Three Stages of Composition

photo by: Don Rutledge

I learned so much from Don Rutledge, my mentor. He took this photo of an Alaskan family on the tundra welcoming a missionary they called a friend. Don was walking up with the missionary and realized this was the moment.

Why does the photo connect? Learn some of the techniques that Don Rutledge taught me in this video on the three stages of composition.

Visual Storytellers: The elements they use to tell a story

To help with the conflict portion of the plot for my story on coffee growers in Mexico, I had to talk about the immigration issue. Why did coffee farmers risk illegally crossing the border before the coffee cooperative was formed? I think this photo with the border patrol is one way to help establish the conflict.
Elements of the Story
Storytelling has five main elements of a story: setting, plot, characters, conflict and theme. Whether you’re studying a short story, a novel, an epic poem, a play or a film, if you don’t find these five elements, you’re not looking hard enough.
This is a group of illegal immigrants being led by a coyote on the Mexican side of the border hiding from the border patrol before they make their break across the border. I ran into them when I was trying to find images to talk about the border. This is one way to show the characters of a story.
Setting is the place for the story.
Plot is the action, the quest for satisfaction, what’s going down, what’s going to happen. It is a series of events. Every story is made up of sequence, or series, of events. The way you order these to create a story is called the plot.
The characters are the people in the story who carry out the action. All the characters in a story have a history, details about their pasts that are important to understanding their personality and their present lives. It is important that the audience knows some of these details in order to understand the story. This is called the exposition. It is the background information on the characters and setting explained at the beginning of the story. Often this is the first part of the plot.
Conflict is that something has gone wrong! Conflict happens when characters are against each other, like teams in a game or two groups fighting on the playground. 
The climax of the story is when the conflict of the plot is resolved.
Of the five main elements of a story, theme is the hardest to get. That’s because the main idea or message of a story is usually something abstract. And authors rarely come out and state the main message. Instead they imply the theme through the other elements of the story. Themes usually explore timeless and universal ideas.
This could be a scene setter for the story on the coffee cooperative. This is arabica coffee being grown in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico.
Fill in the blanks
Take each of those elements and identify what those are in your story, before you start to shoot. Even in breaking news you need to understand these elements. Many great photojournalist do this so instinctively, because great storytellers are quick to find the storyline.
Create an outline
After telling stories for a while you may no longer need to formally create an outline that you reference, but starting out this is the best way to be sure when you get ready to put the package together you are not missing an element that is crucial to the story.
Luis “Pelayo” Diaz is a coffee grower and one of the founders of Just Coffee. Today his son is studying to be a Dentist and this was made possible through the coffee cooperative.
Here is a list of some of the shots that you will use to help tell your story.
  1. Opener: Sets the scene for the story 
  2. Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
  3. Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions–especially in multimedia packages
  4. Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
  5. High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
  6. Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
  7. Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story
It is easier to start with knowing the different elements and having an outline before you start shooting your story. It is also going to change from what you started—because things change.
All these people are waiting to see one doctor in Ghana. My story was to help tell the story of the need of doctors and hopefully through the telling of the story some doctor would feel the call to go and work at this hospital.
When I was telling the story on the coffee cooperative I was keeping the audience broad. I could have easily just targeted the Presbyterian Church who gave money to support the missionary who was instrumental in funding the cooperative. I could have also targeted the Catholic Church because they too had a role in starting the cooperative.
I chose to keep it broad enough, but yet I had those audiences in mind. I told the story with those people who are concerned about immigration and looking for a solution. The story was to establish the conflict of illegal immigration with the resolution being the cooperative. 
So many patients that they are on the floor of the patient wing of the hospital. If you look closely some of those beds have two patients on one bed. The photo was used to help show the “conflict” of the story.
I have worked on stories for mission organizations many times through the years. The goal of those stories was to get the audience to: Give; Go; or Pray for missions. 

Even in sports there is a story. Here in one photo you see the conflict. You have offense and defense battling and the climax of the story where the hero slams the basket past the defender.
Can you look at your photos and find storytelling elements? Are you thinking about the story elements when you are shooting?
If you do not understand what makes up a story—how can you tell a story? Hopefully this will point you in the right direction on your next project.

Storytelling 101: Step One—Your Story

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/125

Why should someone trust you with their story if you cannot tell your own story?  You must be able to tell your own story before you can tell another person’s story.

Acts 1:8
New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem. You will be my witnesses in all Judea and Samaria. And you will be my witnesses from one end of the earth to the other.”

Since the church has been telling stories for centuries and doing so very well I am using the storytelling that it uses to teach the principles of good storytelling.

In the Christian church when one makes a decision to follow Christ it is done so by a statement of faith. Many of the denominations do this during a confirmation class. To help people formulate their statement often questions are used to help formulate their thoughts.  Here is one example:

Some questions to think about: 
1. What ways have you seen God work in your life?
2. Are there events that tested your faith?
3. How did an event draw you closer to God or maybe kept you further away?
4. How was your spiritual life strengthened (weakened) at that moment?
5. What is important to you about being a Christian?
6. What is important to you about being Presbyterian?
7. What hopes do you have for being a member…ways you would like
to serve, gifts you bring, ways you want to grow?

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 4500, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

The power of a first hand witness is their authority. As long as they speak on what they know rather than speculation then there is real power in their testimony.

One of the best examples in the Bible is this one.

John 9:25
New International Version (NIV)
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

While the lawyers were questioning this former blind man, because he stayed with what he knew the power of the testimony is irrefutable.  The power of the story is the before and after. The man was blind before he met Jesus and after Jesus healed him he could see.
One sentence is the testimony.
What’s your story?
Do not expect others to share their stories with you if you are not willing to share your own story. We do this every day. You meet someone for the first time and through the process of introduction you either do a great job of telling your story or a poor one.
Nikon D4, 85mm, ISO 8000, ƒ/2.8, 1/100
One of the best ways to learn how to tell your story is to read others. In the church we even sing songs that help us practice storytelling.  Here is one that is a great example of storytelling. It is called Jesus is all the world to me.  Here are the words:

Jesus is all the world to me,
My life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day,
Without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go,
No other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad,
He’s my Friend.

Jesus is all the world to me,
My Friend in trials sore;
I go to Him for blessings, and
He gives them o’er and o’er.
He sends the sunshine and the rain,
He sends the harvest’s golden grain;
Sunshine and rain, harvest of grain,
He’s my Friend.

Jesus is all the world to me,
And true to Him I’ll be;
Oh, how could I this Friend deny,
When He’s so true to me?
Following Him I know I’m right,
He watches o’er me day and night;
Following Him by day and night,
He’s my Friend.

Jesus is all the world to me,
I want no better Friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when
Life’s fleeting days shall end.
Beautiful life with such a Friend,
Beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy,
He’s my Friend.

Here is my challenge to you, create an elevator speech that is 2 — 3 minutes long.  It is not an elevator pitch to land work, it is your story.
Here is my story
I was born with Autism. I did not speak until I was three years old. It would be well into my adult years that I would finally learn that I had Asperger Syndrome. People with Asperger syndrome can find it harder to read the signals that most of us take for granted. This means they find it more difficult to communicate and interact with others which can lead to high levels of anxiety and confusion. 
Most of my life I have felt a real disconnect with people. While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. My difficulties early on were with speech. I had to have tutoring to work on my pronunciation and reading was extremely difficult for me early on in my school years.
While in high school I felt this call to go into the ministry. In hindsight this could not of been the poorest choice I could have made based on my Aspergers.  My father who was a minister recommended I either get an undergraduate degree in business or social work. He said that churches would want you to have a master of divinity degree and majoring in religion for undergraduate would be repetitive. 
I chose social work and I am so grateful I did. Social work helped to train me in how relationships work and what is important in healthy relationships. While in college I was taking photos for the school and had an uncle who was a former photojournalist and had a portrait studio.
I would take my work to him for review to get better in my hobby. The combination of studying body language and interpersonal communication skills in social work combined with my uncle teaching me how to capture these moments with the camera were instrumental in my being a photojournalist today.
I believe that it was due to God calling me into this profession which was to use my greatest weakness of communicating and interacting with others as a strength. You see for me to communicate I must really work at it. It isn’t something that just happens. I approach communication from my head and not my heart. I must really work at thinking through a process and why it should work. I cannot take it for granted, because the way I am wired I am very likely to screw it up.
Aspergers people learn best by seeing relationships and using the camera I was able to break this down into decisive moments and even what I call micro expressions.
Because I had to break down each element and then learn to recognize it later to capture it with the camera I am now able to teach this skill to others. Because I am really sensitive to attitudes of people I have learned to pick up on this when teaching and ask questions to be sure the student and I are together.
One of the traits of Aspergers is the ability to learn complex concepts easily but yet struggling with easy skills. Over time I learned I must work at the details, because they are important.
My lifelong struggle with Aspergers was managed through years of learning and people with compassion that mentored me. Today my strongest gift for teaching visual storytelling came from my weakness due to Aspergers.
It is from my brokeness of Aspergers that I must get up each day and work hard. It is not something that is curable. This has helped me to be more patient with others who struggle to learn these concepts.  My weakness is now my strength.
So, What’s your story?
If you tell your story the best you can, then it will invite people to want to know more. Isn’t this what we want to do with our photos?
I was taught that if I make a really effective photo, then the audience will want to read the caption. If the caption is written really effectively, then the reader will want to continue to the story.
WARNING!! When you tell your story effectively you will become transparent. It is the transparency that engages the audience more than what the story is about. 

Three ways using visuals to show building expansion
360º Panoramic

If you are engaging your audience online then one of the coolest ways to show a space is with the 360º Panoramic. Put your mouse in the photo click on it and drag it around and you can get the feel of standing in the room and turning around to see the space as if you are there.

That same interactive 360º panoramic can also be output to just a still image, but I think most people are not quite grasping what this is as compared to the interactive version, but it does give you documentation of the space.

The traditional still photograph

This single wide-angle image of the classroom being used really gives the viewer the feel to how the room is being used.

It gives you a slice of the room in a moment in time. However, you can use a series of photos from the classroom to help give a more complete story of the usage.

Small groups in the classroom using technology at the desk with also larger monitors to share what one person has on their device with the group.

Here you can see the groups in discussions with the instructor moving through the space to check in on each group. The space is large enough that the group discussions are possible without interfering with each other.

You can see here that the student is sharing with the classroom and using a microphone to be sure everyone present can here what is going on.  They also can use video in the classroom to create live classrooms online for those around the world to participate.


Just a quick clip can help communicate the space to your audience.

Where video is at it’s best is when you are wanting to lead your audience through the message. Here in this clip I am able to tell a more complete story about the expansion of the IMPACT 360 gap year program that is in Pine Mountain, GA.

Which one is best?

Too often people think more about “either/or” rather than “and.” The answer to this question lies within the strategy of your plan. If you do not have a strategy then you are more prone to make a major mistake.

For example had I only done a video then the organization would have nothing to use in their printed newsletter they send out to all their supporters.

Had I just done the panoramic interactive, I would have something online and as you can see the stretched still image that could be used in the printed piece.

What about doing it all every once in a while for those big projects where you will use the stills, the interactive panoramic and the video to help engage your audiences in many different spaces?

I do contend that today too often the still image is overlooked for video. Video appears to be more sexy and cool. However, I believe that the base from which all visual communications of a project similar to this must contain the still image.  Even NPR realizes the power of the still image and importance in their online packages.

They took away the video cameras to train their people on how to make strong still images. Why do this? Just go to their website at and notice how they use the still image as the place to start. Before you click on any video online it usually has a place holder of a still image. If that still image isn’t engaging then you have most likely wasted all that money on a video that few will see except those who already would watch it regardless.

Remind yourself to not be trapped into thinking “either/or,” but rather think “and” when choosing a medium for your audience.

The importance of the pause

The most important tool I use when I read is the pause. We even talk about books as being a quick read or not. The writers that say a lot with few words cause us to pause to take in what we just read.

Poets are the masters of the pause. They use this tool more than just about any other technique. It is quite common for a poem to take a long time to write, sometimes years for a poem to be finished. The reason is the poet is looking for the right word or phrase to communicate something worthy of the pause.

World Read Aloud Day

There is even a day each year where we celebrate the reading aloud of the written word. There are the masters of this art that make us all want to just listen to the reading aloud of writings.

Who hasn’t heard a reader take off as if it is a race to the end of the passage only to leave listeners all confused due to the lack of pauses?

That pause is a tool that when used properly allows the silence to give deeper meaning to the word or phrase just preceding the pause.

Paul Harvey the master of the pause

The New York Times said that Paul Harvey’s “trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average Americans and folksy observations that evoked the heartland, family values and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around the dinner table on Sunday.”

Paul Harvey understood the power of the pause.

The visual pause

The still image has come to be known as the visual pause. For the audience can savor a moment rather than being bombarded by a constant moving image of life as we experience it in real time.

Even in video and film the still image is used to help the audience absorb the content. Ken Burnes is an American director and producer of documentary films, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs. He has mastered the use of the still image. The audience is not bored by the still image, but rather mesmerized and able to digest the content.

The photograph has helped influence our world and change it.

Robert Capa’s photograph of Omaha Beach, Normandy, France in 1944 put the viewer on the front line of the war.

Dorothea Lange’s 1936 picture of the Migrant Mother put a face on the Great Depression.

Eddie Adams 1968 photograph of the murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief helped to end the Vietnam War.

The photos are like poems. They allow the audience to pause and take in the deeper meanings of the images.

Now just compare the video below of the famous moment of the murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief.  I think this helps us understand how important the [PAUSE] is for something so emotionally impactful.

This is an interview with Eddie Adams years later talking about this experience. It happened so quick for Eddie that he didn’t even think about it having any impact at all even after he shot it.  It is only when he was able to [PAUSE] did he understand what he shot.

[youtube]Video and cinema use the still

Even in the movies directors use the still image to help the audience pause to absorb the moment. Sometimes they will slow down the movement to give a similar affect.

While video is about movement if it duplicates reality of life too much then the pause is lost.

Great producers understand the storyline and use the images as well as the sound to help tell the story. The more emotional the storyline becomes the more the movie will slow down.

Combining poetry and the photograph

If you could combine the reading of poetry at it’s best with the strongest still images of the subject you could have an incredible impact.

In the fourth quarter of this year’s Super Bowl Dodge RAM ran a 2 minute package combining the best of the spoken pause of Paul Harvey with some of the great photojournalist for a package that was voted the #1 Super Bowl ad this year by AdWeek.

Which medium?

Each medium we use for messaging has it’s strengths. My largest concern today is that too many people are defaulting to video for everything.

I have some recommendations for those who want the most impact with their message.

If your message is vital to your organization then you need to pull out all the stops. This is where you put a team of communicators working together on the project.

You need strong text, strong still images and compelling video that is presented in a way that compels the audience to become engaged with the topic.

This is where you do what Jimmy Bonner, of the Richards Group, the brainchild of the “God Made the Farmer” ad did. The instructions were very simple and freedom was given to those photographers. He gave each photographer Paul Harvey’s speech and asked them to spend time with the farmers and ranchers. Just shoot what you feel is appropriate.

Andy Anderson, one of the photographers blogged on the project. He said:

10 photographers capturing on there own terms the life of a farmer and rancher. All of us searching for meaningful images. Not any one photo rising above any others, but collectively voicing a message for folks and a vocation we have all really taken for granted. The last truly archetypical American worker. And who better else to match the images with than Paul Harvey…America’s grandfather.

Do you want impact like this ad had on the world? Maybe then you need to consider the power of the pause–the visual pause of the photograph.

Holidays are celebrated with visuals

We often wish for a “White Christmas” and Christmas 2010 our family drove from Roswell, GA to Morganton, NC and this is what we experienced arriving at the Grandparent’s home. (Nikon D3, 14-24mm, ISO 200, ƒ/2.8, 1/2500)

Turn on the radio this time of year and you are most likely to hear Bing Crosby singing White Christmas.

Many of us will watch those classic movies like: White Christmas; Miracle on 34th Street; It’s a Wonderful Life; and many more that you might name.

Even tho it is just a song on the radio it still conjures up the visuals in my head.

Nativity Scenes

At our house and most of my extended family we put up Nativity Scenes of the first Christmas. This one here above is more traditional, but our family has made them at our church during Advent family events.

We had fun decorating my wife in a decorating a person competition for live Christmas tree.

Here we are creating a Advent Wreath during the family Advent event at our church.

The kids enjoyed creating their own reindeer antlers.  
This is a nativity scene we made another year at our church’s family Advent event. Every year we put it out.

Why have events to make nativity scenes when you can buy ones that most likely are of better quality? The holidays are about memories. We are to remember our faith and we do things to help create new memories around these core tenants of our faith.

Our peanuts nativity scene ornament on our tree. My wife loves the peanuts and this helps her bring back memories of her childhood with her parents, siblings and friends in Sparta, New Jersey.
This was given to us by my sister whose family served as missionaries to Swaziland. 


We love to decorate our tree and many families do the same. Each year our family puts ornaments on together. Each person has ornaments special to them that they put on each year. This tradition is so fun.

Since our family has allergies to live trees, we now have a fake tree. When my daughter was just a toddler I had her help me with putting up the tree. She would hand me the parts and I would assemble them.

The following year my daughter came to me and said it is time for us to put up the tree. I turned and looked at my wife and she said it is now tradition.

This year we added a few new ornaments. This is one we bought at the Magical Night of Lights at Lake Lanier this year.

We also bought this turtle ornament and had all our names put on it. There is an inside family story on turtles. By the way if you look closely you can also see where our Elf on the Shelf was this day.

Each ornament on our tree has a story. So each year we assemble our stories and as we look at the tree during the holidays it will help us remember Christmas from over the years. Also, as we celebrate this year we will be creating new memories.

Two of our nutcrackers are to remember our oldest son Nelson. He is a 1st Lieutenant in the Army, so that explains the one on the left. He was in the Summerall Guards when he was at The Citadel and this is the nutcracker on the right. 
This is our son in the Afghanistan. This will be our first Christmas without him around during the holidays.

The Word became Flesh

John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I like this time of year because this is when I celebrate the coming of the Messiah. God became visual to us through Christ.

Every story I read about him is one that conjures those visuals. Even the parables that he told also were visual.

Just think about it, when God wants our attention he has used visuals. He knows we are wired to want to see something.

Big events are celebrated visually

Now if we use visuals to celebrate holidays to help us remember the stories of our faith and families, then shouldn’t we use this medium to tell the important stories in other places?

Are you using visuals to help tell your companies story and mission?

Revisiting the Photo Story

The Photo Story

I wanted to revisit the Photo Story in case you missed my earlier post and also just to give some photos to go along with each of the points.  Here is a link to that earlier post.

Here are the basic things to look for in a Photo Story:

  1. Opener: Sets the scene for the story
  2. Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
  3. Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions–especially in multimedia packages
  4. Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
  5. High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
  6. Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
  7. Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story
Not that long ago we had the youth leader for our church leave to go to seminary. I just took some photos to share with him as a thank you and for the church to use. While I was not shooting a major news story for a magazine even in a simple event like this the shots I was looking for was driven by the list above that I use on stories for magazines.
While this was not the first shot I took, it is a good opener. You can see the gift being given to Stephen Finkel where the youth group had signed their names and personalized this for him.  It really does the best job I think of all the photos to introduce what is going on at this event.
Decisive Moment
Just a nice moment where people are enjoying themselves at the event.

Stephen’s mother and sister are sitting at the table listening to the lady gesturing and in the background is Stephen.
These are two photos that capture some nice moments. The bottom photo is the one I would use if I had to choose between the two.  I can see everyone lined up to say their goodbyes and his mother and sister hearing how much he meant to everyone.  This captures the emotions of the event really well.
They had bought a nice book for everyone at the event could write a personal message to Stephen.  This is a good detail shot to help round out the story.

These help communicate how everyone was close to Stephen and wanted to let him know that he meant a lot to them.
High Overall Shot

The high overall shot helps give a perspective and also shows how many folks showed up for the event.  
This may seem strange as a closer, but most of the folks in this photo are now apart of the church due to Stephen reaching out to his neighbors and inviting them. They all talk about his impact on his life.
Lane Alderman the senior pastor of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Lane Alderman the senior pastor of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Emily Wright Associate Pastor

Closer shots of the key players lets you introduce these characters to the story.  
There you have a quick use of the photo story for an event. Use it whenever you cover something and you will have the variety you need to keep the viewers engaged.

Visuals verses text: The Eureka Effect

The Aha! effect refers to the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept. — Wikipedia

Text is the core communications medium for most organizations. Due to this over reliance on text these organizations share a common mistake of writing a visual story without watching the visuals in front of them as they write.  Too often, a video or slide show story is not connected to the text. A good story is hooked to the visuals and audio.

A rule of cinema is to “show, don’t tell.” Maybe this can be revised to “Show what you can, and tell what you can’t.”

Roswell Presbyterian Church’s Middle School Youth with SonServants  and Widows Harvest to help do projects like: building wheelchair ramps and landings, scraping and painting houses, putting new roofs on homes, or landscaping and yard work.

Now there are a few things that are very difficult to write that a photo can help communicate. Emotional connections are moments where a gesture can connect people that trying to describe this would take a few pages of text.

The Suzuki teacher connects with the child in a tender instructional moment that text would struggle to communicate as effectively. Also, in this photo you can see the proud mother of the student in the background pleased with the instruction her son is getting. 

A few photos of a story can help set the tone and help the writer get deeper into the content. Your audience will appreciate a story with more meat to it than one that glosses over the content.

A child is working on an art project during a Suzuki workshop. They provided this creativity time for those moments when the young students were not playing and needed to stay on campus while waiting their turn. 

I thought capturing a student working on a fun craft project showed that creativity is in these students and looking for ways to come out. While music is one way the workshop was helping these students, they also provided a moment away from the music to be creative as well.

Show what you can

Detain shot of the lab project for DNA testing procedure.

Now I wanted you to first see the closeup photo here of the materials the students will be extracting the DNA from in a biology class. Notice how the photo begs the question of what is this?

Here the student is getting a measured amount of the substance that will be tested.

Notice in the second photo here of the lady in the lab there is less of a question and more of a statement that happens.  Maybe the closeup photo is a better hook and once you are into the story you use the photo showing the taking a sample by the student.

Now imagine the story on teaching DNA extraction tests without any of these photos. Which one would you even begin to read?

Physics Lab 

The professor asked the students to gather around her as she walked them through the lab experiment they were doing that day. 

What is very interesting here is how this professor walked the students through each step. She even would pause to talk about how if you don’t do one thing then your results will be affected.

The professor adds a little humor in the demonstrations. Now I am shooting fairly tight, but just loose enough to show the students trying to see what she is doing and their emotional connection in the moment.

Now just hang around any class where students are doing something for the first time and you will see this next moment. They come to the teacher and ask a question. The teacher then realizes there is some missing information the student is not giving them.

Even after the professor had showed them this step, there is still more show and tell needed to be sure the concept is understood.

Now if you are a writer experienced a similar teaching moment like this physics class, then you understand how images will help clarify a moment.

If you look closely in the last photo the girl in the purple is having a small “eureka moment.”

Don’t fall into the trap of just taking photos and using them. Be sure your visuals are communicating. The best thing you can do is to show a photo to someone who doesn’t know anything about the story or the people and things in the photo. Ask them to tell you what they see when they look at the photo. Not the obvious things, but like in photo of the teacher laughing they may say I see a good teacher.

You might ask why and they would say she looks fun and the students are reacting to her positively.

 Remember to “Show what you can, and tell what you can’t.”

Great communication products leave you hanging

“Mommy, why is the sky blue?” is one of the many questions we start out asking our parents.  
It is when we are about two we ask a lot of why questions. It really helped us get our bearings and understanding of how the world works.
A few years ago while studying theology in seminary I heard more questions coming from everywhere for the professors.  Surprisingly the response to these questions was met by questions.
Over time I started to see that the more you knew about a topic really meant you knew how to ask a better question, rather than you having all the answers.
When you hire a creative to produce something for you, the best creative will ask many questions.  One of the core questions should be why are you wanting this product?  What do you want to accomplish?
If your creative isn’t asking these questions I am pretty sure you are getting mediocre work at best.  What I do know is you are not accomplishing your goals most likely.  How do I know, well if the creative doesn’t know the answers to these questions then how can they meet the objectives.  Even if you outlined everything perfect for them, the creative will often ask questions even more targeted and helping you refine the product.
I believe the best question asked is the one we all started asking and never gets old—Why?
I believe the question why is the question of the heart and the answer to this is the motivating factor for an audience.
Funny thing about great photos is they ask questions.  Yes the best photos have your audience asking questions.  Who is that person?  The photo was strong enough to make you want to know. 
Where is this place? This is what a successful travel photo will do because your audience will want to go there if it is successful.
Great communicator understands that the key to great communications is questions.  Answers seldom demand a response from your audience, but a question does require response.

Overuse of the smile with photos leads to feeling of setup

More than smiles

I find people who smile all the time creepy.  I also find people who are in the same mood all the time just as disturbing. When I say I have a friend who is real, I am saying I see all the sides of emotions with them. They smile, frown, tear up and even get mad in our relationship.

Take a moment and look at your communications, especially your photos. Is everyone only smiling in all your photos?  Are they all sad? Do people ever have puzzled looks on their faces?

Maybe the reason your company is slipping is your communication style if frankly creepy and disturbing on some level.

I have been working with higher education for years and even have my master in communication through the education department of a seminary. I see my role as an educator as much as a communicator and storyteller.

I just want to chase a rabbit here so you might see where this thought came from.

Lev Vygotsky believed children’s thinking is affected by their knowledge of the social community. One of the things he helped to develop was the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently.

The concept also is applicable to adult learning. When you look at what you can do right now with no one’s help and compare this to what you could do with someone who is an expert on the subject you see the gap that often exists between the two.  Vygotsky believed teacher’s role is to be the scaffolding to help the student reach things that alone they would not be able to do in the present moment.

I look to others who are experts to help me process material I want to understand. I love going on tours of places and have tour guides give me information that I wouldn’t have gotten without them being there. It enriches the experience.

Many organizations I am seeing have a gap of their present communications and what they could be doing. One of these areas is the overuse of the smile in photos.

Sometimes I walk into a classroom with a person from the school organizing the photo shoot and they will tell everyone why we are there and please look natural and then after a couple of minutes of shooting they stop everything and ask everyone to smile and look like they are having a good time.  Mind you they maybe dissecting a frog in a biology lab, but they must smile.

This is when I am reminded I see the bigger picture and they are just starting the journey of using images to communicate.

Now I want to contrast this to a recent photo shoot.  The client gave me the class schedule and I was to walk around and get photos of the classes going on.  Everyone was told I was there and to go on as normal.

They even said you know what you are doing and I trust you. They wanted what I produced for other clients and let me have the freedom to gather the content for them.

I went from classroom to classroom with my photo assistant. Everyone was natural and occasionally I had to use some flashes to get photos, which I know were disturbing the class a little, but everyone was great.

The school was a seminary and this is where people are being stretched.  The students come with perceptions and thoughts guided as much by the pop culture as by their scripture. The seminary will challenge their faith system and help them construct one built on scripture and not pop culture.  The students are often not smiling, they are often perplexed and I show this.

Since my wife and I both went to seminary and in my family we have more than 30+ who went through seminary I consider myself more of an expert as to how people pick a seminary.

I want to look for a school that is academic and presents me with information that challenges me. I want to go to a school that I can relate not just to the professors, but the students as well.  I want to go somewhere that the student population seems to be a family and enjoy one another.

People who are looking for a seminary tend to be much deeper in their thoughts than the general population. They are choosing to go to school and when they graduate with this masters will most likely mean their salary will go down and not up. To choose this path one must feel called.

I wanted the photos at the end of the day to communicate some of these emotions, thoughts and content that I had felt while I was there that day.  I think the photos do look like more than all smiles and the people look real to me.

Why is this so important to me? I think if I were to capture only the smiles I would have made the seminary look more like a school for a cult than a seminary for those who will be leaders of the Christian faith.

As professional communicators we need to understand the “big picture” which is often beyond the reach of the present audience.  We are to help them by providing those step stools to get them to reach their goals. We have to help to inspire them to look up as well.