When photographer and digital asset management strategist Sarah Matheson set out to build a visual storytelling workflow for Women’s March Chicago, she wanted to put together a process that could keep up with this ambitious all-volunteer organization.
For Sarah, the sky was the limit.
“We’re not running an Olympics media team, but take the cap off,” says Sarah, explaining her strategy. “If we were, what would we do? And now balance that with the resources we can get.”
She knew they needed a professional, efficient workflow, so she consulted digital asset management experts like Peter Krogh, recruited a team of professional photographers and videographers, and worked to create a process free of bottlenecks.
Fast forward to march day and you’ll see that Sarah and her team of more than 50 visual storytellers captured 30,000 images, posted 1,500 photos to social media in a matter of hours, and helped Women’s March Chicago become the top-trending march in the nation.
But let’s not fast forward. Let’s dig into the nitty gritty details.
Watch the video to see the team’s workflow first-hand, then read on to find out how they made it happen.
Jump ahead to read more about:
- Storytelling Strategy
- Building a Team
- Pre-March Storytelling
- Shooting & Gear
- File Delivery
- March Day Social Media & PR
- Post-March Impact
Plus, watch our on-demand webinar series about visual storytelling at events to go behind the scenes with Sarah and get all your questions answered.
Sarah and her visual storytelling team had two objectives:
- To share the story of the 2018 Women’s March on Chicago on social media in real time and engage marchers as well as people following along around the world
- To capture this historically significant event and create a digital archive for perpetuity
“It’s not only about using those images on the day – for whether it’s social or going out to press or whatever – it’s about the importance of the history,” says Sarah. “We are supposed to be learning from history and not repeating it.”
Sarah and her team needed a workflow that would suit both their short-term and long-term needs. They needed to get images out quickly, and build a library that would continue to have an impact for years to come.
Building a process that would allow them to meet both objectives would help them get the most value out of their visual assets.
Building a Team
Sarah started with a core team of four people who came on board early in the process. They worked together to recruit professional photographers and editors, Columbia College students and supporters.
By march day, they had a team of more than 50 volunteers, who were all given very defined roles:
- Editors/digital technicians
- Social media leads
“It’s kind of inverting the pyramid,” says Sarah. “We’ve got all of these people making this happen to bring it down to this central goal of visual assets and visual storytelling and videos that we can put on Libris and get to our social media team and then anybody else who needs them.”
Sarah and her core team set up a hub at Columbia College two weeks before march day. During those two weeks, all of the volunteers were required to come to the hub for a training session, where they walked through the full workflow, learned the specifics of each role, and signed copyright and modeling agreements.
Plus, each team member was given a unique identification code. For example, Sarah’s ID was A_L1, which stands for hub A (her home base for march day, and where her cards would go to be ingested), lead photographer #1. The photographers were required to change the file naming convention in their cameras to reflect their identification codes, which would help the editors and digital techs make sure they were attributing images to the right photographers on march day and beyond.
The Women’s March Chicago team worked with a legal firm that’s a national leader copyright to write a usage agreement for the march images.
The agreement outlines that the photographer owns the copyright of their images, and they give Women’s March Chicago an unrestricted usage license for perpetuity.
The photographers added their copyright information in their cameras, and changed their file naming convention so their photos would be named with their unique photographer ID codes. Back at the hub, the Lightroom catalogs were prepared with export presets for each photographer, corresponding with that unique ID. With this careful metadata process, the team ensured the copyright would be accurate and well-preserved.
Before the march, Sarah and her team covered events like press conferences and training sessions to ensure the entire behind the scenes process was documented.
Plus, they recorded more than 100 short “Why I March” videos with supporters to share on social media and play on the big screens on march day.
The pre-event content helped the team generate excitement on social media before the event, which led to crowds of more than 300,000 people on march day.
Shooting & Gear
For this major historical event, Sarah knew it was important to have a team of professional photographers with professional gear.
“Political messages aren’t necessarily one level, so there’s often an intricate story that needs to be told,” says Sarah. “A professionally captured and sculptured photo can do that.”
Let’s break down how Sarah and her team created stunning imagery on march day.
All of the photographers brought their own cameras, and one of the major camera brands loaned gear to Women’s March Chicago free of charge.
To give you an example of one photographer’s gear, here’s a breakdown of what Sarah carried when she was shooting the march:
- Canon 1DX Mark II
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 24-70mm lens
- Canon 70-200mm lens
- 3 Canon 1DX Mark II batteries
- 4 Canon 5D Mark III batteries
- A power board for recharging back at the hub
- Hand warmers for keeping batteries warm
- Snacks (on a 12 hour day, you need something to keep you going)
- A brace to hold all of this gear (Sarah carries the weight around her waist rather than her shoulders so she has freedom to move)
Sarah jokes that she calls her Canon 1DX Mark II her second child.
“I love it because the way that I capture, I capture real. So I’m thrown into any lighting situation – I don’t know where I’m going to be – I can walk into an auditorium or I can walk in to cover an elected official, and all of a sudden I’ve got dodgy lighting or I’m walking backstage,” explains Sarah. “And when you’ve got such a powerful sensor and such a high burst frequency, if I can’t get capture the image with that camera, I don’t know who can get it.”
All of the photographers were shooting with fast cards to ensure they could always get the shot. They were also asked to bring as many cards as possible so they could hand cards off to the runners and get back to shooting.
The team of photographers spread out to cover the march from every angle, and managed to capture 30,000 images on march day.
Before the march, Sarah and her team were told they wouldn’t have cell service, so a wireless workflow wouldn’t be possible. They had to be prepared to run a physical file delivery process.
On march day, Sarah was able to get better service than expected, so she was able to use a wireless FTP workflow, as well.
Let’s take a look at both processes.
The Physical Process
Before march day, Sarah and her team knew that the only thing that could slow them down was the crowd. It was a huge variable – they knew that thousands of people had marched in 2017, but there was no way to predict exactly how many people would march in 2018.
The key to the physical file delivery process was a team of runners, who navigated the crowds and ran cards 600 yards back and forth from the photographers to the two hubs, where the editors and social media leads were waiting. Members of the visual storytelling team wore bright green hats so they were easy for the runners to spot in the crowd. Plus, everyone carried Motorola two-way radios so they could communicate with each other, even without cell service.
The process went off without a hitch. Runners were able to get cards back to the hubs in a matter of minutes, enabling the social media team to share images constantly throughout the day.
The Wireless FTP Workflow
When Sarah realized she had cell service, she started using a wireless FTP workflow to send photos straight to her team back at the hub.
Here’s how it worked:
Sarah’s Canon 1DX Mark II had a Canon WFT-E8A wireless transmitter attached to the side that allowed her to send images to another device via File Transfer Protocol, or FTP (see how the Colorado Rockies FTP photos straight to their media library). She sent them to her phone using the Canon mobile app, then used the Apple Photos app to edit (for example, she adjusted the brightness).
Next, she used the Libris mobile uploader app to send the photos straight to her team’s media library, where the editors and social media team could access them in seconds.
The photos Sarah sent using FTP went straight to the team’s Libris media library so the social media team could share them in real time.
The photos coming in from the runners went through a rigorous – yet fast – editing process. Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Ingest
Once the card came into the hub, it was immediately backed up on a hard drive hooked up to a Macbook Pro.
Step 2: Selection
Next, the photo editor reviewed the images in Adobe Bridge or Photo Mechanic and selected the top 20. Sarah says this photojournalism workflow was the key to moving quickly.
“Focus on three or four really impactful photos and work on those,” she recommends.
She adds that the editors knew exactly what to look for when they were selecting images.
“It was – what are the key themes that are coming through social media, and what images will support those? And again, we had experienced photo editors, and we gave people respect and let them do their job,” she explains.
Step 3: Edit & Metadata
The editor imported the top 20 photos from each card to Lightroom. Then, the digital tech edited the image, resized it for social media, and exported it to a Libris gallery where the rest of the team (from social media to PR) could find them.
In Lightroom, the editor also added metadata to the images. As we saw above, they had presets with copyright information set up for each photographer. They also used presets for 10 or 12 standard keywords, such as “Women’s March Chicago,” “WMC 2018,” “march,” etc. (Check out how to build a metadata policy for your team.)
Note: Since march day, Sarah’s team has continued to add metadata to make the library more searchable. So far, they have put in 50 additional hours of tagging.
March Day Social Media & PR
Once the images landed in Libris, the social media team could access them and post them to social media, just minutes after they were captured. This allowed them to share a steady stream of images throughout the day.
Thanks to this lightning-fast workflow, the Women’s March Chicago team posted 1,500 photos on social media in just five hours.
They used Hootsuite to share the images on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. By early afternoon, Women’s March Chicago was the top-trending march on Twitter, getting more engagement than dozens marches all over the country.
The Women’s March Chicago public relations team also had access to the Libris library, so they were able to share press galleries with media partners throughout the day.
Sarah says the team’s cloud-based media library on Libris was the key to fast distribution to a large number of team members.
“You can’t distribute a hard drive,” says Sarah.
And that fast, widespread distribution is the key to maximizing impact.
“In the world that I work in with candidates and elected officials, it’s about optimizing the media opportunity for that image,” says Sarah. “How fast can I get it out, can it get to the right person, is it circulated to press as fast as possible – those types of things.”
Now that the march is over, Sarah and her team are shifting the focus to their second goal of building an archive for perpetuity. They want the images to be widely accessible so they can continue to have an impact for years to come.
“One of the most important parts of being organized is the ability to optimize the visual asset. A photo can be absolutely fantastic, but not if it’s sitting on a hard drive in the corner,” says Sarah. “Libris is important because it moves it from the hard drive central location and puts it in a position where people, whoever needs it, can get it.”
Now, Women’s March Chicago is working with photo historian David Travis to curate 30 images into a collection of moving and historically valuable images. They plan to make those images available for sale so they can continue to fundraise for the organization.
Sarah says she hopes these images will land everywhere from billboards to school libraries, and continue to have an incredible ripple effect well beyond 2018.
“I want to see these photos instill a confidence in the next generation to pick your chin up – pick your chin up, put your hands out and believe that opportunity is yours,” says Sarah.
Go Behind the Scenes with the Women’s March Chicago Visual Storytelling Team
Want to learn more about the Women’s March Chicago’s visual storytelling strategy? Watch our on-demand webinar with this innovative team to get all your questions answered. And, be sure to ask any lingering questions in the comments below!
On-Demand Webinar: 300,000 Voices: Visual Storytelling at the Women’s March Chicago
Cover image by Heidi Peters, Women’s March Chicago.