Storytelling comes in many shapes and forms. When you hear the word storytelling you may first think of an author and a book. But storytelling can be told with photos, audio, video and more. I am a visual storyteller and choose to use audio and video to help illustrate my stories.
You can manipulate your story by using a variety of storytelling techniques. There is more to a story than just holding a camera and shooting video. I will touch on three ways you can change the feel of your story by using three principals; lighting, audio, and color. There are more than three, but these are the ones I feel are most important when you tell a story through the lens of a motion picture.
Lighting is crucial. If you have ever watched a home video more than likely the last thing that was considered was how the shot was lit. At times, you will find a person standing right in front of the sun or a bright window and you can’t even see them. The person’s face is dark but the background is bright. This is what is referred to as silhouette lighting. You really should not use it unless for effect. You may have seen this lighting in movies or television shows when the person on camera wants to conceal their identity. It’s a great tool when used in the right circumstances.
If your story has a dramatic theme to it, you may want to shoot your subjects in the same manner. You wouldn’t want to light them completely because that defeats the whole purpose of the dramatic mood and setting. For instance, when you watch a comedy or game show, the sets and people are completely lit. There is no drama to comedy, thus they light it with full lighting. Schindler’s List did a great job of lighting. The movie is dramatic and you can tell by the lighting. People’s faces where not completely lit. For the most part, you can tell if a movie is a comedy or a drama simply by looking at the lighting. If you’re telling a story about success you would want to use full lighting on your subject. There wouldn’t be any reason to make it dramatic, you are telling a story about celebration so there would be no need for dramatic lighting for this situation.
Now there is a difference between lights and how they project light. Led lights are very popular because they run off batteries and do not consume much energy. They transmit a very soft light which can be very pleasing. Led lights are great for quick setups. I tend to use led lights when I am on the move and must go go go. I personally like the tungsten lights though. They get hot, you must plug them in but they get the job done when you need to light a large area. What I like about tungsten lights is that they are a hard-light source. When I say, they are a hard-light source I mean that the light that comes out of them cast a strong shadow on whatever it lights. Soft lights do not show much shadow and the roll off of the shadow is gradual. With hard lights, the shadow is abrupt. You can use hard lights to create patterns on the wall if you are shooting an interview. So instead of a boring white wall in the background you can place a cookie in front of a hard light and it will display shapes on the wall. You will see this if you watch 20/20, 60 minutes etc. It’s a great way to create a what would be a boring background into something visually appealing. Hard-lights can be made soft by using a soft box or diffusion. Soft lights cannot become hard.
Color has a huge impact on storytelling. Have you ever seen a movie that has cold tones to it? One movie that comes to mind is the Sixth Sense. This movie dealt with death and blue cold tones worked great for this mood. Warm tones like what you see in movies like the Transformers can convey action. It all depends on what you want to convey with your film/story. That is what is so cool about storytelling…. its subjective. If you wanted to shoot a scene in the middle of the day, but wanted it to look like early morning you could grade the color to a blue tone, or shoot the entire scene at a low color temperature such as at 2800 kelvin. I would recommend shooting the scene with the correct white balance and then color grade the footage in your editing system. If you did shoot the early morning scene at midday and you used a cool color temperature you are stuck with it. Whatever the camera captured is baked into the video. You can try to color correct the footage, but you can only color correct so much. If the color is drastically off you are out of luck, unless you shot the footage in raw or in log.
Color correction and color grading are two different animals. Color correction is when you correct the color of your footage to best represent the scene you shot. Many times, people color correct their mistakes and then color grade. Color grading allows you to set the mood. You could make the scene very cold by adding a bit of blue to the darks and to the highlights. If you are grading a wedding film, you wouldn’t necessarily use a cold look but rather a warm tone. Remember it is to taste and it’s subjective. I usually make my wedding films full vibrant colors and make sure they are warmer than cooler.
Audio can really change the mood of a story. Using royalty licensed music is the way to go. There are plenty of online websites that allow filmmakers to buy music to use in their films. I tend to use www.premiumbeat.com for my nonprofit and corporate videos and I use the www.themusicbed.com for weddings. The music bed has some great cinematic music with and without lyrics. When you select your piece of music, please keep in mind what your story is about. You wouldn’t want to use music that is electronic and very upbeat for a wedding, or at least I wouldn’t. You also wouldn’t want to use a rap song for a corporate video, unless it was requested by the client or the video was regarding hip hop.
Depending on how you want to edit and what shots you have will also dictate the style of music you choose. When I use my glidecam I can get some smooth sweeping shots. When you accompany those glidecam shots with music that represents a cinematic flow you have gold. You want the shots to go well with the music as much as possible. They are meant to complement one another, not fight each other. I usually have an idea of the piece of music I want to use before I shoot and usually buy it once I have edited the story. This way you do not have to be stuck with music that will not fit your vision. But it is always a good idea to have an idea of how you are going to shoot, edit the video. You can accomplish much more with an idea than nothing at all. Sometimes your original game plan of shots goes out the door and you need a plan b, so be patient and keep an open mind.
Have fun shooting your story and learn from your mistakes. Each day behind the camera is another opportunity for you to grow as a storyteller.
I have been working in television and media for over 18 years. My experience includes news photojournalist, editor, producer and storyteller. I am a five time Telly Award winner.