Posted on May 25, 2007
Building on my earlier post: How do we tell stories visually?
Let me begin with still photos. I know that many photographers like to put up a photo as a stand-alone, a work that answers to itself. In an art gallery, I can appreciate that. But it’s not a story, any more than a painting is a story all by itself. There’s a story in it, but it’s not told by the image alone. (You can infer a story from a single image, but that’s usually as far as it can go.)
Move on to the photo story, an established story form in journalism (Kenneth Kobré traces its origin to Life magazine in 1936 and the form we know today to 1948). Page layout contributes much to the print photo story, but it must also have words. Not necessarily a lot of words — but it’s just not a story if we don’t understand what’s going on in the images.
I’d like to ask you to think about comic strips, comic books, manga and graphic novels. In their more detailed sequences (more detailed, that is, than a photo story), they do occasionally tell a complete story without using any words at all. But only occasionally. (Manga do this especially well.)
My point: It’s hard to tell a story without words. The visuals do a lot of the work in storytelling, but rarely can they carry the full weight of the story without help.
When we add motion, however, some of our reliance on words can be eliminated.
I was thinking about this last night as I watched Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The early scenes are so short, with so few words — it’s the kind of opening that leaves you totally lost when you’re a kid. (You ask your parents, “What’s happening?” and they say “Shh!”) But as you learn the grammar of film, you get more out of such terse scenes.
Then I went back to the list of seven visualization types (sketches, diagrams, images, maps, objects, interactive visualizations, stories) and started mulling over each one of them. I was thinking, for example, “When is an interactive visualization not a story?” I was thinking, “Doesn’t a diagram tell a story?”
That’s when I arrived at this idea about completeness, or fullness, of a story. Go back to a single photograph, alone on a wall, without any caption. There’s probably a story there. But I don’t know what it is.
A chart or graph can tell a story with very few words. An animated graphic can sometimes tell the story more effectively. Why? It leads you through a sequence of events (Update: That link needed to be replaced). It begins with a small amount of information and builds on that. It can end with an obvious climactic event (such as a steep plunge in the stock market, or a large increase in toxic gases) that illustrates a result, a conclusion. (Learn more from one of the great online infografistas, Alberto Cairo, in an OJR interview.)
I arrived at some questions we can ask when we are planning to tell a story:
- Can I use any kind of images or graphics to tell this story?
- Can motion help tell this story? Does any kind of motion — in space, or in time — play a part in the story?
- How many words are really necessary? (Let’s cut out as many words as possible without losing clarity.)
Do not underestimate the role of motion in visual storytelling. Do not overestimate the role of words, whether in text or in audio.
Let’s work on editing our multimedia the way we edit a text story: Omit unnecessary words. Get to the point. If establishing a mood or a scene helps advance the story, then do it. Anything that doesn’t contribute to the actual story you’re telling right now — cut it out.
Posted on May 25, 2007
There are seven visualization types, according to a demo tutorial at the Visual-Literacy.org e-learning course:
- Interactive visualizations
I found this interesting because I am fond of telling people there are five online media types:
- User interaction
(Yes, I know that’s six, but user interaction might include any or all of the others, while any of the others might exist without any significant interaction. So, um, call it five plus one.)
From my point of view, graphics can be either animated or static. Video and animation are not in the same class, as I see it. Neither do video and still photography overlap — you might disagree, but I find them to be opposites. Video is moving and alive, immersive, fluid; photography is a way of freezing the world, stopping time, making us appreciate a single instant that otherwise we might never see.
As I continued poking around at Visual-Literacy.org, I found a Breeze presentation (how I hate those!) in which a lecturer listed six “static” visualization fields:
- Graphic design
- Visual communication
- Information design
He went on later to list “interactive” visualization fields:
- Interaction design
- Game design
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
- Medical visualization
- Scientific visualization
- Computer graphics
- Information visualization
- Human-computer interaction (HCI)
- Virtual reality
- Augmented reality
- Knowledge visualization
As you might imagine, the presentation degraded after this list. Having two lists is one thing, and not a bad idea. Having 12 things on one list is not going to help people learn very well. (Talk about a need for good information design!)
In an online text called Literacy in the Digital Age, I found this —
Students who are visually literate:
1. Have working knowledge of visuals produced or displayed through electronic media
- Understand basic elements of visual design, technique, and media.
- Are aware of emotional, psychological, physiological, and cognitive influences in perceptions of visuals.
- Comprehend representational, explanatory, abstract, and symbolic images.
2. Apply knowledge of visuals in electronic media
- Are informed viewers, critics, and consumers of visual information.
- Are knowledgeable designers, composers, and producers of visual information.
- Are effective visual communicators.
- Are expressive, innovative visual thinkers and successful problem-solvers.
If you’re wondering where all this is leading — so am I. But I can tell you, it’s those last three I’m very concerned about. I think the college students I see every day are pretty savvy visual consumers, but they’re not the producers I’d like them to be. They can stick things on a MySpace page, but they can’t necessarily conceive and execute a visual project. They write, but they don’t sketch.
You may want to tell me this is my job — as a journalism educator, I need to get them up to speed on this visual stuff. I won’t say you’re wrong. But they can’t even sketch.
I have no solutions yet. I’m thinking about it. Any ideas?
Posted on May 24, 2007
Joe Weiss posted this about two hours ago:
It’s not just an update, it’s an entirely new version of Soundslides — the long planned pro version. New features include image movement (pan & zoom), built-in lowerthirds, thumbnail menus and the ability to create traditional (non-audio) slide shows.
Even though it will cost more than plain Soundslides, that’s okay, because the plain version “will continue to exist,” Joe wrote.
There’s a new 1.6 update on the way for the plain version. It will include individual transition control. W00t!
This announcement is a wee bit premature because you can’t actually get it yet … but almost, says Joe.
Update (May 25): Download here! This link is good only until sometime in mid-June.
Posted on May 22, 2007
The 2007 American Diversity Project is set in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It’s a photojournalism package with audio, multimedia, and traditional (silent) photo stories that documents a place.
The photo work is excellent, well worth a look.
The Flash package has some very good points and a few unfortunate bits.
Good points: Single-screen interface, no pop-up windows, no scrolling. Easy to use, consistent. The interface does not interfere with the stories or your experience of viewing, listening and reading. SEPARATE HTML PAGES: This is AWESOME. It means you can bookmark, for example, Stories or Multimedia or Photographers. Each segment has its own unique URL. Too cool!
Unfortunate bits: The package design is too tall for 1024 x 768 (but the width is perfect). It is only just barely too tall — but the menu and navigation for almost everything in the package is at the BOTTOM. This became increasingly frustrating for me the longer I spent in the package. The tiny overflow in height would not have been a real problem except that I had to scroll to navigate on every single segment.
The maximum dimensions my screen can accommodate at 1024 x 768: 1005 pixels in width, 588 pixels in height. According to recent stats at Browser News, about 81 percent of today’s Web page accesses show a monitor resolution of 1024 x 768. PLEASE convey this information to your designers and multimedia producers!
The text has that slightly blurry problem that Flash text is prone to if you don’t make the proper choices while authoring in Flash. In other words, you don’t need to settle for fuzzy fonts in Flash! But you have to know what to do to ensure that the text is sharp and clear.
For me, the site menu had too many items on it. I would rather have seen section pages that clustered the photo work, the “about” materials, and the backgrounders.
Also, what about a map, folks? Where is Clarksdale, Mississippi?
Posted on May 22, 2007
The advertisement reads:
INTERACTIVE Help build our award-winning website. Assist with online community building, web research, interactive features, HTML coding, image/audio/video editing and writing articles and interviews.
The internship is at P.O.V. (Point-of-View), the public television series of independent non-fiction film and video. “P.O.V. films have won every coveted television and film award, including 18 Emmys, 11 George Foster Peabody Awards, eight Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Broadcast Journalism Awards, three Academy Awards, and the Prix Italia.”
P.O.V. also has a very cool Web site, where all kinds of additional material (and video) has been posted about their excellent documentaries.
P.O.V. is seeking entries of documentaries for the next TV season. The deadline is one month away.