Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

Even the simplest talking-head style production is a powerful vehicle for capturing and presenting messages to people in far off places; effectively and efficiently transporting the ideas of a presenter to a viewer who, whether they live across town or around the world, may never have the opportunity to meet the communicator face to face. This ability to transmit information via video as distance learning can be leveraged for the greater good of mankind. Think of all the knowledge shared through video distribution of TED Talks online. Or consider how a working student can pursue and obtain a graduate degree without leaving her home. Or how a physician in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa might use a camcorder and a solar powered portable projector as a means of teaching life-saving health and medical principles to thousands of people living hundreds of miles away in remote villages. 

Clearly, knowledge can be transmitted through the power of video. But there’s far more to media than mere messaging for the mind. Video also contains the unique and powerful ability to influence the emotions of the audience. Movies, television programs and well-produced videos can elicit very strong emotional responses from their viewers; causing people to laugh, cry or scream in fear. Interestingly, the power of media to influence emotion typically has little to do with dialogue. The way we feel about what we watch is more often influenced by the way a scene is lit; the way the shots are composed, to conceal or reveal things within the frame; the way the camera moves; and the music and sound effects that accompany the scene.

Video contains the unique and powerful ability to influence the emotions of the audience.

The direction, height, intensity and quality of lighting that the producer uses has great influence over how a viewer will feel about a subject. Brightly lit scenes make the viewer feel at ease, but scenes that are dimly lit with small pools of light and heavy dark shadows make the viewer uneasy. When a large, soft light source is positioned to evenly illuminate the full face of a subject, that person may be perceived as trustworthy. However, when the very same subject is lit by a small, hard instrument that is positioned 90-degrees to the side causing half of the face to fall into darkness, he will be perceived as menacing, threatening and untrustworthy. The reality that the emotional response of the viewer can differ greatly by moving a single light a few feet one direction or the other is a fascinating study in psychology. 

The notion that we are afraid of what we cannot see, means that shot composition also plays an important role in manipulating the emotions of an audience. Tight, tilted shots that only show part of an environment make the viewer unsure of what might be in the room with the hero or heroine. This is particularly true when the camera work is unstable and camera movement is erratic.

A woman shows a speaker how to hold a mic
A woman shows a speaker how to hold a mic

Audio plays a large role in influencing the emotions of a viewer. The very same sequence of a person walking through an old house can feel ordinary, humorous, or frightening depending on the music and sound effects that are used beneath it. A suspenseful soundtrack plays with the minds of viewers, causing them to watch in nervous anticipation of a scary encounter. Makers of horror and suspense films often toy with viewers by repeated heightening and then relieving suspense with music before finally surprising them with a big scare after they have let their collective guard down.

As a maker of media, you have the opportunity to create content that has a powerful and lasting influence on your audience, both intellectually and emotionally. By honing your skills in shooting, editing, audio and lighting, you can make videos that change minds and affect hearts. Whether you choose to make your viewers laugh, cry or scream is up to you.

Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

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