How to shoot photos for an audio slideshow

A recent post at Poynter lists out the five types of photos that make for good visuals in an audio slideshow: the scene setter, the medium shot, the portrait, capturing details, and capturing action. While these are good observations, they are not new to video professionals who routinely practice these “tips” when shooting b-rolls.

And this speaks to the novelty nature of audio slideshows, that many people are not certain how to use this relatively new tool of content production and presentation.

What are the five types of photos that make for great slideshow visuals?

The slideshow being discussed here is an NPR audio slideshow story about the impact of the stimulus bill on a rural health clinic. Watch the slideshow first, then check out five photos, each representing one type, that the above-mentioned post discussed. It should be noted that I could not locate the “shot one” photo in the slideshow – it may be that the producer made some editing changes after the post was written.

Shot one: The scene setter – Where is your story taking place, and what does it look like? Is it a building, a town, an old southwestern graveyard? Place your audience in the action by taking a photo that shows it all.

Shot two: The medium shot – Let’s start to hone in on the spot of your action; the area of the building or town or graveyard where your subjects are. This shot narrows your story’s field of view and should bring you closer in.

Shot three: The portrait – Who is your main subject and what does he or she look like? This can be a traditional head and shoulders shot or a wider shot that shows the person’s surroundings.

Shot four: Capturing detail – This is the shot that is often forgotten. Detail shots work especially well for transitions, but can have great storytelling potential all their own. What are the pictures on someone’s desk? What books are they reading? What’s that post card they have tacked to the wall? All of these things tell us a little bit about our subject and are great elements to have in a photo essay or multimedia presentation.

Shot five: Capturing action – Action shots show your subject doing something — ideally the thing you are reporting on.

Why it is not new to video professionals?

As I said in a previous post about making good audio slideshow, the same set of video shooting guidelines is equally applicable and valuable when shooting still photos for audio slideshow:

1. A video, as well as an audio slideshow, consists of basic shots such as wide shot, medium shot, close-up shot, and over-the-shoulder shot; the above-mentioned five shots are actually two wide shots, one medium shot, and two closeup shots. In video production, the basic shots serve different purposes:

  • Wide shot: establishes the setting or context for the video.
  • Medium shot: the bread and butter of video, presents the main subject.
  • Closeup shot: add details
  • Over-the-shoulder (OTS) shot: showing the relationship between the subject and the setting. In video storytelling, OTS is usually used to show the subject working on something.

2. It is also necessary to shoot and edit in sequences – that is, the shots come in sequences such as wide-medium-tight-tight. I recently compiled an online demonstration which explains the principles of sequence shooting and editing, especially the popular five-shot rule which is useful in showing someone working on something:

  • A closeup on the hands of a subject – showing WHAT is happening
  • A closeup on the face – WHO is doing it
  • A wide shot – WHERE it is happening
  • An over the shoulder shot (OTS) – HOW it is being done (note that OTS is not listed as one of the five types, but it is in the original NPR story)
  • An unusual, or side/low shot – providing other details (note that this is not one of the five types either, but again it is seen in the NPR story in the form of closeup shots showing relevant details)

Compare a “five-shot” video with the slideshow

Watch a sample video which demonstrates the technique of “five-shot” sequence shooting, and see how some basic shots are used in this video and the above-mentioned slideshow: shot of hand, shot of face, over the shoulder shot, medium shot, etc.

Related posts:

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
This entry was posted in Audio slideshow. Bookmark the permalink.