Understand the Why: Aligning the Message to Your Visual

Case Study 2 min
Stellar photography skills are essential to communicate strategy, but it's equally imperative that your photographs align with military themes.

U.S. Army Soldiers from Camp Humphreys, volunteer their time at Grace Stables, near Pyeongtaek, South Korea, offering lessons and physical rehabilitation for both animals and humans. Organized by Prof. Sarah Shechner in 2013, Grace Stables reaches out to underprivileged children and adults offering fellowship, healing and fun. Original image modified for educational purposes.
South Korean youth eating ice cream cone at Grace Stables.
U.S. Army Soldiers from Camp Humphreys, volunteer their time at Grace Stables, near Pyeongtaek, South Korea, offering lessons and physical rehabilitation for both animals and humans. Organized by Prof. Sarah Shechner in 2013, Grace Stables reaches out to underprivileged children and adults offering fellowship, healing and fun. Original image modified for educational purposes.
VIRIN: 180728-A-YS961-311

In this image taken in South Korea, we see a young child enjoying an ice cream cone. The image evokes positive emotions of both joy and youthful innocence. The photographer's use of black and white as well as an out-of-focus background draws the eye to focus on the subject without the distraction of color. The caption tells us the photo was taken in 2013 while U.S. Army soldiers were volunteering at Grace Stables near Pyeongtaek, South Korea.

Lessons Learned

This is a really good photo and exemplifies the photographer's skill level. We are made aware that U.S. Army soldiers were volunteering in the community near Camp Humphreys, South Korea. They were helping both animals, underprivileged children and adults. However, neither the imagery nor its caption conveys the story's alignment to a military communication strategy.

This photo of a South Korean youth, as presented, doesn’t convey any Army communication strategy and the caption is not specific enough to tell us why this photo is important in the story. We are left to assume that the child in the photograph is an underprivileged youth that participates in the programs at Grace Stables.

Unclear is why this is a black and white photo and what purpose it serves in conveying any Army themes and messages. If a third party searches DVIDS for photos from the DoD in South Korea, they aren't necessarily looking for a black and white photo.

To align the photo to a communication strategy, consider what shots would align with the following U.S. Army communication strategy for this situation:

Message:The U.S. Army understands how important the Republic of Korea (ROK) communities are to the ROK-U.S. alliance; our troops must support those who support us.

Theme:The U.S. Army Soldiers support Korean communities to strengthen the enduring ROK-U.S. partnership.

One way to achieve DoD alignment with this photo is by showing U.S. troops interacting with the South Korean youth in the shot. An alternative solution would be to update the caption to include parts of the messages from a communication strategy.

The ultimate lesson learned here is that photographers need to be mindful of the “why” when taking photos. The photos and videos you shoot need to be part of a larger communication strategy. You also need to be sure that the caption accurately tells the story of the photo.

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