September 2

Advanced Video Storytelling: Using Visual Metaphors and Analogies


The author of a novel will undoubtably use analogies and metaphors in order to add style and color to their writing.  An example of a written analogy might be a phrase comparing your whirlwind schedule to being “busy as a bee,” or that searching for a lost object is akin to “finding a needle in a haystack.”

A metaphor is used to similar effect and compares two unrelated things to make a point.

Visual story telling can also make fantastic use of analogies or metaphors.  (Honestly, I am not sure which word is a better descriptor when applied to visual storytelling, since they both apply specifically to the written word.)  This blog post will explain how and give several examples.

Using a visual analogy can be an extremely creative way of visual storytelling.  It’s also a lot of fun for both the audience and the filmmaker.  Let’s try it out.  If you saw this picture of a monkey sleeping in a tree, while the main character’s voice describes himself, can you guess what the filmmaker is trying to tell you?  Is the character lazy?  Not real bright?  A veterinarian work works at a zoo?

It could mean any number of things, actually, depending on context.

primate sleeps in tree

Visual analogies will add compelling ideas to your film to make the audience think.  Audiences love to have their mind’s expanded as they watch an artistically done video.  As we have learned, quality visual STORYTELLING is the most important aspect for creating videos audiences like to watch.

So pick your analogy: STORY is the heart, (backbone) (foundation) of any video worth watching.

Visual analogies “say” so much, without any words at all!  That’s literally why they call it VISUAL storytelling.  (Symbols convey meaning visually in much the same way, so probably should be added to analogies and metaphors when making visual comparisons.)

When using visual analogies, you are only limited by your imagination. Want to call out your least favorite politician? Use a shot of a hot-air balloon deflating and depict their supporters as sheep.

herd of sheep

I once used a shot of cooked spaghetti draped over a spoon to symbolize what I thought were the spineless cowards in Congress. They’re limp noodles!

Want to emphasize how frustrating it can be to play the dating game? Use close-ups of a checkers game with one side smearing the other. Games like chess, checkers, or baseball all make great visual analogies for all kinds of risky situations.

Or, life is like a baseball game, right?

baseball game


Want to emphasize how hard it is to control your appetite and lose weight? Show a paper shredder “gobbling” up page after page. That’s certainly less demeaning than showing pigs wallowing in their slop, but both visual analogies convey the same basic point. The effect on an audience however, would be quite different. One might very well make a large portion of your audience angry, and that is usually not a good idea.

Just about any visual can be used as analogy for something. A close-up of a light switch being turned off can signal the end of something. A wadded up piece of paper being thrown at a trashcan can symbolize failure or perseverance, depending on how it’s presented. A cat tangling up a ball of yarn could be a creative way of describing the troubled life of someone who lies a lot. Or, maybe an intricate and complex spider web to go with the “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive,” cliche.

image of spider web
A sunrise can be used to symbolize a new beginning. That same shot could be used as a sunset to mark the end of something. Same shot, two opposite meanings! Who knows whether the camera was facing east or west? No one but the photographer. The film editor puts it into a context using other shots and storytelling elements to give it meaning.

panorama image at sunset


A brain symbolizes intelligence, so I use a drawing of a brain to go with my quiz questions.

AI generated image


  • What is the purpose of using analogies or metaphors?
  • Let’s say you want to make a favorable analogy/metaphor of the main character in your movie.  Words to describe the character are brave, strong, and smart.  What visual analogies could you use to convey these character traits?  Think of at least 3.
  • If you are watching a movie and see visuals of a glass dropped on the floor shattering into a million pieces, while you also see a sequence of someone hastily packing a suitcase while crying, what might you as a viewer conclude?



high school video curriculum, high school video production curriculum, video storytelling

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