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JO205 Visual Storytelling Fall 2023

Peter Smith 
Master Lecturer/Journalism

Class meets: Friday:  8:00 – 10:45 am
Office hours: Wednesday: 11:00 am -12:30 pm, or by appt.
Wednesday: 3-5 pm Premiere Pro and Lightroom Lab
Office: Room B33

Cell:  617 548 0109

JO205 is a visual reporting class for all journalism students at Boston University. Through weekly class meetings that include screenings, lectures, discussions, equipment instruction, in-class workshops, and feedback sessions, students will gain experience in multimedia storytelling, including audio production, photography, editing photos and video, producing stories, and portfolio publishing.  This class is essential for those who have a passion for visual storytelling.

The course has a deliberate progression to build skills through in-class exercises and assignments. While students will gain technical competency in multimedia production, the main objective is to learn and practice the fundamentals of reporting and visual storytelling. During the semester, students will cover two stories in-depth, one of which is the final project. All stories must follow the rules of journalism to be truthful, fair, balanced, timely, and focused. Teamwork is an essential feature of the course. Your partner will be a valuable asset to help with classroom exercises and peer editing. Your partner will also provide a second set of hands to help with equipment and be there to help keep you safe while working in the community.

While teamwork is encouraged for video production and sharing media assets is allowed, each student must produce their own story with an independent edit using Premiere Pro.

There are no prerequisites for this course. Any Boston University student may register with the permission of the instructor. This course offers an exciting opportunity for professional growth as students will acquire valuable visual storytelling skills, learn to take a creative approach to publish original work to industry standards, gain mastery of digital workflow and multimedia expression, and leave the course with an online portfolio.

HUB Learning Outcomes

Communication: Digital/ Multimedia Expression (one unit)
Students will learn the fundamentals of photojournalism and video storytelling throughout this course.

Students will use a scaffold approach to build storytelling skills using a digital toolkit they will work with throughout the semester. They will learn to produce and manage digital assets, shoot and edit still pictures and video, and layer audio interviews with ‘nat’ sound to create rich multimedia stories.  Students will produce and publish stories online.

Students will develop skills and concepts to produce photo, video, and multimedia stories in the area of their interest. Students’ skills will progress through class exercises, assignments, and in-depth reporting.

Intellectual Toolkit: Creativity/ Innovation (one unit)
Teamwork is an essential component of this course. Students will learn to work with a partner and in small teams to assign tasks, strategize, provide support through peer editing, and form crews that meet media industry standards.

Students will learn to step out of their comfort zone to communicate with people of different backgrounds. Communication skills will build during the course; students should use a creative approach to connect with their subjects and recognize the stories and issues that are unique and essential to their community.  Students will acquire creative skills as they learn to compose a photograph, frame a video clip, layer audio, create a story arc, and edit and produce a final product.

• Report, produce, and edit engaging multimedia stories
• Develop the skills to create clear, concise, and focused visual stories
• Acquire high competency with interviewing skills
• Shoot and edit compelling storytelling visuals
• Understand story arc and construction
• Develop skills needed for advanced journalism classes
• Develop editorial judgment to give and receive constructive criticism
• Work effectively alone and as part of a team
• Develop confidence in approaching subjects
• Write detailed storytelling captions that include basic info such as who, when, where, and why.
• Engage with community and with an audience
• Identify current and future trends in multimedia storytelling
• Students learn to cover stories in diverse and under-reported communities
• Students learn to avoid stereotypes in their storytelling

• Understand the importance of how light defines the subject.
• Operate a DSLR or mirrorless camera to shoot stills and video
• Operate an audio recorder to capture high-quality interviews and natural sound
• Understand visual aesthetics of composition, color, contrast, saturation, and focus
• Understand how to shoot and sequence a variety of shots
• Create and maintain a digital asset management system
• Develop high competency in shooting and editing photos and video and recording audio.

Students in JO205 are required to read the NYTimes, including NYTimes Op-Docs

Media Storm Field Guide

Magnum Contact Sheets, BU Library

The class naming convention is always: yearmonthday_projectname_yourlastname_version

Camera operation
Sound – interview, ‘nat’ sound
copyright 2023
Boston University
College of Communication

Laptop and external HD:
Before you arrive at class, be sure to have a laptop that meets COM’s recommendations. This link also has a guide to help you choose an external hard drive. Make sure your external hard drive is formatted to either Mac or Windows, depending on your laptop type. Mac external hard drives should be formatted to ‘journaled.’ 

Adobe Creative Cloud You will need to download Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and Adobe Portfolio for this course. Get the free version through BU. DO NOT get a 30-day free trial. You can download apps once you sign up for Adobe Creative Cloud using your Kerberos username and password. 

Link to check out gear:  Check out

You will use a camera, lenses, and tripod for your assignments – all available on the above FPS link.


Class Experience
Classes will include workshops on pitching stories, photography, audio recording, video shooting and editing, and on-camera interview.

All four assignments (plus a good representation of your exercises) will be posted to your portfolio with a strong description. 

Photo Story of a Person     PW:513
Find a compelling subject (PW: 205) and tell us a story of that person through photography. Your final story should include 1) a tight portrait; 2) an environmental portrait, 3) a detail shot that reveals something interesting about the person, and a scene-setter to tell us where we are. Demonstrate the skills we discussed in class: story, composition, exposure, focus, and DoF. 

While it is essential to include the type of framing mentioned above, it is also important that you cover your story in-depth to capture important storytelling moments. If you rush your story coverage, your results will suffer. 

The story topic is open but should be character-driven. A waitress, a camera repair person, a brilliant chess player, a doctor, a nurse, or maybe a coach or an athlete. There are countless possibilities.

Import to Lightroom, select ten images, and adjust exposure and color for critique by your partner and instructor. Once you’ve received feedback in class, choose five final images to upload to your Adobe portfolio and class Smugmug site. Each final image must show mastery of focus, exposure, and composition and tell an engaging visual story of the person—captions are required. Creativity and strong story ideas are encouraged. Students cannot shoot assignments of people they know, including friends, roommates, and relatives. Avoid choosing subjects that look like you. You need to reach out of your comfort zone.

Audio Slideshow Multimedia Portrait   PW:205
This begins your work as a journeyman/woman multimedia storyteller. Work in teams of two to pitch a compelling visual story for the Multimedia Portrait. Portrait ideas could include a story of a shopkeeper, a Zoo worker, or a second shift worker. Photograph images, including portraits, photo sequences, details, and scene-setting images. Demonstrate the skills we discussed in class: story, composition, exposure, focus, DoF, silhouette, and motion. Organize photos, import them into Lightroom, and select 20 images for the in-class critique. Extra points will be given for creativity and strong story ideas. Students cannot shoot assignments of people they know, including friends, roommates, and relatives. Record an interview and ambient sound for your Multimedia Portrait to combine with your photo series. The final Multimedia Portrait story will include a well-edited interview, ‘nat’ sound, strong images, and titles. You may also use music judiciously. Include end credits and upload them to your Adobe Portfolio and the class Smugmug site.

Video Story PW:205
Shoot a one-minute process video of your partner. Use strong sound bites to advance your story, including ‘nat’ sound and at least two b-roll sequences. One sequence should be of a process. Do not go wall-to-wall with sound bites. Leave space to hear ‘nat’ sound and focus on the visual story.

Final:  PW:205
NYT “Op-Doc” Style Video, approx. 2-3 minutes
Students will work in teams of two to research, report, shoot, and edit a focused character-driven story about a timely issue. Your story should have a news peg, but a community feature story is possible. Focus on the subject telling stories in their voice without VO narration or on-camera reporter. The final video will include a well-shot and well-edited interview with visual b-roll story sequences. Include titles and end credits. You can also use music carefully. Upload to your Adobe Portfolio and the class Smugmug site. No friends, roommates, or relatives for this or any assignment. 


Assignment 1 Photo-story of Person, 10 Points 
Assignment 2 Multimedia, Audio-Slideshow, 30 Points 
Assignment 3 Video Story (process film), 20 Points
Assignment 4 Final Story, 30 Points
Adobe Online Portfolio, 10 Points


WEEK ONE,  Sept. 8
Intro to DSLR photography
Introductions/meet and greet and pick a partner.
Overview of gear, software, and syllabus.
Screen/discuss stories.

Homework (due next week)
MediaStorm Field Guide Foreword and Chapter 1: Gear
• Order USB3 external or SSD hard drive and SD cards 
• Bring your camera, laptop, USB3 or SSD external hard drive, and two SD cards to class next week.
SD card for Zoom H5 audio recorder – SDHC, 16-32 gig, it’s a slower media card

Reserve a camera now! Check out 

WEEK TWO, Sept. 15
Discussion: Review camera menu, composition, focus, and exposure. Learn the Exposure Triangle.
Photo Workshop: Depth-of-Field and Stop Action.

Depth of field: PW: 706  Shoot two photographs of your partner from six feet away; background and good lighting are essential.  Find interesting background and good lighting. Shoot one photo with a wide open aperture and shoot a second shot with a small aperture. Keep framing the same for both shots.  

Shoot two action shots (PW: 706)  of your subject; background and good lighting are essential. Use shutter speeds of  1/125, 1/250, and 1/500 to stop action. Faster action requires a faster shutter speed to stop motion.

Editing Workshop:   Edit action and depth-of-field photos using Lightroom
• MediaStorm Field Guide, Chapter 2: Finding the Story. 
3 simple ways to find story ideas 
• Prepare pitch for assignment one
• Start a list of sources and story ideas in a spreadsheet
• Bring your camera, laptop, USB3 external hard drive, and SD card to class next week.

WEEK THREE, Sept. 23

Shooting and Editing Workshop:

1) Photograph five portraits of your partner in landscape mode, PW 706. Shoot three medium/tight pictures with a plain background; use soft, direct, and artificial light. Also, shoot an exterior and an interior environmental portrait. 
Always shoot a variety of angles and focal lengths, and vary your distance to your subject.

2) Shoot three action shots of your subject walking up or down stairs.
• Shoot wide, medium, and tight shots of your partner walking on stairs.
• Edit in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
• Upload eight photos to SmugMug.

Homework (due next week)
• Assignment: Photo package on an interesting person.     
• MediaStorm Field Guide, Chapter 5: Stills for Multimedia
• Bring your laptop and USB3 external hard drive to class next week.

WEEK FOUR, Sept. 29

In-class edit: Photo package, Assignment One, due today
Workshop: How to pitch Multimedia Portrait 
Discussion: Look at examples of multimedia portrait and discuss photographing stills.

Homework (due next week)  
• MediaStorm Field Guide, Chapter 6: Audio
• Bring a Zoom audio recorder, AA batteries, laptop, USB3 external hard drive, and SD card to class next week.


Audio storytelling: mic’ing, interview skills, natural sound, and audio editing
Discuss the art of the interview, sound scene, and room tone.
Workshop: Adobe Portfolio Requirements. Record a 5 min interview with your partner.
View and discuss several examples of audio slideshows.

Homework (due next week)     
• Transcribe the audio interview of your partner and bring it to the next class.
• Bring your laptop and USB3 external hard drive to class next week.

WEEK SIX, Oct. 13
Pitch multimedia portrait
Workshop: Premiere editing workshop: Bring an audio interview of your partner and the edited transcript.
Edit interview in Adobe Premiere Pro

Homework (due next week)
• Shoot images (landscape only) and record interviews for multimedia projects.
• Bring your camera, audio gear, laptop, USB3 or SSD external hard drive, and SD cards to class next week.

WEEK 7, Oct. 20
Video storytelling:
Review progress on Multimedia Portrait.
Workshop Rough Edit Multimedia Project

Homework (due next week)
• Finish Multimedia project
• Prepare pitch for the final project (incl. pre-interview)
• MediaStorm Field Guide, Chapter 3: The Video Interview.
Mid-semester student survey.

WEEK 8, Oct. 27
Finish final draft of Multimedia Portrait. Due next week.
Export. Upload to Smugmug and Adobe Portfolio.
Video storytelling: Creating a visual road map for your video story. Opening/closing, visual process, etc.
Review and critique:  Review and critique final Multimedia Portraits. 
Workshop: Pitch final project
Discussion: Discuss elements of a visual plan and how to create an effective b-roll sequence. Discuss using a variety of angles, focal lengths, and framing.

Homework (due next week)
• Create a visual plan for the Final Project and discuss it in class.
• Students have the option to show one short doc (less than 3 minutes) to screen and discuss in class.

Two volunteers will bring equipment to class: a camera, audio, light, and tripod next week for an on-camera interview.

WEEK 9, Nov. 3

Demo interview with lights, mic, and camera.
Review:  Short doc. films.
Workshop: As a class, stage, and interview with lights, camera, audio, and action!
Conducting video interviews, interview lighting, sound, and team communication.

Homework (due next week)
• Film an interview with your subject, transcribe it, and edit one minute for class review.
• Review Adobe Premiere
• Bring your camera, laptop, USB3 external hard drive, and SD card to class next week.

WEEK 10, Nov. 10
Video storytelling cont.: filming action of subjects on the move.
Workshop:  Film your partner on the move,  practicing handheld and tripod camera techniques.
Shoot two b-roll sequences of your partner 1. process, 2. walking into COM
Discussion: Filming action and reaction. Filming with a tripod vs. handheld. Review of video b-roll and sequencing.

Homework (due next week)
Combine b-roll and interview. Due next week.
• Rough draft of Final Project.

WEEK 11, Nov. 17
Assignment three is due today
In-class editing of the rough cut.
Discussion:  Refining edit. Adjust audio levels, color, lower thirds, titles, and end credits

WEEK 12, Dec. 1
Edit rough draft of final movie and portfolio.

WEEK 13,  Dec 8
Edit final Draft of final project and website




General Grading Policy
A.  Excellent work that meets or exceeds the requirements. Work reflects solid research, skilled interviews is accurate, has proper attribution, and conforms to industry standards; multimedia elements (video, photos, audio, interactive) are sharp, focused, clear, appropriately edited, properly captioned, tagged, and credited. It could run as is or with minor edits.

B.  Good work with a few errors. It may contain minor problems with focus, spelling/grammar, style, balance, and organization; several multimedia elements are subpar (out of focus, poor sound quality, etc.) or exhibit one or two technical glitches. It could run with some editing.

C. Average work. Failed to meet some of the requirements of the assignment. Shows a lack of news judgment, accuracy, balance, etc., technical errors, subpar multimedia elements, and poor selection of interactive elements. It could only run with significant editing or a complete overhaul.

D.  Below average work that shows little or no understanding of the requirements of the assignment, numerous grammatical, and style errors, significant factual errors, and failure to use assigned technology and tools properly.

F. (0-59.9) Failure to turn in by deadline or significantly flawed work.

The National Press Photographers Association: NPPA

The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society promoting the highest standards in visual journalism, acknowledges concern for every person’s need to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.

Visual journalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject. As visual journalists, we have the responsibility to document society and preserve its history through images.

Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or manipulated.

This code is intended to promote the highest quality in all forms of visual journalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession. It is also meant to serve as an educational tool for those who practice and appreciate photojournalism. To that end, The National Press Photographers Association sets forth the following.

Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.

2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.

3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.

4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.

5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.

6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.

7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.

8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.

9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

10. Do not engage in harassing behavior of colleagues, subordinates, or subjects, and maintain the highest standards of behavior in all professional interactions.

Ideally, visual journalists should:

1. Strive to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.

2. Think proactively as a student of psychology, sociology, politics, and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.

3. Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.

4. Avoid political, civic, and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one’s journalistic independence.

5. Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.

6. Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.

7. Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not explicit, seek the counsel of those who exhibits the profession’s highest standards. Visual journalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.

Percentage-based Grade Scale

A: 93-100

   B+: 87-89.99

   C+: 77-79.99

   D: 60-69.99

   F: 0-59.99

A-: 90-92.99

   B: 83-86.99

   C: 73- 76.99


    B-: 80-82.99

   C-: 70-72.99


GPA conversion






















Class Policies

How to Get an ‘A’ in This Course
• Be here each week, on time, ready to engage.
• Complete all reading and assignments on time.
• Exceed expectations!
• Participate in class and any online discussions.
• You get extra credit for being enthusiastic, inquisitive, and open to learning new things.
• Think ahead. Anticipate upcoming requirements such as BU News Service assignments and the final project. Structure your time to do your best work.

Please restrict unrelated internet browsing, e-mailing, texting, or other unassigned online activity during class. When we have guest speakers, please, no loud typing. Tweet, yes, but be discreet about it so as not to distract our guests and the rest of the class. Points will be deducted for spelling and grammatical errors.

Professionalism You will be called on to critique your classmates’ work and occasionally discuss ethical issues. There may be times when you disagree with another student’s comments. You will be expected to deal honestly but professionally with your classmates and the instructor of this course.

In addition to the assigned reading, you should read and watch “traditional” news to be able to discuss and analyze differences between the mediums.

Late Assignments
Deadlines are a vital concept in journalism. If you miss a deadline in the real world, you might lose your job. Get used to filing assignments on time. Unexcused late assignments will not be accepted in this class. Grades are based on the quality, content, and punctuality of the work submitted.  Late assignments lose one grade (A to B) each week they are late. Assignments that are not turned in receive zero credit. The final grade is an average of all grades received during the semester.  Assignments are DUE at the end of class.

We will occasionally hear from speakers who work in online media. Because they are busy professionals whose schedules change constantly, I have not listed specific dates and times for their appearances (well, most of them). I will announce speakers close to their scheduled date of arrival.

BU policy on recording in classes.

Please note that classroom proceedings for this course might be recorded for purposes including, but not limited to, student illness, religious holidays, disability accommodations, or student course review. Note that recording devices are prohibited in the classroom except with the instructor’s permission.



Boston University is committed to fostering a safe, productive learning environment. Title IX and our school policy prohibit discrimination based on sex, which regards sexual misconduct – including harassment, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We understand that sexual violence can undermine students’ academic success, and we encourage students who have experienced some form of sexual misconduct to talk to someone about their experience, so they can get the support they need. Confidential help and academic advocacy resources can be found with the Center for Sexual Assault Response & Prevention (SARP) at


BU has strict guidelines on classroom behavior and practices when it comes to the treatment of students and guests based on race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability, genetic information, military service, national origin, or due to marital, parental, or veteran status. Discrimination for any of these reasons is prohibited. Please refer to the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Policy for more details.

At your discretion, please alert me to anything related to preferred pronouns, preferred name or nickname, or any extenuating circumstances or trigger warnings (personal, medical, etc.) that might impact your classroom experience. I want to make sure you have the most positive experience in the classroom as possible.


If you are a student with a disability or believe you might have a disability that requires accommodations, please get in touch with the Office of Disability and Access Services (DAS) at 617-353-3658 to coordinate any reasonable accommodation requests. DAS is located at 25 Buick Street, on the third floor.


All student-athletes should be provided with a sheet from Student-Athlete Support Services regarding absences throughout the semester. These sheets should be handed in as soon as possible to avoid potential conflicts and so arrangements can be made to provide for missed lecture notes, classwork, or discussion.


Due to most classes being offered in the Learn from Anywhere format, students should expect each class session to be recorded. It is important to note that recordings on Zoom may capture the chat during the class, including private chats. If you have questions or concerns regarding the recording of this class, please see your instructor.


The Academic Conduct Code binds all BU students. Please review to ensure you are acting responsibly and ethically in regard to your academics. There may be changes here due to the nature of the pandemic, so please read everything very carefully. Students must be familiar with the college handbook and fully understand the expected code and conduct. The academic code of conduct is fully explained at: