Workshops help religion communicators improve visual storytelling

By Leigh Rogers

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (April 11) — Mike DuBose and Jan Snider from United Methodist Communications led a workshop for communicators to improve their visual storytelling through photography and videography at the annual Religion Communications Council convention this week in Alexandria, Virginia.

Taking better pictures

Mike DuBoseDuBose, an award-winning photographer, led the session with the thought that the key to good photography is to “make folks feel what you feel inside,” like a country music song sings. It should be universally literate, communicating the same message across languages and cultures.

Showing his own images to the group, he gave tips on how to go beyond the basic group shot or head shot to convey context, emotion and ultimately humanity. Instead of the headshots, consider portraits, he advised. The difference is that headshots are generic and expressionless depictions of people, whereas portraits “reveal personalities” and “give a human connection” to the person. To get that, DuBose suggests distracting the subject away from the camera so they might offer more interesting expressions.

Basic tips

Light: look for good light, and train yourself to know how a camera sees light versus your eye – it's likely they're different. Fix bad light by getting on the other side of the light, literally.

Equipment: New cameras are good in low light, but still try to avoid using cameras on phones because of light distortion.

Framing: Use bits of foreground to create borders around a subject.

Backgrounds: If the background adds context, include it. If it doesn't, avoid it. Just pay attention to it.

Details: Don't forget the small stuff that provides context.

Angles: Don't just shoot everything at eye level; move around, get high and low to create diverse perspectives.

Sense of place: Create one; show what the environment or landscape looks like. Pan out from a specific subject.

f/8 and be there: Photographer speak for “pure dumb luck” of a shot. That is to say, it's important to be prepared for any shot that may come your way! Don't waste opportunities.

People in Action: Make sure there's stuff going on before you get somewhere to shoot. You don't want to be standing around with no activity. Subjects should be engaged in doing something.

Moments in time: This should be your goal – to capture a moment in time. As DuBose says, Real people doing real things in the real world,” and you just stepping back and shooting it!

Making better videos

Jan SniderSnider provided some thoughts on video storytelling, as she has a background in newscasting and video production.

The first thing to think about before getting started in a video project is knowing what you or your stakeholders want to produce. She suggests creating and filling out a video production worksheet, and shared the one she uses at United Methodist Communications.

Preproduction is the most important step, she says. It's the time to figure out:

  • Level of buy-in, or how urgent is the need for this piece.
  • Client vs. Audience targeting. Video should speak to both.
  • Collaboration. Don't wait till post production.
  • Other media to incorporate into storytelling.
  • Who signs off on projects, budget.
  • What is the single most important idea to be conveyed.

Leaving any of these issues after production will cost time, energy, and money, she says.

Video production also requires managing expectations. It will always take longer than you think, so build in extra time. And you should pick two out of the three: Good, fast or cheap.

In post-production, approve the script, review a rough cut, and make changes. Now is the time to also add a call to action and make sure you have consistent branding.

As a faith communicator, Snider always considers that someone else's story is in her hands. So ask, "How will I do it justice?"

Video tips

After shooting, make a simple storyboard. Write to the pictures, like a comic strip.

Pre-interview people.

Use a tripod or a shoulder support to stabilize moving shots.

Use an appropriate microphone. Pay attention to natural sounds.

Allow for edits and transition between shots.

Each shot should be on average 3 seconds.

Seize opportunities: Tie video to an event. Coordinate it with a recurring campaign.

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