There are many factors to consider when telling a great story, and often times there is much more to a story than just the words that fill the lines. The visual elements that make up a story are just as important as the story itself- and it is the combination of what you show and the way you show it that can make all the difference. There are many ‘tricks’ that filmmakers use to master the art of storytelling, and it’s often debated which is the most important element: Is it framing? Is it movement of the camera? Is it lighting? No matter which element you think is the best, they are all necessary in ‘showing’ your story. Here are the Top 5 tricks filmmakers use in visual storytelling:
“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame, and what’s out.”
- Martin Scorsese
Lighting is so crucial in visual storytelling, there is no question why it lands ‘top 5’ in filmmaking tricks. While most storytellers and producers want their work to be visually stunning, in order to look the part creative lighting designs are essential in the cinematic process. Cinematography and lighting design go hand-in-hand when it comes to telling a story. They draw certain human emotional responses that are supportive to the story itself. Low-key lighting can create stark, contrast shadows that are able to tell the psychological states of a character to the audience, as seen in many drama, horror and film noir genre films. On the flip-side the use of high-key lighting can be used to ensure the information is presented clearly without aesthetically drawing attention away from the story. Colored light also has the ability to denote a character's mood or position in the story; like orange lighting for a warm and soft feeling - or blues for a more cool and relaxed state. No matter what lighting design is used, it should be appropriately used to aid in telling the story.
Lights are up, it’s time to set the shot. Framing can be the most important visual element; not only because it reveals certain and particular information to the viewer, but because the shot composition has the power to evoke an emotional response. What fills your shot has a direct connection to your story. And there is no hard and fast rule, because not all framing decisions deliver a single message. A tightly framed shot can create a sense of confinement and mystery - or create a bond with the audience and portray a sense of intimacy. Widely-framed shots can give the viewer a sense of liberation or give them the power the draw their own conclusions from the imagery that fills the frame. Also, it is not just the size of the frame, but what is in the frame that makes all the difference. You need to make sure that everything within that frame is visually adding an element to the story. How these all relate to the context of the story is one of the many beauties of visual storytelling.
Your framing is set, now it’s time to hit record- what are you going to do with the camera? Knowing when it is appropriate to incorporate camera movement can be an extremely powerful element to visually tell your story. Pans and tilts can be used to reveal certain information, or create a sense of mystery and build tension as your audience is left guessing what will enter the frame. Using a dolly to push in on a subject can add compassion and intimacy to an element of the story. Or perhaps you would like to be more organic and go handheld with the camera. This type of movement can be subtle or dramatic depending on what you are trying to visually accomplish. But even the slightest handheld movements can make your story seem more like reality. It is rare that we see the world around us sitting still, so handheld movement can visually pull your audience into the story- as if they are witnessing it through their eyes. It is also very important to know when to lock the camera down and capture a static shot- movement needs to have a purpose, adding to the visual elements.
Visually telling your story doesn’t end with your work in the field. Post-production plays a huge role in the process. Sure, the writer of the material is the author of the story - but the editor is responsible for the way the story is told and understood by audiences. Together the director and the editor must know that a key aspect in visually telling a story is in the edit. Knowing when to reveal and when not to reveal certain visual information to your audience is essential. Pacing of the edit can also inflict a variety of different emotions to help visually tell your story. Rapid edits can cause tension within the sequence, building suspense or excitement. Using the appropriate imagery back to back can also help convey a message in your story. For example shot #1 followed by shot #2 could have a very different meaning than shot #1 followed by shot #4. The editor is the invisible element that is fundamental in visual storytelling.
It may be redundant and not seem like a ‘trick’, but in order to visually tell a story, there has to be a story to tell. Audiences want to see material that captivates and grabs their attention. The key to a good story is not only whether or not the audiences really care about the character/subject matter, but whether or not that story is constructed well and is digestible to the viewer. It is often said that nothing else matters but the story. We all know this is not true, but it is extremely significant. A producer can use all the flashy effects they desire and follow the other 4 visual storytelling tricks, but the bottom line is that if the story is no good the project will leave people yawning and clock-watching.
MediaSource is a media relations firm with award winning content production. MediaSource specializes in brand journalism, a marketing tactic that uses journalistic storytelling techniques to promote a brand. Based in Columbus, Ohio, the company works with the nation’s top hospitals and corporations to get their message to targeted audiences. From earned news media coverage to direct-to-consumer multimedia tactics, MediaSource delivers brand exposure worth millions of dollars in advertising value. Visit www.mediasourcetv.com to learn more.