The feedback we give to first time Multimedia Storytellers

James Dockery, ESPN editor and co-teacher, is in Lisbon with me as we teach the students multimedia storytelling. [Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/6.4, 1/90]

Each time I teach multimedia storytelling, I find myself sitting with the student and talking about what they could do better.

This summer, I taught in a program the same thing I teach in a workshop, but they needed to have a grade, which required me to write out those tips.

Here is the gist of what I am writing when grading or giving someone feedback on their first multimedia storytelling project.

Since this is the first time you have done multimedia storytelling and have few friends who have been through something like this, you may feel like you are flying blind at times.

When signing up for a course like this, I know most students have often talked to other alums of the classes and decided to take a class based on what those students told them.

These past experiences are to say that, for the most part, the only person helping you with this assignment would have been me. Needing help puts a lot more burden on you to ask more questions and push harder to grasp new concepts.

I saw through the class this grappling with storyline and storytelling. The storyline is the most challenging part of the content to master. If it were that easy to do, there would be blockbusters after another coming out of the studios worldwide.

One of the critical elements of this project is that the success of the project has a lot to do with how well you take ownership and control. Therefore, it requires leadership skills as well as the skills of the technician to capture the content.

You did a great job of adjusting from the first interview to the second time. You showed the concept well with what I call the “Radio Cut.” A “Radio Cut” is where you can close your eyes and listen and get the story as if you were listening to it on the radio.

One area I would encourage you to work on is what I call the peeling of the onion of the story. I thought you did a pretty good job peeling the onion and getting a deeper level than you had in the first round. I believe you will know how to get deeper faster with your subjects in time.

I think it is good to dig more profound because the more you can help the audience understand that this is a problem that is so difficult to overcome and needs a miracle to make it happen, the will not be as engaged.

Zacuto Z-Finder

My advice on the technical side would be to get a viewfinder for your LCD. Many of your shots were slightly out of focus, which is typical if you cannot see the LCD up close.

Fill the 16×9 frame. Make it a cinema piece, and don’t use verticals where you see the black on the sides. Fill the frame.

I would also advise more variety in these shots as both video and stills.

  • 25% Wide Shots – Establishing
  • 25% Medium Shots
  • 50% Close-ups

If you had more time with your subject, you could have shot a lot more and had more b-roll to use while he told us his story through the audio.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, Sigma 2x EX DG APO Autofocus Teleconverter, ISO 1400, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

Another tip is to fill the screen with a b-roll when someone is talking about things in the past. B-roll is where abstract visuals can help you.

B-roll is where you may have what I call a video portrait of her that can help. For example, the subject is looking out a window, and you slowly move the camera, or it is on a tripod, and they might move just a little.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/420

Another thing you could use is what I like to think as visual eye candy shots. Eye candy might be a close-up of water drops during rain hitting leaves. It could be a shot in a room as people walk through the photo. Where you rack focus in and out of focus on elements in your subject’s world. Things like a book, a flower on a table, tools he may use in the job, and something that, when used as a b-roll, is what you might see when daydreaming and looking out a window.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 10000, ƒ/8, 1/100

For the non-journalistic piece, you can coach the talent/subjects. Their voices sounded the same even when they were talking about killing themselves or running a successful business. Their voices need to have a little more emotions than the same one. Most people need a little coaching and doing several takes until you capture the feeling of what they are saying is necessary. Just as good light can impact the mood of a photo, the tone of the person’s voice can bring mood and emotion to the storyline.

Sequencing needs to keep me on the edge of my seat. Meaning every 10 to 15 seconds, you need to create a little tension. Sometimes this is visual, and sometimes it is in their voices, the words, or something that makes it a page-turner.

Remember this from all that I taught on storytelling. Your clients, for the most part, do not know their stories well enough, or they don’t need you. Also, they don’t know how to take your content and put it together into something for their audience. They need you to take control, capture their stories, and put them into packages for their audience. They also need help with promoting their stories. So individual social media posts to drive people to the “story” are also required. Still, an image with a few words and pointing people to the project on Vimeo or YouTube can not just help the client promote their work but also give them ideas on how to promote their work.

Remember, you are not just telling their stories; you are educating them on how to say to them without you. They will take tips from the process and now be better speakers when they speak due to you helping them see the nuggets of their story. You will help them become more transparent so that, ultimately, their stories move an audience to action.

Cross Culture experience is similar to a night at the Opera.

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/10, 1/20

Here is a photo of my wife Dorie, a 1991 graduate of The Citadel and opera stand-out Morris Robinson. We were able to go backstage after seeing Rigoletto due to an invitation by Morris and meet some of the cast.

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/10, 1/25

Here Dorie is with Todd Thomas, who played the lead role of Rigoletto.

The opera Rigoletto was sung entirely in Italian with subtitles in English above the stage. I quickly realized that the opera was similar to my overseas coverages when working in a language I did not speak.

The first few minutes are difficult because I am not quite getting the story due to the translation taking a while.

You find yourself relying more and more on the acting and the music to help bring you into the moment’s mood. However, I also rely heavily on body language and visual cues when I am shooting overseas.

When people look at my photos, the photos don’t have audio or text for the most part. So if the opera relied heavily on the words to tell the story, I was more or less not getting it very well. Hard to read subtitles and pay attention to the actions simultaneously.

Opera helped remind me of what words and pictures need each other. The visuals will often do a much better job telling the story; other times, the words must carry the heavy load of the storytelling.

Neither one alone did a great job without the other.

I recommend going to an opera for visual storytellers, especially if you don’t know the language. It forces you to see how much visuals can do, the limits, and how important words are to the complete package.

To grow as a photographer you need constructive criticism

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/210

Team Photo Story?

Today I saw the work of seven teams assigned themes and had to find a story on the Big Island of Hawaii to do as a team. I have never seen this done before. Usually, in photo schools, they give each person a story and work on it alone.

This class’s purpose is to give young people a Discipleship Training School, where they spend a month preparing to go to another country to work on a project. These projects include orphanages, sex trafficking, and other social justice issues.

To help teach everyone how to engage with people cross-culturally, they are using the camera to help guide this skill. However, most of these Discipleship Training Schools do not use photography.

Paul & Suzi Childers [Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/160]

Paul and Suzi Childers had this vision of using photography for a DTS. Suzie is a professional portrait photographer by trade and saw this would work to help teach cross-cultural skills and help the students make connections.

I taught this week how to get permission in cross-cultural settings to take photos and how using photojournalism techniques would help them get to know people.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/250

Working as a team, they could potentially shoot different angles and let one person concentrate on doing most of the talking. Then, another person could take notes and gather content using a recorder or video on their camera.

One group let the subject tell their own story, and they used photos that they set up to help illustrate some of the concepts.

One group used an illustrative/conceptual photography approach and combined this with reading the story to the group.

A few groups wrote captions, put those up on the screen, and then put the photos in a more photojournalistic sequence.

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/220

After each group presented, their peers then gave feedback. Finally, the leader asked them to provide some positive comments and things they could improve. Please don’t say you don’t like the photo; tell them what they could have done to improve it.

Earlier in the week, I put up coverage of mine, which I didn’t tell them until we were quite a ways into the critique. I asked each person to look at a photo and tell me what they saw as something wrong with the picture. Each person commented that the others had not done earl8er.

Manny, one of the students, said one of my photos looked amateurish. Well, the point of the critique session was to teach them how to give constructive criticism. So I didn’t let him off without him taking the time to tell everyone why it was amateurish and what he thought would make it better.

Some of the students at first thought we were arguing. They all learned that sometimes you must ask someone to clarify their comments. Even when they are saying your photo is crap. Why is it crap?

Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/3.2, 1/500

I would offer to them if they paid my expenses and make up for all the income for the next two months to join them and critique every day, but that isn’t practical. What made much more sense was to help them understand how to look at photos and discuss why a photo worked or didn’t work.

What they were learning was how to listen to feedback in life. Hopefully, this process will teach them how to build community and grow in maturity as they know how to serve one another.

I can’t wait to see their work from around the world. The group splits up to go to Panama, Turkey, Germany, Thailand, and China.

How using portrait in a photo story

Nikon D4, 85mm, ISO 125, ƒ/1.4, 1/100

I made three quick photos of a student yesterday in class to help the students see two things they can do very quickly to introduce a character into the story.

We preferred not to have a posed portrait but rather something of her in action. Therefore, I did not take a photo to illustrate that point but did want to explain lens choice and aperture.

The first photo has a shallow depth-of-field of ƒ/1.4. Again, the emphasis is all on the lady.

Nikon D4, 85mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/14, 1/100

I then just stopped down the aperture to create a greater depth of field so that the map was much sharper.

Now I told the class that my purpose was to show the student in a class with photo students, and they would then leave the course and do stories around the world.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 9000, ƒ/14, 1/100

For the last shot, I changed the lens to a wide-angle and then had the class behind her. We talked about how we can then introduce her in our story this way as well.

All three are good photos in their own right, but the question was which one does the best job of helping tell the story.

Today I will show them another technique, so stay tuned for that example.

How not to be a creepy photographer, but a pleasant photographer

Stanley was invited into the subject’s home to get this intimate photo of her sewing.

The Creepy Photographer

There are two types of “Creepy Photographers”: Intentional and unintentional.

Intentional Creepy Photographer 

• The photos they take are for their personal use rather than public consumption
• They objectify their subject
• Use photography as way to use people for personal benefit
• Often lack empathy for their subjects
• Hypersensitive to criticism
• Impulsive
• Envious and competitive
• Amoral/Conscienceless
• Feel entitled

Unintentional Creepy Photographer

• Take photos for their personal use rather than public consumption
• Lacking social-skills
• Fail to connect with subject
• Shoot without ever getting permission
• Failure to pick up on cues from people
• Cannot bring themselves to introduce themselves to subjects
• Take photos without a purpose

Photo of Stanley talking with a subject before he photographs them. Photo by Ken Touchton

How not to be that Creepy Photographer

I really can’t help the genuinely creepy photographer. They tend to be true narcissists. If you’re like me, you get into disputes with narcissists over their casual dishonesty and cruelty to others. Trying to reform narcissists by reasoning with them or appealing to their better nature is about as effective as spitting in the ocean. What you see is what you get: they have no better character. The fundamental problem here is that narcissists lack empathy.

Here is a list of tips for the unintentionally creepy photographer that I think will help you be likable or even a loveable photographer.

Introduce yourself as much as possible. A small conversation introducing you is the best but even using body language to ask permission to photograph someone will get better results.
• Photograph with the purpose and intention to share your photos with others. If this is a hobby then create an online gallery where you can share this with the subjects and those that you are targeting as your audience.
Become a blogger. Share your photos and thoughts with the world. You may end up with a theme or subject that is the dominant overtime.
Carry business cards. Even as an amateur photographer having a card with your name and contact information will help you open up doors. I recommend having a website, blog, email and phone number to share with the subjects.
Eye contact is very important. Be sure you look people in the eye and hold that eye contact not just when you talk but when you listen.
Smile a lot. A genuine smile and not a fake smile. Show the people you are excited to meet them and enjoy what you do.
Speak enthusiastically with people. Tell them why you think they make a great subject and how much you enjoy meeting them.
Share your photos with them. If you give them your business card they can contact you and you can easily send them a photo or two that they could enjoy. Emailing a photo is one of the best ways to celebrate and thank them.

While many people will give you tips on how to shoot “street photography” without ever having to ask permission or introduce yourself to a subject, I can tell you from personal experience those photos often pale to the pictures where the photographer has taken the time to introduce themselves and tried to get to know the subject.

I was behind the scenes of a fashion show where the models were able to meet “Pip,” season 2 of the hit TV Show The Voice finalist.

Invitation Only

The best parties I like to attend are where there is some exclusivity. These are usually invitation-only parties where the hostess takes care of you. Weddings are a great example of where the family invites their closest friends to celebrate with them.

One of the best parts of the wedding is sharing stories and friends and remembering the growth of a relationship. I enjoy seeing the coming together of two sets of friends and family from the groom’s side and the bride’s side getting to know each other.

Stanley is inside the stretch limo photographing the bride and bridesmaids in a toast on the way to the wedding.

It’s cool to be invited into people’s lives and see how they live, work and play. In his book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers, Seth Godin talks about getting permission from people.

“Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission. Permission is like dating. You don’t start by asking for the sale at first impression. You earn the right, over time, bit by bit.”

While Godin is talking about marketing, this applies to photographing people just as much.

Over time people if you stop showing up, people complain, and they ask where you went. When you know you are not a creepy photographer, people want you back in their lives.

Storytelling is about capturing moments

Nikon D2X, 24-70mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/40

Storytelling is about moments.

You may think that sitting around a room where people are just talking; things move at a much slower pace than, say, a baseball game.

You would be wrong. I think the action moves just as fast as in any sporting event.

Nikon D2X, 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/8, 1/1500

Sports photographers are not pushing their shutter on the motor drive and then picking a significant moment in sports any more than they do with people sitting around in a room. The motor drive is to take the photos after the moment the photographer is capturing them. Concentrating on after is because you don’t know if the ball will pop out of the catcher’s mitt, and the player sliding home then is safe.

Nikon D2X, 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/5, 1/160

The ever-so-slight head tilt or body posture can communicate so much. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture like one of the men with the hand gestures. It can be ever so subtle as the lady in the photo above.

Nikon D2Xs, 18-25mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/6.3, 1/100

Can you see the moment?

One thing that can kill a great moment is not being able to see it.

Impact 360 Block party for Pine Mountain Apartments.
Impact 360 Block party for Pine Mountain Apartments.

As you can see in these two photos of the young girl, the off-camera flash adds life to the face giving more dynamic range and, therefore, more color and energy to the photo. However, capturing the moment is more than just squeezing the shutter at the right moment.

Impact 360 Block party for Pine Mountain Apartments.
Impact 360 Block party for Pine Mountain Apartments.

Can you see how much more “POP” this photo has with the off-camera flash?

Impact 360 Block party for Pine Mountain Apartments.
Impact 360 Block party for Pine Mountain Apartments.

Photographers do all they can when they are telling a story. However, they must get the best light to help communicate the report on the subject and the best moment.

Kurtis Fitz-Ritson and John Wesolowski painted a fire hydrant as part of their community service in the IMPACT 360 program in Pine Mountain, GA, on November 28, 2007.

Sometimes I crawl on the ground to get into a position so you can see the subjects’ faces, and then since sometimes the best location for the issue has the sun right behind their heads, as in the photo of the guys painting the fire hydrant [fire plug for those out west] I again use an off-camera flash to fill the subjects faces with light, so they are not just silhouettes.

Other times I get as high as I can to look down on the subject to capture the expanse of surroundings and their faces.

IMPACT 360: Graduation

I rarely have people pose and hold it for me, as in this photo of the two ladies. There was just a moment, and I shot it. It worked well, and I liked the moment but had I said hold it just a second, OK now 1 …, 2 …, 3 … this would have killed the expressions. So even when people pose for you, if they hold their face, it isn’t as good as just before they hit their peak smile. I love to shoot just before they reach it.

This way, they are smiling and not just posing.

Storytelling using multimedia to tell the story

How many times have you been called to talk to a group, and you have either said or wanted to say, “You just had to be there to know what I am talking about?”

When I traveled to see the coffee growers in Salvador Urbina in the southernmost part of Mexico in Chiapas, I was there to help tell their story.

Here is one of the latest packages I just had translated into English from Spanish. The video is David Velázquez, the current president of the cooperative Just Coffee. Please go there and buy their coffee. For those who are coffee enthusiasts, it is premium arabica coffee.

I decided to use primarily still photos for the b-roll for a reason. I think those moments allow you to pause and listen to David simultaneously.

The human voice is the most powerful audio I know for video, especially when you can hear it in their voice. Here the voice-over talent Craig Carden did a great job capturing the mood of David Velázquez.

I am blending Video, Audio, and Still, images which I think together is a better package than any of these alone would be by themselves.

I let David tell his story, and then I went through the shooting days and picked as many images as possible that related to what he was talking about.

I hope you enjoyed it. Then, call me if you want to take a class from me on how to do storytelling using multimedia.

Storyline involves a Plot

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/250, custom white balance with ExpoDisc

A plot “ensures that you get your character from point A to point Z.”

The shooting of the story is often not in the order of telling the story. It is standard in Hollywood when they are making a movie to shoot a story all out of order for budget reasons.

You may need to go ahead and shoot the ending because it takes place in the spring, and you are now in the Spring time.

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/9, 1/45, custom white balance with ExpoDisc

Yesterday I was working with my intern/photo assistant. I sat down for a few minutes to talk about what I was doing and why. He is going to Lisbon, Portugal, with me and will be shooting his own visual story.

One thing I talked to him about was how every situation I shot was as if it were a stand-alone story.

Fujifilm X-E2, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4 D AF, using Nikon G to FX adapter, ISO 500, ƒ/1.4, 1/60

Yesterday I photographed a Georgia Tech Management student. I followed him around for the day. While in the classroom with him, I photographed each situation as if the whole story had to come out. I was shooting stills and videos. I shot an overall shot of the classroom, some of the teacher and some of the students, and everything else you could think of in between.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4 D AF, ISO 1100, ƒ/1.4, 1/250 Custom white balance with the ExpoDisc

I shot each situation as if it were a stand-alone package because it is easier to sequence the overall package with the best photos to tell the complete story.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/6.3, 1/500, custom white balance with ExpoDisc

If you didn’t shoot the variety, you might end up with all close-up shots when you finally were editing. Then the array of the photo starts to work against you by shooting to get good tight, medium, and overall pictures and varieties of each of those; you then are picking from each situation and then putting these into a sequence that moves the viewer through the plot of events to tell the story.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 8000, ƒ/4.8, 1/250, custom white balance with ExpoDisc

Unlike fiction writers who can create their content, the visual storyteller who captures the story must grasp it before it is sequenced and told. The writer can design and make it work and not worry if they have images to move you through the plot. They create it.

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 400, ƒ/10, 1/500

I even did the environmental portrait as a safe shot of the student in front of the Georgia Institute of Technology sign.

During our interview with the subject, he mentioned that he would be working with Wells Fargo Securities this coming summer. So just to have something we could drop in for a visual, we found a sign to put him in front of for the story.

Fujifilm X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 200, ƒ/10, 1/180 and -1 EV on the pop-up flash

The bottom line is that you need to have a storyline in mind while shooting. Then for each point of the outline, you shoot it like it will be the complete story. Then, you create another sub-outline of the design that makes this a full report.

It is almost impossible to overshoot for a visual storyteller. Those who undershoot will have to rely on other communication like text or audio to help tell the story.

The best way to tell a story is to show the audience rather than say it to the audience. Don’t be caught without enough visuals when putting the final package together.

Storytelling involves Setting The Scene

Layering is one of the best techniques I know for helping to set scenes. Layering is where you have a foreground, something in the middle, and a background. For example, in this photo above, I am using layering to help engage the viewer with the little boy and the interaction with his parents in the overall concert scene.

Here is another scene setter, but notice how it is more of just a wide shot saying “here it is” rather than the above photo that engages the viewer in something going on much more effectively. The lower image has two people walking closest to the camera.

Here I am using the lady taking a photo with her phone that lets me pull the reader into the scene.

The photo I loved the most and used as the scene setter for this event is one of the couple dancing. Even without seeing the stage, the couple dancing, and people in the background facing in one direction, you can sense the band playing. Hopefully, you see the critical piece that the photo needs to be powerful enough to engage the viewer. In this photo, the romantic moment is what is engaging.

I have the couple enjoying themselves in this photo,  but it isn’t a scene-setting type of photo. Yes, it captures the mood of a party, but I am missing the feeling that the earlier photos give the audience.

Here is a more cliche scene-setting photo. It establishes the location. It does so from a low angle.

Here is another way to introduce a story on Saint Martin: getting up high on the road and shooting down into the bay, where you capture the community.

Often we think of scene-setting photos as the overall shot like this of the arabica coffee growing in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. But sometimes, you can set the scene with a tight trial just as well.

The tight shot of the arabica coffee and the wide shot help introduce the topic of coffee being grown. So often, photographers make the mistake of trying to put everything into their scene setter and lose the impact of what the setter is doing—introducing the topic.

This photo of the fence along the border between Agua Prieta, Mexico, and Douglas, Arizona, is also a great scene setter for the story on coffee; however, using this photo starts with the reason for the report—illegal immigration.

When I think of The Citadel, I think of the pageantry of the parades. I got low with a wide-angle lens to show the beginning of the Friday afternoon parade.

Another time I went across the parade field and captured a more compressed photo with a longer telephoto lens.

Tossing the hats at graduation is another excellent scene for a story on The Citadel.

Just as significant to the graduate of The Citadel is the long gray line that the seniors do when they graduate. They form one long line and walk across the parade field for the last time.

Class of 1967, Pat Conroy immortalized the sentence “I wear the ring” in his novel The Lords of Discipline, published in 1980. So which of these photos would work for the beginning of the book The Lords of Discipline?

I think any of the three can work, and that is the point. Your establishing shot could be a closeup photo like the one of the ring and start your story just like Pat Conroy.

I like the last photo for a different reason. Most of the guys in the image picked going to The Citadel after reading The Lords of Discipline.

So you can shoot mindlessly and get over all shots that most likely will not engage the viewer, or you can work at getting overall shots that engage people.

Probably the most crucial point about finding your establishing shot is to have an idea of what the story is all about; otherwise, you will lose the overall or closeup picture you need to help set the scene because you were paying too much attention to capturing a subject or just capturing the climax of the story. Remember, you need sequences of different photos to move someone through the plot of your account.

Take the time to think about the story and how you can best establish the scene for the audience.

Storytelling Involves Characters

Here is one way to introduce a character running straight at the audience.

The show, don’t tell.

When introducing your character, sharing an experience of the essence with the audience is essential. With the football players, this is an easier way to introduce a character into the story. But, again, the action helps to tell us about the character.

Student Omar Yougbare in Koudougou, Burkina Faso.

While this might be a lovely portrait of the story’s character, you can see that because the man is just looking at the camera, it does little to tell the audience about the man. So now the story must rely more heavily on the storyteller’s telling rather than showing to introduce the character.

Paul Tiendeno is a student at the theology school in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. They teach theology and farming to help the pastors feed their families while they minister as bi-vocational pastors. 

Contrast the photo of the man just looking into the camera lens with this one, which shows the man working in the field and tending his crops.

Which photo helps to establish the characteristics of the person?

Just Coffee Cooperative

Here is the matriarch of her family pouring hot water over coffee grinds to make coffee. Showing her working in her kitchen is an excellent way to introduce the mother and wife of coffee farmers in my story on a coffee cooperative.

Just Coffee Coop in El Aguila Adan Roblero

The theme of the story I was working on about a coffee cooperative is how the cooperative’s success depends on the coffee drinkers getting to know their coffee growers. One of the Arizona coffee drinkers plays with a coffee farmer’s son in El Aguila, Chiapas, Mexico. Here, I am telling a small story within the photo, introducing the character into the storyline.

Doug Parkin, a volunteer pediatrician from Arizona, sees patients during his two-month service at the Baptist Medical Center in Nalerigu, Ghana. (Photo by: Stanley Leary)

Here is a doctor who donates some vacation time to serve in the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. The story tried recruiting doctors to become full-time missionaries in this hospital. Unfortunately, when I visited, they had only two doctors.

Surgeon Danny Crawley is in theatre doing a hernia operation, and Comfort Bawa, the theatre assistant, helps him at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. (Photo by: Stanley Leary)

Danny Crawford is one of those two doctors and the only surgeon. So, this was a way to introduce him into the storyline.

Just Coffee Cooperative

Pushing the boy is one of the coffee farmers with his grandson in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. I think this is a great way to introduce the coffee farmer and show the value of family to the people of the coffee cooperative.

Recording artist Soulja Boy poses for a portrait at his Atlanta Buckhead Penthouse on Thursday, April 23, 2009.

While you may have a lovely portrait of a person like this, a shot of Soulja Boy does little to introduce the character compared to if he was doing something.

Just Coffee Cooperative

The people can even have beautiful smiles, but you still know little about the characters when you have them stop and look at the camera.

Kalyn Wood

The portraits can be pretty powerful, but they are not the same as introducing the character when they are doing something. So yes, they can be powerful images that capture your attention, but what is the story?

State and Lake In-Line Rob Meier, Operator

Don’t you think this photo of the two guys competing on who can move the Oreo Cookie from their forehead to eat is a much more exciting and character-revealing photo to introduce a character?

The Archbishop of Atlanta, His Excellency The Most Reverend Wilton Daniel Gregory, S.L.D., presides over the Eucharist during The Mass of Canonical Installation of His Excellency The Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, S.L.D. at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta, Georgia on January 17, 2005.

This moment during the celebration of the Eucharist in Mass is a great way to introduce Archbishop Gregory into the storyline.

Clayton State University Campus Scenics

Only as a last resort should you use the posed portrait to introduce your character. Let the visuals tell the story—SHOW, don’t TELL!

Storytelling involves conflict

My last post was on the elements of the story. This is just on one of those elements: CONFLICT.Here are some tips on capturing that for the visual storyteller.

Conflict—The major problem of the story

There are two categories

  1. External—Happens outside the character, involves more than 1 person, can be observed
  2. Internal—Happens inside of the character, involves only 1 person, can only be observed in the thoughts and feelings
Three types of conflict
  1. Man vs Nature [External]
  2. Man vs Self [Internal]
  3. Man vs Man [External or Internal]
Looking at the photos can you decide which of the types of conflict they are communicating?

Using the visual to create conflict is what a visual storyteller does to help move the audience into and through the storyline.

Breaking composition Rules

Breaking the rules of composition to help create even more tension is one way photojournalists help you feel the conflict of a news event like this one of the car wreck.

Natural Barriers

Sometimes you can just photograph using the natural environment to help create a tension. I use this a lot.

Body Language

Now just how the subject looks and carries themselves can help with establishing the conflict necessary in the storyline.

It isn’t always over the top and hitting you with a hammer, often the body language is more subtle.

Here it is just the eyes of the child who is suffering from Malaria that grab you.


Sports are great for where you can see conflict.

You can show the offense and defense in one photo.


Just the grimace of a person can introduce some tension into a moment and make you want to know more about the situation.

Have you been in school wondering what is going on or just struggling?

Don’t shy away from the photos with tension, they are needed in the storyline.

Not all photos are about a place of peace and calm. Stories require a conflict—are you capturing it? If you are not then are you telling stories?

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 they formed a coffee cooperative? 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 o,r a film, if you don’t find these five elements, you’re not looking hard enough.
This photo is of a group of illegal immigrants on their journey with a coyote on the Mexican side of the border, hiding from the border patrol before they break across the border. I ran into them while trying to find images to talk about the border. This photo shows one way to show the characters of a story.
The setting is the place for the story.
The plot is the action, the quest for satisfaction, what’s going down, and what’s going to happen. It is a series of events. Every story is a series of events. So the way you order these to create an account is called the plot.
The characters are the people in the story who act. All the characters in a story have a history and details about their pasts that are important to understand their personality and present lives. The audience must know some of these details to understand the story. These details are called the exposition. Explaining the characters of a story are early in 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 resolution of the conflict is the story’s climax, the plot.
A theme is the hardest to get out of the five main elements of a story. That’s because a story’s main idea or message 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 photo could be a scene setter for the story on the coffee cooperative. The red beans are arabica coffee is 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 photojournalists do this instinctively because great storytellers quickly find the storyline.
Create an outline
With the experience of storytelling, you may no longer create an outline that you reference formally, but starting this is the best way to ensure that when you get ready to put the package together, you are not missing an element 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, which was made possible through the coffee cooperative.
Here is a list of some shots 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 report, 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 on 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 begin shooting your story. But, it will also change from what you started—because things change.
All these people are waiting to see one doctor in Ghana. So my story was to help tell the story of the need for doctors, and hopefully, through the telling of the story, some doctors would feel the call to go and work at this hospital.
I kept the audience broad when I was telling the cooperative coffee story. I could have easily just targeted the Presbyterian Church and given money to support the missionary who was instrumental in funding the cooperative. I could have also targeted the Catholic Church because they had a role in starting the cooperative.
I kept it broad enough, yet I had those audiences in mind. I told the story to those concerned about immigration and looking for a solution. The story was to establish the conflict of illegal immigration, with the resolution being cooperative. 
So many patients 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. I wanted 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 is one photo you see the conflict. You have offense and defense battling, and the story’s climax is 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?
How can you tell a story if you do not understand what makes up a story? Hopefully, this will point you in the right direction on your next project.