5 Visual Storytelling Tricks you should know

Increase your cinematography skills with these 5 simple and easy visual storytelling techniques. Learn how to make interesting camera composites or editing tricks to tell a visual story.

Visual Storytelling Tricks

What is visual storytelling? Well it’s the way we tell something to the audience with the way we create our scene and place our subjects. Here are 5 tricks that you can use to enhance your visual storytelling skills.

Playing with time

The way you shoot your scene and pace your cuts in the edit really makes a difference in the tension and the time that you display onto your viewer. For instance, when you shoot a scene where someone is nervous and someone else is getting angry because he wants to get some information from the nervous person. You can either make fast cuts and cut into different actions that the characters do. You can also make jump cuts to show a sense of time. Or you can keep the shots very long and show every action from beginning to end without cutting them, this makes the time a lot slower but creates way more tension.

Character struggle

Have you ever seen the Revenant? Well there is this one scene where the camerawork is so good that it really shows the struggle of a character. And as a viewer you’re completely drawn into it and you struggle along with the character.

We tried to recreate a scene like that where a chartacter has to play Russian roulette to earn a lot of money. When shooting, we had a wide angle lens on the camera and moved closer to the subject who was pointing the gun to it’s own head. We get closer and closer while the character is struggling, when he finally shoots and hears the click of the empty gun we see the relief on his face. The camera then moves backwards and just like the character the audience can finally breath again.

Character tension
Character tension

Emotional Reveal

Two people sit in a room and one of them tells bad news to the other. After which the other person walks away. Here you can focus on two elements, the first one being the emotion of the person who remains seated while the other one walks out of the frame. We see the emotion of someone who just told some bad news, maybe he’s feeling guilty about something or ashamed. In the background we can hear the sadness or disgust from the other character.

Our camera can then move slowly within the setting to our character that walked away and we show the emotion and reaction of our second character. Maybe he’s laying next to a corpse or is looking at his car which the first character has scratched. Or maybe he completely lost it and is looking out of a window.

Character relation

A really import tip is the way you place your characters in the room. If two characters are sitting next to each other, looking the same way it creates a feeling of friendship. They know each other and have a positive relationship.

If the characters are sitting apart from each other it looks like they don’t know each other. This doesn’t need to be a bad thing, it’s just that they don’t have a relation yet. If they do sit next to each other but one of them is leaning forward or to another direction he’s showing no interest in the other person which means they have a bad relationship and aren’t friendly.

Another example can be the emptiness of a scene where it seems like someone is abandoned. If you make a two shot framing but only place one person in the shot you create a empty feeling. The person feels abandoned and alone, maybe his partner left him or past away.

A third example of character relation can be with set elements. Here we can let a person tell some bad news to another person. Like for instance “your friend died”, in the middle of the frame we place a set element that blocks the characters, creating a visual box for each of them on screen. This visual barrier creates the feeling that each person is alone, so the one telling the bad news can’t comfort the other person. Or maybe he just isn’t there for the sad person. A visual barrier can be a technique for many different stories.

Character relation
Character relation

Character focus

A last technique is when the camera tries to make the audience focus on a specific character. Once again we have a scene where person A tells bad news to person B. The first person tells the other to sit down because of the bad news. Now the camera can either follow the second person (who’s sitting down) with a tilt movement or with a crane movement and that way we focus on that character and his emotions. If we do the opposite and have our camera follow the first person (the one telling the bad news) we focus on him and that creates a feeling that we feel bad about him having to tell the bad news.

Full Sail University

If you want to learn all aspects of filmmaking and cinematography you can check out Full Sail University. They both have a campus and an online platform. Their Full Sails Film Bachelors degree program emerges you in the world of filmmaking from every angle. And the Digital Cinematography online Bachelors degree merges the artistic concepts of traditional filmmaking with the technical tools used in everything from documentary filmmaking to commercial production and even web video. Some of their graduates worked on sets of films like the Avengers, Joker and TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian.

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