Visual Storytelling: The Pre-Production Balancing Act

The following is an excerpt from Visual Storytelling, a multi-part feature by John Flury, Issue 4, YOUR PORTFOLIO. In this part, John describes more of the tools he relies on to home in on his images’ stories and shares some final caveats about the process.

Editor’s Note: Part 1, The Power of Stories, appeared in Issue 1, Mar/Apr 2015; Part 2, The Mechanics of Storytelling, appeared in Issue 2, May/Jun 2015; Part 3, Tools to Develop Your Story, appeared in Issue 3, July/Aug 2015.



Zurich, Switzerland-based photographer and photo designer

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In this final part of the series, I will conclude my discussion of the tools I use to generate and develop story ideas for the photographic medium and offer some final thoughts on the process of visual storytelling.



The Game of Compromises

Finding the right balance in a concept

In Part 3, we examined various means to develop a story and now it’s time to put our new story concept through its paces. In this step, we will look at it from eight different angles to eliminate a variety of conceptual problems as well as visual ones.

  • Realism – How credible does the photo look (perspective, shadows, proportions, effects, etc.)?
  • Composition – How well is the photo composed and visually balanced to keep the viewer interested and aesthetically pleased?
  • Separation – How well do depth-layers separate (foreground to subject to background, primarily in luminosity contrast, and also color)?
  • Understandability – How well can the viewer read/understand the story concept by looking only at the photo?
  • Appeal – Have you done everything you can to make the image as beautiful as possible? Lighting, simplified color palette, beautiful subject, etc.
  • Focus (Areas of Attention) – How well are the viewer’s eyes drawn to the most important parts of the image?
  • Originality – How original is the concept/story behind the photo?
  • Expressivity – How can you get the most out of your model?

An ideal story concept would be successful in each of these eight points. But frankly that’s almost never the case!

It’s much more common that your concept is strong on some points while other points may be neglected, even forgotten. It’s often those neglected points that will decide whether a final image is well received by viewers. A common example is the situation where a story might be quite original if you tell it to someone, but will be very hard to understand for someone who only sees the image because its fundamental concept doesn’t translate well into the visual realm. This has happened to me before and I sometimes cheated a little by choosing a title that helps to nudge the viewer’s understanding in the right direction.


Fixating on a very specific pre-visualized idea might often leave you blind to the amazing opportunities that arise during a shoot.


Let’s look at each of these eight points a little more closely.

Realism is largely a matter of your technical planning. I frequently get asked how to make something look real. Well first of all, I’m still learning how best to do that, and although I’ve noticed it’s hard to make something look real, it’s much easier to plan your shoot in a way that sets you up for success with regard to realism.

Read more in Issue 4, YOUR PORTFOLIO

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