Story First. Story Last.

Posted on 7/31/2012 by Charles Gupton | Printable Version | Comments (0)

If, like me, you have made or are in the process of making a transition to shooting more video as another communications tool in your repertoire, it’s probably because of the relatively inexpensive costs to enter the field as well as the accessibility to editing and other software that simply didn’t exist a few years ago.

As a still photographer for 30+ years, one of the most important skills I’m learning is the ability to tell my story with images and audio over the course of an entire finished piece. As a still photographer, it’s a luxury to be able to tell a story with several photos. Most of the time, we only have the space on a website or in a publication to convey our story with one image.

While a viewer might spend 5-10 seconds looking at a still image, the same subject matter might only take up 2-5 seconds in a video piece. Or it may require shooting the scene from 3-5 different perspectives so that in the final piece it can be on the screen for maybe 12 seconds.

Because of the greater number of technical considerations required on a video production – compared to most still photo projects – it’s easy to let the production process get in the way of telling the story. I’ve found it’s very tempting to shoot great footage first, then try to make the story fit to the footage.

But if, as storytellers, we see our role as conveying a particular message, then the story should be laid out before the first frame is exposed.

In his book "Story" about the principles of film screenwriting, Robert McKee explains the importance of a controlling idea and structure to the success of a film. I’ve found that many of the guiding tenets of great screenwriting can also be applied to shorter web video pieces. Even in a short 2-3 minute project, a video needs to have one central idea that can be clearly expressed in one sentence. That idea is developed throughout the structure and serves as a guide to all of the creative choices being made to communicate that idea in the finished piece.

As tempting as it is to let great visuals and technology drive the direction of a video project, great communication requires story first and story last.

Copyright © 2012 Charles Gupton. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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