Capturing Authenticity Through Visual Storytelling

 In Marketing Services Saskatoon, Photography Saskatoon, Social Media Marketing Saskatoon

The characteristic of authenticity plays an important role in portraying the real and raw representation of your visual storytelling.  Authenticity ultimately represents the most natural form of your story and enables your subject to tell their story portrayed as their true self, including personality, or values. Through the lens this may be captured visually in the moment through their emotions, aesthetics and surrounding environment.

The concept is rather simple, however demonstrating true authenticity in a shoot is not always the easiest.  To do so at a high level requires in depth knowledge of various specialties and spans across multiple layers across the pre-production, production and post production in the processes of the shoot.

We’re going to review ways in which we aim to enhance our authenticity in visual storytelling whether it be photography or cinematography across many niches. As well how to bring about the authentic representation of the subject.  Many of the techniques describes are highly relevant to our commercial photography, portrait photography, brand photography fashion photography, social media marketing and video productions.

We will start off with an important theme.  The visual story first and foremost in its most authentic form emanates from the subject. The photographer or cinematographer has the role to facilitate the best way to articulate communicate this visually through their technical experience in collaboration amongst creative talents.

Pre Production

Purpose behind the shoot

For this specific article we are focusing on authenticity of the subject and visual storytelling, however remember your captures will all draw back to the overall vision purpose for the shoot

What is your “why”, the purpose of the story, the message you are trying to convey.  Whether it be a personal portrait or brand video, always root back intentions for the shoot back to your why.

As per always, create a strong vision including direction, examples and colour aesthetics.  How do you communicate this across the team?  Mood boards allow for cross team communications of the overall look and feel of the shoot.


Art Department & Setting the Scene

How can we convey authenticity though the art department areas such as location, props, styling, hair & makeup?  However you decide to convey the visual storytelling, Ensure the complexity of layers in the art department synchronize towards the same goals and overall resonate with the subject and story being conveyed.

Start with the blank slate. Immerse yourself fully into your subject’s world and the story you are trying to portray. Who they are, what they do, what objects would they have, what would they wear, what are the characteristics they portray. Know the backstory and history of the subject in detail before you show up.

The background of your scene is a form of communication that words may not convey, and of course for photography is possibly even more important.  The details around your subject tells us who they.  These micro details do matter. Each element in your scene has potential for visual communication.

Ask the question, how may you utilize visuals such as colour, props, clothing or hmu to amplify and highlight particular elements of the subject or story you aim to convey.  Bold colours and unorthodox clothing to represent and enhance the visual personality of the individual.  Or perhaps the opposite, keep the message subtle, hidden and thought provoking, make the viewer search for hidden meanings behind your styling choices.

Location is a key component in authenticity.  Some scenarios may best be represented by real restaurants, cities, apartments, or local communities to give the most natural looks.  You don’t have to re-create a fancy set when there is a real location is accessible to shoot at.  Other locations or sets may be chosen and adapted to amplify particular characteristics, intensity and colour aesthetics.  Some scenarios may elect for a simple environment and simple backdrop.  When you remove environmental elements it may be intended to amplify focus on facial expression, body expression/movements, hair and makeup.


If you are working with individuals you know regularly you may know what to expect from your subject.  You may already have an established trust and in depth knowledge of your subjects.  However many times this is not the case and is your first encounter in person.  The information you are basing decisions on is pre-production planning, research or a call.  In the real world people have full schedules and time is a luxury.  In either scenario, the ability to manage and adapt to the moment during shoot day is important.

As mentioned in the pre-production planning stage there are many ways to set yourself up for a great shoot.  However no matter how hard you plan ahead there are on the spot gaps you need to fill in your preparation before the final button click.

Firstly, learn to pick up on the small final details in the moment and through natural conversation.  As always the small details seem minor but can make significant changes to how you may approach the depiction of the overall scene.  Important details may include “what is going on their life currently?”, “what is their state of mind at the time of the shoot”,” What are their emotions at the time of the moment of the shoot”.  For example, if the subject in a state of confidence you may aim to create an image that projects boldness.  Perhaps the subject is in a moment of struggle and therefore visually communicate the realness of the scenario, the image of their raw vulnerability & state of mind.

What you research is not always reality. Eliminate preconceived notions, hear it from your subjects directly if possible.  Who are they really behind closed doors.  What can you learn beyond what is publicly available to research online.  Think beyond the basic constructs of their appearance, job, title, or assumed personal brand.  Think on an individual level what their “why” or purpose is including their their goals, dreams, and vision for their life.  What pushes them towards their biggest goals, or past their deepest struggles. What drives them through the long hours.  What gives them those inspirational chills.  What are the subjects personal preferences, activities or personality traits.  We could go on and on.  The point to take away is, if you take the time to get to know the subject in much more articulate detail you have the opportunity to also convey more depth and meaning to your content.  There will always be some great insight to gain the day of the shoot!  Insights to look for may also arise from clues or cues in the environment around you, perhaps giving you a better sense of the individuals personality.

Telling authentic stories through visuals very much so overlaps into journalistic photography concepts and methodologies.   Asking questions and investigating current life events and scenario could alter the narrative of the story and the visuals you may want to portray.  Be aware of any preconceived narratives you may bring from your own perceptions and research. The very notion of asking certain leading questions can alter the story to your perception.

How to capture someone in their authentic natural state

Interaction such as conversation, emotions, or any other in the moment reactions on the spot are a fraction of a second.  These are special candid moments captured in time, that cannot be created or replicated, they happen as they occur.  If your looking for authenticity, some of the best ideas, poses and captures occur impromptu and unplanned in the moment.  So plan to be be aware for these types of rapid scenarios.

On the Hollywood North film sets, it is known to many that it is ideal not to look at or make eye contact with the actors during their scenes.  The very awareness that someone knows they are being watched changes their behavior, and therefore possibly subtle visuals in of the scene.   At this high level of performance, they take note of even the most minor distractions that may take away from the scene.

The point to be made is for the most realistic depiction aim to eliminate all distractions, stressors or fears of the environment.  As well consider removing external psychological pressures, or social constructs.

One interesting option is to take your captures of the subject/s in their natural state versus posed.  Perhaps the subject doesn’t even notice you took the photo!  Some of the best poses come unnoticed to the subjects.  One example is to create conversation or dialog amongst multiple subjects.

Simply the awareness that an individual knows they are being recorded will change potential emotions and reactions captured.  Try to reach a comfort level that the subject starts to forget about the cameras being around.

Take from a tip from event photography.  An event photographer may aim to be somewhat unnoticed and hidden amongst their event.  The idea is to not take away any focus from the actual event going on.  This strategy also allows the photographer to get close an intimate upon the natural interaction amongst guests.  To do so, one also might perhaps operate with lighter equipment.

Post Production:

For the most part, this article is intended to focus on the shooting side.  An important note to mention, the same importance placed in the colour aesthetics from production design also should follow through to the colourist process during edits in post production.  The colour is an important method of amplifying the mood of your scene.

In Conclusion

Go beyond the ordinary portrait, waist up interview shots or whatever the scenario may be.  Rather, aim for originality and unique visual identity that represents the subjects story.  Each individual is unique and has a story to tell including the complexity of components as discussed.  There always will be unknowns, challenges and limitations per day the shoot comes.  Do the best in the environment that presents itself upon shoot day.

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