Feedback we give to first time Multimedia Storytellers

James Dockery, ESPN editor and co-teacher, is in Lisbon with me as we are teaching 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 very 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.

I know most students when signing up for a course like this have often talked to other alumni of the classes and made their decision to take a class based on what those students told them.

This is to say that for the most part the only person helping you with this assignment would have been myself. This 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. I think this is actually the most difficult part of the content to master. If it were that easy to do then there would be blockbuster hit after another coming out of the studios around the world.

One of the key elements of this project is that the success of the project has a lot to do with how well you take ownership and control. 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. I think you really showed the concept really well with what I call the “Radio Cut.” A “Radio Cut” is where you can close your eyes and just 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 with peeling the onion and getting a deeper story than you had on the first round. I think in time you will know how to get deeper faster with your subjects.

The reason I think it is good to dig deeper is the more you are able to help the audience understand that this is a problem that is so difficult to over come and needs a miracle to make it happen they 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 is a cinema piece and don’t use verticals where you see the black on the sides. Fill the frame.

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

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

I think if you had more time with your subject you could have shot a lot more and had what we call more b-roll to use while he is telling 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 b-roll when someone is talking about things in the past. This is where abstract visuals can really help you.

This is where you may have what I call a video portrait of her can help. The subject is looking out a window for example and you just slowly move the camera or it is on 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. This might be a close-up of water drops during rain hitting leaves. Could be a shot in a room as people walk through the shot. 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 things that just when used as b-roll are kind of what you might see when you are day dreaming and looking out a window.

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

For non-journalistic piece you can coach the talent/subjects. Their voices sounded the same even when they are 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 emotion 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 the 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 and 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 needed. Still 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 give them ideas on how to promote their work as well.

Remember you are not just telling their stories; you are educating them on how to tell their stories without you as well. 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 are told in a way that the audience is moved 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

This is a photo of my wife Dorie with 1991 graduate of The Citadel, and opera stand out, Morris Robinson. We were able to go backstage after seeing Rigoletto due to 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 so similar to my overseas coverages when I am working in a language that I do not speak.

The first few minutes is 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 mood of the moment. I find I am also relying heavily on the 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. If the opera was relying 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 acting at the same time.

This helped to remind me of who words and pictures do need each other. Many times the visuals will do a much better job telling the story and other times the words must carry the heavily 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. You will be forced to see how much visuals can do and also see the limits and how important words are as well 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 who were 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 they work on it alone.

The purpose of this class is giving young people a Discipleship Training School where they spend a month preparing to go to another country to work on a project. Some of these projects are orphanages, sex trafficking and a few other social justice issues.

To help teach everyone how to engage with people cross culturally they are using the camera to help teach this skill. 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.

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

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

Working as a team they were able to potentially shoot different angles and also let one person concentrate on doing most of the talking. 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 approach of photography and combined this with them reading to the group the story.

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

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

After each group presented, their peers then gave feedback. The leader asked they give some positive comments as well as things that they could improve. Please don’t say you just don’t like the photo, tell them what they could have done to make it better.

Earlier in the week I put up a 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 see as something wrong with the photo. Each person was given the microphone and each got a new photo to look at that the others had not commented on.

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. I didn’t let him off without him taking the time to tell everyone why it was amateurish and what he think would make it better.

Some of the students at first thought we were arguing. What they all learned was sometimes you have to ask someone to clarify their comments. Even when they are saying your photo is crap. Why is is 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 just isn’t practical. What made much more sense was to help them understand how to look at photos and talk about why a photo worked or didn’t work.

What they really were learning was how to listen to feedback in life. Hopefully this process will teach them how to build community with each other and grow in maturity as they learn how to serve one another.

I can’t wait to see their work from around the world. They divide 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

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

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

The first photo here is shot with a shallow depth-of-field of ƒ/1.4.  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 talked to the class that my purpose was to show the student was in a class with photo students and they were going to then leave the class and do stories around the world.

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

For the last shot I change 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 photos are acceptable 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 home of the subject to get this intimate photo of her sewing.

The Creepy Photographer

There are basically 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
Envious and competitive
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 truly 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 other people. Trying to reform narcissists by reasoning with them or by 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 nature. 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 likeable 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 there are many people who 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 photos where the photographer has taken the time to introduce themselves and tried to get to know the subject.

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 attend are where there is some exclusivity. These are usually the parties where you are invited as a guest and 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 to the wedding is the sharing of stories and friends remembering the growth of a relationship. I enjoy the seeing of 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.

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

“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.

Overtime people if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went. That is 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 motor drive and then picking a great 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. This 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 the one of the man 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.

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

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

Photographers are doing all they can when they are telling a story. They must get the best light to help communicate the story on the subject and the best moment as well.

Sometimes I am crawling on the ground to get into a position so you can see the subjects faces and then since sometime the best location the subject 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 am getting as high as I can to look down on the subject to capture the expanse surroundings and their faces.

I rarely and having people pose and hold it for me as in this photo of the two ladies. This was just a moment and I shot it. It worked really well and I like 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 expression 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.

Visual Storytelling involves being prepared

Be Prepared: The Motto of the Boy Scouts of America 

“Be prepared for what?” you might ask. For everything is the response scout leaders will tell those who ask.

Be prepared for life – to live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best.

I started scouting and then joined the Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol has continued to save lives and alleviate human suffering through a myriad of emergency-services and operational missions. Best known for its search-and-rescue efforts, CAP flies more than 85 percent of all federal inland search-and-rescue missions directed by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

CAP spends a lot of time in training and education around aerospace. I remember going on camping adventures where we would practice search and rescue. We learned how to read maps and use our compasses to navigate tough terrain.

I also went to the summer camp at McGuire Air Force base in New Jersey. We learned to shoot M-16 rifles during that camp. We also took a ride in a C-141. Like all young boys I wanted to go on a search and rescue mission and be in the woods with a M-16 rifle on maneuvers.  I wanted adventure.

Most of us grew up learning a great deal of stuff that prepared us for where we are today. A good amount of what I learned in scouting and Civil Air Patrol are things I hope I never have to use, but am thankful I now know what to do in an emergency.

Photographers need to be prepared

Just like the scout we study so we know what to do in a given situation. For these photos of wildlife I had to get into a position to capture them.

My being prepared today is often because in the past I wasn’t fully prepared. I now carry a tripod with me on every photo shoot. I may leave it in the car, but I can get to it fairly quickly.

When I am shooting sports I have long lenses and a monopod.

I also like to use the ThinkTank belt system that I customize with the gear I need for that event. I do not want to need a flash and not have it.

I even have KWP Knee Pads for me to help save my knees when shooting from the kneeling position.

Being Prepared can be Depressing

By my senior year in high school I finally dropped out of Civil Air Patrol. I was tired of doing practice runs for search and rescue and never getting to actually do a “real” search and rescue.

“Patience young grasshopper,” Master Po often said to young Cain in the TV series Kung Fu.

Being a thrill seeker can get you into much trouble. Just a week ago on my Google alert for my name “Stanley Leary” an email alert came in for Sean “Stanley Leary” who died from BASE jumping. Leary’s body, rigged up in his BASE jumping gear, was found 300 feet beneath a high ridge in the park’s West Temple area in Utah’s Zion National Park.

He was a thrill seeker.

I found as a photojournalist my heart pumping as I was covering disasters. While on one level I was sad for the tragedy, I still enjoyed the rush of my blood pumping.

March Madness has some of the best moments in basketball history and then it has had some moments where everyone wishes there was a mercy rule. Take the 1963 Mideast Regional, 1st Round: Loyola 111, Tennessee Tech 42 game. A 69 point difference in the score of the two teams.

When you Google those blowout games there are no really great photos in my opinion. They may even just have a headshot of the MVP. This is because the game wasn’t that interesting.

This year there have been many games coming down to the last few seconds where the winner won by just one basket. These games were great to watch and photograph.

I have covered many games where the two teams were just playing flat. Not much emotion or effort on the field. When I go to edit I am really trying to find a photograph that tells the story, that is somewhat interesting for the viewer.

This is a big contrast to those double overtime games I covered during March Madness where I would have so many moments I was having to narrow down my selection.

Being Professional Photographer in Flat Moments

It is quite difficult to photograph these moments where very little is going on. This is where the great photographers start to truly stand out. They look for interesting things that they now have time to look for as compared to those moments where so much excitement is happening you are just trying to capture what is happening.

The difference can be as simple as having a very introverted subject as compared to an extrovert. Yes you can make great photos of each and one is not superior to the other, but one may require you to work harder.

I have gone further down field and used really long lenses like a 600mm ƒ/4 lens to just find a different angle.

I have gone way to the corner of baseball fields to capture something different.

I shoot with a long lens from the other end of the basketball court to get something different.

I will use off-camera flash to help improve photos to give moments a little more oomph.

While I may not have as many photographs that are “keepers” from flat event, I will always have some that will work for my client. That is what they are paying me to do.

You cannot come back and say there was nothing to photograph. I learned at my first job the director of photography told me then show me there is nothing to photograph, don’t come back with nothing.

At that newspaper we would sometimes go to places where an event was canceled. We would take a picture of the empty field sometimes and make it look good, just so we could show we were there and nothing was going on.

I do get depressed after some events because I don’t have much to show. I sit and think and wonder, what could I have done better. I always think of something that I could have done a little better. If at the end you can say you knowing that you have done your best, then you can be comfortable with your work.

Storytelling using multimedia to tell the story

How many times have you been called on 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 southern most part of Mexico in the state of Chiapas I was there to help tell their story.

Here is one of the latest packages I just had translated into English from Spanish. This is David Velázquez the current president of the cooperative Just Coffee. Please go there and buy their coffee. For those who are coffee aficionados 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 at the same time.

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 of 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 days of shooting and pick as many of the images I could that related to what he is talking about.

I hope you enjoyed it. 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 “insures that you get your character from point A to point Z.”

The shooting of the story is often not in the order that the story will be told. It is quite common 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 a couple of times 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 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. When I was in the classroom with him I photographed each situation as if the whole story had to come out of it. I was shooting stills and video. I shot overall shot of the classroom, some of the teacher and some of the student 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

The reason I shot each situation as if it were a stand alone package was because it is easier to sequence the over all 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 then when you finally were editing you might end up with all closeup shots. Then the variety of the photo is starting to work against you. By shooting to get good tight, medium and overall shots 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 the fiction writer who can create their content, the visual storyteller that is capturing the story, they must capture the story pretty much before it is sequenced and told. The writer can create and make it work and not worry if they have images to move you through the plot. They just create it.

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

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

During our interview with the subject he mentioned that this coming summer he will be working with Wells Fargo Securities. Just to have something that 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 you need to have a storyline in mind as you are shooting. Then for each point of the outline, you shoot it like it will be the complete story. You create another sub outline of the outline that makes this a complete story.

It is almost impossible to over shoot 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 tell the audience. Don’t be caught without enough visuals when you are putting the final package together.

Storytelling involves Setting The Scene

One of the best techniques I know for helping to set scene is layering. this is where you have a foreground, something in the middle and a background. This photo here 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 photo just 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 this 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 are seeing the important piece is the photo needs to being powerful enough to engage the viewer. In this photo the romantic moment is what is engaging.

In this photo I have the couple enjoying themselves,  but it really isn’t a scene setting type of photo. Yes it captures the mood of a party, but I am missing the feel 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 say on Saint Martin by getting up high on a 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 shot just as well.

Both the tight shot of the arabica coffee and the wide shot help introduce the topic of coffee being grown. Often photographers make the mistake of trying to put everything into their scene setter and in doing so loose the impact of what the scene 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 is starting with the reason for the story—illegal immigration.

When I think of The Citadel I think of the pageantry of the parades. Here 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 capture a more compressed photo with a longer telephoto lens.

Tossing the hats at graduation is another great scene establisher 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 very last time.

Pat Conroy, Class of 1967, immortalized the sentence “I wear the ring.” in his novel The Lords of Discipline published in 1980. 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 close-up photo like the one of the ring and start your story just like Pat Conroy.

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

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

Probably the most important point about finding your establishing shot is to have an idea what the story is all about otherwise the overall or closeup shot you need to help set the scene will be lost, 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 story.

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