Visualizing Your Story - how to get great images

Video is a visual medium. 

There are successful videos that include only a person talking in front of the camera.  However, most videos work better when they leverage the power of visual storytelling.

The key word here is story. 

Yes, now everyone has the technology to run out and film and take photos with their cameras or inexpensive DSLRs.  But if the photos don’t create an emotional connection with the viewer or don’t give your audience a taste of the event or place or person, even the most expensive camera set up wouldn’t have saved you the heartache of feeling like you’ve missed a major opportunity to share your story.

There are two ways to solve this problem and neither of them involve equipment.


1.     Define your visual story goals beforehand
2.     Create a shot list to have on hand during the shoot


1. Define Your Visual Story Goals

When thinking through how to visualize your story, here are some types of story elements to think about:


What is the point you are trying to make with your video or photography? 

How can you illustrate the big ideas or main theme of your video?  What elements will help you demonstrate that idea – crowds of people participating in an event; process of making something; people’s reactions.  Can you illustrate a before and after scenario? 


What elements will help you build an emotional arc? 

Often this involves filming different emotional expressions like showing a look of concern and then a smile to show understanding.  Rather than capturing everyone smiling, having a wide variety of expressions will help the editor build a story arc. 

Find different expressions both of people but of a state of a location or situation.  If you are filming a river clean up, film the river before it is clean to show the extent of the problem.  This will help communicate a sense of urgency for this work.


Are you documenting a process?  If so, what are the key stages in the process and the most important aspects of each stage?

If you are documenting a process (an event, building out a solution) identify the key stages of the process and the visual elements that are important in each stage.  Are there parts that you want to capture a close up of (like ingredients in cooking) or to get a larger context (wide show of location)?  Do you want to get the same angle of an activity that is unfolding in order to edit together a timelapse?  Or do you want to capture different angles so you show different aspects of the process?


What visual elements will help your audience understand your story better?

This is an often forgotten type of footage but one that can make the difference between a mediocre video or excellent video. Context grounds people in a time and place and helps them feel a part of the experience they are watching.

Examples of such shots are those that show physical place, both in wider, establishing shots that orient the viewers (such as the outside of a building where your work happens or exterior shots of a village or neighborhood) and more intimate shots (perhaps it’s children playing or objects in someone’s home). 

Focus on objects and scenes that show the uniqueness of the place, person or situation.  For example, shots of photos and special and unique objects in a person’s home can communicate someone’s personality and interests.   This is especially important if you are doing a profile piece.  If you are at a demonstration or protest, don’t forget the signs, the police and other elements that create an entire picture of the mood and experience.  All stories are unique, so think about what visual elements will help tell and enhance your story and make sure to shoot them.

2. Creating a Shot List

When you arrive at a location, there are usually so many moving parts (finding a parking space, carrying gear, meeting the location coordinator, seeing the space for the first time, discovering the lighting/sound situation), that it can be helpful to have a cheat sheet to remind you of what you want to shoot.

So before heading to the event, create a shot list.  This will help you remember what you want to capture at your shoot.  It can help you prioritize what you need to build out your story.  And the process of making this might help you realize additional elements you want to capture, maybe even additional locations that will be helpful to tell your story. 

Use the process of creating this list as a way to enhance your understanding of what elements will help you tell your story.


Shot #:  Random or list in chronological order (if an event) or order of priority
Story Stage (B/C/A)
Interior or Exterior:  entrance of event
WS/MS/CU/Drone:  WS – wide shot; MS – medium shot; CU – close up shoot
Camera Angle:  Straight On; Overhead; Side; Behind
Emotion:  What emotion do you want to convey with this shot?
Description of Shot:  Describe what you want to film (what are people doing, what part of the process, what are we seeing)

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Want help defining your shot list? 

Let’s have a virtual coffee over a micro strategy session and discuss.