Lesson from the Scene: Thinking in Images - Nine Tips for Communicating Visually

 by Stanley Leary


Lance Jackson, Art Director at “Drink Me”, cluster around his art in Berkeley.
“There can be no words without images” — Aristotle
Visual forms of communication grab the attention of today’s audiences. Graphic representations such as diagrams, charts, tables, illustrations and photographs not only catch the eye, they draw the viewer into the information being presented.
Corporate communications departments that took advantage of this visual revolution early on are today’s leaders in the communication field. They saw an “explosion in images” coming and jumped aboard.
Mr. Bean, Pictionary and Charades
If it’s true that a skilled use of visuals will improve communication and if expertise in this area seems like a foreign language … what then? We’d probably take classes to learn a foreign language to become proficient in the use of visuals. Perhaps we should study art, photography, or theater at the local community college. This is one way to learn how the masters in these fields used visuals.
Mr. Bean was a British comedy television series starring Rowan Atkinson. Bean, an almost totally silent character, used physical comedy to entertain. The series did well internationally, because words were not important to the success of the show.
Instead of brainstorming an idea by scribbling on a white board, try playing a game of Charades to express what needs to be communicated about that idea. The game forces thinking in visual terms. Pictionary is a board game where teams try to guess specific words from their teammates’ drawings. More than Charades, Pictionary requires forming mental pictures. Both games provide a fun way to practice visualization.
Nine Tips
With this in mind, here are nine photography tips for better visual communication:
1. Humanize. Illustrate how products affect people. For example, to show how small something is, rather than using a ruler, put it in someone’s hand. If something improves lives, show it doing just that. Today the trend is to use a more photojournalistic approach or, at least, to make it look photojournalistic. To make sure expressions are genuine when you set up a situation, give it enough time and it can become real.
2. Use good lighting. Sometimes the natural light is perfect. Just turn the flash off and use a higher ISO for the available light. Usually, whatever has the most light on it will become the main subject.
3. Try black and white. Some war photographers believe that color may make even war look pretty. Black and white is a good way to focus attention on faces and graphics.
4. Get closer. Almost any photo will be better closer up.
5. Watch the background. Look around the subject. Be sure nothing is growing out of a head or sticking in from the edge on the frame. Use a shallow depth-of-field like ƒ/2 versus using ƒ/16 to make your subject stand out from the background. If the background helps tell the story, increase the depth-of-field by using f16 or f22, or vary the background anywhere in between fuzzy or sharp.
6. Consider a worm’s eye view or the bird’s eye view. Shoot really low or high above the subject. Change the height of the camera in relation to the subject; avoid making all the photos from a standing position.
7. Seek variety. Make plenty of photos from different angles. In addition to using the zoom, actually get closer and farther away from the subject. Make wide-angle and close-up photos. Try some without flash, some with direct flash and bounced flash.
8. Give it time. Make a few photos, then stop for a few minutes. Let the subject get used to being photographed. After a while they’ll relax, when the really great photos will start to happen.
9. Include the environment. Show the subject doing what they do. Let them do their job and make lots of pictures. Pose them for a good portrait, not just a headshot. Do an environmental portrait showing their work environment or signage of the place they work in the background or foreground.
There are many other ways photographers can improve their visual communication. Like everything worth doing, visual skills come with practice. Think about it this way: Who is going to SEE your message today?