3 Essential Visual Storytelling Tips for Filming Beginners

Regardless of what type of film you’re trying to create, your ability to tell a story through visuals is essential to creating something great. But, visual storytelling can be more difficult than writing the story because you need to rely on much more than just words to pull an emotional reaction out of your audience. When your viewers feel an emotional attachment to the story or the characters, the film will have a greater impact on them and receive far better feedback. To create shots that have this level of impact, you’ll need to purchase affordable video gear that produces high-quality visuals to give your film a professional look.

However, you need more than just emotion to pull your audience in. Your film should incorporate the basic structure of any story—a setting, characters, conflict and resolution. You can use these elements in any way that suits your shooting style but be sure that the overarching story is cohesive and easy to follow to avoid losing your audience’s attention. Here are some tips on how you can integrate great visual storytelling into your films. 

The Power of Storytelling

As humans, we love stories. Think of how many times you’ve hung out with friends and spent the evening reminiscing on old stories or telling new stories about recent events. We even organize our memories in the form of stories because it’s an easy way for our brains to recognize patterns, themes or even greater symbolism. Books, movies and TV all incorporate the same basic storytelling elements to invoke an audience’s emotions and create connections between the viewer and the characters. 

As a filmmaker, you have to decide whether you’re going to tackle the screenplay writing yourself or if you’re going to work with a writer to outline your film’s story. If you’ve never written a screenplay before, do some research on the process of writing a screenplay and spend plenty of time reading other successful scripts. Once you’re ready to dive into the writing process, revisit your script several times, constantly rewriting and revising to get the perfect, concise story. While writing the script, you should pay particularly close attention to how you’re envisioning the scenes that you’re writing and put explicit details on how you plan to carry out the shot for the desired effect. You don’t need to use super high-end filming equipment to get the style that you want. Start your career off with affordable filming equipment and spend a lot of time learning to master the basic capabilities of your camera to use your skills to create the story.

Tips for Visual Storytelling in Your Films

1. Create a Connection Between Your Viewer and the Characters

If your viewer doesn’t feel emotionally involved in your story, they’re probably going to get bored and either turn off the film or stop paying attention. That connection between audience and characters is what drives the viewers to care about the story. Sometimes this connection arises because the viewers recognize themselves in one of the characters or they feel bad for a character stuck in an unjust situation. There are dozens of ways to create this feeling, but it is something you need to consider and plan prior to writing and filming the script. 

Brainstorm who your target audience is going to be. Of course, movies appeal to people of all different demographics, but having an outline of the general group of people that your movie will appeal to can help you narrow down how you want them to feel about different characters. If you think you may have a large audience of female viewers, you might want your bad or evil character to exhibit some sexist behavior to evoke a negative response to this character. The way that you create this connection is through capturing each characters’ habits, movements and dialogue to create an overall personality for them.

2. Introduce a Conflict

Without conflict, there is no story. You need to have something holding the story together, something that the characters are working towards. Of course, the resolution to this conflict isn’t always a pleasant one. Sometimes there’s no actual resolution to the problem at all, but you still need to tie up the story in some way. To create conflict visually, you should focus on showing emotions rather than having your characters announce how they feel. This involves getting close up shots of emotional facial expressions and a focus on the characters’ body language. 

3. Use Visual Imagery to Convey an Emotion

Stunning images alone can evoke powerful emotions within your viewers. Documentary-style films can use these types of shots to tell their story and pull that emotion out of their viewers. For example, a film about climate change and its effects might benefit from a shot of some startling fallout—a wide-angle shot of an ocean full of plastic or a close-up of a sea turtle that accidentally consumed the plastic. This type of visual imagery is far more successful at arousing a reaction from the audience than merely listing off negative side effects of climate change. 

You can also use other visual elements to create an atmosphere. Movies often incorporate rainstorms in the background of scenes as a metaphor for transformation, depression or even foreshadowing bad events to come. Small visual details like this can enhance the story and pull your viewer further into the story.

Start Your Story

There are a lot of elements that go into creating a great visual story through film. If you’re just starting out as a filmmaker, using the right affordable filming accessories is important to capture exactly what you want, but you also need to give some thought to your story itself. Your screenplay may be written beautifully, but if you can’t tell the story through visual elements, your film won’t be as effective. Experiment with how you can use visual techniques like creating a connection between characters and audience or evoking emotion through visual shots to create a moving piece of film.

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