A Thousand Words

Post by 
Chris Hart
May 28, 2021

The saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is well known and certainly has withstood the test of time. There are a few notable origin stories about the saying. Leonardo da Vinci allegedly stated that “a poet would be overcome by sleep and hunger before being able to describe with words what a painter is able to depict in an instant.” Others connect its meaning with Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “A good sketch is better than a long speech.” Whatever the saying’s true roots are, most people agree that images can convey complex ideas and emotions often more easily and quickly than words.

I’m a visual person. Since I was very young, I wanted to be a photographer and filmmaker. I relate to people and the world more easily through images rather than words. My inner dialogue is more like a film playing in my head rather than a narration track. So, I’ve readily accepted the “fact” that one image packs more punch than a bunch of words.

Steven James | Your Story Matters

If I didn’t tell you anything about this photo, there are certain ways that you would interpret it based on your personal experience. You might relate to it because you have a young child of your own or you are a grandparent with a granddaughter. Regardless, you would have some initial response that is either emotional, factual or both.

The fact is that you are given some visual information that you can interpret very quickly. If I were to try and describe this image in words, it could take a long paragraph to convey what is grasped in mere seconds with the eyes.

At the same time, images can be deceiving. As a visual storyteller for Steven James and throughout my career in cinematography, I’ve remained cognizant of this fact. Visual storytellers must not abuse the power of the image by misleading the viewer. This does not mean that everybody will or should have the same reaction and interpretation to a visual. It does mean that – like statistics and words without context – images can be used to manipulate, distort, or even deceive, wittingly or not. Especially in this day and age of powerful technical tools and the sheer volume of images we each perceive in a given day, I believe the visual storyteller has a duty to be mindful of the strength of the medium through which we have the privilege of practicing our craft.

Working with my current colleagues and others I’ve collaborated with over the years, I have built a true appreciation for the combination of the visual and the verbal. Without words to explain what’s happening in the photo, the viewer is left to make up a scenario based on their own perspectives. This may be perfectly fine, or, depending on objectives, it may be lacking. My point is that, yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but an image combined with the right words has the potential to be much more impactful. This is the beauty of feature films, creative shorts, docs, business profiles, and clever commercials. The power of the visuals is often multiplied by the words of the script.

I feel fortunate to be able to express myself through what has always been my strongest mode of communication, visual storytelling. I am also highly honored to share our clients’ stories through the crafting of images and then finding the right words. It’s a responsibility about which I’m passionate and dedicated.

Well, that’s all my words for now. Only about half a thousand. But hopefully you get the picture…

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