Storytelling using still images is extremely difficult. First, you have a good story, obviously. But, even with a great story, showing still images is a quick way to lull your audience to sleep. Just think of your favorite PowerPoint presentation – torture. So, how do filmmakers resolve this issue?
You may have heard the name Ken Burns or maybe the Ken Burns Effect. Ken Burns is an American filmmaker, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs in documentary films. His widely known documentary series include The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001), The War (2007), The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009), Prohibition (2011), The Roosevelts (2014), and The Vietnam War (2017)¹.
Burns often gives life to still photographs by slowly zooming in on subjects of interest and panning from one subject to another. For example, in a photograph of a baseball team, he might slowly pan across the faces of the players and come to rest on the player who is the subject of the narrator. This technique, possible in many professional and home software applications, is termed “The Ken Burns effect“.
This is a powerful way to engage your audience when using still images. The Intro To Film/Video Production class is learning this technique by producing three short documentaries, using images provided to them. Final Cut Pro X has made this even easier by offering a built in Ken Burns Effect editor.