Facing Your Darkness

Vancouver-based photographer Camil Adell talks about dealing with fear when doing street photography. “As a street photographer you may have had fear sometimes taking photos on the street.”

Compelling Street Photos

Credit: Camil Adell

Adell offers solid advice on how to capture compelling street photos. In his recent post for Digital Photography School, How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography, Adell says, “I get too close emotionally sometimes and feel bad for taking photos of (people in bad situations), like I am stealing something from people who have nothing. But in these cases you need to be strong and see photography not as a weapon but as a way to capture something beautiful and exciting to you.”

Adell concludes, “Street photography isn’t easy, so you need to be confident and earn the photo”.

Facing Your Darkness

Adell’s thoughts on street photography remind me of writer Natalie Goldgerg’s advice to writers: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

Goldberg: “Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

To paraphrase Adell’s thought: writing isn’t easy, so you need to be confident and earn the story. Face your darkness and write.

The Power of Silhouettes in Filmmaking

“Use silhouettes to define characters and situations in an elegant, crystallized visual portrait.”

In a No Film School blog post, Max Winter talks about the way cinematographer Roger Deakins exploits light to “tell a story more fruitfully.” Winter bases his observations on a video essay done by H. Perry Horton.

Several highlights

Build gravity. Deakins uses silhouettes to help the audience understand the deep significance of a simple moment.

Heighten drama. A scene shot in silhouette can “push tension to the breaking point.” Too many details would distract.

Show the weight characters carry. “Consider the silhouette for stories in which morality plays a huge part.”

Applications for Storytelling

How can writers use these film techniques to improve their stories, their character development?

Too many details can distract. Write a scene in stark simplicity. Avoid background details. Center on the character to build tension.

Filmmakers use the extreme close-up for deeply emotional moments. When your book character comes face-to-face with emotion, write the scene simply. Focus only on what your character is feeling, seeing. The writing equivalent of an out-of-focus background. Little or no ambient sound. Describe your character’s face. Describe a simple, telling action.

Maybe it’s all about pacing. Deep emotion requires pinpoint focus.


Every character should want something

In one of her Brain Pickings online posts, Maria Popova spotlights storyteller Kurt Vonnegut’s eight tips for writing a great story.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I find tip #3 easy to forget. Every one of my characters should want something. Every one. It’s easy to overlook when I’m writing. Characters can become fillers, like background in a movie. They’re in the scene, talking, acting. But not always wanting something. Not always hungry. Not going somewhere.

If my writing is working, the hunger is there. If I have done a thorough character profile before I start the story, the want, the desire, will reveal itself. But there are times when I have to stop to look for the hunger: what does this character want now, in this moment? The character may be desperate to find a lost sibling, for example, but what does he want this morning, when he gets up? Breakfast? Coffee? A shower? Or does he wake up so anxious to meet with an investigator that he skips food and even a shower?

Every character should want something.

Cheap Tripod Dolly Options

I’ve been working on a second edition of my ebook, Understanding Digital Storytelling. The ebook is a guide for media teachers at the high school level. In looking for updated resources, I came upon this article on the Premium Beat website blog: DIY Hacks: 10 Cheap Tripod Dolly Options to Try at Home.

DIY tripod dolly
DIY tripod dolly

Author Jourdan Aldredge says, “When first starting out in filmmaking, you traditionally learn camera movements based on working with a static tripod. Pans and tilts are your best friends, as they can require minimal investments in gear and crew.

“Once you’ve grasped the basics of filmmaking, the natural next step is to explore camera setups that allow you to experiment with new moves and capture footage in more interesting ways — and that’s where the dolly comes in, adding a whole new level of sophistication to your shots.”

One highlight of Aldredge’s article is the hack for building a table-top dolly for a GoPro camera, using rollerblade wheels and PVC pipe. This dolly can add a measure of professionalism to an interview shot.

Creating and using storyboards

“Storyboarding is all about clear communication of your vision. Storyboards can help you construct your film, plan your shots and your edit, and visually communicate what you want to the rest of your team.”

The Indie Film Hustle website offers practical information for creating and using storyboards in your film production process. The site also includes free templates for storyboarding.