English: Cropped version of the iPhone 4S camera
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the biggest events we do each year is our Photo Scavenger Hunt. It serves as our kick-off event for the new school year of Youth Group, and the students love it!! A good friend of mine recently asked for some basics on how we run our  hunt each year. After I wrote up a rather long response to him, I thought maybe others could benefit from it. This information is by no means original with me, at least I don’t think it is, but maybe it can help you as you put together a similar event for your youth group.

First, we need to briefly answer the question, “what is a photo scavenger hunt?” Simply put, it is a normal scavenger hunt, but instead of collecting actual items, you take photos of said items. Our hunts are done in teams where they must take photos with specific items or doing certain things in a photo. Each item is worth a set amount of points, and the team who gets the most points at the end of the designated time wins.

As I see it, other than the FUN, there are six aspects to running a good photo scavenger hunt. So, here is how we run annual hunt based on the list, volunteers, teams, rules, judging, and the schedule:

The List: We start out gathering a list of items to get and/or activities to do. We put them on a list and assign points to each item. For example, getting a photo of your team doing a conga line is worth 10 points, and getting a photo of your team under a U-Turn sign is worth 30 points. This list is usually compiled by me, but this year, I had two high school seniors join in on the fun, which was great! In the past, I have sorted the items based on their points (10 point items in one list, 20 point items under them, etc.). This year, I just listed all 75 items, and put the assigned points next to each item. I put way more items on the list than they will be able to complete. This allows for teams to pick and choose what works best for them.

Volunteers: You will need a good number of volunteers. In order to make things work and fair, we had teams of 4-6 students. This means you will need drivers who have cars, but also vans. However many seats they have, that’s the team they go with. I always plan for more than I will probably use. This way, you don’t end up on the other side with not enough drivers. You will also need volunteers who will do the judging of the photos (non-team leaders). Depending on how you do this, you might need 3, or you might need 9 (like we did this year). Either way, make sure you ask all your parents and regular youth group volunteers to round up the number you need for the event. PLEASE NOTE: Your church’s insurance may have rules about who can drive, so make sure you honor them!

Teams: I have done this a number of different ways over the years. One year, I split them up myself. Another year, I let them split up but required at least one middle school and one high schooler on each team, to create diversity. Another year, I had them pair up, and then those pairs got together (creating teams of 4). This year, I left it up to them, telling them to get in teams of 4-6, but not to leave anyone out. That actually worked out the best. Go figure. I do all this at the beginning of the evening, before handing out the lists, and telling them to start. A good rule of thumb is to also have at least one person’s phone number from each team, as well as making sure they have your phone number.

Rules: Unfortunately, rules are important. We’ve changed ours through the years, but the basic ones include things like this… One item per picture. Judges have the last say if points are awarded. Items must be real (not images) unless otherwise noted. The adult leader must take every photo. All students must be in every photo. Time to be back; if late, we will deduct points. Be on best behavior. // We go over these before we break into teams. This year, though, I did it all on video, which made it go MUCH smoother and took a lot less time. We didn’t have to worry about people interrupting, which made it go by quicker.

Judging: For many years, we had every team bring their digital camera and/or SD card to the judges, we would capture the images on a computer, and then we would go through them, judging each photo. Then we would go onto the next team the same way. Last year, we split into 3 sets of judges, all doing the same thing, which cut down on the time. This year, we decided to go all out digitally, and we used only smart phones. We had to make sure there was at least one smart phone with each team, and that each team had the appropriate app. The one we used was called “Capture Cam,” which is often used for their shared photo album feature. I set up a ton of albums ahead of time, gave every team the code to access that album, and that is where they uploaded all their team’s photos. Meanwhile, the judges were sitting back at the church, watching the images come in and judging on the fly. This made it a LOT quicker. However, a small number of teams had issues with the app crashing (mostly on Android phones), so they had to just show their photos when they got back (as we used to do). This is another reason why it is important to have phone numbers for your teams. There are other apps that exist, though, and we will be trying them out in preparation for future hunts.

UPDATE (October 2015): We used an app called Goose Chase this year, which worked REALLY well for our event! I highly recommend it! It takes a lot of the ideas here, but makes them digital and much easier, including the list.

Schedule: I first gather volunteers (more than I anticipate I’ll need). Then, I create the list, print it out, and put it in a sealed envelope for each team (again, more than I anticipate I’ll need). When the day of the event comes, I show up early to make sure everything is in place. We usually start a couple minutes late, just to make sure everyone is there. We start with a fun intro video, showing a handful of last year’s photos. Then, we welcome everyone and go into the rules. Then I split up the teams. Then we assign leaders/drivers to each team. Then they receive their lists and are sent out. While they are out, the judges (depending on how you do it) either rest and prepare for judging OR they begin to judge the photos as they come in from each team. At the end, when everyone has returned, we count up the points and award a winner. In past years, when we were small, we actually showed the photos on the screen, but we have gotten too big, and that takes forever now. So, we just post them in one giant Facebook photo album on the student ministry FB page now. The entire event takes about 2 1/2 hours, the way we run it. 30 minutes to prep, 90 minutes to do the hunt, and 30 minutes to count up the points and award a winner.

That is about it for all my “expertise” regarding photo scavenger hunts. The only other thing I can think is to do some searches online for other hunts. Be warned that they are not all Christian, but they do serve to get your creative juices flowing when you are developing your list.

Happy Hunting!

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