I think this title deserves Pro-tips rather than quick tips, but anyway. National Geographic Explorer Prasenjeet Yadav shares his experiences and thoughts about being a storyteller. He once told me, “an image has a shelf-life, a story will last forever”. I cannot agree more! :) So please, take the time to read his views, take notes, get out and start your own stories! You can check out a sample of his work at the bottom of the piece.
A bit about Prasenjeet
Prasenjeet started his career as a research scientist essentially looking at Tiger and Leopard movement, dispersal and connectivity using their DNA. His research work gave him opportunities to travel to many wildlife reserves for sample collection such as : Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench, Tadoba, Nagzira, Bhadra, Nagarhole, Bandipur to name a few. He would collect tiger poop and use genetic techniques to identify the species of the animal that pooped it, the ID of the individual and compare relativeness between samples. This would allow him to see if there was movement of individual between areas. Along with this he was also involved in different projects on elephant & Indian Rhino genetics and wildlife forensics.
He will be one of the Speakers at #COY11 (Conference of Youth) in Paris via Skype representing the National Geographic Explorers to join the movement to fix climate change. Check out 5 ways we can fix climate change together, and join the conversation with #coolit!
I am a storyteller and I like to tell science stories
I am a storyteller, but I use photography as my media. My father says I was always a storyteller telling weird and funny stories. During my research days, I felt there was a big gap between researchers and non-researchers. The language and stories researchers use are inaccessible and very technical, so the people who actually pay for the research, the general tax paying public, don’t know what we are doing. I wanted to bridge this gap and initially took a month break to do a story, which turned into 2 ½ years now.
My first independent photography project was initiated through my research supervisor Dr Uma Ramakrishnan, who knew I was interested in photography. It took me to Sikkim Himalaya to create a story focused on ecological research underway in Sikkim. The photo-narrative created was used by many research institutes and funding agencies to portray the work and to promote the idea and need of bringing out research work in visual popular media. The response to the narrative was huge and it attracted many like-minded students and got them interested in the kind of work. The work got published in Saevus magazine June and July 2015 issues.
The success of this first project led to my second story which was for a wildlife photography magazine Saevus. During this, I produced a story on biodiversity and conservation issues of the lateritic plateaus of North-west Maharashtra. The story got a good coverage and was published in the Saevus magazine; it also raised a lot of questions regarding green energy and its sustainability.
Both of these projects were directly linked to me scientific interests, and were not a big leap from what I was doing anyway.
At the same time, while I was still a researcher, a friend of mine, Kalyan Varma got a job with the BBC to make a 5 episode series on the monsoon. When the BBC producer and researchers came to India looking for stories, I somehow got introduced to them and pitched a few stories. They were looking for stories on the monsoon and wildlife. I asked them why only wildlife, and pitched a story about a nomadic dhangar tribe in Maharashtra. The tribe migrate 500km each year and when they move wild wolves follow them. A year later, after stepping out of academics I continued to stay in contact with Kalyan about the stories. The BBC wrote to him saying they were interested in the story, and so I ended up assisting Kalyan on multiple projects during that monsoon season on the series called ‘wonders of monsoon’.
The makings of a great story
A great story has multiple ingredients. There is a quote, I don’t remember from whom, but it says, “A good story is anticipation mingled with uncertainty”. Basically, stories that people are looking forward to hearing, but they don’t know what will happen. People should relate to the story and should not have heard it before. Both my science and national history background, along with passion for wildlife, has helped me in this process. You really need to know the subject to build a story around it, and without that, you can’t really build a story. I can read science papers and can translate the message into a story that will engage non-scientists.
You need to be a really good planner to complete a story! Be prepared for 5 different plans an that plan ‘A’ never works, neither will plan ‘B’ and even plan ‘C’ rarely works! You also need to be well connected. You need to have really good communications and a lot of people around to help you. You need to have a team of contacts, because you will have multiple projects going on at once, and you need to keep track of the situation at each. This is the only way you can do it. I try to make friends with locals, the forest department, and the local naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts, because most of my information comes from them. This is a ‘team’ I rely on. For example, my standard day consists of either being on my computer or answering my phone. A storyteller needs to be good at typing and phoning in order to get the job done. I think in this process I have made a decent typewriter and receptionist!
Also, it is important to note that most of my time is spent getting permissions for projects [from the forest departments], 10 days in one place, 6 days in another having permissions rejected or accepted, before I can even start it. Preparation is key to a successful project!
Where to find your stories
Finding stories can be hard for many people at the start, but once you’ve started your mind will actively look for it. Now I don’t have to search, I hear stories and if they are good they do not slip out of my mind. If you are naturally interested, then it comes easily. Talking to people helps, if you like to talk to people you realise what people like, and will hear stories. I guess, just talking to people is key.
Choose the media you want to use to communicate your story. I use both photography and videography. My preference changes from story to story, some stories need videos to be told. I would love to do just stills and no videos, but certain stories demand videos to be told correctly. Media is the tool to get to the end, and not the end in itself. So pick one, or mix them so you can communicate your story to its best.
Tell stories and work on fundamental skills! For your first story, pick a topic you are close to, as this will be easiest for you to tell and allow you to develop your story telling skills. Next, for telling a story you need to identify the audience, then figure out your ingredients. Once you know that, build the story around them. Once you have the story, you need to make a ‘shot list’ and build your equipment and skills to take the shots you want.