Effective narrative: video vs. photo


Janina Enrile


Photos capture a moment, telling a story through a frozen frame of time.

Film may have the more innovative hand today. With multiple angles and scenes, it’s more apt at telling a linear plotline.

But I believe a solitary image can be more powerful. Photos can be microcosms for grand world changes, letting viewers see a story through their own interpretation and emotion.

The 2013 World Press Photo of the Year for Spot News, won by Paul Hansen, shows family members weeping as they clutch the bodies of two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and his four-year-old brother Muhammad.

Casualties of an Israeli airstrike, the bodies are shrouded in cloth as the family carries them down a street in Gaza City in the Palestine Territories.

While some people look at this photo and see a mourning family, others may think of the long-boiling conflict between Israel and Palestine in a land so far from ours.

That’s the thing about photos. They can mean so many different things to different people, shedding light on new perspectives.

It’s not so different from video, is it? But, while videos take your hand and lead them down a set path, a photo becomes the launching point for your own thoughts and ideas.

It’s up to you to build a story from a whisper of a thought from one random photographer.

Photography, though it often consists of Instagram filters and vain self-portraits, can be a very subtle craft.

Those who spend their lives behind the lens understand this. I don’t call myself a photographer, but I know what it’s like to wait for a perfect moment to capture on film, to want to make a moment incarnate in cellulose.

Video is less subtle, allowing for less creativity when it comes to being a storyteller. Photographers must enjoy the challenge. After all, they only have one shot, literally, of telling a story.

It’s how I imagine Hansen must have felt, pointing his camera at that weeping family.

He must have felt the weight of that shutter click. He must have felt their story coming to light.

Janina is the Postscript Editor at the Journal.

Colin Tomchick


Working with both photo and video on a regular basis, I have found that video provides a better means to tell and share a story.

With the widespread availability of relatively high-quality video cameras built into most everyday electronic devices, video continues to appeal to a vast audience.

It’s only recently that a person could shoot, edit, produce, upload and share a video using tools they likely already have on their phone.

Although the same is true for photos, the nature of photography makes for a somewhat less interesting final product in the hands of an amateur.

For example, if the average person were to try to tell a compelling story about a restaurant they ate lunch at, they would be hard pressed to take a photo or even a series of photos that accurately convey the story being told. In fact, the end result would probably look like the average Instagram feed.

A video, on the other hand, would be able to capture the ambient sound of the restaurant, the kitchen, and the patrons, and include many shots showcasing the visual details of the food or the restaurant that made the experience worth sharing.

It would be terribly incorrect to discount the storytelling ability of a skilled and talented photographer. But now that cameras are widely available, much of the storytelling power of a photo could be lost due to poor lighting, framing or improper use of equipment. In the case of video, the ability to capture sound and movement is usually an asset to even the most amateur of videographers, contrary to photography.

In contrast to photos, videos are naturally suited to telling stories due to their dynamic use of sound. While a photo is a silent, unmoving record of the split-second when the camera shutter was open, video provides the closest analogue for recording and showing events the way that we would naturally remember them.

The nature of video is such that a properly-edited collection of clips can create a cohesive narrative, whereas a series of photos usually requires accompanying information to provide context.

Video simply leaves little room for confusion or interpretation, making it the better story-telling medium at the end of the day.

Colin is the Multimedia Editor at the Journal.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.