Five tips for video stories

Let’s say you’re already pretty good at the fundamentals of visual storytelling. You’ve mastered the camera, you understand lighting, and you’re capable of shooting sequences and capturing crisp natural sound. What else do you need to know to tell great visual stories?

Consider these suggestions:

Focus. Decide what your story is really about. If you don’t have a clear focus when you start shooting, figure it out as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’re liable to wind up with far too much video–a lot of which may be really nice but doesn’t add up to a story.

Variety. Shooting wide, medium and tight is a good start, but you can elevate your game by changing your perspective. Colin Mulvany, multimedia producer at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, says that when he’s shooting he reminds himself to be more creative. “Get your camera low or high,” he says. Award-winning photojournalist Mark Anderson advises: “Zoom with your feet, not with your lens.”

Structure. Video is linear. Think beginning, middle and end and avoid tangents that take your story off track. Don’t leave a shoot without an opening and closing shot. Make sure you capture shots you can use to transition from one story segment to another. For example, if you’re going from an outside location to an inside one, you might want a shot of someone walking in the door.

Matching. The visuals in your story should match up with the words. KARE-TV photojournalist Jonathan Malat likes to use the phrase, “Say it, prove it.” What he means is that if a sound bite or a line of narration describes an action or mood, you should use video to reinforce it. As Mulvaney puts it, “When the fire chief says: ‘We gave mouth-to-mouth to six kittens’– I don’t want to see his face, I want to see the kittens.”

Pacing. Shots and sound bites that run on too long risk boring the viewer. That doesn’t mean you need an edit every one or two seconds. Rapid cuts are great for drawing attention but they can also overwhelm your content. If you’re dealing with a complex story and you don’t want viewers to miss the meaning in the narration or sound bites, keep the editing pace moderate to slow. If your content is primarily visual, like on a breaking news story, feel free to speed up the edits.

Read more tips for video storytelling at Mulvaney’s blog, Mastering Multimedia, which inspired this post. Thanks, Colin!