The Stuff of Good Stories

October 24, 2008

(Note: Banner by Mark)

This week, I introduced you to some of the basic principles of digital storytelling. More specifically, we’re turning our attention to stories that have the following elements:

1) Still photos as key visual element

2) A linear timeline (hit play and it goes)

3) Voice over narration

4) Interview audio (quotes and sound bites)

5) Music

6) Sound design

7) Transition effects, pans and zooms

Now I want you to find online stories that have these qualities (not full-motion video, but stills), and post their links here. I also want you to write whether you think the piece succeeds or falls short of its potential. Explain why you have arrived at either conclusion.

In your search, try the following sources:



This American Life video podcasts on iTunes (just search in iTunes)

Magnum in Motion video podcasts on iTunes (just search in iTunes)

Some suggestions: Check out the multimedia section of newspaper sites. Try YouTube, Google Video, Metacafe, or other video sites. Check other podcast offerings on iTunes. Try advertising agency sites; film festivals; movie or TV show sites.

Remember that to post a link you can cut-and-paste the link directly into your post. If it’s too long or you want to specifically label it, use the HTML tags:

<a href=”URLgoesHERE”>anytextyouwant</a>

I look forward to your discoveries.



  1. The video that I reviewed for this post was Home…in past tense .

    This video did a great explaining the story with still photos. Bix Gabriel spli the frame a few times which added to the story telling as the photos began to cover up what she once knew as home.

    Obviously there is a linear timeline because by simply hitting play I was able to view the entire 2:53 video. Also, the voice ove narration was on this timeline with the photos. The narration worked perfect with the story too; it was dry and simply observational until the music came in. When the music was added her tone even changed to be more responsive and aware of the changes happening to her home.

    There was not interview audio but I think she easily could have added some and it may have added to her story. She shows a few pictures of people and had she interviewed them that could have fit well because, I am still lefting wondering who these people even are. Leaving some questions to the viewer isn’t bad but I think why they were a part of her storyline coudl have easily been answered by interviewing them about what they see changing at her home too. Were these people that have seen the same changes are her? different changes? or no change at all? Do they like the change, unlike Bix?

    The addition of music worked well as it was added during the climax of her story, when she began to explain what she sees as home now. As she became more attatched to the story she became aware of the changes and the music connected me to the story again; it made me aware of the change in her thought process. During this time she began to use analogies and zoom into specifics on photos.

    Bix’s sound design also worked well, she did not have blank space and included room sound which made the story run smoothly.

    Transition effects were nice and not used too often or too close together. I liked that Bix used them to highlight aspects of the story, they just popped up unless she was trying to explain something specific. When she spoke about one way streets she panned and when she talked about analogies of pieces added to her home she zoomed and panned. The transition effects added to the story, they didn’t hinder my understanding which can happen when they are used out of context so to speak.

    All in all Home…in past tense was a good video and I think the only thing that could make it better is the addition of interview.

  2. Prior to our class discussions, I do not think I realized how powerful these online stories can be without video portions. I always had it in my head that in order to make a successful piece, you would have to include motion video to incorporate more emotion, but after seeing the examples in class and finding my own, I realize that is certainly not the case.


    I found this piece on storycenter.org which is the Center for Digital Storytelling. While I liked the concept of the story, I did not think it was executed well. The script was beautiful but the author could have added some light music in the background in addition to just the starting and ending music. Many of the photos were used for 10-20 seconds and I think it would have been more effective if she used more photos with less time. She also could have incorporated more effects, especially more zooming in and out or added Ken Burn’s effects. This story seems like it could be a solid rough draft, but could be considerably more effective if more work was put into it.

  3. Breaking Free

    This online story was spoken in first person by a young man who had a rough life growing up as a foster child and has turned his life around since.
    Still photos were present with several transitional effects. There was also a voice over narration by the author of the story, as well as music playing throughout the entire story. There weren’t any quotes or sound bites, however the music of the story went very well with the timing of the narration. Overall, I would say that this piece could have had a lot more potential than was shown. Although the story certainly met all of the criteria of a basic digital story, some points of the story were not explained enough for me to personally get into the story.

  4. I watched “The Ninth Floor” photo story on mediastorm.org. I thought this piece was extremely well done and really conveyed what life is like for a drug addict. I believe the images really made this piece what it was. The pictures were a lot stronger than the narration. For example during the middle of the piece the audience sees pictures of Rachel pregnant and its more shocking to see the pictures than to have had the narrator tell that Rachel was pregnant. Some other strong images were the nude pictures which I thought were tactful because they showed the vulnerability of these people and how that did not seem to phase them. There’s also two pictures where Rachel mouth’s the f-word. I thought this was really cool captured in images instead of in narration. Another moving picture was the one of Rachel and Dion kissing where his mouth is bleeding. Another element I liked was how the author saved the intro for later in the documentary instead of starting the story off with an intro. It created suspense and intrigue. The audio was good. The music created a mood and there was an appropriate amount of interview audio. I also like how the author incorporated text. My only criticisms would be that sometimes the pictures moved too fast and too slow at times. The timeline was a little confusing because Jessie’s section was split up by the Rachel and Dion section. All in all I really enjoyed watching this piece and thought it was good inspiration for my photo story.
    The Ninth Floor

  5. http://www.storycenter.org/stories/index.php?cat=4

    Sadly, I feel this piece falls short of its potential. The creator had good intentions with her idea of making the digital story about the rituals of East Texas women through the story of her mother-in-law; however, I don’t feel like she made the rituals as clear as they could have been especially as this was the title of her digital story.

    The biggest problem I had with this piece was the lack of variety of pictures. Throughout the movie there are only three pictures of Billie, two of which are reused later in the digital story. The first picture of Billie is left on the screen entirely too long (for 5 seconds before a zoom, then 23 seconds before the fade to the next picture), even through a pause in the narration. I felt that the narration accompanying the picture provided opportunities for other pictures, but the creator did not take these opportunities to provide variety. The next picture, of who I’m assuming is Billie at a younger age, seems entirely out of place especially as the narration is about Billie’s death. The picture of the empty room with the whitewashed door and Photoshopped vase of flowers also seems out of place. It was not clear what this room and flowers represented as the voice over didn’t relate to an empty room at all. As the story neared the end, the picture of Billie as a child is brought back, and is left on the screen for quite some time (7 seconds before a zoom, 20 seconds before a fade to the next picture) while the narration continues about bringing Billie back to East Texas. When the screen with the dedication comes up, it is assumed the end of the story has come. However, this screen was followed by 12 seconds of black screen with narration then 12 seconds of black screen with music and narration. These lapses of black screen could have been filled with pictures to aide Billie’s story and/or pictures that made the underlying purpose of the digital story clearer.

  6. New Orleans

    This piece is a digital story of the importance that New Orleans had on one woman’s view of her own race and culture. The story starts off giving a background of Gina Allen’s childhood and what it was like growing up with the stories that her parents would tell her of living as an African American in New Orleans. Unlike her parents, Gina grew up in the suburbs of Florida, and experienced a much different childhood than her parents. She was the only African American in her class and usually one of two where ever she went. Gina’s love for New Orleans is shown when she talks about visiting the city with her own family, telling about the fun that they would have. The story succeeds in getting Gina’s message across when she tells of her son wishing that he were white. She responds saying that New Orleans is the place where he can start a good life because that is the place where his ancestors were able to start their lives. The background music has a smooth jazz tone which is a common trait of New Orleans, this goes well with the emotional effect of the piece. I think the piece would provide more potential if she gave more of a background of her life in Florida for her son and what may have led him to wish to be white.

  7. Heaven, Earth, Tequila

    This story shows the story of how tequila is made in Mexico and the tradition of this process. The music that is in the story is somewhat slow and sentimental, which I think helps add to the emotions of this, as well as the multiple close up shots of the people’s faces. The variety of the pictures, like coloration and shots, help show the life of the Mexican workers. I don’t think it lived up to its full potential though as I feel like some voice would help add to emotion of the tequila-making process, such as some interviews or sounds of the bushes being crushed.
    Political Landscapes

    This is a photo story from the New York Times that puts 2 images next to each other that shows both sides of the presidential campaigns. There are captions under each slide that say what each image is, and the photographer tells his story of taking the pictures and why he did it. I think its a good representation of life on the campaign trail, but I think it could be improved with more narration about the images, not the background on them, and maybe some clips from speeches or crowd noise. Also, music might help as well. So, I don’t think it reaches its full potential either.

  8. This digital story is about African elephants and how poachers are killing them off for their ivory. Because of their declining population and murders, the country of Chad designated a preserve for elephants and other wildlife that protects them from poachers with armed guards. It is called the Zakouma Reserve, and the armed guards that work there risk their lives fighting the elephant poachers.

    I think that this piece is very well done with great rhythmic music that sounds like African drums. I also like at the beginning how the pictures show a sequence of the story with different shots of the elephants running by with the dust blowing up. There are some short video clips which add voice and movement to the piece. There is also excellent photography especially of the animals and the landscape. There are some really great transitions where it will be the same background and then the next image will add another element to it, for example the pictures with the crocodile. There are also fade transitions. I think that this is a great digital story.

    Ivory Wars

  9. 1976
    When we saw this in class, I was incredibly impressed. I love how there is a sense of 3-D ness and motion through the images.
    Though there was some discussion that the images didn’t convey a realistic enough portrait of Cuba, I disagree. I think the images capture the people and the atmosphere of the differnt places that are photographed. There are so many different people and places captured in the images, to me it seems as though the author of this piece gives a full view of the lifestyles in Cuba. My favorite is the picture of the bride on the balcony with some other women, and they all looked shocked at something taking place below them, while one woman seems to be screaming at whoever is below them.
    The way the images transition is also interesting and really helps the piece along. The sense of movement like a video works well, for moving the piece along.
    In addition, the music provides a jazzy background as the images roll on, and the upbeat tempo keeps things from lingering too long.
    The only thing that is missing is a voice over, but it doesn’t need it. I think a voice over would only slow things down.

  10. Black Market

    This digital story is about a man, Patrick Brown, who is a photographer for National Geographic magazine and his work on the illegal animal trade in Asia.

    The video focuses relies heavily on the voiceover from Patrick. His voice dictates where the story goes. However, if more detail was needed for particular part, the creator used text to bridge the story from one subject to the next.

    The photographs used in the story reminded me of ads for the ASPCA that air on TV every so often. A lot of the photos focus on the treatment of these animals and makes you wonder how one could treat another living creature in this manor. When Patrick is recalling a specific anectdote, the photos create a visualization of that story, so the viewer can see just to what extent these people will go to harvest what they need from these animals.

    In the background there is a song playing that is reminiscent of the plains of Africa. I found this kind of offputting because the story was set in Asia, but I realized that pop culture puts all of these exotic animals roaming the plains of Africa so it worked, but I wish the creator had used a song that sounded as if it was from China so the viewer knows where the creator is taking them.

    There weren’t many effects added to the photos. It is very much like the photostories we created in this sense, but the added element of video from an interview with Patrick spiced things up a bit so the viewer wasn’t just looking at still photos and listening to Patrick speak for 10 minutes.

    Overall I like this story. It brought my attention to something that I would not have thought about normally if I had not seen this video. Sometimes I wanted to turn it off because the images of animals compounded together got to be a little much after a while but I was glad that I watched it in its entirety.

  11. I watched Common Ground on Media Storm. I thought the author made some really nice stylistic decisions, but overall I found the story a little boring.

    He used some nice photos (although they were basically all at the same angle), some video, good narration and created conflicting emotions. He also made it so that the story was linear, but the narrator would talk about events that weren’t in order. The best stylistic choice was at times using two frames, one with each family. Both pictures would essentially be the same in terms of type of setting and poses, yet they were completely different people separated by many different years.

    The reason I found it boring is because the pictures didn’t have any effects put on them. There were no pans, zooms or fades (except for at the very end, right before the closing comment). It give the viewer no real reason to watch the story; all you had to do was listen to the narrator.

  12. Bloodeline

    The above link is a photo-story about HIV and families.
    The piece was made very well, I think, and the music is very solemn and reflects the nature of the piece well. However, I do not feel the piece sheds new light over the issue of HIV. HIV and AIDS has been widely covered and there are numerous documentaries and similar pieces about it.
    While this piece I do not feel is necessarily “creative” and may not be as moving as I feel other pieces about this topic are, I do think it had many good aspects.
    The pictures were all in black and white, which fit the topic and seriousness well. They also used light in interesting ways, for example they did several silhouettes that clearly showed how emaciated the disease had left the bodies. It also used close angles to show the pain and struggling in peoples faces. There were many pictures of young children, effectively communicating that the disease hits more than individual members of families and communities.
    An interesting part of the piece I felt was the last few minutes when a couple with a family talked candidly about their experience and how it has put their family in a hard time, financially and emotionally. In this part there was no background noise except the voice-over and the pictures were simpler and focused on happy emotions. I thought this was interesting and perhaps the strongest part of the photo-story. I thought that the use of pictures and sound created a more positive outlook on HIV. It showed people directly affected by HIV continuing to try to live normally and keep their family healthy and spread awareness about the issue. If I were to say the piece has one main goal, I think this might have been it: to show yet again that, yes, HIV is a terrible disease that leaves no survivors, but it also can be helped and there are measures we can take against the disease, people don’t have to just lay down and die.

  13. Calling Me

    This story is interesting but I think it falls short of it’s potential. The woman wants to tell how music has affected her life in such a dynamic way but really on tells of memories. The most enjoyable part of the story for me was the narration. Her words were chosen well and the descriptions made it feel as if I was reading a really great piece of literature.

  14. I did the video clip, Common Ground. The video was about how a family lost their farmland to new development and a family that found a home upon the farmer’s land. There were many pans and transitions. One of the transition styles that i liked was when the author of this photojournal had two stills next to each other and wanted to changed character, he would cut to the picture of them and then use just their pictures right after. There was music and a small amount of video at the end.
    I believe the author did a great job telling the this story. It was very simply done and the photographs were very creative. The music accentuated the pictures well as well.

    common groundt

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