Clarity as a challenge in audio-visual media

Thanks to mobile phones, almost everyone is now able to record videos. The ease of the process sometimes leads us to ignore the question: How can we use images efficiently in communication? However, some of the historical approaches to finding an answer are still valid today.

Some decades ago, you needed heavy and expensive equipment when you wanted to produce a video. Editing could be an onerous job that required a lot of planning even before you recorded your first take. Today, many people have a camera at their disposal on their smartphones, which allows them to document any occasion on a whim. Technological advances allow us to delegate our visual memories to the cloud, to focus on the here and now.

While today more people have access to the means of production, the former and more cumbersome approach had an interesting advantage. You needed to reflect beforehand how you would design your image sequence efficiently, since production was expensive. Planning and preparation was vital – as it is still today in professional broadcast surroundings.

The good news is: more than one hundred years of cinema and close to one hundred years of broadcasting images have left us with considerable knowledge about how we can communicate with moving images. And this know-how is still evolving. When conditions change, they offer new opportunities and new creative solutions. Conditions can be technological (i.e. the accessibility of images in higher definition), social (video distribution becoming an easy feat and giving rise to new job profiles like influencer or YouTuber) or ignited by current events (the digital transformation we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic).

Creativity needs to bend or overcome rules. However, it helps to find creative solutions if you know some of the rules you might plan to ignore. In other words: it is useful to be familiar with some of the classical know-how of television and film in order to use your images purposefully. The guideline «It is easy to hear and see everything in the video» mentioned in a previous step, is in fact very challenging when not referring merely to technical constraints. How do we make it easy for the audience to understand what we want to convey?

Audio-visual media are multi-layered and, at the same time, organized as a sequence. While film and video share with written text that they build on expectations, your audience cannot easily go back and forth if they do not understand a point you made or if something you said took them by surprise. Clarity, thus, is an art, needing some thought. And surprises are even better if you as the creator anticipated them.

The following steps and the next chapter introduce some of the reflections, tools and rules that might help address the challenge of making yourself understood with video. We start with two classical modes we use to make sense of images. Then we briefly touch on dramaturgy as a structure that works with people’s expectations. Some basic guidelines to framing an image follow. And at the end, we conclude with the question: What typical pitfalls may occur when you try to describe your research in a video abstract?

What examples can you think of that illustrate how conditions change the way we communicate with images? Do some research on the web and take some notes – there are in fact many cases.


University of Basel