People love visuals. The cliche “A picture’s worth a thousand words” doesn’t exist for no reason at all. They love captivating images of human emotion and of once-in-a-lifetime occurrences. They love them to document time with family and friends, moments in history, even images of food. This visual obsession is partially why new social media forms like Pinterest and Instagram are so popular. A user can share how they are feeling or what they are doing or what they like to do, much like on Facebook or Twitter, but in a visual form.
For that reason, a well-composed photograph can often tell a better story than even a long, in-depth article written by the best journalist. They can capture emotion or the complexities of another culture in a way that is sometimes more powerful than words are able. Images stir emotion and resonate with a different part of the brain, leaving the audience to react in a different way than they might if reading the same story. A journalist who can master the art of visual storytelling is in possession of a great power.
Lens, the photography blog of The New York Times, provides such examples of compelling visual storytelling and multimedia journalism. Lens is a grand compilation of photographs representing all levels of the visual hierarchy: the 5 W’s forming the base, picture quality, emotion, and intimacy capping it off. Some are displays of high quality photographs, composed and shot well, that simply convey all the basic information the audience needs to know in a clean and clear image. Others capture without shyness or apology the strongest of human emotion, often in the face of sadness or conflict and provide the audience with an intimate look at the lives of others through a single shot, which can often convey more information than the most descriptive and factual writing.
I found “Grand Dreams on the Far Edges” to be a pretty intimate look at the lives of the residents of a Coney Island neighborhood, which photographer Emily Berl said is often defined by “the two things that it was not: the amusement park and the beach.” Some photographs had good composition, but others did not seem to be of as good of quality to me. However, even when I was not as captivated by the quality of the photograph, I often found myself feeling connected to the subjects, a sign of intimacy in photographs.
Some other examples of good visual storytelling I found were part of a September 7, 2012, post: “Pictures of the Day: India and Elsewhere.” A photograph of a Muslim protester being detained in India was, I thought, a good example of conveying emotion while also providing necessary journalistic information about the occurring conflict.
A lot of good visual storytelling, to me, seems almost like being in the right place at the right time and taking enough photos of absolutely everything so that, by chance, you may have captured the right balance of light and positioning and emotion. But I can see that a lot of good visual storytelling is also technique. Luck may play some role, but looking for the right things and knowing how to set up a shot are important as well. I am looking forward to trying to emulate the techniques of some of the visual storytellers I found on Lens and will continue to look for elsewhere so that, hopefully, I can capture some small semblance of greatness in one of my own photographs.