• 11 Best Practices for Visual Storytelling

    These “best practices” can be used as a template to help you plan your visual storytelling before you shoot your video or they can be used as a means of critiquing yourself after your story is finished.

    *Set the scene – “bait the hook” – take the viewer to the story.
    You only have a few seconds to grab people’s attention and get them engaged – How will you do it?

    Define the purpose of your video.
    Is it to show breaking news? Capture an historical event? Is it a personal narrative that will only tell one perspective to a larger story? Is it a link within an online story or will it stand on its own? Will it include narration or be told only through natural sound and the voices of people who are interviewed?  The answers to these questions will help you plan your shoot and the amount of time you need in the field.

    Find your focus.
    This is related to the purpose of your story and is similar to a story headline, but is more specific. What is your story about?

    Think in terms of who’s impacted/by what/how

    Can you write it down in a single sentence with a subject/verb/object?

    Once you know your story focus, you can be more efficient and focused when shooting interviews or scenes for the story. If it isn’t related to the focus, you should leave it OUT of your finished stor

    Example: Schools
    Schools are crowded
    Mary’s afraid her daughter won’t learn because of overcrowding at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School.

    • Headline: South Callaway high school athletes will soon have more options because of a district rule change
    • Story: Coach Davis is excited about getting three new players on this year’s basketball team.
    • Headline: No Child Left Behind regulations force teachers to spend more time on techniques, less time on creativity
    • Story: Veteran history teacher Judd Nelson loves his job, but hates how he’s had to change his lesson plans because of No Child Left Behind.

    The story will often be stronger if you can also identify an emotion that is involved (sad, mad, glad, scared) In addition to emotion, a story can be stronger still if there is mystery, or a surprise or conflict that unfolds within your story.

    *Humanize your story – The best stories are usually about people.  (not YOU, the reporter) If you think back to when you were a child and try to remember your favorite stories, often the story was centered around one character or hero. Seeing the story through the eyes of a central character is frequently done in fiction and is also a useful tool when telling stories in journalism.

    Make a storyboard – Plan your shots; Can you imagine (visually) how your story will  story begin and how it will end?  Is there a metaphor that you can visualize that might demonstrate a complex idea contained in your story?  Can you scout locations or scenes BEFORE you get out your camera?

    Use a tripod – Unless you are specifically directed to shoot using the handheld or documentary style you should always use a tripod. (You are also excused from using a tripod during a riot or war.)

    While handheld video is a common technique used to make stories seem more “real” or “true” and are the hallmark of documentaries and reality television, the video is most often used in news situations by lazy videographers. Without intent and purpose, the video can too often look amateurish. Traditional news managers will not be forgiving about shaky camera movement and will be less inclined to look further into your portfolio if your shots are not rock steady.

    Get CLOSE – You should get close to the stories and people you shoot both literally and figuratively. Literally, you should plan to use at least two detail or tight shots for every medium or wide shot in your story. Detail shots will help you tremendously when you are editing your story.

    Figuratively, you should also allow yourself to get close.  Give yourself as much time with your interview subject or scene as your deadline will allow. The more time you spend with a subject, the better you’ll understand it/him/her. The more time you spend with an interview subject, the more likely they’ll relax and eventually just “become” themselves.

    Use the rule of thirds – When you look through the viewfinder, what do you see? Beginning photographers tend to put everything in the center of the frame. Experienced photographers and videographers know about the “grid” and how much more interesting pictures become when the most important elements of the story line up with the intersections on the grid.  There are tons of videos on YouTube that explain the rule of thirds in photography.  It’s a little trickier when shooting video.

    Make your interview subjects feel comfortable – Imagine that you’re the person getting interviewed.  How would you like to be treated? Where would you feel most comfortable? Ask them if they’re comfortable and use “warm-up” questions, so that they have some time to relax.  Better yet, use a wireless microphone and allow them to tell you while they are working.  The late Ray Farkas was a master of this unobtrusive interview with wireless microphones and a long camera lens.

    With humor as well as unflinching honesty, It Ain’t Television… It’s Brain Surgery is Ray Farkas’s first-person account of his own brain surgery, which he underwent in hopes of reducing the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. See the project at http://mediastorm.com/publication/it-aint-television-its-brain-surgery

    Strive for spontaneity and the non-technical soundbite – If you understand the idea of making an interview subject feel comfortable and using a wireless microphone your stories are bound to be more spontaneous and less technical.  If this idea is still difficult understand, think about it this way.  What makes a story feel more real?  Seeing the perfectly framed shot of an event spokesperson telling you that everyone’s having a good time or hearing people laughing and talking with one another while seeing the emotion in their faces?

    *Look for simple truths/universal truths – What is a universal truth?  It is something that most humans can relate to.  It is the larger story that makes your subject more interesting and helps us connect with it.  Think about fables and legends, hero’s journeys, or something ordinary that is frequently experienced but often left unobserved.

    Read Esmerelda Santiago’s prologue to the book, “When I was Puerto Rican.”

    The essay is often used in teaching and is called “How to Eat a Guava.”

    See if you can describe its message.  This “unwritten” or “unstated” message is the universal truth behind the story.  The best video stories will also contain an unspoken universal truth, too.

    One final best practice for you to remember– the STORY is the most important thing.

    *Some of these tips were adapted from an article written by veteran television storyteller (and Mizzou alum) Wayne Freedman for an article published in the 1990’s for the RTDNA publication, “Communicator.”

    ----------Posted on March 3, 2012 by in 4804, Convergence Resources, Help Files

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