National Trails Day® Event Host Photography Guide

8 Tips to Better Capture Your Event

Capturing compelling photos and videos at your National Trails Day® event is a great way to share the experience with your broader community and promote future events. We’ve seen tens of thousands of Trails Day photos over the years, and we want to share some simple yet effective tips and tricks to tell the best possible story of your National Trails Day® event. The best part–you can create engaging photos and videos without expensive gear or an understanding of photography terms like “f-stop”. These tips are for anyone with a smartphone wanting to capture the moment at their National Trails Day® event.

Tip 1: Delegate Content Creation

Before we talk about compelling visuals, it’s crucial to note National Trails Day® event hosts have a lot on their plate, and it’s easy to forget even to pull out the phone to take photos in the first place. Before the event, it’s a great idea to recruit a volunteer or staff member who can focus on capturing the trail event, even if it’s only for a portion of the day. Bonus points if the person has “an eye for photography.” Regardless, share these tips with the person behind the camera (or phone).

Tip 2: Clean Your Lens(es)

One practical way to improve the quality of photos and video taken on a phone camera is to clean the lens before taking any shots. Fingerprints and smudges on the lens will make images hazy and less sharp. It’s a good idea to wipe the lens with a clean, dry cloth or use alcohol wipes made for lenses and glasses. If the lens has dirt or other particles on the glass, it’s best to wash or blow the particles off the lens before using a cloth or wipe, because the dirt could scratch the lens if you rub the particles around with a cloth. This 10-second step will optimize the image quality from the beginning. Every time you pull your phone out, quickly glance at the lens and inspect the glass for any new dirt or smudges.

Tip 3: Define the Story

A little planning will go a long way when taking the right photos and video. Why are you hosting your event, and what types of content will help tell your story? Creating a list of moments and subjects to capture will help you plan and prepare for those moments during the event. It’s also helpful to know where you will share your event content. If you primarily use the content for social media, consider capturing your event in portrait or vertical orientation. Landscape orientation is best for websites, widescreen videos, and presentations.

Think of your event as a story you will tell. Every good story has specific elements. The following tips provide a helpful framework to get various photos and videos to tell your story best.

Tip 4: Establish the Setting

National Trails Day® events take place in stunning locations. Get a few wide shots that capture the beauty of your event location. What makes your site unique, and what catches your eye first? With so much landscape, it can be hard to choose what to include. Think of the photo as a background, midground, and foreground. Find something unique to put in at least two of those fields. Trick: Choose the most intriguing subject and put them about one-third of the way into the photo. Events focus on people, so consider including at least one person (even if they are tiny in the image) somewhere in the frame.

Tip 5: Highlight the Main Characters

Who are the heroes of your event? Hint: It’s not your organization or agency; it’s likely the participants and volunteers. Get photos and video highlighting people in flattering and candid ways. Sunlighting in the middle of the day can present a challenge in capturing images without harsh shadows and lighting. Trick: Based on the time of day for your event, try to get more photos and videos closer to sunrise or sunset for the best light. When taking pictures of people, pay attention to shadows, especially on the face. If it’s super bright out, try to get photos of people in the shade to avoid harsh shadows on their faces.

Tip 6: Celebrate Diversity and Inclusion

Representation of historically underrepresented communities in the outdoors is an essential step to making National Trails Day® and the outdoors more accessible and welcoming to everyone. Recognize diverse identities and perspectives among your event participants and highlight them within the content. Evaluate perceived power dynamics, such as who is leading or following.

Tip 7: Capture the Action

Every good story needs a character who takes action. We see many photos of groups of people standing lined up for a group shot—it’s boring and lacks engagement. Beyond the static group photo, get action shots of people interacting with one another, the trail, and the land. Fill the whole photo with a close-up of the action. Hint: Smiles are gold! Tell jokes or anticipate when a participant might smile, grin, or even laugh. There seems to be a comedian in every crowd—hang around them for good candid shots of other volunteers.

Action shots to avoid:

  • People bent over (which is, of course, common in trail work)
  • People chewing or taking bites
  • Unsafe behavior or any behavior that doesn’t abide by the Leave No Trace Principles

Tip 8: Anticipate the Moment

When capturing the right moment in a photo or video, it’s helpful to try and anticipate when event participants will perform a specific action or engage others or the landscape in a photogenic way. If you know what shots you want to highlight your event, you can work ahead and try to be at the right place at the right time. For example, if your event is a trail dedication, find the best angle and spot for a ribbon cutting, and be in position waiting for the ideal moment when the scissors cut through the ribbon.

With these eight photography tips, you’ll be on your way to winning the National Trails Day® Photo contest, and more importantly, you’ll have engaging content to share with your community and promote your next event.