Photo Inventory

What We've Found
Conducting a photo inventory can have tremendous benefits. Through film, people can express their visual preferences and become more aware of what is important in their community. It can aid communication as pictures assure people are talking about the same place or thing. It can also be a tool for people to "vote" on what they like best. Most of all, the power of this technique is that it gives the broadest range of age groups, from senior citizens to children, an opportunity to be involved and have a creative voice.

Just the Facts
Photo inventories can capture specific sites such as historic, geologic, cultural, and recreational. They can be used to document natural resources or habitat areas. They can be used to show issues such as inappropriate development or degrading structures. Photos can visually capture the entire project area, both its positive attributes and its negative ones.

Single-lens reflex cameras will generate the highest quality images. If a group has access to the appropriate technology, digital cameras can be used. Polaroid cameras and single-use (disposable/recyclable) cameras are also options but they will produce pictures of lower quality.

Besides being included in an inventory report, the photos can be used as part of displays, as slides in presentations, in pamphlets and newsletters, on websites, and even for posters. The images are versatile communication elements that can increase visibility and public awareness and knowledge.

How To Do It

1.   Gather materials
  • Cameras, if using a 35mm or single-use camera, use 100 or 200 ASA color film
  • Topographic and road maps of the project area
  • Foam core boards, approximately 3x5 feet in size, for mounting photographs

2.   Recruit photographers
Place an ad in a local newspaper; seek students from a photography class at a college, university, or high school; ask for volunteers at a public meeting; or put up signs in public spaces. Also consider asking local professional photographers to volunteer their services in exchange for supplies and credit on any images published.

3.   Host a meeting
Assemble everyone together to define the goals and review the area that will be covered. When they go into the field, have them mark on maps the exact locations where they took their pictures. Suggest they also keep logs recording why they took a particular shot. Finally, unless it is a one-day event, be sure to give everyone a deadline for finishing keeping in mind local weather forecasts.

4.   Displaying an inventory
Initially have all of the photos developed in a uniform size. Based upon the goals for the photos, have the group define appropriate categories. Then have participants sort their images accordingly. Individuals may write brief statements about each photo. Develop a chart and count how often a feature or view was photographed. Again, depending upon the goals of the inventory, discuss next appropriate actions and brainstorm ways to use the pictures to reach wider audiences.

Documenting on film the special places and features of a community.

Use It If...

  • You want a fun way to get new people of all ages involved in a project and thinking about a project.
  • You are ready to launch the inventory phase of a project and want people excited and involved.
  • You plan on producing different print or electronic publications and will need photos.

Forget It If...

  • You lack time to organize, take and develop photos, then sort and analyze them.
  • You do not have the resources, either volunteers willing to use their own cameras and film or the financial resources to purchase single-use cameras and pay for developing.
  • You want to document issues in a controversial project. People may take offense if their property is photographed and thought to be in need of improvement or unattractive.

Timing is Everything
Photo inventories should be in the beginning of a project.


Photo Inventory - D7- Item No. 7-288
Study Area Photo Inventory - D7- Item No. 7-210
Photo Inventory Display - D10- Item No. 10-8200

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