Get Emotional: Tips for Effective Visual Storytelling

Nhu Nguyen

Storytelling has been a long-treasured tradition for many centuries. Today, there are many different mediums that people use to tell stories. The average person can tell their story through the use of photography and video, and distribute it via the many social media channels available.

Photography and video are now two of the most common methods of communicating stories and creating emotional connections with key stakeholders. Engaging with people on an emotional level is the ultimate goal of your storytelling. This tactic has become a popular tool for successful brands. They often use storytelling to engage with their key audiences in a meaningful way.

However, there are photographers and videographers that fall flat because they get wrapped up in the technical execution and forget about the emotional journey they want to take with their audience. Here are some tips to help tell an emotional story that will engage your audience in a meaningful way:

Listen and plan ahead.

Prior to shooting, sit with your subject and get to know them. Listen to their story. From there, plan out your photo or video shoot surrounding their story, making it personal.

Choose the right location/atmosphere.

Whether you are planning a shoot or documenting an event, it is important that the subject is somewhere they are comfortable and in an environment that reflects their personality – helping to convey their story. When they are in a familiar space, they feel safe enough to reveal themselves authentically.

Do not force a reaction.

It is important that you get your subject to show true emotions – not forced or fake. If you are taking a photograph, do not tell your subject to smile or “say cheese.” Instead, try starting a casual conversation with them; have a joke prepared if you are trying to get them in a happy moment, or have them think of something sad if you are trying to get them in a solemn mood. Whatever mood you are going for, it needs to be authentic and sincere in order to be powerful.

Consider if you want tight shots or wide shots.

It is important to consider how you are going to frame your shots depending on the kind of mood you’re trying to capture. For a more intimate experience, you may want to focus on the details, using tight shots on postures or gestures made by hands and feet, or even inanimate objects that may have some symbolic meaning. For a grander sense of visual storytelling, you may want to go with a wider shot, capturing the general tone of the environment and all the moving, or not moving parts within it.

Capture the aftermath of a moment.

While it is certainly important to capture a moment while it happens, whether it is unplanned or not, it is also important to capture what happens after it. This is when subjects are usually more relaxed and don’t think anyone is watching them, making for some super authentic visuals!

Key Take-away:

Make sure you plan well and have a goal for the type of emotional experience you want a viewer to have after watching your video or looking at your photos. Pay attention to details because everything matters and contributes to the end result. Authenticity is key and creating an environment where your subject feels comfortable and can “get in the mood” is what is most important. While everyone wants to try to get the “perfect shot,” remember that the art of storytelling has no strict rules—it is how you capture emotion to create a powerful experience.