Last week, our project officially moved from the planning phase to the implementation phase as our entire project team assembled in Smyrna, Delaware to pilot our first site!
Our goal is to share stories of agriculture and forestry climate adaptation and mitigation practices in use across the northeast region using several forms of media – including 360 degree photos and videos! We aim to share one story per Land Grant University in the Northeast Climate Hub region plus 3-6 forestry focused adaptation highlights. Our northeast region covers 12 states from Maine to West Virginia, out to New York and Pennsylvania, and includes the District of Columbia too. Ultimately, our photos will be shared online using RoundMe, a platform that allows users to move through our demonstrations sites from one 360 degree image to the next and interact with the images by clicking on informational icons that will feature embedded still photos, videos, and links to additional materials like fact sheets. And, we hope to connect our demonstration stories from across the northeast using the ESRI Story Map platform. Shane Brandt from the University of New Hampshire and one of the i-Three key informants has been incredibly helpful answering our many questions about story mapping!
Originally, this project started off much simpler but we decided to up our game and utilize 360 degree camera technology to really give our viewers the feeling of virtually being on the farm or in the forest looking at the climate practices in use at each site.
We purchased a couple of virtual kits, each consisting of a 360 degree camera, a tripod, and a tablet to remotely operate the camera and view our photos in the field. But, this technology is so new and cutting edge, that even the experienced photographers on our team are novices with this equipment! So, we decided that before sending our three production teams out in different directions to gather data, we needed to all come together in one place to test our cameras, discuss strategy, and decide on standards for data collection, processing, and sharing. Our partners and colleagues at Delaware State University Cooperative Extension graciously agreed to be our guinea pig and allowed us to work our bugs out at their Smyrna Outreach & Research Center – which is chock full of climate adaptation and mitigation practices!
Our Pilot Experience
While out in the field, we decided to do a number of tests to see what camera settings give the best images. For example, we tried adjusting the height of the camera to see how that affected the captured image. We found that extending the tripod all the way up is great for field shots and that if we lower the tripod all the way to the ground you end up seeing more of it in the final photo. We also played with the exposure options but it turns out that the “auto” option on the camera is doing a pretty good job and we may not need to play much with the exposure timing. But, for future shoots, we decided we should bring a blanket to drape over both the tablet and the photographer’s head (or find a dark spot on site) so that the first few images can be more accurately checked because it is hard to view them on a backlit screen in daylight.
We also learned from our pilot experience that preparation is going to be very important for effectively and efficiently documenting the other sites that will require us to travel and won’t be so easy for us to revisit if we miss anything. So, we have drafted a set of storyboarding questions for the site managers to answer before our visits. This will help us learn about the site itself and the people working there; the climate adaptation and mitigation practices in use there; the environmental, economic, and social benefits of those practices to growers; and the challenges for implementing these practices in the real world. We hope that having this information before we arrive will help us plan our photo shoots so that we can walk away with all of the images to build our virtual story back in the office later.
Finally, we were again reminded that farmers are dealing with weather variability every day and don’t necessarily classify the things they do to deal with those conditions as climate adaptation strategies. So, it is important that when talking to site managers that we ask specifically how they are dealing with warmer temperatures and/or heat waves, heavy rain events and/or drought conditions, and what practices they feel are helping them be sustainable and resistant to changing weather conditions. Climate connections are everywhere and we can’t wait to tell those stories virtually!