🎞️ FILM-MAKING 101: VISUAL STORYTELLING & CINEMATOGRAPHY 🎞️


Washington Digital Media, Washington D.C, District of Columbia, DC, Washington Digital Media, WDM, Wash DM, Digital Media, Video Production, Visual storytelling, storytelling, Cinematography, Composition, Filming, Rule of Thirds, Frame within a Frame, Center Frame, Diagonal Lines, Close-Up, Extreme Close-Up, Long Shot, Wide Shot, Lighting, Acting, Medium Shot, Documentary, Film-Making, Acting, Set-Design, Cinema, Culture


WRITTEN BY: RICARDO VILLALBA & ZACH CHAMP

 

Washington Digital Media, Washington D.C, District of Columbia, DC, Washington Digital Media, WDM, Wash DM, Digital Media, Video Production, Visual storytelling, storytelling, Cinematography, Composition, Filming, Rule of Thirds, Frame within a Frame, Center Frame, Diagonal Lines, Close-Up, Extreme Close-Up, Long Shot, Wide Shot, Lighting, Acting, Medium Shot, Documentary, Film-Making, Acting, Set-Design, Cinema, Culture

In our first lesson of Washington Digital Media’s “Film-Making 101” course, we teach students about the art of visual storytelling and cinematography.


We explain the history regarding visual storytelling, its significance to film-making, and how modern technology has changed visual storytelling.

In addition, we explore the basics of cinematography by discussing the different film-making composition techniques and how you should use them in your films.

Finally, we present the other production elements of visual storytelling and cinematography that allow directors to make amazing films!


Discover and learn more by reading the article, and don’t forget to subscribe to Washington Digital Media’s email list to stay up to date with the latest lessons and informational articles!

 

WHAT IS VISUAL STORYTELLING


Storytelling, both visual and oral, is part of the human experience and tradition and unites us across all cultures.


As far as we are aware, humans are the only beings on this planet capable of telling stories through images, symbols, and communicated language.


The art form of visual storytelling maintains a rich history and tradition dating back to humanity’s earliest origins.

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The first forms of visual storytelling were pictographic cave paintings and etchings, the most famous perhaps being those found in Lascaux, France, and other locations around the world, including Africa, Australia, and the American Southwest.

The first working camera was invented in 1816 by the French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce.


Using his homemade camera, Niepce would be the first person to take a photograph using a specially treated paper covered with silver chloride.

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Niepce would continue to work on his project in collaboration with French inventor Louis Daguerre until his death at the age of 68.


Louis Daguerre continued Niepce’s work and is highly regarded for his significant contributions to the art of photography with the invention of the Daguerreotype process in 1839. The Daguerreotype was one of the first forms of photography that became available to the public.


The Daguerreotype was slightly different from the photographs we recognize today. This earlier predecessor to the modern photo was fragile, difficult to duplicate and make copies of, and required toxic chemicals during the photo-developing process.


Photography wouldn’t become truly widespread until the first commercial camera was invented and released by George Eastman in 1888 and sold to the public as “The Kodak” camera.

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The key to Eastman’s invention was the discovery of how to create a celluloid based film, which he could use to retain images by absorbing light for long periods of time.

Other famous early pioneers of cinema and film included Thomas Edison with his invention of the Kinetograph, as well as the French Lumiere Brothers who are credited with filming and producing the first movies.


A movie is typically any length of film consisting of a series of individual frames. When each frame of the film is projected and played in successive order, an optical illusion is created that resembles a continuously moving picture- hence the name “motion picture”.


The oldest surviving film currently available is the short-film Roundhay Garden Scene from 1888.


The first movie theater, The Nickelodeon, would open in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 1905.


Shortly thereafter, cinema and film would blast into mainstream culture, and it wasn’t long before nearly every major city in America had a movie theater.

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Today movies are popularized by the dominance of Hollywood and the film-making industry.


American movies are beloved around the world including the latest blockbuster hits, introducing foreign audiences to characters and stories well-known to Americans.


Other countries are now becoming hubs for their own domestic film and entertainment industries with the rise of ‘Bollywood’ and Asian cinema.


Throughout history, visual storytelling has been an essential tool for bringing people together through the power of entertainment. In addition, visual storytelling can be instrumental in creating social and political change.


 

WHY VISUAL STORYTELLING MATTERS: Influencing Culture & Society

Film is among the greatest forms of art humans have ever created. Film and cinema’s ability to captivate and enchant has long been appreciated by society and has helped it maintain a prized position as a medium of influential change in culture.


As a result, film and media have been used for both positive and negative purposes throughout modern history. Some of the worst uses of film and media can include obscene or pornographic material.


A film that is used to manipulate or deceive for political and personal purposes is known as propaganda.


During World-War II, Nazi Germany under Hitler’s direction used propaganda to help the Third Reich gain political and social culture not just in Germany but throughout Europe.

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The hallmark film of this period was the key Nazi propaganda piece from 1935, The Triumph of the Will which is still referenced to this day for it’s militaristic and nationalistic symbolism and imagery.


While these are examples of how film and digital media can be used to negative effect, we shouldn’t underplay the impact that film can have to inspire and educate!


One of the ways that film can achieve political and societal change through the power of visual storytelling is with the documentary genre. Documentaries are films that are meant to provide a factual account or depiction of historical events or current topics.


A good example of a documentary that has changed society is Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which helped increase the public’s awareness about the threats of climate change.

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Other famous documentaries include Blackfish, Restrepo, Samsara, Super Size Me, Thin Blue Line, and many more!

Even if you haven’t seen these documentaries yourself, you likely have heard about them, which goes to show the impact that the documentary can have in influencing and creating public discussion of important topics.

You surely have heard the phrase that “A picture is worth a thousand words”...


... Just think about how valuable the power of film is!

When we are watching a great film, we can easily be caught up in the emotions of the character’s drama. Films engage our empathetic sensibilities and allow us to consider radically different perspectives and points of view. People watch films to escape and to fantasize about other’s lives.


Internet and technology have created a new global platform for people to share their stories.

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The widespread use of smartphones with cameras that have features like live-streaming, 360 photographs and video, alternate reality, and so on has allowed anyone to become a visual story-teller!

Hollywood and the American media industry have always been dominated by certain perspectives and stories.


My goal as a Latino digital media business owner and film-maker is to help portray the stories that I think are missing from the mainstream.

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America is a diverse audience, and many stories have yet to be brought to the big screen... I want to create films about Latinos, African-Americans, immigrants, and more!


It is these stories that inspire me and which relate to me, and I want to share those stories with a wider audience.

Another important goal of mine as a film-maker is to use the power of visual storytelling to cultivate unity and tell stories that empower all people. I want to make films that make us think and which make us stronger through their messages.

This is why our mission statement is "At Washington Digital Media we believe in the power of video and film to educate, effect change, and inspire others!"


 

STORY-BOARDING:


Storyboards are useful when creating films. A film’s storyboard is comparable to a building’s blueprint- it’s a visual diagram that helps directors, cameraman, and actors determine what type of camera and production work will be required to complete a project.


A storyboard resembles a comic book- it consists of a series of panels of sequential art that are used to portray the film’s narrative. Storyboards help demonstrate what you are visually trying to achieve in your film.

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Storyboards allow writers and directors the ability to transmit their vision and show their crew how they want the story to be told. Scriptwriters and directors should always include storyboards, especially if they are not filming the movie themselves and are relying on another cameraman to film.

A good story-board will consider the shot-list, all filmed scenes, camera angles, background music, and other essential details in its conceptual design.

Being as detailed as possible in your story-boards helps everyone involved in the production from the actors, to the director, to the videographer and audio-man!


 

COMPOSITION TECHNIQUES


We will now cover and review a variety of composition techniques that will help you become a better film-maker and visual story-teller.


These techniques form the basics and foundation of cinematography and your goal should be to master them.