How-To: Storytelling in Photos

It's easy for nonprofits to get caught up in the storytelling craze and reach over for the nearest multimedia tool - the Flip cam. Great for family vacations, but not so great for promoting your latest achievement to showcase to potential donors. Video can be a wonderful asset for an organization, but if the money and resources aren't there, it's best to wait until they are - until it's possible to create something aesthetically pleasing and truly powerful that can be shown again and again. Besides, there's plenty of other media alternatives to turn to when a story needs to be told; like photofilms, a glamorized slideshow of still photography combined with music, text, or voiceover. In this post, I'll detail the tools needed to create this simple, and yet compelling, form of storytelling.

1. Create a Slideshow with Powerpoint

Create an empty Powerpoint presentation, and insert one photo per slide. The background of the slide should stay consistent throughout; for more vibrant photos, I find that black tends to make the colors 'pop' a bit more. For a four-minute video, 40-50 pictures will usually suffice for your photofilm. However, this depends on the length of time you choose to spend on each photo (which could vary according to your audio recording). Also, make sure you include a slide at the very end that credits the photographer, as well as any music that you used for your photofilm.

Tip: Use a photo-editing tool such as Photoshop, iPhoto, or Adobe Bridge to trim and perfect your photos, or to give each photo a cohesive tone and style.

2. Record your Audio

Mac users can choose to use GarageBand, and Mac and PC owners can use Wavepad, a free audio recording and editing software that users can download from their website. Both tools are easy to use for beginners, and Wavepad users can even benefit from short tutorials on their website.

For the actual recording, it's best to pick the quietest place possible - a carpeted room is usually best. For the best sound quality, you will need three pieces of equipment:

  • A recording device. An audio interface such as this USB interface is easy to connect with your computer, and will also be compatible with professional microphones.

  • A microphone. A microphone package such as this will allow for clear vocal recordings.

  • A standard microphone cable. Something like this to connect the two pieces together.

Don't worry about making mistakes - it's easy to cut out mistakes in the editing phase afterwards. If your speaker stumbles or pauses, continue recording the duration instead of stopping and starting again.

Tip: While you can use the built-in audio recorder on your computer, it's important to note that the sound quality will not be as clear. Even though the sound equipment listed above is an investment, it's much, much cheaper than quality video production. If you or your organization plan to do interviews or other storytelling in the future, I would highly advise investing in a good quality audio package.

StoryCorps also provides great content-side tips for interviewing for personal storytelling.

3. Edit and Enhance your Audio

When editing your audio, be sure to focus on:

  • Cutting out mistakes

  • Adding or reducing pauses where necessary

  • Reducing background noise and increasing speaker volume

  • Adding and syncing audio with background music

  • Fading audio and music in and out

  • Trimming the ends and deciding on the length

Both Garageband and Wavepad allow you to mix audio, overlapping the speaker's voice over music and fine-tuning the volume.

4. Sync Audio and Pictures

Now that your audio is finished, we'll go back to your Powerpoint slideshow. It's time to tell your story through photos by structuring your Powerpoint presentation based on your audio: it's easiest to do this in the Slide Sorter View on the bottom right. Key things to keep in mind during this phase:

  • Words and stories should guide images.

  • Add or delete photos based on the length of the audio.

  • Pauses should follow the end of a still.

  • Make sure that whenever a new theme, person, or object is introduced by the speaker, there's an image to go along with it.

  • Pay special attention to the beginning and end of your photofilm - what will the audience hear during the opening or closing credits?

Once you're finished matching your slideshow to audio, save your Powerpoint as pictures, an option located in the File menu under Save As Pictures. Powerpoint will then save your slideshow as a series of JPEG files to your desktop.

5. Plan Transitions with iMovie

Open the folder that Powerpoint created, and you should see all of your stills saved as JPEG files. Drag the contents of the folder to iMovie, and watch as your photos are automatically organized in the order you intended. Drag and drop your audio file into iMovie, and you've got a video! To plan transitions (the amount of time you want to stay on one still before moving to the next), click on the timer on the bottom right hand corner of each individual still and manually type in the amount of time before moving onto the next slide. You can also plan transition animation, add in text, crop photos, and add video adjustments such as exposure and vibrance, as well as make bulk commands such as transition time and photo cropping.

When you're positive that the audio is correctly in sync with your stills, you're ready to publish and share with your followers!

6. Upload to Youtube, Vimeo, or Export!

iMovie actually has options for uploading your photofilm directly to Youtube, Vimeo, or just exporting as a Quicktime file to your desktop. Depending on how you plan to use your photofilm, upload your video to Youtube (you'll need an account to do this), grab the embed code from the Share tab when it's online, customize the size, and paste the code onto your website, blog post, or newsletter, with a short explanation of why the photofilm was created and the story behind it.

Finished? Your photofilm may look a little something like this:

This photofilm was created for Lumana to highlight their programs and operations in Ghana, largely shaped through lessons learned from their clients.

The Digital Naturalist also provides three other examples of exquisite photofilm storytelling, as well as other tips for structuring your photofilm.