Visual elements

This section covers the visual elements of:

The shot

A shot is a camera take of some form of action within a scene. It is simply defined by 2 breaks in editing: the start and finish points.

A video sequence might comprise several types of shots, such as close-up, medium angle and wide angle. It might start with a close-up of hands, then move to a face, and then pull back to reveal where the person is sitting or standing. It helps the story unfold. There are 3 types of popular sequences:

  • 2-shot sequences, comprising a wide shot and then a close-up (or vice versa)
  • 3-shot sequences, comprising a wide shot, a medium shot and then a close-up (often at different angles)
  • 5-shot sequences that use different combinations, such as close-up, wide shot, point-of-view shot and unusual angle.

Shots often used in video productions include:

  • talking head (basic head-and-shoulders shot of a person)
  • point of view (showing what the subject is looking at)
  • symbols
  • montage
  • cut-ins (close-up shots)
  • cut-aways (shots moving directly away from the action shot to another shot)
  • observational (shots in real time that appear unedited)
  • lab
  • web cam
  • stills.
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Many videos feature people in the visual component or the audio component or both. Choosing the right people is critical to the success of the finished product. Some of the ways in which people can be used in a video are:

  • narrating, reporting or presenting – visual and audio, or audio only (voice-over)
  • interviewing or being interviewed
  • live action, ‘reality’ or documentary-style observation of real activities
  • acting or dramatising in scripted or posed scenarios
  • directly addressing the camera as an essential or core content
  • as background imagery, providing context or examples, or as visual fillers accompanying audio narration
  • as real people or animated characters, doing any of the above.

As with all design decisions, when casting people for your video, you should consider how the choice of particular people supports your message and creates an effective rapport with the audience. It can be useful to think about the people in your video as characters and answer the following questions about them:

  • What is their purpose? (eg providing expert evidence, bringing credibility, representing different socioeconomic demographics)
  • What or who are they representing? (eg a profession, organisation, ordinary person)
  • How should they behave? (eg casual, friendly, stern, authoritative, excited, sombre)
  • What do they need to do or say? (ie what are the key messages they need to communicate?).
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Even the simplest video is likely to contain some text. Often, text is combined with some kind of graphic element, such as a background or shape, or is given an animation or transition effect. Text may duplicate, or be introduced in addition to, words in the audio track. Places where text may be used include:

  • the title sequence
  • labels – for example, names and titles of featured speakers, locations and dates (these are equivalent to image captions in print media, but the term ‘caption’ in video production refers to a form of text alternative for hearing-impaired people)
  • sequence or story titles or segues, used to introduce or transition between sections of the video
  • subtitles for foreign language or unclear audio
  • end credits, including cast, production crew and soundtrack details
  • narrative text or selected words.
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Graphic elements and data visualisation

Graphic elements are commonly used in video, often in combination with text, such as in title or credit sequences, segues and labels. More elaborate graphics can be used as an alternative to, or in combination with, filming people and live action. Graphics might be a more feasible approach for abstract or technical content where it is not possible to film the detail, such as explaining a chemical reaction, mapping a policy process or demonstrating a medical procedure.

Graphics in video can be as simple as a series of still images, as in a slide show, or as complex as a 3D computer-generated animation. The graphics may include any form of data visualisation, from simple tables or graphs to complex data-driven maps or models. Video is an ideal format for exploring extensive multidimensional datasets that can be animated – for example, a time-series map of global disease outbreaks.

The same design considerations should be applied to graphics and data visualisation for video as for print – that is, clarity and accuracy. Key considerations are as follows:

  • Ensure legibility of all text.
  • Choose the most appropriate form of graphic or data visualisation.
  • Design the graphics using standard conventions for the chosen form of data visualisation.
  • Plan sequences of information in bite-size chunks, presenting a single idea at a time. For example, present a simplified overview of a process, and then delve into the detail of each step by highlighting or zooming in on specific areas.
  • Plan the duration and speed of sequences or animation so that viewers have enough time to perceive, digest and understand what is happening. Hold critical moments on screen for long enough for the audience to read text twice or grasp key data points.
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Colour can have a significant impact on the viewer. For example, it can change the mood of a scene, turn a dull landscape into a vivid environment or symbolise parts of information.

Colour is used extensively in all types of data visualisations, displays and presentations, so it is important to pay attention to the overall use of colour within a video. Too many colours will distract an audience rather than engage them. You should consider the colour palette of the video as part of the overall design of the video.

Video production uses 2 main postproduction tasks to control the palette in the video: colour correction and colour grading.

Colour correction alters the colour of the sequence to an accurate standard that would be viewed by the eye. It is used to conform multiple shots to the same quality.

Colour grading alters the colour of the sequence to provide a range of different effects – for example, making the footage consistent in appearance with the rest of the video, or changing the colour values to create an entirely new ‘look and feel’.

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Showing methods, processes and operations is ideal for video; anything associated with the idea of motion or progression will suit video more than other media. However, ‘action’ needs to be captured in a visually appealing way.

It is important to think about the best angles to capture action visually. If the action involves someone operating something, time needs to be taken to find the best angles that will keep the person and the activity in frame.

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Emotion is an important part of storytelling for video. Video can display emotional states and evoke them in viewers. Our emotional systems such as fear, urge, rage, care and play are easily triggered by the visual elements we watch on screen.

Emotional details or triggers are not always easy to recognise. Many are embedded within our unconscious and are not clearly evident. Emotions help us remember, so if you want an audience to take a message away with them, do not avoid emotion in your video. Try to understand what emotions are happening in a sequence and analyse the effect. It may be necessary to go over footage several times to understand the emotional elements at work.

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