Unravelling the Basics of Visual Storytelling

Once upon a time. 

A party and nightclub promoter in New York quit his job to volunteer as a photojournalist.  He worked with a fleet of hospital ships, offering healthcare in underdeveloped nations. The man captured moving, poignant images of extreme poverty and suffering. Most people struggled and faced life-threatening ailments due to the inaccessibility to clean, drinking water seemed unfair to him. So, just with a set of videos and the account of the suffering he had witnessed on the hospital ships, this man – Scott Harrison, launched ‘Charity Water’ on his 31st birthday and asked his friends to donate for the cause. 

Case in point – visuals are incredibly impactful to tell your supporters why your cause matters and why they should donate. In 2020, 84% of all digital communications were visual, and the percentage is only growing. Since social media is mainly driven by visuals,  your best bet would be to engage your audience with photos and videos. 

Tips for effective storytelling with images. 

1. Be detail-oriented – A standard portrait is inadequate to tell the whole story. If you are trying to show the hardship a woman goes through to provide clean water to her family, try to include small details that add to the story. It could be her backdrop, the long-dry road winding behind her, a close-up of her feet dirty from walking in the mud, or a wide-angle portrait of her surrounded by a few pots and vessels. 

2. Click a variety of shots – Whether you want to photograph a child studying in school or an animal in a shelter home, just creating one type of photo isn’t enough. Try to click portraits, wide-angle shots, clicks from up high and down low and zoomed-in details. All these perspectives put together will convey the whole story. 

3. Create a shot list – Make a list of the types of pictures you want to click, any angles you want to try, and people you want to include in the frame. Research the kind of shots other professionals have captured that align with your project to seek out new angles for fresh storytelling. 

4. Choose and Exclude – To gain maximum engagement, you would only want to upload the best pictures on your social platforms. While you may have clicked a hundred photos of a similar setting, learn to narrow down, trim and exclude those pictures that do not seem appealing.

Pro-tip: Emotions are an essential aspect of storytelling. Select images that have people and faces. Emotions can also be communicated through their body language, smile, or their actions.

The Incredible India Part 2 series by Nicholas Hermann is an excellent example of storytelling through simple and powerful shots captured in rural India. The black and white images of the slums and the breathtaking mountains and lakes are heart-rending.

Storytelling through Videos

Did you know that viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video versus 10% when they read it? People watch an average of 16 hours of online video per week, which is a 52% increase in the last two years. (Source: Wordstream). So how can you capture great videos to broadcast your cause?

1. Create a strong arc – Story arcs are overlapping sequences of narratives narrated individually or as part of a series. They make it easier for your audience to get immersed in your record and follow along. The video from Cradles to Crayons is an excellent example of nonprofit video storytelling. It starts with the Founder’s story discussing the organization’s foundation, followed by social proof and volunteer bytes. 

2. Create a narrative Make sure that the plot of your video is straightforward, and characters are well defined and memorable. This is highly crucial since most viewers will probably watch it only once.  

3. Edit, edit and edit – If certain aspects of the video do not contribute to pushing the story forward, don’t hesitate to cut them out. Pro-tip: To edit the footage for maximum storytelling effect, have an external party watch it as you edit. 

4. Focus on visual appeal – Consider camera angles, scenery, and even eye-catching fonts to make your video stand out and be worthy of reshares on social media. Pro-tip: Keep attention spans in mind. Social Insider analyzed millions of Facebook posts with videos to conclude that the optimal length was between two to five minutes regardless of follower count.

Does your organization drive digital engagement with images and videos? Let us know in the comments below! 

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