June 4

Visual Story Telling: What’s all that weird stuff doing on the floor?


pile of stuffImagine watching a movie show that begins with a close-up shot of a bunch of random stuff lying on the floor.  A couple of keys, some coins and a button.

What is the visual significance of this random pile of stuff on the floor?

  • Does it mean someone is a messy housekeeper?  Too depressed to clean?
  • Is it an intricate set of clues about who the killer is?
  • Perhaps all that stuff ended up on the floor when someone realized they’d won the ten-million dollar lottery and they didn’t need to dig under the coach for those pennies after all.
  • Or maybe a sleepy new mother accidentally dropped it out of her purse after staying up all night with a sick child and now the child is about to choke on the button.
  • What kind of keys are those? Do they unlock a secret hideaway?  Start the getaway car?  Open an antique truck with ancient secrets?


That’s a lot of story-telling possibilities for one little pile of seemingly insignificant stuff.


video interivewAs you train yourself to be a visual story-teller, you will begin to automatically think about what kind of visual and audio components will convey the emotions, mood, facts and information you wish to impart on your audience.

In the high-dollar professional video production world, every tiny detail of each and every shot is 100% deliberate. Unless someone is asleep on the job (it happens) the audience won’t see or hear anything they’re not supposed to.

While I doubt anyone reading this wants to take it to that level, it’s a good point of reference. At a less-intense level, at least pay some attention to the backgrounds of your shots and exactly what is showing in your frame.

By all means, avoid showing cords or equipment that are only there because you’re there. If you’re outside, even the camera operator’s shadow in the shot can be a real problem late in the day.


Think about how your action looks from every angle. Shoot from as many angles as possible; doing so makes a more interesting visual experience for the viewer. Shoot from behind, in front of and to the side of your action. (Pick either the left or right side of your action and keep to that one side as much as possible. See the definition of screen direction for a reason for this).

To add visual creativity and variety, look for unusual angles the audience wouldn’t normally see, such as extremely high or low angles.

You don’t want to know how many times I’ve done totally undignified stuff like stand on a table top to get high angle shots for the sake of visual variety.

The most entertaining videos are high on visual variety so hire a camera person who enjoys being part monkey. (HINT:  Look for a well-trained one!)

Plopping my butt (and camera) down on the ground and using the floor/ground for a steadying device instead of a tripod is another trick I used a lot. Looking at the world from a bug’s eye-view is always interesting. I often use a book, rock, my fist or whatever is within reach to prop up the front of the camera just enough to see more than shoes.


In addition to changing your camera angle, visual variety comes from changing your scope, or; how close the camera appears from your subject.  Is it  a medium shot, close-up or wide shot?

Think wide-shot, medium-shot, close-up. The close-up is your single most important shot and says the most to your viewer on both emotional and factual levels.

How gorgeous are those earrings? Get a close-up and show them off!

No amount of narration will tell your viewer as much about the earrings as a good close-up will. Close-ups are essential for quality visual communication. Fill up your frame, let the viewer SEE exactly what you’re talking about.

Remember, this is visual communication. SHOW, DON’T TELL.

That’s the #1 rule always: SHOW, DON’T TELL.

A video with nothing but nice pictures and instrumental music can “say” a lot without relying on a single spoken word. This is TV, not radio. Visuals say it all if you pick the right visuals.

golf club close upFLEXIBLE CREATIVITY
Visuals can also multi-task and be adapted to tell a myriad of stories.

In a story about alcoholism, golf video can illustrate the concept of getting a hobby to replace boozing. For the anti-aging documentary, the very same golf video can illustrate how exercise slows aging. Using golf video to illustrate health and aging are two examples of creatively going beyond using golf video to teach people how to play golf.

The difference lies in which narration (or other audio) you choose to put with the shots of golf.


Close-ups are especially important if your video is headed to the Internet. Whereas a TV viewer might be watching your show on a huge four-foot screen, an Internet viewer is more than likely staring at a tiny three-inch pop-up window. On a wide shot, those earrings will only be .0002 inches! At that size, who can tell an exquisite diamond from a stray pixel?

In real life, our brain and eyes do a brilliant job of filtering out what we want to concentrate on. If you see your best friend across the room, you can mentally zoom in on her face and ignore the crowd. Not so for the video viewer. In order to know Sally is important we need a close-up of her face after we see a wide-shot of the crowd. Without the close-up, Sally is totally insignificant and no viewer will even notice her, much less realize that she’s wearing the stolen necklace.

The wide-shot puts things in perspective and establishes location. Medium-shots fill in the blanks and are, generally speaking, the most common shot you’ll use.

You get enough shots for good visual variety one of three ways:

  1. Repeat the action multiple times, each time with the camera in a different spot. This is standard movie-making technique. It’s creatively called one-camera technique.
  2. Shoot with multiple cameras simultaneously. This is the standard in-studio method popularly used with most television programs, especially older ones. One reason a modern show like CSI seems better to audiences is merely because they have taken TV production outside of a studio and they shoot using the same method movies have traditionally used.
  3. Run your butt off, hither and yon, capturing things as they happen from here, there, and everywhere. This is the low budget way! You can’t be everywhere all at once, but you try.

I hope this information helps you make better videos!

Lorraine Grula


how to tell a story using video, video storytelling, video storytelling elements, visual storytelling

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