My suggestions for storytelling with video (add yours)

On Friday, I was invited up to my alma mater, Chico State, to do a workshop with the videographers of my old college newspaper, The Orion.

As part of that, I gave them a handout with a few suggestions for how to tell stories with video. But, I figured that there’s people out in the public who know even more than I do. So I’m posting up the handout I wrote up and wanting to see what else people have to suggest as far as this subject goes.


  • The video should stand alone: A video should completely explain itself, without the need to read an accompanying story to know what the video is about. Example: If you’re shooting a rally of some kind, the audio/text should explain exactly what the rally is about, and the visuals/text should make clear where the event is happening.
  • Videos should match written material: While videos don’t have a specific nut graf like a written story does, it should be clear what the focus of a video story is. If the video is part of a package with a written story, the two should be of similar focus. Example: If there’s a package on a baseball player from a foreign country, the writing shouldn’t focus on his travel to Chico/cultural differences and the video just focus on his on-field performance.
  • Let the subjects tell as much of the story as possible: Viewers want to hear from the people they are seeing on camera, not Written on-screen text blocks and voiceovers should only be done if the on-camera interviewees do not satisfactorily tell the story on their own.
  • Good angles to shoot B-roll from: extreme close-ups on action (like on hands, feet, moving machinery, etc.), scrolling wide angles of large crowds, overhead angles, having action move towards you.
  • Not-so-good angles to shoot B-roll from: Dutch angles (camera is tilted to one side, used to create sense of psychological imbalance or tension), low-angle shot (only if attempting to show an object is extremely large), angles where you can’t see anything that’s going on (obviously)
  • Zoom in close on interviewees: Their head should be near, but not completely all the way to the top. If you’re not zoomed in close enough, the viewers’ eye could move to the background.
  • Shoot more B-roll than you’ll think you’ll need: Because you’re probably going to wind up needing more B-roll than you’ll think you’ll need. Too much B-roll is a good problem to have.


  • Think about the effect transitions have on pacing: Any sort of creative transition between shots (cross-dissolves, cube spins, etc.) slows the moving between clips. In most cases, you don’t want or have time for that, just cut straight across to the next clip. Fading out and fading in audio also has a slow-down effect, so limit those to the very beginning and very end of videos.
  • Pay attention to audio levels: If one subject talks loud and another talks quiet, adjust their audio levels so they are a closer match.
  • Beware the “Foreign Film Dub”: Make sure your audio is in synch with your video. Sometimes, the limitations of technology cause the two to get thrown off. If that happens, don’t ignore it – match them back up!
  • Avoid sharp changes in audio: If you’re switching between one interview in a quiet environment and another in a loud environment, use a cross-fade to limit the harshness of the transition.
  • Make the title and descriptions match: Just because you’re shooting video doesn’t mean the writing involved doesn’t matter. Don’t just rely on the lede of the written story or the print headline for the title of your video.
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