Visual Thinking

It’s more than point and shoot. Knowing where to be and when to be there is crucial in capturing the best storytelling images. Once you’re there, you also need to know how to position yourself and the camera and how to work with the elements around you. You have to see it; the camera is just a tool.

If visual storytelling had a hierarchy, the base of the pyramid would be the 5 W’s:

  1. When
  2. Where
  3. Who
  4. What
  5. Why

The visual must explain Who is in it, What is happening, When and Where, and Why is it happening or what is important about the image.

Next is picture/video quality, the capacity to communicate and execute graphical qualities. This includes lighting and composition among other things. This photo by National Geographic demonstrates how lighting can have a strong effect. Here it creates contrast between the fish and the swimmers while highlighting their resemblance to each other.


Composition is the orderly arrangement of visual element within frame of a photograph or visual. The golden ration, the rule of thirds, and layering come into play with composition.

Emotion and intimacy would make up the tip of the hierarchal pyramid. It’s what photographers and videographers strive to achieve in each image they capture. It’s what makes an excellent image stand out from the good ones.

Take a look at this picture of Will & Kate. What makes it a great shot? Not the prestigious couple, but the emotion in the little girl’s face in reaction to the couple.


To capture emotion and intimacy also takes great timing. That’s the amazing thing about photos – their ability to capture a single moment in time. Henri Cartier-Bresson call this “the decisive moment.”


“The decisive moment, it is the
simultaneous recognition, in a fraction
of a second, of the significance of an
event as well as the precise organization
of forms which gives that event
its proper expression.”

-Henri Cartier-Bresson


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