7 ways to improve your visual storytelling
Want to make a film about the amazing work your community organisation does? Keep some of these visual storytelling ideas in mind to make your message unforgettable.
By Carolyn Defrin, artist and Hammersmith United Charities collaborator.
- Be specific
Charities often have a similar remit to each other, working within the broad themes of ‘care’, ‘community’ and ’support’. To stand out from other organisations, consider a particular aspect of your work to bring the broader theme to life in an original way. ‘The power of bicycles’ is a specific, meaningful story which shows how the project impacts many lives more broadly: watch here
- Be personal
A great way to get specific is by telling personal stories from your staff, the people you serve, or both. This can be through an interview or someone telling a story. These stories open your audience up to emotional connection, allowing you to humanise your work.
‘An introduction to StoryCorps’ is a conversation between the founder and his young nephew that shows how you can be personal, emotional and humorous while clearly telling the story of your organisation: watch here
- Experiment with content
How we tell stories visually doesn’t always have to be literal, especially when subject matter might be difficult (in the context of charitable work). Seeing a bird’s eye view of cakes being made or a close-up of a child’s green-painted hand – these images and perspectives invite us in emotionally, personally and memorably and enable us to engage with complex content in a new way.
West London Death Cafe’s short film focuses on making cakes. This choice offers an unexpected and welcoming view of a charity focused on bringing people together to discuss a delicate subject: watch here
- Consider all the senses
When we talk about film, we usually think of just sight and sound. But what about texture – how can you suggest how something feels to the touch? How can you suggest taste and smell, too?
‘At home with: Carolyn Defrin’ is a short film demonstrating how close-ups of food can create a multi-sensory experience. Through opportunities to look at the texture of cabbage, hear the boiling of water and see the bright purple, orange and green vegetables together, we can be immersed in a new view of the story of migration being told: watch here
- Play with different points of view
Different camera angles and points of view will help you convey different emotions. For example, what might bird’s eye view or worm’s eye view help communicate? How might you share a perspective from a chair, or a building, or a specific person?
‘Suspending Home’ is a film made by artist Khaled Barakeh that reflects on a project he made called On the Ropes where he suspended his studio as a way to reflect the groundlessness he felt as a migrant artist. He films from many different points of view to help capture this feeling: watch here
- Still photos can be just as effective
You don’t always need live action footage – still photographs can offer a powerful tool in your film. When combined dynamically with thoughtful voice over, text, and/or music they can have just as much impact.
‘Universality’ is a simple and effective use of pictures and voiceover: watch here
- Consider who is telling the story
Consider who is telling the story of what you do. Can you engage those you serve to tell their own stories or offer their own points of view? Is there value in staff sharing their personal perspective on the work? Always stay mindful to the ways you ask those you serve to share their stories.
‘Real Heroes’ is a great example by Rainbow Collective of children sharing their view of heroes during the pandemic. Through their voices, drawings, and music, we get to know their perspectives through a fully
dimensional and creative lens: watch here
Find out more
Artist Carolyn Defrin worked with Hammersmith United Charities on our film project community@hammersmith, which provided a free workshop for local community organisations to learn about visual storytelling and filmmaking. Read about community@hammersmith.
- Discover more of Carolyn Defrin’s work
- Read more about other ways we support our community
- More information about our grants programme
- Read about organisations we’ve funded