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Visual Storytelling: Illustration or Photography?

Visual storytelling example by Scott Alberts

“Seeing is believing.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Photography can be stunning and eye-catching and, occasionally, even free. Yes, photography can certainly document a story. But an illustration can go a step further, and explain it.

While I agree with what Tim stated in his 2014 article on the importance of using visuals to improve understanding, I am an Illustrator. My job is visual storytelling. I’d like to give a few examples where custom artwork is a better option than photography.

When a Photo is Impossible

There are things you simply cannot take a photo of. And they are most often ideas that creative, entrepreneurial minds dream up (and ask me to draw):

  • Frogs in bathing suits.
  • Angry refrigerators walking around.
  • Foxes or crickets playing jazz.
  • Employees or spokespeople who look like your logo.
  • A giraffe skipping rope.

An illustration in such situations is the only option, unless you have your own special-effects department. And even they would have to start with drawings.

When Illustration Costs Less than a Photo

Examples of custom artwork range from modified clip-art to simple sketches to detailed, realistic illustration. I have been hired many times to create illustrations as an alternative to an expensive custom photo shoot. Even ordinary settings such as a grocery store — in one instance — would have cost a small fortune because models and props would have been needed to populate the scene.

Trademark issues — due to unintentional product-placement getting into the shot — also make for sometimes unwelcome expenses to photography.

When You’re Telling a Story

Rather than finding a photo to “fit,” we can build an illustration that visually expresses your message before your words are read. The un-photograph-able scenario will have the right mood: comical, cartoonish, gritty, technical, futuristic…. And it will draw a wider net, because a non-literal character — a mascot, a big-head caricature, a talking light bulb, tooth or alligator — is not perceived as being of a specific gender, age, or racial background.

For AlignTech’s latest website, we designed an entire new people group of bendy-armed, spindly-legged, big-chinned characters. The story of working with AlignTech to grow a business is told in an easy-to-understand comic strip style. Much more interesting than a flowchart, while less intimidating than a list of procedures and capabilities.

Another hidden cost? Invisibility! In the end, it is about whether or not readers notice your message. A unique image can help your message get noticed, and not be invisible.

About Scott Alberts

Scott is Principal Artist at Alberts Illustration & Design, in Appleton, WI. He enjoys working with businesses and individuals across the US on projects like children’s books, branding, app and website design, large format projects, and working to develop authentic, endearing characters.

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