The Photography Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide In 2020


Around the time that I first joined Scouting, smartphones had just started to become the new thing. My phone at that time was actually a flip phone and didn’t even come with a camera. Now, 10 years later, it’s 2020, and the perfect time for you to earn your photography merit badge using only your cell phone and this awesome guide!

Nowadays, each of your phones already comes built-in with an HD camera, which is perfectly suitable for satisfying the requirements to earn the photography merit badge. While this guide teaches you a bit about how photographs are taken on a traditional camera, much of what you will learn is relevant to becoming better using your cell phone camera as well. No more will you ever just snap a photo; you’ll learn to tell a story through different aspects of your photographs.

The best part about this merit badge is that it can be completed in an afternoon (If you already have your required cyber chip). All of the requirements can be answered just using your cell phone, a photo editing app like Instagram, and this complete guide!

Ready? Let’s get snappin’! (Get it? Like a photo?… At least my mom thinks I’m funny :D)

What Are The Photography Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Safety. Do the following:
    a. Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while working with photography and what you should do to anticipate, mitigate, prevent, and respond to these hazards. Explain how you would prepare for exposure to environmental situations such as weather, sun, and water.
    b. Show your counselor your current, up-to-date Cyber Chip.
  2. Explain how the following elements and terms can affect the quality of a picture:
    a. Light—natural light (ambient/existing), low light (such as at night), and artificial light (such as from a flash)
    b. Exposure—aperture (f-stops), shutter speed, ISO
    c. Depth of field
    d. Composition—rule of thirds, leading lines, framing, depth
    e. Angle of view
    f. Stop action and blur motion
    g. Timing
  3. Explain the basic parts and operation of a camera. Explain how an exposure is made when you take a picture.
  4. Do TWO of the following, then share your work with your counselor.
    a. Photograph one subject from two different angles or perspectives.
    b. Photograph one subject from two different light sources—artificial and natural.
    c. Photograph one subject with two different depth of fields.
    d. Photograph one subject with two different compositional techniques.
  5. Photograph THREE of the following, then share your work your counselor.
    a. Close-up of a person
    b. Two to three people interacting
    c. Action shot
    d. Animal shot
    e. Nature shot
    f. Picture of a person—candid, posed, or camera aware
  6. Describe how software allows you to enhance your photograph after it is taken. Select a photo you have taken, then do ONE of the following, and share what you have done with your counselor.
    a. Crop your photograph.
    b. Adjust the exposure or make a color correction.
    c. Show another way you could improve your picture for impact.
  7. Using images other than those created for requirements 4, 5 or 6, produce a visual story to document an event to photograph OR choose a topic that interests you to photograph. Do the following:
    a. Plan the images you need to photograph for your photo story.
    b. Share your plan with your counselor, and get your counselor’s input and approval before you proceed.
    c. Select eight to 12 images that best tell your story. Arrange your images in order and mount the prints on a poster board, OR create an electronic presentation. Share your visual story with your counselor.
  8. Identify three career opportunities in photography. Pick one and explain to your counselor how to prepare for such a career. Discuss what education and training are required, and why this profession might interest you.

Take the time to read through and understand these requirements. You’ll need to learn a few things, take a couple of pictures, edit those, then finally review what you’ve learned with your counselor. Easy-peasy. I’ll walk you through each of the knowledge requirements, and also give you some pointers for how best to complete your cellphone photo story! Now you’re ready to dive into it.

1) Safety. Do the following:

1a) Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while working with photography and what you should do to anticipate, mitigate, prevent, and respond to these hazards. Explain how you would prepare for exposure to environmental situations such as weather, sun, and water.

From within a well-lit studio, to the rim of an active volcano, photography can take place in any and all locations. While some of these environments may have very few hazards, others can pose you a significant danger if you’re not adequately prepared. It is important to anticipate the possible hazards of wherever you’ll be practicing photography, and plan accordingly.

If you’ll be practicing photography in a Scouting environment, most likely you’ll be shooting in the outdoors. This means the possibility of long exposure to the sun, weather damage to your equipment, and the potential for injury. These factors should not discourage you; as a Boy Scout, you’re trained to be prepared!

To prepare for these hazards, always tell others where you will be going and travel with a buddy. Pack according to the weather forecast, and bring water to stay hydrated. If you still find yourself in a hazardous situation, never be afraid to ask for assistance. Even call 911 if necessary. By staying alert and remembering your training, photography can be an extremely safe and rewarding experience.

1b) Show your counselor your current, up-to-date Cyber Chip.

If you do not already have your cyber chip, I’ve written you an entire guide to help you tackle each of the requirements necessary to earn your cyber chip. Click here to view my complete guide to earning your Cyber Chip. You should be able to finish this simple certification in under an hour!


2) Explain how the following elements and terms can affect the quality of a picture:

2a) Light—natural light (ambient/existing), low light (such as at night), and artificial light (such as from a flash)

Existing, natural, or ambient light is simply a regular light level that is available without the use of outside tools. A photo taken outdoors during the day,  whether in the shade or sun, is a photo taken in natural light. Most photographers say that subjects look best if shot under natural lighting.

Low light means that a picture has minimal illumination. For example, a nighttime shot. In this case, you would need to keep your shutter open for longer (which I’ll be explaining in the next section). Doing so will brighten the picture, as there is little surrounding lighting.

Artificial light can be created through a flash as well as other light sources like lamps or ring lights. This light is used to brighten the subject of a photograph if the surrounding light is not bright enough to make them clearly defined. Most times you would use artificial light if shooting a subject in low light that you would want to look clearly defined.

2b) Exposure—aperture (f-stops), shutter speed, ISO

The background behind the knife is blurry, meaning that the f-stop is low

Aperture measures the width of the lens opening and is commonly described in terms of f-stops. A high f-stop will increase the depth of field, and shrink the size of the lens opening. Above is a photo taken with a low f-stop (large lens opening). The subject is in focus but the background is blurry. If the f-stop were high, the entire picture would appear clear.

Shutter speed determines how long your sensor/film is exposed. If you have a faster shutter speed, the picture will be brighter but appear more blurry. This is because the sensor/film is exposed for a longer period, therefore taking in a lot of light but also capturing any motion. At lower shutter speeds, you would need to stay more still to take a clear photograph.

ISO stands for ‘international organization for standardization.’ Essentially, ISO measures the sensitivity of your image sensor. For you, this means that a higher ISO will cause your image to be brighter but appear more grainy. Higher ISO’s are useful for shooting in low light. Most ISOs that have little grain are between 100 and 400. Anything above that will likely be noticeable.

2c) Depth of field

The depth of field determines how much of your image is in focus. A large aperture (small f-stop) Will cause a shortened depth of field. This means that very little will be in focus either in front or behind your picture’s focal point. Using depth of field effectively can allow you t better highlight the subjects of your photographs.

2d) Composition—rule of thirds, leading lines, framing, depth

Composition includes every aspect of your photograph. Wherever things are placed in the image is a result of your composition. 

The rule of thirds is a technique used to compose interesting photographs. If you imagine breaking your image into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, the middle of the picture would have four intersections. This rule states that people’s eyes are drawn to those intersections and that you should put the most interesting parts of your photo in those areas.

Leading lines or paths can be used to direct your viewer’s eyes. As one’s eyes tend to follow vertical, parallel, diagonal, and horizontal lines, leading lines are great for emphasizing the subject of your photograph.

Framing focuses attention on the main subject. This can be done by using other objects in your photograph to place your subject in the center of the image. For instance, sticking your face through a window in a photo is an example of framing your face with its surroundings.

2e) Angle of view

The angle of view is the angle at which you take a picture of the subject. For instance, you can be below the subject or above the subject or have the subject be on the side of the image. By changing the angle of you, you can change the composition of your photograph.

2f) Stop action and blur motion

Whether you blur motion or stop action altogether depends on your shutter speed. By having a faster shutter speed than the motion of your subject, you can freeze an image in place. However, if your shutter speed captures some of the motion of the subject, the image will appear blurred.

2g) Timing

Timing, when taking a photograph of something moving, is everything. When planning your timing, keep in mind that a longer shutter speed means a more delayed photograph from the moment you press the button to ultimately taking the picture. Nature photographers use timing constantly and help to reduce the chances of missing a good photograph by taking many shots at high shutter speeds.


3) Explain the basic parts and operation of a camera.

It’s difficult to explain these answers without the use of visuals. Here are 2 short and informative YouTube video on understanding how this concept works in different types of cameras. Altogether they’ll take less than 10 minutes to watch through.

Understanding parts of a camera (can watch at 2x speed)

Explain how an exposure is made when you take a picture.

How old and new cameras work, plus the way exposure is made

4) Do TWO of the following, then share your work with your counselor.

4a) Photograph one subject from two different angles or perspectives.
4b) Photograph one subject from two different light sources—artificial and natural.
4c) Photograph one subject with two different depth of fields.
4d) Photograph one subject with two different compositional techniques.

Now it’s time to put what you learned into practice and use your cell phone to earn the photography merit badge! Here are a few examples that I created in three minutes which can serve as your guide in taking your own photos.


5) Photograph THREE of the following, then share your work with your counselor.

5a) Close-up of a person
5b) Two to three people interacting
5c) Action shot
5d) Animal shot
5e) Nature shot
5f) Picture of a person—candid, posed, or camera aware

Same thing here! I’ve added a few more examples to give you some inspiration, but with your phone, you should have no trouble at all taking these shots. Take a short walk, snap some photos, and by the time you get back you should be ready to move on to the next requirement.


6) Describe how software allows you to enhance your photograph after it is taken. Select a photo you have taken, then do ONE of the following, and share what you have done with your counselor.

6a) Crop your photograph.
6b) Adjust the exposure or make a color correction.
6c) Show another way you could improve your picture for impact.

With your parents’ permission, I would recommend downloading Instagram to complete requirements 6 and 7. You can crop, edit, and apply filters to your photograph through the app. If you don’t know how this is done, there is a short tutorial that will appear after first installing the app. These easy edits will fulfill the entirety of requirement six.

You can also edit in the gallery section of your phone. You may be able to use albums to make a visual story as well if you’re unable to download Instagram. Get creative with these edits! The only way you can get better is by taking the risk of making mistakes, then learning from that experience.


7) Using images other than those created for requirements 4, 5 or 6, produce a visual story to document an event to photograph OR choose a topic that interests you to photograph. Do the following:

7a) Plan the images you need to photograph for your photo story.
7b) Share your plan with your counselor, and get your counselor’s input and approval before you proceed.
7c) Select eight to 12 images that best tell your story. Arrange your images in order and mount the prints on a poster board, OR create an electronic presentation. Share your visual story with your counselor.

You can choose either to create a visual story or to photograph a topic that interests you. I created a visual story, as I thought it would be the more fun option, but you can select whichever one more suits your interests. Make sure to speak with your counselor first and get your idea approved. You may even be able to complete this requirement at a troop meeting, as it’s pretty quick and straightforward.

After obtaining your counselor’s approval and taking your photographs, use the Instagram app to post your pictures in a sequence or arrange them within an album on your phone. Using either method allows you to upload photos in a selected order, so organize your images with the goal of telling a story. Congratulations, you now have an electronic presentation to share with your counselor!


8) Identify three career opportunities in photography. Pick one and explain to your counselor how to prepare for such a career. Discuss what education and training are required, and why this profession might interest you.

An interest in photography can be the path to many different types of careers. Here are the three most common types of work which require knowledge of photography:

  • Portrait photographer: Portrait photographers take photographs of people for various events. If you’ve ever had your yearbook photo taken, that was done by a portrait photographer. Portrait photographers tend to specialize in one area of portraiture such as weddings, graduations, or other types of events.
  • Photojournalists: These photographers use their images to tell a story. Photojournalists often work for newspapers, magazines or other publications, and travel in order to capture compelling photographs. People who pursue this career can be found in jungles, war zones, or wherever the action is taking place!
  • Scientific photographer: These people use photography in documenting scientific research. From taking photographs of distant galaxies to the depths of the oceans, scientific photographers make a career of documenting scientific exploration through photography.

Although each of these fields require different types of education and training, all of them rely on fundamental principles of photography. By understanding how cameras operate, portrait photographers, photojournalists, and scientific photographers are better able to frame and capture effective images that they publish to make a living.


However, members of each of these fields have experience outside of just operating a camera. For instance, portrait photographers must learn how to retouch and edit photographs. They typically first gain experience working as an assistant photographer and practice using Photoshop or other editing software. They must grow their clientele and may also choose to pursue further certification from the Professional Photographers of America, which requires passing exams and a portfolio test.

Conclusion

Whether you’re just killin’ it on the gram, or hoping to become a professional photographer, anyone who uses a camera has something to gain from learning the art of photography. Remember to look through your past photographs and take note of what you like and don’t like. Then, the next time that you’re taking pictures, keep those notes in mind. By doing this and continually working to improve, you’ll quickly become a great photographer!

The photography merit badge is a great way to kick-start your Scouting career or get a much-deserved easy merit badge. By learning the information and techniques outlined in this guide, you’ll constantly be able to improve your photography skills with every picture you take. I hope that you’ve found my complete guide to be clear and helpful. If you enjoyed learning about the photography merit badge, you’ll love the other two merit badges that I’ve outlined in my article, the three easiest merit badges you can earn today.

Please share this article with your fellow scouts and send me an email on the contact page if you would like more merit badge guides like this one. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated! Keep checking out the ScoutSmarts website because I’m creating new guides, tips, and articles for you each week. Best of luck in your Scouting journey!

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content for this website because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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