Everyone in visual media should be rejoicing that the masses are getting closer and closer to appreciating quality work. Photographers, designers, illustrators, animators; everyone just became more in demand and more valued because brands need daily content that is pinnable, sharable, tweetable, likable and ‘goes viral.’ I’m happy to report that while it seems like photography has “died” four times in the last 20 years, I’m still making images professionally.
But it’s a double edged sword. With visual experts now more valuable, it becomes more difficult for smaller companies or organizations on a budget to justify the top visual artists when their friend takes pretty good photos. This has always been happening, but ‘pretty good’ has moved from an image just being in focus to DSLR quality images that are ‘good enough.’
Ultimately though, no, putting a filter on a photo of your easy mac doesn’t make you an ‘artist’ and pinning from Bench.li doesn’t make you a ‘designer’, but the most valuable part of Instagram and Pinterest is that it forces you to make a choice. Which filter should I use to make this interesting? Which board should I put this on to create the most complete story? Choices like these are the start to understanding good visual aesthetic. Knowing why you make that choice is the next step, and one I think more and more people are catching on to. I’ll support anything that shows me more rule of thirds and less papyrus font.
You recently joined our team at Weber and this is your first agency experience. What are your thoughts on how visual storytelling is being integrated into PR/Marketing world?
I think if a kid walked into a PR firm looking to create visual/digital media a few years ago, they might have pointed him down the road to the nearest ad agency. I came from the journalism world, so a lot has been new to me over the last four weeks. But similar to journalism, or any other media making industry, PR is in a state of constant change and innovation. I think we can all agree that media orgs have adapted to the digital landscape, but now the question we’re all asking is how we can truly innovate within it. The difference I’ve seen at Weber Shandwick is a real commitment to the value of engaging visual content across digital platforms, which for me is the first step to that innovation. From video, to design, to creative community management, it has been refreshing to see a company invest in and embrace a true multimedia approach.
From creating a video short on a train ride to documenting a day at the Cannabis Farmer’s Market, what style of video is your favorite and what do you aspire to shoot more of?
I have really enjoyed exploring audio-slideshows. It’s an underused medium and is often pushed aside as a video wannabe, but I think it has advantage over traditional moving images in that the visuals and the audio are always equal. When creating an audio-slideshow, you are never sacrificing one for the other, as (most of the time) you have to do each part independently. The result, in my opinion, is a richer, more engaging audience experience for both senses.
…Or maybe I am just trying to forcefully meld my love of photography with my obsession with radio, podcasts and spoken word.
But regardless of the medium, I will always be a documentarian. My eye and my ear are ultimately the only difference between me and the next guy with a DSLR, a blog and some discipline in an ever-flattening (thankfully) media landscape. My focus is always on becoming a better listener and observer. Hopefully that will always be in style.
Name three visual storytellers or outlets that you regularly follow and keep an eye on.
Damon Winter: Photojournalist for the New York Times.
Damon has greatly influenced my work since I started following him during the 2008 presidential election; work for which he ended up winning a Pulitzer. His style is ethereal yet incredibly technical, and he really pushes the boundaries of what a chronicle of daily events can look like, and for some, photojournalism in general.
Theron Humphrey: Thiswildidea.com
As I said above, audio is my second love, and Theron has really taken to the idea of using it (along with photography, of course) as a means to record the history of the individual just for the fact that he believes should be done. He’s not afraid to post a 15-minute audio narrative to do justice to his subject instead of the general public; a move that might appear to be a pretty bold in today’s media environment, but he just knows his audience (Something any media maker can learn from). He also has an awesome dog.
Made by Hand: http://thisismadebyhand.com/
I wish I could say that I could follow these folks regularly, but the 5-6 month waits are always worth it. They connect the DSLR-inspired, photographic video aesthetic with an approach that is nostalgic in style (anybody with a colophon on their website is trying to bring something back) and subject that tingles my child-of-a-baby-boomer senses. It’s the type of storytelling that makes me want to stop whatever I’M doing and do that. Can’t wait for the Bike Maker.
Fantastic video seeding around this week…
Yes, great storytellers are great writers. They understand narrative structure, setting, how to grab attention, how to humanize and build tension and ultimately, how to bring it all full circle or provide a call to action. In our digital world, great storytellers possess the technical skills to build and manage a blog, shoot photos, record audio, create good videos and maximize use of our favorite social media channels.
That aside, stories first need to be discovered and explored. Great stories also typically require time to evolve and develop in order to properly match a storyteller’s vision. So what’s the super secret to drumming up a great story??
Take a walk and explore.
Step away from the computer. March outside and start walking. Look around. Delve into the details and take note of all the happenings and your surroundings. You’ll be amazed at the plethora of story ideas that you’ll encounter.
Need a lesson in how it’s done right? I was ecstatic this morning to learn that Matt Green (man behind I’m Just Walkin’ who most recently documented his walk across the U.S.) is embarking on a new walking trek exploring every public street in NYC.
When I originally discovered Matt’s blog, I couldn’t help but immediately jump into marketing mode analyzing Matt’s blog template, assessing why he wasn’t utilizing Facebook/Twitter/YouTube to further build community and enrich his story, determining whether he was tying his walk into a larger cause-related effort, jostling back and forth about why shoe and outdoor gear brands hadn’t jumped onboard to sponsor, etc. I quickly caught myself.
After following along for a few days, I came to recognize the purity of Matt’s approach to storytelling as he spent day in and day out capturing the finer details in life that we often overlook or simply never experience. I was drawn in by Matt’s simplistic approach, authentic tone and great photos. Key ingredients frequently found among great storytellers.
For those questioning why Matt ever completed his first walk, give this post a good read. One of Matt’s key takeaways from his journey was proving that despite all the horrible stories we hear about in the media day in and day out – people are inherently good natured. Unfortunately, we’ve learned to shy away from interacting with strangers or exploring new areas based on preconceived notions of danger. As Matt notes:
It’s only when people are isolated from some potential danger that they really begin to fear it in a way that’s totally out of proportion. When we let our expectations of danger make decisions for us, we end up avoiding the very experiences that have the power to change those expectations. In that way, our fear of the world is self-sustaining. We never give ourselves the chance to learn that our fears are baseless, because we isolate ourselves from the situations that can challenge our fears.
Great storytellers step outside their boundaries. They talk to strangers. They explore unfamiliar locations. They look behind the door. They face fears.
While marketers are naturally drawn to the bells and whistles of building community and making a story sing, the truth of the matter is that good stories stand on their own when told in an authentic manner.
In 2012, strive to be a great storyteller. Focus on starting with a great story. Embrace the world and approach one another with initial trust that we’re all good people and most importantly – go take a walk.
p.s. If you are a shoe/outdoor gear brand, may be smart to drop Matt a line as he’s seeking a bit of financial support. Just sayin’.