Volunteer Mission Trip or NGO Trip: Camera Tips and Story Tips

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm. ISO 2000, ƒ/11, 1/500]
This is the time of year many will take some of their vacation time and travel to do volunteer work with their church mission trip or many will also donate their time to NGOs.

Why take a camera when I have my phone?

Most all smartphones that have cameras are fixed lenses. All smartphones fall into the wide-angle lens bracket, typically somewhere around 24-30mm [35mm equivalent]; the larger the number, the less wide angle the lens is.

Due to the limit of the lens most people are cropping in to take closer photos.

The light sensitivity on most smartphones tops out around ISO 800, however some go to ISO 3200, but as that ISO creeps up the noise and quality of those photos diminishes quickly.

Three Camera Recommendations

First is the compact camera with a good zoom range. Here are four to consider for your next trip.


The second category is the bridge camera. Bridge cameras are a versatile and affordable alternative to DSLRs which offer the same kind of manual controls and a huge zoom lens that covers everything from wide-angle to super-telephoto photography.

Here are four that will work just great for anything you would want to photograph.


The next category is the mirrorless cameras. The mirror mechanism of a DSLR is complex and noisy and adds to the weight of the camera, and that’s where the mirrorless camera, or compact system camera comes in. They keep the big sensors and interchangeable lenses of DSLR cameras but ditch the mirror to produce a smaller, lighter and simpler camera.

Here are five I recommend to take a closer look at as an option for you.


I have left the DSLR off the list because I am finding more and more people are enjoying the mirrorless for travel over the DSLR.

When I am traveling for a client I am shooting with my Nikon D5 because it will work in any situation better than any other camera that I could find on the market.

Beyond the camera

Buy extra batteries and memory cards for your trip. Always have with you one spare battery and extra memory card. If you camera takes two cards then you should be fine depending on the size capacity. Today with 32 GB and 64 GB cards I think you will be fine. Just buy the largest capacity cards and have one or two extra depending on how much you like to shoot.

Tips for what to shoot

One of the best things you can have in mind when you are shooting is how you plan to use the photos later. There are generally two things I like to always think as my end product.

Slide Show

First is some sort of a slide show that will be projected or online as a video. This is pretty normal for a church mission trip. A good rule of thumb for a 2 – 3 minute slide show is about 40 – 60 photos.

There are two ways this usually will happen you project a photo and manually advance the images as you talk. Second is just the same show but it is self running. You just record your voice with your computer or phone and then put your images with that soundtrack. Here is a simple way to do it on a Mac:

Here is how you do it on a PC using Windows Live Movie Maker


Second I like to create a coffee table book from my trips.  Again for these the number of photos is also about 40 – 60 to have something substantial. I recommend using Blurb.com for making the book. If you are using Lightroom’s latest version the book tab is actually using blurb as the printer.

Here is the Lightroom way of actually creating the book.

What to shoot?

I suggest shooting to a storyline. Come up with a working storyline before you go and then as you are traveling shoot to the storyline.

Once you get there and start experiencing everything most likely your storyline will change. That is OK. It is normal. Just adjust and continue to shoot.

[Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 640, ƒ/6.3, 1/100]
Now if you are going with your church on a missions trip you may have an objective to communicate the problem that your team went to solve. You may go on a building trip where you finish a project. While that is what you did don’t tell that story. Tell the story of why they needed the building. Show where they were meeting for services and then maybe show the group meeting in the new facility when done.

[Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 11400, ƒ/6.3, 1/250]
Sometimes your objective is to have a call to action. Maybe you went and helped build a school, but you want the audience to help support a child to go to that school. Tell the story of what the child’s life is like if they don’t get to go to school and then tell the difference the school will make on their lives.

I use Chris Vogler’s storyline as a template that I keep in mind as I shoot.

Francesca in the Community Garden for Honduras Outreach [Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 450, ƒ/14, 1/250 – SB-900 off camera triggered with pocketwizards]
While thinking about what and why I am telling a story I also create a basic shot list to help tell the story.

– Opener: Sets the scene for the story
– Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
– Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions–especially in multimedia packages
– Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
– High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
– Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
– Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story

Work as a team

If you go with a team try and get everyone to work together. This way you can pool all the photos together as well as having everyone contribute things like quotes from the people you helped.

Each night you are on your trip take a few minutes at dinner and review what you have seen that day and did someone get photos of it. Look at the photos and be sure you have good photos to use.

Make a list of things you missed that day to get the next day and then those things you think you are missing that haven’t happened yet.

If you take a few minutes each night while you are on your trip you will have a great story which can be shared.


Record some of the people you meet using audio or video. The point is to have in their own voice quotes you can drop into your slide show or later in your book.

Don’t try and tell us all you did and saw on your trip. Stay focused on the “WHY?”. You may have a lot of what you did and how you did it, but that isn’t what hooks the audience. The why it was needed to be done is what will keep their interest.