March 21

Visual Communication: Advancing a Story Using Only Pictures

Projects For Beginning Film Maker

One of the skills you need to develop to create professional-quality videos is the ability to think visually. Instead of words, you communicate using pictures.

What visual cues can you – as the film director – show the viewer so he or she “gets” it?  Here are sone of the things you need to think about.

What does the visual mean?

How the average viewer would interpret it?

To tell a story visually, the first step is to map out the events of your story.  Think beginning, middle and end.   What actually happened is the first question.  Second, is what do you want the viewer to know?  As the storyteller, you decide.

Ask yourself what happens first, second, third?  Write it down.

Now, think about and imagine any images that would convey that to someone.  Which ones do you think would do it best?

Next step is to think about how you want to tell your story using linear or non linear storytelling.  (This means whether you go in chronological order or not.)

The order visuals are shown to the viewer is a critical decision for the film’s director and considered an  important element in artistic delivery.

First and foremost you want the viewer to understand your story.  Chronological order is usually the easiest way to have an audience understand, but not always the most fun or artistic.

A good story will unfold before the viewer’s eyes.  As the director, you decide what they see and when.  There are always multiple ways to tell a story visually.  Your choices become your style.

Here is an exercise where you can decide the best order for visuals to be presented.

Practicing the art of visual storytelling using images that tell a story is the best way to train yourself to be a creative visual storytelling making films and video.

For this exercise, let’s tell the dramatic story of the death of the dinosaurs.   What caused these magnificent, powerful creatures to perish and go extinct?  I loved dinosaurs and I bet you do too.  🙂

What evil foe would be strong enough to conquer the dinosaurs?

First, let us briefly tell the story using words.  That is a more familiar way for you to tell stories, so first we’ll do that.

As you probably know, the best theory on why the dinosaurs died out is that first, a ginormous asteroid hit earth.

This traumatic event for the earth changed the climate and environment so much, food and water dinosaurs depended on for survival slowly disappeared.  The animals slowly starved to death after the meteorite struck, which scientists estimate to be 66 million years ago.

Next, over millions of years, their skeletons were fossilized, which means they turned to stone.

Today, many skeletons have been dug up and reside in museums.

With those facts in mind, look over these six pictures my sweet daughter and I took in my garden with her toys. (Work with what you have, right?)

Then, ask yourself: what order should you put them in to best tell this story using visual storytelling techniques?

It depends on how you wish to tell the story.

First, decide what is happening in the picture.  How does that relate to the story?  Where does it fit into the timeline of the story?  Think Beginning/middle/end.   Remember sequences with closeups.


sequence of pictures 1

picture 2 in sequence of pictures

Which picture should come first? Second? Third?  Why did you chose the order you did?  Discuss with your classmates.  Do they have other ideas?  Nonlinear storytelling is more difficult to achieve than linear.  Beginners will find this example gives lots of flexibility, and is easily adapted to nonlinear.  (It  helps that it all ancient history to us!)

Film is uniquely able to carry a nonlinear storyline more easily than other genres.  Over the years, audiences have grown to love movies with non linear storytelling, so it’s more common today.

NEXT STEP:  Your Turn!

Now, come up with your own six-image sequence to tell a story.  Chose a story from the list, or come up with your own.   Add details.  Keep it to six images.  Draw the images or select from a royalty free library.  Think beginning/middle/end.

  • Family goes to the beach for vacation.
  • Puppy gets lost and goes on an adventure.
  • While studying, a student studies falls asleep and has a nightmare.

Have fun!


teach kids filmmaking, tell story with pictures, visual storytelling

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