Writing, Photography, & Video Tips

Here are a few tips to consider in writing your story, shooting photos, or capturing video.

Writing Tips

Write in the first person and try to stay in the range of 300-600 words (you can write less or a little more). Tell us what you are doing this summer, why you are doing it, describe your experience, and its impact on you. Has your experience changed your perception of the world, how you think or view your studies at Davidson, or how it relates to your career objectives or studies after graduation.

Photography Tips

When you think about photography, think about your subject matter, the composition of your photo, lighting (is the light too dark or too light), context (think recognizable landmarks, geography, or people in their environment you might include in your photos). Here are a few links that provide additional tips: Link 1 | Link 2

Try to capture candid shots verses group shots or individual head shots that have people just looking at the camera. Candid shots are photos of people doing things, interacting with other people or their environment, also known as action shots. These are more dynamic and interesting to people viewing your photos.

Please Note: You can upload 1-3 photos to the Submit a Story submission form (total of 10MB in size). If you want to share additional photos for a photo gallery consider the following: (1) create a free Flickr or Instragram account and share your photos there, providing us with the URL to include in your submission, (2) upload your photos to a new folder in your Google Drive account and share the URL with us, or (3) upload your photos to our DropBox File Request site (no DropBox account required). Be sure to include your name as part of any photo or video file names if uploading to DropBox so we know they belong to you.

Video Tips

Always record video with your photo horizontally so it will fill up the video player space.

Always record video with your smartphone oriented in a horizontal position so it will fill up the entire video player.

Only Shoot Horizontal Video

When capturing video with a smartphone, always record video with your smartphone turned horizontal. Nothing says amateur video more than video recorded vertically. Vertical video does not fill out the entire video player and you lose a lot of details to the left an right of your subject matter.

Zoom in with your Legs

Always avoid zooming in with your smartphone camera or digital camera. Unless your camera has an optical zoom, most smartphones use a digital zoom, meaning there is some loss in quality each time you zoom in. Instead, just physically move closer to your subject matter (zoom with your legs). If you need to zoom out, physically move farther away from your subject matter.

Understand Lighting Conditions

Overly bright sunlight can wash out your photos or cause “lens flare” when you point your camera in the general direction of the sun. Generally, taking photos when the sun is not directly in front of you is ideal. If you can, move to a shadier spot or use a building or other natural feature to block out the sun.

Conversely, video shot in a dark location can mean loss of quality and detail in your photo. Always try to find good lighting for your video.

If shooting photos or video indoors, always avoid shooting directly toward a window. If you are filming someone in front of a window, your smartphone or camera sometimes can’t compensate between the bright light coming through the window and your subject matter, which can people and things to be dark or silhouetted in photos or video.

Shoot a Variety of Shots for Video

If you plan to tell a story with your video, consider taking a variety of shot types. The three most important shots in video are wide shots, medium shots, and close ups. You’ll want to shoot a variety of these shots when composing your video to make your story more powerful and effective. You want to avoid just shooting a straight interview, as you’ll want to have video footage (“b-roll”) that you can display on screen to break up your interview. See these examples of video shots.

Shoot b-roll to illustrate detail and provide an overview of the scene. Get subjects to say/spell their names
and titles so we can positively identify them later. When interviewing someone, ask some softball questions first
to get your subject comfortable. Look for an entry to a deeper discussion. Try to get them to summarize
their thoughts in a sentence or two. Remember in most cases your final edited video will be less than two minutes in length, so you want people to provide you with short, concise sentences. Have fun with the process and
don’t worry too much about getting it “right.” Good content will compensate for technical difficulties (within


The microphones on smartphones or digital cameras are not great. You need to be close to your subject for them to be heard (it’s best to be within 2-4 feet of your subject, with proximity determined by room acoustics or the noise level of your environment). Be aware of how much ambient noise there is around you as it may drown out the sound of the person you are interviewing. Sudden loud noises are worse than a steady hum of activity. If your interview audio is poor, then your video is not really usable for posting online, so pay close attention to your audio. If you are have a hard time hearing the person you are interviewing then viewers of the video will also likely find it hard to hear. Move closer to your interview subject for better audio or find a quieter location for conducting interviews.

Ask Permission to Shoot

Be sensitive about the people you are filming. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask someone, “do you mind if I film you?” or “are you okay if I film you?” You also don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you will upset a person or group of people for filming something that they prefer not to be filmed. Shooting video will also make you “look like a tourist,” so always be aware of your safety and what is going on around you when shooting video.

Video Shooting Ideas

Feel free to work with others when shooting your videos. If you feel it works better for you to hold the camera while interviewing a fellow student, then consider working in teams and include other students in the production of your videos. Get their perspective of what they are experiencing. Just make sure others are following the same video shooting guidelines outlined in these training tips.

Self-Reflective or Selfie-Style Video

If you are on the street, in the classroom, on a break, or traveling to local landmarks or cultural attractions, consider turning the video camera on yourself to capture your experience at a given point in time. Tell a quick story about your day or what you are doing at an exact moment in time. Remember, always hold your smartphone or digital camera horizontally and not vertically when you shoot video.

Sometimes you may be too busy to shoot video interviews while you are traveling around. So consider capturing a variety of shots of “b-roll” video during your day (close ups, medium shots, and wide shots) as described above and then turn the camera on yourself at the end of the day to describe your experience in a self-reflection video. Be sure to choose a well-lit and quiet location to do your self-reflective video interview. You are the producer, so if you don’t like something you said, just shoot the interview again until you are happy with it. If possible, use a tripod or situate your camera so it is steady.