Four Storytelling Tips for Visual Journalists

May 30, 2014

Four Storytelling Tips for Visual JournalistsThough visual journalism and photography have a lot in common, one of the big differences between the two mediums is how they present content to viewers. Photography presents images to viewers without explicit framing or intent, but visual journalism tells a story – an element that has become increasingly desirable in modern media.

To maximize the storytelling ability of their work, visual journalists can employ the following techniques to turn pictures and video into a cohesive narrative that expresses news in ways that text alone cannot.

Subject Focus

Unlike photojournalism, which focuses on many subjects and shows viewers different “angles” of an issue, visual journalism needs to ground itself with a specific point of departure. Whether your focus is a person, animal, object or idea, ensure that photos and video are shot with a single subject in mind. Even if the subject of your piece isn’t present in a given image, explore how subsequent shots and images help express the condition of the subject, and where it should be headed as your project progresses.

Themes and Motifs

In addition to designating a subject, think about incorporating visual motifs that develop the theme of your piece. Are there certain colors or objects that inform your central thesis? If you’re creating a piece about urban neighborhoods, for example, what should the city, a home or collection of toys look like for the purposes of the story? Consider black and white imagery, and how it might help set the correct mood.

Use Light and Color

Photojournalists look to document people and events as they are, but visual journalists are looking to elicit an emotional response. Making use of light and color in your shots can go a long way to eliciting this response, and will help drive home some of the subtleties of the story you want to tell. Using the example above, you could do a story on cancer survivors that uses soft, bright lights to convey hope and recovery, pairing them with stark and clinical images when the story turns to the diagnoses or a patient’s initial fear of treatment.


Though eyes are typically drawn to the center of an image, visual journalists must think about how to frame images so that viewers get all the information you can give them. Media Source TV emphasizes that good framing can shape a viewer’s opinions and help them connect with an emotional piece. What can the borders of your frame tell viewers about your subject? Can it give them some perspective, and perhaps fill in some narrative gaps? Every part of your image should contribute positively to the telling of your story, and using narrative framing offers detail to a picture that can’t deliver the full message on its own.

Is storytelling something that comes naturally to you? Can you think of interesting and unique ways to evoke emotional stories through various visual mediums? Have you ever seen a documentary film and thought about ways in which you might approach a controversial topic? Then a career in visual journalism might be for you.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons