Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dakota Access Pipeline Is a Communication Issue

Yesterday, according to CNN, 83 people were arrested at a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is part of the ongoing crisis in North Dakota between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the company building the pipeline, Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company, LLC. The entire situation could have been avoided if people just simply communicated. 

Proactive Strategy

The first thing Dakota Access, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, should have done is contact the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe when planning the pipeline. The company should have met with the tribe's leadership, elders and communicators to come up with a mutually-agreed-upon path for the pipeline. According to the Dakota Access Fact Site, Dakota Access would discuss easement with any landowners involved in the construction of the pipeline and offer just compensation. It seems the company forwent this policy in its dealings with the Standing Rock Tribe. Granted we are not talking about a single landowner but a Native American tribe, I think it would have served the company's best interest to talk to the tribe in the planning stages. If nothing would have been reached, I'm sure there would have been better alternatives. 

In addition, environmental policies should have been discussed since it is now a fear that the pipeline could cause extreme damage to the environment, especially to water supplies. Dakota Access should not have broken ground until there were plans for any and every foreseeable environmental issue. 

Reactive Strategy

I feel like a reactive communications strategy shouldn't be necessary in this situation, considering all the terrible actions Dakota Access has taken against the Standing Rock Tribe. Dakota Access shouldn't have even been allowed on any land that the Standing Rock Tribe holds sacred. 
Now, the damage has been done. I would say the best way for Dakota Access to have reacted to protests would have been not using any form of violence and starting negotiations with the tribe's leadership. Authorities said the protests were more like riots, but in my opinion, Dakota Access is destroying sacred lands. These people have every right to be angry.

The violence and destruction of sacred sites has hurt Dakota Access' brand and I'm not sure if there is any coming back. 

Current State of Things

This situation shows the need for communications professionals and businesses to communicate across cultures. It's archaic to see mass audiences as a single, homogeneous group. This situation shows how important it is for Native American tribes and nations to have a means of communication, whether it be through a spokesperson or a team of communications professionals. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Tips for Better Macro Photography

Macro shot of a fly. Photo by Wyatt Stanford
The other day, I was having a conversation with someone in my French class about photography. She told me she was really interested in it but didn't know what to photograph. I asked her if she had a backyard. She told me she did, but it wasn't very big. It didn't matter, I told her, because she could find 30 good pictures in that space through macro photography.

Macro photography is the art of photographing very small objects. This past summer, my neighbors probably thought I was delusional because I would walk around with my camera aimed at the ground. I was photographing insects and flowers and bringing their small world into our big one. Macro photography might take some practise to get your technique down, but once you have it, you can take some really interesting shots. 


You can use a kit lens for macro photography or invest in an expensive macro lens. My camera kit came with a telephoto lens with a macro setting that works perfectly for this kind of photography. It is the Tamron 70-100mm f/4.0-5.6 macro zoom lens. This lens is one of the cheapest of its kind and yields some crisp results. 


Like I said, you can do macro photography nearly anywhere. I like to walk through a meadow heavy in grass and flowers or through a thick patch of brush. You will run into some interesting plants and creatures that way. If you live in the city, look in the cracks of sidewalks or on the sides of buildings. You never know what form of life might be crawling around in the tight spaces. 


As stated previously, I like to photograph insects and flowers. Flowers display variable textures and deep colors to bring into the big world. Insects are interesting as well because you can often capture the hairs and shiny parts on their bodies. Overall, it's best to look for repeating patterns and textures for macro photography. 


Good, crisp focusing is imperative when taking macro shots. I would leave manual focusing to the experts. Your camera's auto focus should work fine for macro pictures. Just be sure not to move to much when focusing and to be at a distance that creates clarity. 

Camera Settings  

Your camera's automatic setting with flash should be good enough for most situations. Even if the lighting is really good, I recommend using flash. The flash will take away any dark spots and bring out the full beauty in your pictures. 

Our big world is full of tiny worlds to discover. When you find them, make sure you have a camera and follow my tips and tricks. 

For further reference, Tamron has a great video tutorial on YouTube. 
If you need inspiration, look at these images

How to Photograph the Night Sky

Sts. Cyril and Methodius Russian Orthodox Church, Hartshorne, Oklahoma. Photo by Wyatt Stanford
In September, I figured it was time to see if my photography skills were truly any good and posted one of my best night time pictures to KTUL Tulsa's Channel 8's Facebook page's for its weekly cover photo contest. It was chosen, and I received quite a bit of attention from it. Many people have since asked me what my secret is for photographing the night sky. I am dedicating this post to you. Here are my tips and secrets to photographing the night sky. 

The Basics

In order to take night sky pictures, you need to know a few things about camera settings. ISO is the camera's sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more light the camera senses. ISO is tied to shutter speed. Shutter speed is how long the camera keeps the shutter open. This can be for small fractions of a second or for extended periods of time. For capturing stars in the sky, the ISO must be high and the shutter speed must be long, but not too long. Too long of a shutter speed may result in streaking stars. The last setting you need to know about is the f-number. Generally, you want to have an low-value f-number for night photography. A low f-number creates a wide aperture, so all that star light can make contact with the camera's sensor. 

What you will need

To take pictures at night, you will need a DSLR camera, or at least one that will allow long shutter speeds and high ISO. I use a Nikon 3300. Film cameras can be used for this as well, but I don't use film because I am too mistake prone. I recommend having a wide angle lens. If not, the kit lens will work perfectly fine. You need a lens with a short focal length so that the angle of the photo will be wide. In addition, I recommend a remote, which will reduce vibrations or movement while your camera is taking a photo. This is not necessary because most cameras have timer settings you can use instead. You will also need a tripod and photo-editing software for later. 


This part is crucial. Before heading out, you need to focus your camera manually. In low light, a camera cannot focus using auto focus. Unless you have a full moon to help you, focusing will be impossible and your pictures will come out blurry. This video is very helpful. I like going outside while it is still daylight, placing the camera on a tripod and using the zoom function. Zooming in on a very distant object as far as the camera will zoom, I turn the focusing ring until that object is perfectly clear. At this point, the camera should be focused to infinity. 

Light Pollution 

In order to take clear, noise-free pictures, you will want to find a place with low light pollution. There are several apps available, or you can use this website. Too much light pollution will destroy a night time picture. There are techniques for taking night time pictures in high light pollution, but I would leave those to the experts. 


The time of day should be considered. To get the best results, you will want to head out at least a good hour after the sun set. Also, pay attention to the moon cycle. If you want to take a picture of the Milky Way, you will want to take pictures in new moon phase or at a time when the moon sets early. 

Taking the Picture

Now, it is time to take some pictures. Go to your desired location and set your camera up. Angle the camera to whichever part of the night sky you want. You can include objects in the foreground to add interest to the picture. The settings I use are a shutter time of 
20 seconds, an ISO of 6400 or 12,800, depending on the amount of light pollution, and an f-stop as low as it will go. 


I could do a whole post on editing, which I will do later, but for now, just know that you can enhance the colors and lighting of your photographs. Photoshop as well as other photo-editing software, has a color balance tool that will help your pictures look more natural. 

These are just some of my tips and secrets. If you follow my techniques, you will take amazing night time pictures. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Native American Halloween Costumes Are a Bad Idea

Dancers during Grand Entry at the Choctaw Nation Labor Day Festival Powwow in Tuskahoma, Oklahoma. Photo by Wyatt Stanford. 

Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Facebook memories when I found a very pertinent video I had shared last Halloween season. The video ,created by Buzzfeed, dealt with the topic of Native American costumes during Halloween. Native American costumes are a bad idea for a Halloween costume, and I'm not sure if the general public has caught on as to why.

Someone mentions in the video that it's not like dressing up as a Roman or Viking for Halloween. Native Americans are still very much here, and this is reality for most of us. We are a people and not a costume. 

The costumes worn in the video were very offensive and made me think of what other Native-American-themed costumes exist. In the video, the women were given costumes that were risqué and the men were given costumes that portrayed Native Americans as savages or warriors, as if that is all Native American men are. 

Just out of curiosity, I did a Google image search of "Native American costumes." The results were not that different from the costumes displayed in the video. The female costumes were highly sexualized and the men were all portrayed as warriors. 

Many of these costumes contained commodified representations of of important items of Native American regalia. As mentioned in the video, bead work on powwow dresses has important significance. War bonnets hold a very special honor in some Native American tribes. To put all of that out there to sell without examining its significance in the cultures from which they originated is just ridiculous.

I've been told a thousand times not to worry about Native American Halloween costumes because they are "no big deal." Let me re-frame the situation. Putting on a Native American costume is like putting on black face. If it isn't obvious by looking at many of the costumes, they maintain terrible stereotypes and depict Native people as one homogeneous group.

These stereotypes that Native Americans are savages or that we all do something like live in tepees, like stated in the video, are keeping Native Americans in the past. I think it is an archaic notion to believe Native Americans are one huge group. We are a diverse group made up of tribes and tribal nations with distinct cultures, practices and languages.

I wish society would rethink its costume choices and see how racist these costumes really are. I'm not shaming anyone who has worn a Native American Halloween costume. I hope this post shed some light on the subject. 


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Native Americans Should Be Proud of Their Heritage and Identity

Choctaw Red Warrior Statue at Tuskahoma, Oklahoma. Photo by Wyatt Stanford. 

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of speaking about an article I had written for the Odyssey Online at my weekly Choctaws of OU meeting, the theme of which was "dig your roots." In the article, I described my journey of realizing the importance of my Native American heritage. I learned even more about the importance that evening.

During my personal journey, I discovered two very important reasons why I am proud to be Native American. First, my Choctaw and Chickasaw ancestors walked to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. They sacrificed so much just so they could carry on their lives and lineage. Thousands of people died during relocation. By not saying I'm Native American, I would be disregarding the sacrifices of my ancestors.

The second reason is that Native cultures are on the decline. Ever since the arrival of Europeans in North America, Native American cultures have been faced with the threat of annihilation because of pressures to assimilate into Western culture. If nobody speaks up about being Native American now, who will? Who will carry on our traditions?

At the meeting that night, I talked about my article and a painting I created as my final project in a humanities course I took at Eastern Oklahoma State College. The painting is loaded with symbolism that illustrated some of the issues people who don't look Native American, like me, face. Afterward, we had a very insightful discussion where I learned even more about the importance of my Native heritage and identity issues that face modern Native Americans today.

When asked if someone questioned their being Native, most people in the room raised their hands. Our Choctaw Success Coach made the point that we are the only race of people who has to prove it on a card. Asking someone how Native American he or she is should be just as gauche as asking someone how black or white he or she is. We as a people shouldn't have to answer that question.

Someone said that he wasn't proud of being Native American because Native people are depicted as victims much of the time. A friend of mine had the perfect counter to this statement. She said that when she hears the word victim, she thinks of someone who has died. We aren't victims. We are survivors. The Choctaw are surging forward as a modern people into tomorrow.

One of the most interesting comments made was that the Choctaw people are unique. No other people in the world have the same traditions, culture or history as we do. We should celebrate our uniqueness.

At the end of the evening, I was very touched by our discussion. I hope that everyone felt pride in their Choctaw roots.

Something I've Learned From PR That Applies to Life: Take Control of the Narrative

Photo by Wyatt Stanford

At the beginning of each my Introduction to Public Relations class lectures a the University of Oklahoma, my instructor starts with talking about current events and how they relate to public relations. One piece of professional advice that she imparted on us will always stick with me: Take control of the narrative. Never let anyone tell your story.

I’ve been thinking about this piece of wisdom, not only in a PR context, but also in how it relates to real life.

As a society, we value honesty and transparency. We love to discuss rumors but hate them when they pertain to us. We try to get away with lies, but make excuses when we get caught. If we started by taking control of our personal narratives, we could increase the value of our words.

Be transparent about everything you do and prepared to deal with the consequences. If someone asks you about something you did that may not have reflected you in the best light, be honest about it. Don’t make excuses. It’s far better to be honest about what happened.

The reverse is also true. If you hear someone spreading rumors about you, set the record straight. Nobody knows your story like you. Your reputation is on the line. You must get out in front of a rumor and offer proof that it is false.

This truth shouldn’t just apply to you, but to others as well. Pay no attention to rumors you encounter and don’t be the person that spreads rumors. Everything you hear about sources is hearsay until it’s confirmed by the sources themselves. It’s always best to consider how something you hear about people can affect their reputations. 

When you get the opportunity to tell your story, tell it. Give yourself a face and talk about your background. No one can tell your story the same way you can. No one knows your experiences like you.

I’ve been pondering this advice for weeks. I think as a population, we can benefit from a little honesty and transparency, both inwardly and outwardly. We should all do everyone a favor and strive to practise good public relations with each other.

A good place to start is the PRSA Code of Ethics.

If you want to read something about what PR is and is not, read my Odyssey article.