Make your pictures the best they can be!

Greetings, administrators!

It’s been a while since I’ve written a Social Media Fridays post. Today I wanted to share a free online tool that will help those of you who have websites or use Facebook, and even those that put together printed newsletters.

We all know that it’s important to have great images to accompany your written text. Images catch readers’ attention, and can break up big sections of text. And on Facebook, images generate a whopping 53% more likes and 104% more comments* than regular posts! *according to this post

But your camera doesn’t always produce the greatest pictures on its own. Sometimes the light is bad. Sometimes the background is distracting. Sometimes it just doesn’t POP.

Enter online photo editors. We’ve all seen before and afters of what a little Photoshop can do. But we can’t all afford Photoshop. Luckily, there are lots of great FREE online photo editors that can help you spiff up your images so they really shine.

Here are a couple that are great:

I most often use Pixlr, simply because I’m used to it. Even though I have Photoshop, I find that sometimes it’s just easier! So to demonstrate just what you can do with Pixlr, I put together a couple of before and after photos.

Let’s start with this one, of some burrowing owls. Sunni Heikes-Knapton sent it to me to fix, because she wants to frame it and give it to a retiring supervisor (the photo was taken on his property, and as she said, “He really loves these little fluff balls”). The photo was taken by Ennis photographer Jayre Leech.

IMG_0033It needs some help, don’t you think?

So I went to and opened up Pixlr Express. Because it’s easy. And fast.

First item on the list, and this is something I always do, is to go to Adjustments, and click Auto Fix. Which right away made an improvement.Screenshot 2015-09-10 16.25.06

BIG improvement. But I felt like it still needed some POP to really make those owls stand out. So I added a Vibrance Adjustment, and moved that up a little. I did the same thing for a Contrast Adjustment.

Then I used a little trick to really center the viewer’s attention on the owls, and not all that distracting grass.

I added a Focal Adjustment, which blurs out and desaturates the edges of the photo, so that the center stands out the most with the most detail. It mimics the effect that a good photographer could create by changing the settings on their fancy camera.

Screenshot 2015-09-10 16.29.04


I still wanted a little more warmth in the photo, so I added an Effect. I chose Subtle, and Ian, and toned it down to about 51. I also added an Overlay Vignette (I chose “bubble”) and toned that down to 34 to subtly darken the corners of the photo, once again adding focus on the owls in the center.

Here’s the final:



Now if I wanted to make this all the way fancy, I could add a heavier effect, and some text. This would be great for putting on Facebook and such.


Let’s recap how much better these barn owls look after a little editing:

owl collage


And all of that was done in about under ten minutes! Pretty sweet, right? Just think how much better EVERYTHING will look once you get the hang of it. I bet you could make your workshop photos look a little bit more like Beyonce’s Instagrams if you tried. (That’s a good thing).

How else could you use this tool? What if you put together a quick little advertisement to remind people that you have a Soil Health Workshop coming up! This would be perfect to post on Facebook or in your newsletters to catch people’s attention.

img w txt


UPDATE: 10/22/2015

After I posted this post, Ginger Kauffman (Flathead CD) emailed me say that she used Pixlr to edit some 310 photos that a supervisor brought in that were too dark. She said, “we can now see what is in the photos!  Thanks for the great tip!”.

Sunni Heikes-Knapton (Madison CD) also emailed to say that she has been “using the heck out of Fotor” and loves it. She also said that she would add one tip:

I would add one thing to your great advice- and that’s for people to remember to give credit to the photog that took the image. Of course, a real professional has their name on the image already, but it can be a nice gesture and a way to build a relationship with a community member when credit is given to non-professional photogs.

Thanks for the feedback, ladies!


How is my Conservation District Funded?

Harold Blattie, from the Montana Association of Counties, recently pointed out that our website had incorrect information about the way districts were funded. We had previously stated that CDs could levy up to 1.5 mills. However, as Harold pointed out, that limit was changed to floating mills in 2001.

Here is Harold’s explanation of how district funding is calculated now:

“Prior to 2001, Conservation Districts were limited to levying 1.5 mills on the taxable value of the real property within the district. The 2001 Legislature removed that specific mill limit and made the conservation district levy ”subject to 15-10-420” which allows the number of mills to float so that the district receives the same dollar amount as the prior year, plus a modest amount of allowed growth, plus the revenue generated by newly taxable value. The Department of Revenue annually certifies the taxable value of the district as well as the value of new property. If you do not receive it directly from DOR, contact your local Clerk and Recorder. Those amounts are critical in determining the allowable levy each year. A spreadsheet has been developed to assist in that calculation and is available on the MACo website at:

To begin the calculation for any given year, you need to know the maximum allowed in the prior year. That dollar amount is entered into Line 1 of the form. Next the certified taxable value is entered into line (5). Finally, the value of newly taxable property is entered into Line (5)(c) as a negative number.

The form will then tell you the maximum amount that can be levied that year in Line (7) in mills and in Line (8) as dollars.

The supervisors then need to determine whether to levy the maximum allowed or a lesser amount. If the decision is to levy a lesser amount, that authority carries forward to the following year and beyond.”

Hope that helps, and thank you to Harold for correcting us!

New Administrator Handbooks

The Employees organization has recently produced an update to our Administrator’s Handbook. Hard copies were handed out at the statewide training in June, and you can request that one be mailed to you if you didn’t pick one up at the training. Or download here!

This is a great resource for new administrators that discusses the history of Conservation Districts and advice on planning, finances, outreach and more for districts.

Tab 1 Dividers | History of Montana Conservation Districts

Tab 2 Dividers | Agencies and Organizations Assisting the Districts

Tab 3 Dividers | Personel


Tab 5 Dividers | Daily Operations


Tab 7 Dividers | Grants

Tab 8 Dividers | Supervisors

Tab 9 Dividers | 310

Tab 10 Dividers | Water Reservations

Tab 11 Dividers | Public Relations and Outreach

Tab 12 Dividers | Index

Quickbooks Files from 2015 EO Training

Greetings Administrators!

As requested, here are the files from the Quickbooks training at the 2015 EO Conference.

I hope you find these useful. If you have any questions, I welcome you to post them in the Finances forum. I’ll also post these files on our Resources page, so that you can find them again in the future.



Quickbooks Account List

Quickbooks Training Presentations & Materials

Here are the training materials from the 2015 EO Training Quickbooks Presentation.

This file includes all of the power point presentations that the presenter used. It’s a very big file, so be patient downloading. Once it’s finished downloading, you’ll need to double click on the folder and extract the files.

Quickbooks Sample File & Chart of Accounts

Here is the sample Quickbooks file and a sample chart of accounts from the 2015 EO Training Quickbooks presentation. It’s a compressed folder, so after you download you’ll need to double click on the folder and extract the files.

Photo & Liability Releases

This week on Social Media Fridays, I’d like to cover a question that came up at the Administrator’s Training in Great Falls. One savvy administrator asked whether she should be getting photo releases signed by parents before posting photos of kids at education events on the district Facebook page and website.

The answer is yes. (did you really think I would write a post about something you don’t need to do?)


There are two reasons for getting a photo release before taking photos.

The first is that we all know that there are some parents out there who are concerned about having photos of their kids posted on the internet for all the world to see. It’s a valid concern, if a bit paranoid in my opinion. However, considering those concerns, it is important to ask permission before posting photos of the kids online.

We discussed this at the administrator’s training, and someone brought up the possibility of posting the photos without tagging the kids or their parents. As I told the administrators, I still recommend getting permission to post them, because they’re still online and probably easy to recognize in our small communities. Plus, by tagging the people in your photos, you’re inviting a much wider audience to view you posts, and definitely increasing the engagement potential of a post, which is why you’re posting in the first place.

The second reason for getting a release is that technically, if a person’s face is recognizable in a photograph, they could be considered a model. If you’re using the photos as advertising, they could very reasonably ask to be paid for their photo. Using a photo release is a great way to remind possibly greedy parents that you are a non-profit organization, and that although you may use those photos to promote your organization, you’re not exactly getting rich doing it. Likelihood that anyone is going to ask for money? Slim to none. Should you still cover yourself? Yes.

But we host so many events and this is so much work!

Agreed. This is another thing we discussed at the EO training. Getting the releases to the school a few days before the event, making sure the teachers hand it out, and making sure the parents sign it and the kids bring it back (who here has tried to obtain something from a second grader’s backpack? It was perfectly straight and not crumpled, right?)…. That’s a lot of work! Not to mention keeping straight who is supposed to be photographed and who’s not while you’re running event…kinda makes you want to throw that digital camera in the creek and be done with it.

That’s why I recommend creating a more general form that you can pass out at the beginning of the school year. Schools often send home a bunch of liability releases and other packets of information on the first day, and this is a time when parents are looking for that info and are ready to sign. So it’s a great time for you to get yours out of the way too. There’s even the possibility that your school asks parents to sign a photo release for their purposes, and so as a partnering education provider, you could ask to be included on that form. That means getting back with the school to check about who can be photographed and who can’t, but it’s a lot less work than trying to do it yourself for each individual event. Plus, you’ll already have permission if you’re at the school for unscheduled events.

Sample Release

So, without much further ado, I’d like to present a sample photo release for you. This was created with the intent of co-opting with the school and sending it out at the beginning of the school year. Download it and insert your organization’s information.

Download Sample Photo Release

A Note From Don McIntyre

Before writing this post and creating the sample release, I checked in with Don McIntyre to make sure that what I wasn’t totally off the wall on this. He said this:

“The answer to your question is that I do provide districts with a photo release (usually specific to the event) when I am requested by a district to do so.  It is not just a good idea; it believe it should be done in connection with every event sponsored by a conservation district in which school children are involved – this would involve home schoolers as well.  The form you provided is a good one  – it is reasonable and it is legal. While I believe that a general photo/video release form signed at the beginning of the year as a “school and other organizations partnering in school activities” is sufficient, the fact is that the districts should be requiring waiver of liability  forms for most activities especially when the activity is related to ag operations.  In such cases I generally recommend the CD include a photo/video release form with the waiver of liability form, since the parent or guardian must sign the liability waiver there is no practical reason not to sign the photo release waiver at the same time.”

He wanted me to stress that a photo release is not the only release that you should be getting–a liability release is also a good idea, especially if the kids are participating in ag-related events. (Think if a cow kicked a kid, or a kid fell in a stream. We don’t want it to happen, but we need to recognize that it could, and you want to cover the district so that you’re not liable if it does.)

Don graciously provided me with a sample liability waiver that you can download and edit. However, he also wanted to make it clear that these are SAMPLE forms, and that you should have it reviewed by your county attorney before using them.

If indeed you use a liability form as Don suggested, it would be quite easy to combine the photo release on a second page of the form and have the parents sign them together. Two birds with one stone!

Sample Liability Releases:


Release Forms on Ranch