reclaim the storytelling.
“To ever do this, we need to tell the right story visually, and out of that has grown an image database,” says Mads. “Images basically carry the core of our branding message.”
Image sharing is one of Visit Greenland’s pillars. The core of the organization’s work is market development, and helping partners inside and outside the country access images with a strong brand is crucial (especially now that Greenland has been named one of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel Top 10 Countries).
“Like any destination, there are a lot of narratives coming from a lot of different angles about who we are,” says Mads.
Images are a powerful tool for shaping the outside world’s perceptions of Greenland. They shine a light on local life and life as you experience it as a tourist. They make it possible for the Visit Greenland team to create selected stories – stories that are in tune with Greenland’s core.
By taking control of the sourcing, organizing and sharing of images, Visit Greenland has created a stronger storytelling platform from inside the country, and taken control of how Greenland is represented abroad.
As the Visit Greenland team attempted to reclaim ownership of the country’s stories, they knew they had to take ownership of the actual product – the images they were sharing with the outside world.
Rather than buying stock images, Mads spends six to eight weeks a year creating photos in the backcountry. This ensures that images are on-brand and that the stories they tell are told through the eyes of a local.
Because Mads is a staff photographer, Visit Greenland owns the copyright to these photos. This gives the organization ultimate control over the images and ensures they can be shared with stakeholders.
This strategy is key, because it is extremely difficult to create images in Greenland. Travel is expensive and resources are stretched. Stakeholders from abroad cannot continually produce their own images. Visit Greenland provides their images as a free service to stakeholders, as long as they credit the photographer and the national tourism board. It’s a win-win. Stakeholders can access a diverse and evolving collection of high-quality images. Meanwhile, Visit Greenland can guide the messaging to make sure stories are accurate and compelling.
When Mads returns from the field, he uses Lightroom to rename his files and tag his images with metadata.
He uses descriptive titles that are rich in keywords. This photo, for example, is titled, “Drifting snow and a dog sled on the sea ice near Tasiilaq in East Greenland.”
“Every image fits into a thing to do, a destination, and most likely also a season,” says Mads.
Mads uses descriptive titles and a matrix of keywords to ensure that the images are easy to search. He thinks carefully about what stakeholders will look for, and tags images accordingly. This system also ensures that people unfamiliar with Greenland will have enough context to understand the photo.
He adds core tags, like “greenland” and “ilovegreenland” (Visit Greenland’s handle on social media platforms). Attaching this metadata helps his team find the images online later and see how they have been used by partner organizations. Plus, it helps them improve SEO.
For some images, he also adds branded words, like “pioneering people” (one of the pillars of the brand). This allows him to shape the stories stakeholders share. He may have many photos of people, but he only tags them with “pioneering people” if they tell the right story.
The branded keywords link images with content on Visit Greenland’s website. When stakeholders want to tell a story based on information from the website, they can use corresponding terms to quickly find images to fit with the story. This strategy also informs Mads’ shooting, because it allows him to see the content he has, and what’s missing.
“We’re trying to build a little ecosystem,” says Mads.
Digital asset management (DAM) is the lifeblood of Visit Greenland’s ecosystem. DAM avoids what Mads calls “a complete explosion” of content into local hard drives and photographers’ personal computers (also known as the Content Apocalypse). With DAM, all of the images are stored, organized and shared in one place, which is vital to Visit Greenland’s storytelling process.
“This is where the stories live,” says Mads.
Before upgrading to an all-encompassing digital asset management system, Mads used Flickr to store and share his photos.
“I wasted so much time adding these to Flickr,” says Mads.
To make the system usable for his stakeholders, Mads had to upload the full-sized JPEG to Flickr, then add a corresponding TIF file to Dropbox, create a short link and paste the caption into Flickr, “Download the full-size TIF file here.” The process was tedious and time-consuming, and it didn’t offer enough return on investment. (Check out DAM vs Consumer Solutions Like Flickr and Dropbox: How To Best Manage Your Corporate Image and Video Library.)
Mads moved his image database over to PhotoShelter for Brands, and the new platform has significantly streamlined his workflow. After he renames his files and tags them in Lightroom, he uses the PhotoShelter Lightroom plugin to add everything to the cloud-based media library. PhotoShelter cuts out several steps because Mads can upload all of his high-resolution photos, and the metadata he adds in Lightroom automatically carries over to PhotoShelter.
“The major difference has been that we don’t have this weird fragmented upload process,” says Mads. “It’s just one door into a platform that is PhotoShelter.”
Powerful digital asset management has streamlined his workflow, but it has also provided a better platform for B2B image delivery. Let’s dive into how DAM simplifies how an image travels from Mads’ camera to publications outside of Greenland.
The image database is essential to engaging Visit Greenland’s partners. Organizations in Greenland and abroad need a public-facing portal to be able to search the online visual media library, and download the visual assets they need.
When the country rebranded, Visit Greenland launched its Flickr site to fill this need, but Flickr’s functionality presented many challenges. It wasn’t easily searchable, and the process of finding a photo on Flickr and following the link to the high-res file on Dropbox was tedious. People turned to Mads for help, and after investing time into making the images available for download online, he would still often have to package photos into zip files to send to partners. And here’s the kicker: partners preferred to use the same images over and over, rather than struggling to find and download new ones, which undermined Visit Greenland’s mission of fostering fresh storytelling (the whole reason to provide the photo service in the first place).
These challenges, in addition to his workflow frustrations, motivated Mads to make the move to PhotoShelter. He used the transition as an opportunity to rename 3,000 images to ensure the library would be as searchable as possible on a new system with powerful search functionality.
“It’s formidable compared to Flickr, you can’t even compare,” says Mads. “It feels like it’s made for someone like us.”
Now, Visit Greenland’s partners can search for a term like “dog sledding” and find a diverse collection of results.
Once they choose a photo from Visit Greenland’s rich library, they can download it on the spot by entering Visit Greenland’s download password. They can download the high-res version, or select a smaller size, and the system will do the conversion for them. They can also access the photo’s license agreement, which is linked in the description of the photo.
Finally, they can share the photo, along with supporting content from Visit Greenland’s website, on their own platforms, like on this page by one of Visit Greenland’s partners, Icelandic Mountain Guides.
“In the very short term, our goal – and it is a high expectation – is that I will have to do less manual labor, finding images or giving them images,” says Mads. “Our users will be able to find more images that they actually need.”
Mads expects that the user friendly system will encourage partners (even those who aren’t very technologically savvy) to take advantage of the photo service more regularly.
“My hope would be that there will be a longer tail on the images used in the database,” says Mads. “The more diversity that we get through the database, the more diversity there will be in the representation of Greenland by our stakeholders.”
In the long term, he hopes streamlined process will help Visit Greenland accomplish its ultimate goal of sharing Greenland’s stories with people all over the world.
“So few people have valid representations of Greenland in their heads,” says Mads. “When they see the images, they go, ‘ok, that’s quite different.’ It puts us on a mental map.”