Square Meter Photography Project – Next Steps

Many of you followed along last year as I set off on what turned out to be one of the most fulfilling efforts I’ve ever worked on – my Square Meter Photography Project. When I came up with the idea of photographing everything I could within a square meter of prairie, it was just meant to be a fun little project and a way to provide fodder for this blog. I had no clue that it was going to become a personal obsession and a (hopefully) powerful outreach tool for prairie conservation.

Here’s my square meter project selfie. This is me at my plot, but if you notice, I’m using the wrong hand to manipulate my camera because my right hand is holding a cell phone… I need to find some friends.

The year-long project wrapped up in January, and I’ve been giving presentations on the project to various audiences. The response has been tremendous, and reinforces the idea that I need to figure out how to better package this and share it widely. I’m working on a book that will hopefully come out this winter sometime, and we are exploring options for a traveling gallery show of some kind. However, there are a lot of other ways to get this in front of people, and many of those are outside of both my comfort zone and realm of experience. I need some help.

Because I’ve heard the recommendation from so many people, I spent time this weekend putting together a short video, set to music, that features my favorite photos from the project. My intent was to highlight the diversity of images that came out of the project – the 113 species I photographed, but also just the tremendous beauty I found when I took the time to explore my tiny plot. I’m presenting my first draft of that video here because I’d really like your feedback.

I’m a still photographer, not a film maker, and video is not a medium I’m comfortable with. I also don’t have access or experience with the kind of software I should really be using for a project like this. Nevertheless, I used a combination of PowerPoint and Movie Maker to cobble together something I hope will be a first step toward where I really want to go with this. It is set to music, but the music doesn’t start until after the first several slides.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the video, as well as other ideas you have about how this project can be used to help inspire people to care more about prairies. So far, the project has been featured in a few blogs and on-line publications, and there will be more coming. The book should be helpful, and I’ll keep giving presentations in person, as I have time. Beyond that, I’m hoping a video like this, along with some accompanying materials, can be used as a table-top display at events, and I’d really like to see some kind of interactive touchscreen display that could live at nature centers or other facilities. It would be great to package it somehow for use in schools as well, but I’m not yet sure how best to make that happen.

Thanks in advance for your advice and input. Please feel free to distribute the current video, understanding that it’s a first attempt and I’ll hopefully get some professional help to make the next version better.

Here’s the link to the video, in case the above window doesn’t work on your particular device. https://youtu.be/xsk5TdnVg0U

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

25 thoughts on “Square Meter Photography Project – Next Steps

  1. I have loved following your journey this past year so much! It is crazy how well you can highlight how remarkable a prairie’s diversity is, especially for those of us who are familiar with the ecosystem and sometimes take it for granted.

    Here is some feedback:
    I like the idea of separating the pictures by season. However, for engaging audiences it might be more powerful to use the pictures to tell a story. Also, as a teacher telling a story about a particular topic might be useful for schools as well.
    Some ideas that come to mind are Food chains: you can have pictures of maybe one or two types of producers like sunflowers. You can tell cool stories about what makes that species cool or how you got the pictures you did. Then you can show some herbivores. You could talk about exta-floral nectar (one of your favs) or animals that feed on nectar or leaves. Then go to carnivores like spiders or other insect eaters. Then finish with your super cool frogs.
    Another topic you might find a lot of interest in the diversity of pollinators our prairies support or symbiosis in prairies.
    Or even a presentation focused more on photography with science snuck in to the side would be great!
    I just think you are great at leveraging the power of stories in your blog and think you could do the same with your videos as well!
    Great job and I love seeing your work! Keep it up.

  2. So beautiful! I have a bit of ground that I used to mow below my house along the road. I am going to let it grow this year and see what happens.

  3. Gorgeous video. One small suggestion would be to add some music over the opening credits/introduction. I’ve noticed that when videos start with no sound (especially when there’s credit text indicating that it has music), people will crank up the volume on their device trying to hear it. Then when it finally starts, it can be awfully loud. A bit of music in the beginning would be nice anyway, and would avoid that.

  4. Loved it Chris. Awe-some, beautiful and very healing. Nature is Alive!

    Thank you for sharing.

    Ann Cathcart Chanhassen, MN


  5. Chris
    Just some takes……..
    Great photos.
    I reduced the volume to half.
    Maybe start with zoom in from way above courtesy earth cam
    Each season provide context with one of your super photos of surrounding area
    Some text/copy, as noted above, with some photos, as you are a wonderful naturalist writer/thinker
    Lot of work put in – a work in progress.
    Another Helzer production . . . . way to go!
    Tom M

  6. Hi Chris,

    Excellent! I think some of the above suggestions are worthy of consideration – and possibly even producing the video in more than one format for varying audiences.

    My suggestion would be to engage a college, junior college, or even high school that is working with digital film editing and filmmaking. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate change, and I would actually caution against that. I worked with a high school program doing filmmaking and also animation. One of the more popular software suites for editing/filmmaking is something called Final Cut Pro, or Pro X. Maybe someone at UN/Lincoln or other campus would be glad to help, and work with you to take it on as a project. The high school kids I worked with did amazing work – and they also had equally amazing instructors. I bet you can find similar!


  7. I’d suggest cutting most of the first few slide of text up front and either put them at the very end or leave them out all together. I think one Intro slide is all you need. People watching videos are impatient and want the action up front! After saying that, I found myself wishing that the images stayed up for a fraction longer. By the time my brain figured out what to focus on, the slide jumped. I timed it at about 1.8 seconds per frame, maybe increasing it to 2.0?

  8. Loved the photography and the grouping by seasons. I think a great piece of “real” music would enhance the presentation. Thanks for sharing your plot with us. Kay Peters

  9. Very nice video, I love that it moves right along.
    Had already planned to do this with the visitors to my Milkweed so am happy to see how your pictures turned out!

    thanks for sharing, Leslie

  10. Nice photos as usual and I agree with what most folks recommend. I expected mostly plants and insects but it would be nice if other organisms were included. Perhaps if you set up a video camera (I believe you have done this with past projects) you might get lucky and capture a visiting bird or mammal. As you know, much of the biodiversity in a prairie is below ground. I know the logistics of acquiring below ground images would be daunting (and destructive) but it would be nice to provide insight on an underappreciated community.
    I realize this would be a lot of extra work, but even a few pics of critters on the ground (wolf spiders?) or beneath the litter might add to the complete square meter ecosystem.

  11. Amazing photography – I especially love the jumping spiders!

    While I know that showing same/similar species across the different seasons has merit (who sticks around), for some people it may seem redundant.

    Summer was a bit long – I found I had shut my eyes and was just listening to the music!

    Overall, great job!

  12. I agree that some music would be nice; but don’t make it really loud; especially if you are moving from an intro to the slide show.
    You should give some information about the project. Would you be interested in a voice-over?
    And yes, slow the change of images, even if you have to cut some.


  13. Beautiful! Who would have thought you could get so many pictures on such a small area!
    Love the music too!

  14. Many good suggestions. The one thing I noted was the time of showing each. I would be in favor of longer view time per slide also ( 3-4 sec ? each ).

  15. Hi Chris,
    Lovely images and a great project. Here are a few recommendations on the video:
    1. Consistently crop the photos to a 16:9 aspect ratio and export the video to that ratio too.
    2. Increase each photo duration to 3 seconds.
    3. Place text over images with a dropshadow or semi-transparent background rather than over black space.
    4. Use first person instead of third. People tend to connect more with personal stories.
    5. If your target audience isn’t going to be a captive one, delete some photos (starting with those that are even slightly repetitive) so that the video duration is less 3 minutes.

    As for other ideas, I’d recommend thinking about what kinds of people have the power/ability to help prairies. Try to figure out how they consume their media, then design your product from that. For example, if you decide you want K-12 teachers to teach students about prairie biodiversity, figure out what they need for a lesson plan and create a product that would fit that. Hope the project continues to inspire more people!

  16. I suggest having several short videos that use some of the photos but also have a voice-over. I like a lot of the previous suggestions: food web, a personal story about doing the project, something about why people shouldn’t be scared of “bugs”. While the slideshow is nice, there’s no context. I also concur with keeping the video very short. If you work with someone else, you could supplement it with a much longer video (10+ minutes) for people who are really interested in the project.

  17. Bravo! Further confirmation that God has an inordinate fondness for coleopterans (and dipterans and hymenopterans in the summer).

Leave a Reply to Dana Petersen Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.